Learn about bulimia nervosa

Key points:

    Bulimia nervosa is a serious mental illness, not a lifestyle choice

  • People with bulimia nervosa binge eat, then rid themselves of the extra calories by methods such as vomiting or over-exercising
  • It can be hard to tell if someone has bulimia as they are often a normal weight and will go to great lengths to hide behaviours
  • Most people with bulimia nervosa are treated outside of hospital

People with bulimia engage in repeated binge eating episodes followed by what’s known as “compensatory behaviours” to get rid of the extra calories. These behaviours include self-induced vomiting, fasting, overexercising, or the misuse of laxatives, enemas or diuretics. Binge eating is eating a large amount of food in a relatively short period of time, and feeling unable to stop. The most common risk factor for developing bulimia is dieting.

How is bulimia different from anorexia or binge eating disorder?

A person with bulimia is usually of an average weight (although can be any weight), and doesn’t restrict eating on an ongoing basis like someone with anorexia.

Someone with binge eating disorder doesn’t use the compensatory techniques (vomiting etc.) that someone with bulimia does.

Warning signs of bulimia

It can be hard to tell if someone has bulimia, as people make a great effort to hide their behaviour from others. Some things to watch for include:

  • Constant trips to the bathroom, during or after eating
  • Binge eating
  • Vomiting, using laxatives, enemas, diuretics or appetite suppressants
  • Eating alone; avoiding meals with others
  • Erratic behaviour
  • Self-harm, substance abuse or suicide attempts
  • Deceptive behaviours relating to food
  • Anti-social behaviour
  • Anxiety, depression
  • Low self-esteem


It is possible to recover from bulimia. Often people live with bulimia for many years before it is detected or they seek help, making the cycle harder to break.

If you recognise the signs of bulimia in someone you know, support them to seek professional help as early as you can. The first point of call is usually their GP, or contact EDV on 1300 550 236, email help@eatingdisorders.org.au for advice.