What Is Bulimia Nervosa?

As a parent, I feel you need to get informed about different conditions that may affect your teenager’s life, so I like to include informational blogs that parents can use and park away until it’s needed. I hope you never have to face down this road with your child, I grew up around eating disorders and my own child suffered from one, it’s a tough road to go down for those concerned, not just the person suffering from it.What Is Bulimia Nervosa

What Is Bulimia Nervosa?

Bulimia nervosa is a cycle of behaviour which is characterised by repeated episodes of binge-eating followed by some form of compensatory behaviour. These can include fasting, self-induced vomiting, the use of laxatives and diuretics or appetite suppressants and excessive exercising. Bulimia can begin with a diet but is followed on by the individual developing a preoccupation with food and weight that becomes obsessive, locking the person into a cycle of binging and purging (getting rid of food) or other ways of preventing weight gain. Like anorexia, it begins to take over the person’s life, they begin to see failed attempts at stopping this cycle and this, in turn, leads the person to feel more and more out of control. Self-esteem lowers and is very much measured against the person’s ability to control their eating, weight and size of their body.  The person with bulimia may seem on the outside like a  very capable, positive, successful, on top of things and maintain a normal weight. But, on the inside, they may be struggling desperately with feelings of guilt, shame, self-loathing and ineffectiveness. All of this can lead to a difficulty in diagnosing the condition, for some it can be more complex as bulimia can develop after a period of anorexia. Before eating disorders were seen as being only in the realm of females, but it has now become part of the male world as well. Remember your child may not be affected but their friends maybe, so getting informed will also allow you to have an informed discussion about this condition.

Main Features

  • Repeated episodes of binge eating.
  • Compensating for binges – by vomiting or using laxatives, fasting or dieting, exercising and using diuretics.
  • Preoccupation with body weight, shape and size.
  • Self-evaluation is influenced significantly by body weight, size and shape.
  • Hormonal disturbance including irregular menstruation.

Other Signs & Symptoms

Physical signs and symptoms:

  • Frequent changes in weight.
  • Frequent vomiting and the use of laxatives, in particular, can lead to dehydration and to the depletion of electrolytes (body salts).
  • This behaviour can seriously affect the body’s ability to function properly. All organs can be affected. The heart is, particularly at risk.
  • Lethargy, tiredness and insomnia.
  • Dehydration.
  • General digestive problems (cramps, wind, constipation, diarrhoea)
  • Poor skin condition.
  • Headaches, tension.
  • A sore throat and mouth ulcers, husky voice.
  • Calluses on fingers.
  • Irregular periods.
  • Enlarged salivary glands.
  • Erosion of tooth enamel, tooth decay.

Psychological signs and symptoms:

  • Feeling emotional, irritability, mood swings.
  • Dissatisfaction with body image.
  • Feeling out of control.
  • Feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness.
  • Feelings of guilt and shame.
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression and high levels of anxiety and periods of emotional overwhelm.

Other behavioural signs:

  • Being sick after meals.
  • Disappearing to the lavatory after meals in order to get rid of food.
  • Secret hoarding of food.
  • Secret disposal of vomit (e.g. bags of vomit hidden in the bedroom).
  • Abuse of laxatives.
  • Excessive exercising.
  • Risk-taking behaviours such as alcohol or drug misuse, shoplifting, promiscuity, self-harm.
  • Problems dealing with social situations and interaction with others.

These criteria are not inclusive, nor can they be used as a full diagnostic tool. If you are concerned about your child’s behaviour around food or any other symptoms covered above I would urge you to seek advice from your GP who can refer you to the appropriate services.


Treatment requires many pronged approaches to aid not only the individual but their family also:

  • Visit your GP: Getting a medical check up is essential as a part of starting to get treatment. This allows the effects of bingeing and purging to be properly assessed.
  • A simple blood test will indicate the level of dehydration and electrolyte depletion.
  • Consult a Nutritionist: Dietary advice can then be sought to help correct these problems.
  • Sometimes hospitalisation may be required.
  • Speak to a Dentist: Your dentist will advise you on how best to care for your teeth and reduce the risk of further damage as dental damage is not reversible.
  • Both psychotherapy and Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)can provide powerful support to the individual and the family.
  • Therapy helps a person to look at the false beliefs that underlie their sense of self, their behaviour, increasing self-esteem and to develop coping skills.
  • Family therapy is essential. It can help you as a parent cope, understand how you can help your child and it can help identify and resolve problems within the family.
  • Antidepressants are sometimes prescribed to help with the depression that often accompanies bulimia.
  • Support groups can be very useful in reducing feelings of isolation and in providing encouragement through some of the more difficult parts of recovery.
  • please recognise that relapses can occur and you don’t need to feel guilty. The individual will learn through appropriate treatment to cope with the relapse by not seeing it as a failure but just part of recovery.

As a parent or partner of someone with an eating disorder, you need professional support. We offer that support in our offices in Wexford Town and Ferns Call 089 4373641 for an appointment.

Further Help

Bodywhys Ireland


HSE Ireland

Anorexia Nervosa Blog post

6 thoughts on “What Is Bulimia Nervosa?

  1. I think depending on circumstance it can hit pre teens -they are now more vulnerable- but from my personal experience I find it’s there but not as evident in the pre teen stage. My daughter would agree with me in this. The upside I can say is that my daughter is great now and in university, I had to homeschool her through out secondary school (high school) as she was also bullied.

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