What is Bulimia?

Bulimia is an eating disorder characterised by alternating cycles of binge eating and purging usually through vomiting, laxative abuse or fasting (Taylor, 2006). The act of bingeing may be triggered by negative emotions or stressful experiences. Not every individual will show the same symptoms, however, as each individual is unique with different reasons for their behaviour. Bulimia is said to be more common than anorexia, but remains a hidden illness due to less obvious signs and symptoms.

Bulimics are typically of a normal weight, or slightly overweight, making the signs and symptoms even harder to spot. The binge phase has been interpreted as an out-of-control bodily reaction to restore weight, and the purge phase is an effort to regain a sense of control over the weight. The ‘set point for weight’ is an idea of each individual having an ideal biological weight. When an individual diets, the association between hunger cues and eating break down dropping below the set point for personal weight, causing the body to react as if at risk of starvation. Metabolism consequently slows and the individual reacts to external food cues instead of internal bodily cues like hunger (Taylor, 2006). There may also be physiological reasons why Bulimia occurs, such as hormonal dysfunctions, food allergies, fussy eating or food intolerances, which may individually or as a combination lead to Bulimia.

Food can start to become a constant thought and restrained eating will help to set the stage for a binge (Taylor, 2006). The control of eating moves from internal sensations, and is replaced by decisions about when and what to eat. This cognitive based behavioural system can easily be disrupted by stress or distraction, leading the sufferer to engage in purging behaviour.

A bulimic cycle is a vicious cycle characterised by the individual dieting and restricting their food intake. The body consequently starts to need food shown through cravings. The individual may after hours of starvation then break out and lose control, and begin to binge eat. After such an event, the individual may begin to feel bad and guilty, and consequently make themselves sick or engage in the use of laxatives to rid themselves of the food. The individual may reassure themselves that the diet will start again tomorrow, and so the vicious cycle continues.