A guide for young people Bulimia

Bulimia is an eating disorder where you binge and purge to try to control your weight. It's a serious condition, but you can get better. We're here to help you find help.

What is bulimia?

Bulimia is an eating disorder that involves a cycle of ‘bingeing’ (overeating) and then ‘purging’ (getting rid of the food). It’s not the same as sometimes eating too much. And it’s not just about weight loss. Anyone can struggle with bulimia, no matter their gender, size, age, ethnicity, or background.

During a binge, you feel like you’re not in control and can’t stop, even if you want to. Bingeing is not enjoyable and can be really upsetting. You might not even remember what you ate afterwards.

After a binge, you might feel guilty and want to purge to cope with the difficult feelings. Purging can include making yourself sick, fasting (stopping eating), taking laxatives (drugs that make you poo) or diuretics (drugs that make you wee) or over-exercising. Although exercising can be good for you, doing too much can be harmful.

Purging might make you feel like you’re in control, but it can really hurt your body. If you’re using it to cope, it’s important to find healthier ways to deal with your feelings.

Although bulimia is a serious condition, with the right help you can manage the symptoms and get yourself into a healthier place.

Signs and symptoms of bulimia

If you’re struggling with bulimia, you might notice different symptoms affecting your body, emotions and behaviour. They can affect you over a short or long time. Having these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you have bulimia. If you notice any of the below symptoms, speak to your GP who can give you a full diagnosis and help.

  • thinking a lot about food, working out or focusing on your weight
  • binge-eating (over-eating)
  • exercising too much
  • pulling back from friends
  • feeling overwhelmed or like things are spiralling
  • not sleeping
  • feeling off or struggling to control your mood
  • not being interested in the things or people you care about
  • your whole life revolving around eating and purging

  • sore throat
  • dehydration
  • bad teeth (from vomiting)
  • heart problems
  • muscle spasms
  • swollen glands
  • your weight going up or down
  • bloating
  • change in periods
  • constipation (not being able to poo)
  • feeling weak and tired
  • stomach cramps

If your symptoms don’t match a diagnosis for bulimia, you might be diagnosed with atypical anorexia or another eating disorder instead. Whatever your diagnosis, you deserve to get help and feel better.

Find out about other eating disorders

Getting help and support for bulimia

If you're worried you have bulimia or are struggling with it, talking to someone is a great first step. Choose someone you trust like a friend, teacher, counsellor, or family member. Many schools, colleges, universities and workplaces offer counselling services for you to use.

Remember, bulimia can affect anyone and it’s not your fault. It isn’t simply about weight loss and may be hard to stop, but you can overcome it.

Speaking to your GP can feel scary but they can give you options on getting support. They aren’t experts in bulimia, so they can’t treat you, but they can help. If you are concerned, write down what you want to say, what you’re experiencing and any concerns you have. They are there to listen and help. They may ask to weigh you and it’s ok to ask not to know this information if it will make things harder for you.

They’ll refer you to a specialist eating disorder service, a psychiatrist or another expert who can help you. It’s okay to ask for a referral if they don’t offer one.

In England, if you’re over 18, you can refer yourself to community eating disorder services. Some services have long waiting lists so aren’t accepting self-referrals. The NHS can help you find your nearest eating disorder support service.

Get more advice on speaking to your GP

Sharing your experiences can help you to feel less alone and get better. Kingfisher groups are a safe online space for those dealing with or think they’re dealing with bulimia. Moderated and run by Beat, these meet-ups are confidential and let you talk to others in similar situations.

They run every Wednesday from 6:45pm-7:45pm and you can go as much or little as you’d like.

Kingfisher online support group

If you’re in education, you can access support through your school, college or university counselling service. Speak to whoever’s in charge of student wellbeing so they can support you to get treatment.

  • The first, and probably most important thing, is to tell someone you trust that you are struggling. Don’t go through this alone. I know it’s hard, but trust me - it is worth it.
    Emily, 23
  • Remember that it’s not your fault. Binge-eating disorder is a real, serious issue. You are not weak, you are not incapable of control, you are just a normal person who is suffering from a mental illness, and that is nothing to be ashamed of.
    Hollie, 18

Treating bulimia

Treatment will usually start with understanding your current physical health. You'll then be supported to learn what nutrition your body needs with a dietician. You might be offered therapy to work through your thoughts and feelings.

Treatments can include:

Whatever treatment you do, you’ll learn about what your body needs and get support to cope with feelings.

A young person standing with their back against a brick wall.

Supporting someone with bulimia

If your friend or family member is struggling with bulimia, help them to get professional help as soon as possible. Your support can also make a big difference in their recovery. This might mean listening to them, helping them with routines, or reassuring them thing will get better.

Here are some tips for how to support someone with bulimia:

  • Ask what you can do to help

    Help can come in many different ways. Ask them what support they’d like from you. Maybe they want tips or maybe just some company. Try to not focus every interaction on their eating disorder. And do things that you both enjoy that’s not focused on food.

  • Avoid triggering conversations

    It’s important to avoid discussing weight, body shape, food or diets. This can trigger difficult emotions for them. Try not to focus or comment on their appearance – how someone looks on the outside doesn’t always reflect how they feel inside.

  • Look after yourself

    Supporting someone with bulimia can be tough and really impact your mental and physical health. It’s important to take care of yourself as well. Beat’s support for carers has advice on looking after your wellbeing while helping someone you care about. Prioritising your mental health is really important to help you be there for others.

Remember your friend does not need you to fully understand their situation, they just need you to support them and be there for them.
Beth, 15
Don’t give up if it’s a slow journey. Improving your mental and physical health is never an immediate thing. There will be times where you slip back into your old habits and it feels like you’re taking two steps back, but don’t ever give up because you can do it.
Hollie, 18

Get help now

If you or someone you know is struggling with anorexia, these organisations and helplines can support you.

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