Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is a life-threatening mental illness characterised by periods of food restriction followed by binge eating, with recurrent compensating behaviours such as purging or restriction.


While the causes of bulimia nervosa are not completely understood, most medical and psychological professionals, acknowledge that an array of biological, social, genetic, and psychological factors play a role in increasing the risk of its onset.

Warning signs

  • Weight change, including weight loss or weight gain
  • Tooth pain, or discoloured teeth
  • Swelling in the cheeks or jaw
  • Calluses or cuts on the hands and knuckles from purging
  • Bloating
  • Dehydration
  • Purging, or evidence of purging behaviours like frequent trips to the washroom after meals
  • Restricting food intake
  • Guilt and anxiety surrounding food or eating
  • Anxiety, especially social anxiety
  • Concern with body weight or shape

Common Co-occurring Illnesses

The individual may also be affected by other mental illnesses, including: 


  • Depression or depressed mood
  • Anxiety (including generalized or social anxiety)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • History of trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder

Bulimia nervosa may also be linked with self-harm and suicidality.

Diagnosis

Bulimia nervosa is a life threatening mental illness characterized by:


  1. Recurring episodes of food restriction followed by binge eating. A binge-eating episode is characterized by:
    a. The consumption of an unusually large amount of food within a relatively short period of time.
    b. Feeling out of control over what and how much is eaten.
    ​​​​​​​
  2. Recurring behaviours that follow bingeing in order to compensate for the food intake and prevent weight gain. These behaviours can include excessive exercise, fasting or severe restriction, self-induced vomiting, and misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas.

  3. The person tends to negatively evaluate their weight and shape and feels these matter more than most anything else about them; and

  4. The restricting, bingeing, and purging cycle occurs at least once a week for three months.


Individuals with bulimia nervosa often experience shame or embarrassment and may go to extreme lengths to hide these behaviours. They often fall within a “normal” weight range, though there may be frequent fluctuations, making it difficult for loved ones to recognize the eating disorder. 


Note: Vomiting can cause severe dehydration and damage to the esophagus and mouth. Dehydration can also be caused by the misuse of laxatives and diuretics and excessive exercise. These types of purging can lead to imbalances in essential body minerals and salts, which can cause cardiac arrest and/or stroke. 

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a serious mental illness characterised by behaviours that interfere with maintaining an adequate weight. 

Biological, social, genetic, and psychological factors play a role in increasing the risk of its onset.

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Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is a serious mental illness characterised by periods of food restriction followed by binge eating, with recurrent compensating behaviours to “purge” the body of the food.

Biological, social, genetic, and psychological factors play a role in increasing the risk of its onset.

learn more

Avoidant and Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) involves limitations in the amount and/or types of food consumed, but unlike anorexia, ARFID does not involve any distress about body shape or size, or fears of fatness. 

ARFID is a mental illness which can severely compromise growth, development, and health. 

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Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is a mental illness that can seriously affect psychological and physical health. It is characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food then experiencing shame, distress or guilt afterwards.

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Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder

Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders refers to atypical presentations of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, among other eating disorders. 

These eating disorders are equally serious and as potentially life-threatening as the more typical presentations. 

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Other Eating Disorders

Including pica, rumination disorder and unspecified feeding or eating disorder

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