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A to Z: Bulimia

May also be called: Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia (BOO-lee-mee-uh) is an eating disorder characterized by habitual binge eating and purging, such as by self-induced vomiting or laxative use.

More to Know

Generally, eating disorders involve self-critical, negative thoughts and feelings about body weight and food, and eating habits that disrupt normal body function and daily activities. People with bulimia typically respond to those negative thoughts by binge eating (eating abnormally large amounts of food over a short period of time) and then purging the food eaten by vomiting, fasting, exercising excessively, or using laxatives, diuretics, or weight-loss medications in order to keep from gaining weight.

With bulimia, frequent vomiting and lack of nutrition can cause stomach pain, damage to the stomach and kidneys, tooth decay, and loss of periods in girls. Over time, bulimia can contribute to serious complications, such as heart problems, kidney failure, severe malnutrition, and even death. In addition, bulimia is often associated with mental health conditions like anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression.

The causes of bulimia aren't entirely clear. However, a combination of psychological, genetic, social, and family factors are thought to be involved. Treatment focuses on helping people with bulimia cope with their disordered eating behaviors and establish new patterns of thinking about and approaching food. This can involve medical supervision, nutritional counseling, and therapy.

Keep in Mind

Overcoming bulimia can be challenging, but most people with the condition eventually get better with treatment. In addition to therapy, support groups can help change negative perceptions about weight and body image. Encouraging healthy attitudes about food and exercise can go a long way toward preventing bulimia in the first place.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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