What is bulimia nervosa?
People with bulimia nervosa consume large amounts of food and then rid their bodies of the excess calories by vomiting, abusing laxatives or diuretics, taking enemas, or exercising obsessively. Some use a combination of all of these forms of purging. Because many individuals with bulimia "binge and purge" in secret and maintain normal or above normal body weight, they can often successfully hide their problem from others for years.
When this activity occurs on average at least twice a week for three months and is also accompanied by excessive concern about body shape and weight, concern about bulimia nervosa is warranted. Dieting heavily between episodes of bingeing and purging is common; eventually half of those with anorexia will develop bulimia.
Bulimia typically begins during adolescence. The condition occurs most often in women, but is also found in men. Many individuals with bulimia, ashamed of their strange habits, do not seek help until they reach their 30s or 40s. By this time, their eating behavior is deeply ingrained and more difficult to change.
Adapted from National Women's Health Information Center, 3/00
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