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A guide for young people Bulimia

Worrying about your weight and getting caught up in a cycle of bingeing and purging can be signs of the eating disorder bulimia. Find out more about bulimia and how to get help.

What is bulimia?

A young person sits in a room wearing a black hoodie and their hair tied back. They are looking to the right with their hand curled over their mouth, lost in thought.

Bulimia is an eating disorder where you can get into a cycle of “bingeing” (over-eating) and “purging” (trying to control your weight by making yourself sick, using laxatives, or over-exercising).

Although many of us will eat a bit more than usual on occasion, this is different to bingeing. Bingeing is not enjoyable; in fact, it is often very distressing and you do not feel in control of it. During a binge, you may struggle to stop even if you want to, and you may feel disconnected from your body – some people may even struggle to remember what they’ve eaten afterwards. It is usually a way of dealing with difficult feelings and emotions, and is often followed by a desire to purge.

You may feel that parts of your life are out of control and that purging or restricting calories gives you a sense of control. But bulimia can seriously damage your body, so it's important to get help and find other ways of coping.

Bulimia is a serious condition but there's support available to you to help you get through it.

The symptoms of bulimia

Just because you experience one or more of these symptoms, it doesn’t mean you’re definitely affected by bulimia. It’s important to talk to your GP to get a full diagnosis.

You may experience short- and long-term effects on your body, as well as emotional and behavioural symptoms:

  • thinking obsessively about your weight
  • binge eating
  • exercising too much
  • isolating yourself
  • feeling helpless and out of control
  • poor sleep
  • low mood
  • losing interest in things and people.

Physical symptoms may also include:

  • sore throat
  • dehydration
  • bad teeth (from vomiting)
  • heart problems
  • muscle spasms
  • swollen glands
  • some weight loss
  • change in periods
  • constipation
  • feeling weak and tired
  • stomach cramps
  • weight swings

What to do about bulimia

A mother and daughter having a serious discussion at home in front of a radiator

Take the first step – talk to someone you like and trust, like a teacher, relative, counsellor or friend.

You should also see your GP. They may offer to refer you to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), an expert or a psychiatrist who can help you.

It's really important to get help quickly because bulimia can cause long-term damage to your body.

Remember, bulimia can happen to anyone and is not your fault.

Reaching out for help

Treating bulimia

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What treatment you receive may depend on how severe your condition is.

Your treatment may involve one-to-one talking therapy, family therapy and working with a dietitian (someone who helps with your food and nutrition) to help you gradually return to healthy eating habits.

You'll be supported to make sure you're getting enough to eat and learn what your healthy weight should be.

You may also be offered medication. You can find out more about taking medication for your mental health on our medications page.

Medications

Get help now

Where to get help

If you're struggling with your eating, or finding it difficult to cope, you are not alone. Here are some services that can support you.