Bulimia is a mental health illness in which a person feels a complete lack of control over what they eat. It is characterised by a strong desire to lose weight and an intense dissatisfaction with how individuals see themselves. In this way there are similarities between anorexia and bulimia and they are often linked.
A person with bulimia experiences strong compulsions to eat along with a preoccupation with losing weight. These two opposing urges contribute to a cycle of bingeing and purging. The person starts out with the intention to lose weight and to restrict eating. This then often leads to an episode of over-eating or a ‘binge’ during which a person eats an unusually large amount of food, normally of the ‘forbidden’ variety, followed by trying to rid of what they’ve eaten by vomiting, taking laxatives or by other means. These behaviours can dominate a person’s life and can become so frequent that they interfere with relationships, employment or study and social situations. People with bulimia tend to be very secretive about what they do and try very hard to hide their behaviour from others. People with bulimia also tend to find it difficult to ask for help or support.
People with bulimia are putting their physical health at risk. The illness can cause a person to feel bloated, constipated, have irregular periods, swelling of the hands and feet and also tooth decay. Some physical symptoms of bulimia are more serious. Excessive vomiting can cause abnormalities in the blood due to the loss of stomach acid and can have serious implications for the heart. Laxative abuse can also affect the heart in the same way and can also cause damage to the kidneys due to the dehydrating effect of diarrhoea.