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Bulimia Nervosa

The below information is purely for educational purposes and does not constitute medical advice. This content should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice.

What is Bulimia Nervosa?

Bulimia nervosa, often referred to simply as bulimia, is a type of eating disorder. It is a mental health condition characterised by a severe preoccupation with food, weight and body shape. It includes episodes of eating a lot of food in a short duration (binging) and then purging, using compensatory mechanisms, such as self-induced vomiting, ultimately to prevent weight gain.

What Causes Bulimia?

It is not known why a person develops bulimia. However, there is a complex relationship between predisposing traits, triggering factors, and recurring negative or positive feedback in relation to habits intended to provide weight loss. Observational research shows people may be predisposed to developing bulimia if:

  • They or a family member has a history of an eating disorder, depression or addiction to alcohol or drugs.
  • They have been subjected to negative comments on their body size or shape, or subject to criticism or remarks on their eating habits.
  • They have external pressure or influence due to their job.
  • They suffer from anxiety or low self-esteem.
  • They have an obsessive personality or strive for perfection (even when unrealistic).
  • They have suffered sexual abuse.

Symptoms of Bulimia

The symptoms of bulimia can vary from person to person, but can often include:

  • Consuming a large amount of food in a short time.
  • Periods of losing control when eating food, otherwise an individual with bulimia typically puts strict rules on what they can and can’t eat.
  • Fear of weight gain.
  • Fluctuations in mood.
  • Critical about appearance and weight.
  • Self-induced vomiting, which can also lead to dental problems and/or irregular heart rhythms.
  • Inappropriate use of medications in an attempt to lose weight.
  • Excessive exercise.

How is Bulimia Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of bulimia normally starts with a GP, who assesses an individual by asking questions about eating habits, how they are feeling mentally and an overall check of health and weight. If the GP sees signs of bulimia, they will refer them to an eating disorder specialist for further assessment and support.
A person may be diagnosed with bulimia nervosa if they are displaying some, many, or all of the typical symptoms of the disease.
Most of the time further tests are not necessary to diagnose bulimia. However, it may be necessary to rule out other diseases or illnesses that can cause unexplained weight loss. Blood tests, electrocardiograms (ECGs), and bone density scans may also be required to evaluate any physical health problems caused by bulimia.

How is Bulimia Treated?

Treatment for bulimia can take time and recovery can be a difficult journey, but the sooner a bulimia disorder is addressed, the sooner the recovery process can begin. The type of treatment plan offered is tailored specifically to the person suffering and the support they need, the common types of support are:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Family therapy (if under 18)
  • Guided self-help program
  • Structured eating programme

Bulimia and Medicinal Cannabis

Research into the effect of medicinal cannabis on bulimia is limited. However, following the legalisation of cannabis for medical purposes in 2018, there has been a rise in people looking towards medical cannabis. When first-line therapies have not proved effective at reducing symptoms, medical cannabis may be considered an option for bulimia.
For further information and to find out more about medical cannabis, click here to discover more about our award-winning Curaleaf Access Scheme. Alternatively, complete an eligibility assessment now. Once complete, one of our clinicians will review your application and advise whether you are eligible for progression to an appointment.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Bulimia Nervosa

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Repeated self-induced vomiting can lead to weaker teeth and dry mouth. Bulimia suffers teeth can chip easily, feel more brittle than usual, and develop cavities.

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Over time bulimia can lead to physical problems, due to a lack of nutrients and/or the impact of frequent vomiting. Dehydration, dental problems and heart complications are some of the main health risks for those suffering from bulimia.

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There are different ways you can help support someone with bulimia, but the key is to ensure you are always there for them to turn to for help.

  • Always try and include them – if they are not wanting to join in activities, make the extra effort to keep talking to them and ask them to take part.
  • Help build up their self-esteem – tell them how great they are and make sure they feel loved and cared for.
  • Give them your time – do not dedicate time to advising or criticising them, spend good, quality time with them and make sure they know they have your support.
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Bulimia is a serious mental health condition and causes affected individuals significant distress. In addition to the mental burden, bulimia can have a significant impact on physical health, as well as relationships with friends and family. This is why it is important to try and seek treatment as early as possible, in addition to the fact that treatments tend to be more successful if started earlier in the process.