Woman with her head in her hands in an article on what is bulimia.

What Does a Bulimia Diagnosis Mean?

Eating Disorder Hope says that 10 million women and 1 million men in the United States find eating disorders to be a daily struggle. And the American Psychiatric Association says that the most common demographic that suffers from disordered eating is girls and women between the ages of 12 and 35.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, the three major types of eating disorders are bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. All three have different ways they present and manifest in a person with an eating disorder.

If you’re reading this because you have either received a bulimia diagnosis or you believe you (or your loved one) qualifies for one, this article will give you the direction to reach out to your health care provider, mental health therapist or please, reach out to us. Our team can help you explore your relationship with food, exercise, and how they are impacting your life. If bulimia treatment is needed, we can help you with the best next steps to take.

What Does a Bulimia Diagnosis Mean?

When someone is diagnosed with bulimia, it indicates that their eating behaviors, habits and relationship with food have reached a critical level that is dangerous to both their physical and mental health. Bulimia is characterized by regular episodes of overeating followed by some form of purge behavior. This may be vomiting, laxative use, excessive exercise and the like.

Like all mental health issues, bulimia isn’t something to be taken lightly. When you receive a bulimia nervosa diagnosis it means that you, or someone you love, is struggling to manage what they eat, how they eat, how they purge the food eaten and how they take care of their body.

Very likely, the way food is thought about and handled in their daily life is causing stress and deep concern. This concern has led to talking with a mental health provider or doctor which is what leads to a formal bulimia diagnosis.

How to Get A Bulimia Diagnosis

It’s important to note that Dr. Google isn’t enough to get a diagnosis. While the list below will help you understand if the symptoms and behaviors illustrate the potential for a bulimia diagnosis, you want to see a doctor or reach out to our professional staff to go through the needed evaluation.

If you confide in a friend or loved one and it’s suggested that you speak to a medical doctor or therapist, it’s wise to share the extent of your bulimia symptoms. Feeling shame or embarrassed about bulimia is very common, so finding someone you trust is an important part of the healing process.

Commonly Occurring Mental Health Issues

Those who develop bulimia nervosa often have self-esteem issues and are hypercritical of not only their bodies, but themselves overall. It’s common to have “perfectionist” tendencies and feel negatively about themselves. For many people with bulimia, their diagnosis and treatment involve looking at their core beliefs about their body and their expectations around what is considered a “perfect body.”

Often looking at these core believes brings up other challenges around anxiety and depression. Both are very common for people with an eating disorder because of the behaviors that often happen in tandem with their eating disorder and related behaviors. Hiding, shame, fear of being discovered, along with feeling downright bad about your body and low self esteem often causes depression and anxiety to rise.

When bulimia is at a critical stage, it’s important to treat the health crisis first. But once treatment begins, many people take a deeper look at the anxiety and depression, and any other co-occurring mental health issues, to help suss out where healing needs to progress to next.

The Myth That All Eating Disorders Are About Being Thin

It’s important to also note that the “perfect body” for someone with an eating disorder can vary wildly. One person may feel that being super thin is the goal whereas another may feel like following food rules or body rules is important.

In the early stages of an eating disorder, it’s not uncommon for someone to continue to feel overweight despite experiencing malnutrition, low body mass or low weight.

Not all eating disorders are cut from the same cloth and being open to the core issues behind the eating disorder helps both the therapist and client get to real, lasting healing over time.

Bulimia and Binge Eating

There is a direct relationship for someone with bulimia with binging. The cycle is binge then purge, and the methods for purging can vary from person to person.

When it comes to body type, a person with bulimia nervosa might vigorously exercise and diet often, but he or she may be anywhere from slightly underweight to obese. Body types vary widely. That said, on the whole, those who are suffering from bulimia are generally not as underweight as those suffering from anorexia. This is directly related to the binge part of the cycle.

A binge eating session may lead to the consumption of thousands of calories that are generally high in fat, carbohydrates, and sugars. Sometimes bulimics eat incredibly fast, consuming food without so much as even tasting it. In the midst of an eating binge, an individual may feel out of control and oftentimes they will only stop eating if they fall asleep, are interrupted, or their stomach begins to hurt from being stretched far beyond its regular capacity.

After the binge is finished, the purge cycle begins. They may use a laxative or purge by inducing vomiting because he or she is afraid of weight gain or is experiencing stomach pain. When someone is at the stage of being diagnosed with bulimia, the cycle of binging and purging generally occurs at least many times a week and in more severe cases, several times in a single day.

Possible Signs of Bulimia Nervosa

People are often unaware when a friend or family member is suffering from bulimia because there is a strong tendency to hide binge eating habits. Also, bulimia doesn’t often lead to becoming excessively thin, so unless someone is showing signs (of which there are many) it is easier to hide the behavior from worried loved ones or friends.

Some signs that often accompany bulimia include:

  • A puffy face and cheeks
  • Salivary glands below the jaw and in the neck become swollen
  • A sore throat that is chronically inflamed
  • Severe dehydration from the purging of fluids
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disorder, caused by constant vomiting
  • Intestinal issues caused by irritation from laxative abuse
  • Teeth beginning to decay from exposure to stomach acids after their enamel wears off
  • Kidney problems caused by the use of diuretics, or water pills

While it is rare, bulimia could lead to potentially fatal complications such as cardiac arrhythmia, gastric rupture, and esophageal tears.

Treating Bulimia Nervosa

If you or someone you love is diagnosed with bulimia nervosa, it is important to stay hopeful. The American Psychiatric Association says that the first step in treating an individual with bulimia nervosa is to disrupt his or her harmful cycle of binging and purging. That said, knowing the problem exists and talking about it often isn’t enough to break the pattern of binging and purging

And given that so many people with bulimia also have underlying psychological issues that range from anxiety and depression to unhealed trauma, addiction or substance use, it’s important to seek help from a trained medical professional or psychotherapist so you (or your loved one) get the full range of support you need.

The best treatment options are a combination of psychotherapy, nutrition counseling, and medication (typically to support co-occurring challenges). It is essential that someone who is in recovery from disordered eating has access to the appropriate medical professionals who can help them along their journey.

Healing from bulimia is a life long process for many people. It’s not uncommon for someone to have healthier periods and then, under stress fall back into an old binge-purge cycle. Wherever you are on the healing spectrum, you do not have to do this alone. Our team of specialists can help you discover the extent of your (or your loved one’s) illness and help you find the treatment you need to get on the road to recovery.

We are here to help at and you can reach out for a private consultation with our specialists today either by phone (866-525-2766) or by scheduling a complimentary consultation with our team.

Updated 1/9/24

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