If a person suspects that he / she or his loved one is suffering from Bulimia, it is important to remember that the condition is treatable and call the help of a professional as soon as possible.


What is bulimia?

Bulimia involves repeated episodes of overeating, in which the person eats more for a short / specific period of time than most other people would eat in the same period - and under the same circumstances. This is usually accompanied by a feeling of loss of control during the episode. In other words, he / she cannot stop eating or limit the amount they consume.

Did you know?
Bulimia can be caused by several triggers. The behavior often begins just after a diet or an attempt to lose weight.

Furthermore, the person exhibits repetitive inappropriate behavior to compensate for the volume of food he / she consumes to prevent him / her from gaining weight (inducing eg vomiting, abusive laxatives / other medications, fasting or exercising excessively).

The overeating episode and compensatory behavior occurs at least once a week over a period of at least three months.

REMEMBER! Their view of their physique and weight becomes one of the most important criteria for bulimia.

Furthermore ...

The person's evaluation of himself / herself is excessively influenced by body build and weight. He / she also feels self-conscious and tries to hide the behavior and practice it in isolation. The process usually causes discomfort and / or pain and is followed by dark emotions and negative thoughts about himself / herself.

Exercising excessively can also be used by a bulimia sufferer as compensatory behavior. However, this does not mean that everyone who exercises regularly suffers from bulimia.

Vomiting is the most common compensatory behavior because it provides physical relief and somewhat alleviates the fear of weight gain. A person suffering from bulimia usually has a "normal" weight or is overweight. Bulimia poses serious health risks and medical care is crucial because of the serious effect the behavior has on the body.

Bulimia can be triggered by several triggers. The behavior usually begins just after a diet or an attempt to lose weight.


What can make a person more vulnerable?

  1. temperament plays a big role, as with other addictions;
  2. if he / she is concerned about weight and / or low self-esteem from childhood;
  3. if the person is prone to depression and anxiety;
  4. a person's environment, if there is a high value attached to lean orphan;
  5. molestation in the person's childhood;
  6. if a person has struggled with obesity as a child and / or entered puberty early;
  7. if the person has / has close relatives or loved ones who are / have shown bulimia symptoms or have / have another addiction.


Risks / dangers

Bulimia is a very serious condition, requiring professional help. The symptoms usually lead to:

  1. guilt feelings;
  2. poorer / less effective social functioning; difficulties in meeting the requirements of their daily tasks;
  3. serious health problems requiring medical care; and
  4. a high risk of suicide.
Bulimia can be very dangerous for a person's health because it often leads to dehydration, stomach and heart problems.


What are the symptoms of bulimia?

The following symptoms are indicative, based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM – 5), which is widely accepted as the most authoritative source worldwide. Please note Please note that an official diagnosis may only be made by a qualified person.

To be diagnosable, the following symptoms must occur:

  1. Recurring over-sessions with the following features:
    1. a dining session within a short / specific period, e.g. two hours, in which the person obviously consumes a greater volume of food than most other people would consume within a similar period of time (and under similar circumstances); and
    2. a sense of loss of control during the episode (that he / she could not stop eating or control the amount eaten).
  2. Repetitive inappropriate compensatory behavior to prevent weight gain, e.g. vomiting, abuse of laxatives, enemas, diuretics and other medications, as well as excessive exercise or withholding of any food intake.
  3. The overeating sessions and compensatory behavior take place at least twice a week, over a period of at least three months.
  4. Self-evaluation is disproportionately influenced by physique and size.
  5. The eating disorder does not only occur during an episode of bulimia.


Treatment of bulimia

Why is treatment necessary for bulimia?
It is important for someone with a severe eating disorder, such as bulimia, to get help. Freeing yourself from the condition without help is extremely difficult. Medical as well as psychological and psychiatric help is essential in the treatment of an eating disorder.

Who can diagnose me or a loved one?
Because bulimia is so complex, we would recommend that you be tested and diagnosed only by a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist who has experience in treating eating disorders. They are trained to distinguish between different eating disorders.

What role does a psychologist play in my treatment?
A psychologist can diagnose bulimia and treat psychotherapeutically. This means he / she can help you understand what your diagnosis is, how to live with it, and how to apply a strategy that can lead to behavioral change. A psychologist in South Africa may not prescribe medication and usually works with a psychiatrist in a team.


What can I do to manage my illness?

  1. build up knowledge about bulimia (ask your doctor, read about the disease, ask questions until you understand);
  2. do regular, moderate physical exercise - it is a successful antidepressant, as proven by research;
  3. eat balanced;
  4. sleep enough;
  5. reduce stress factors as far as you are in control; and
  6. Consider psychotherapy with a trained psychologist who can teach you important skills to control bulimia.
Research on the condition is still ongoing, but a combination of medication and psychotherapeutic treatment (to see a psychologist) can greatly relieve the symptoms and improve quality of life.


Advice for loved ones and family members living or working with someone diagnosed with bulimia

If a loved one or friend is diagnosed with bulimia, your support and motivation can play an important role in accepting and managing their diagnosis. Here are guidelines on how to assist such a person:

  1. Be patient. People who suffer from an eating disorder do not always have the ability to say how they feel or what they are experiencing. Give them a chance to get used to the diagnosis first and gradually work out a concrete plan for how they will manage their lives going forward.
  2. Be informed. Build knowledge about bulimia. The more you and your loved one, family member or colleague know about the disease, the better you can work together on how you can support him / her and how you can manage the disease.
  3. Ask what your loved one needs from you. One can easily think you know what is best for another person, but the easiest is to ask how he / she wants you to act.
  4. Listen, rather than constantly giving advice or trying to reason logically. It is important for the person to take responsibility for the illness and the effect it will have on his / her life. When someone makes choices on behalf of someone else, it may cause the person to become dependent on the helper and then not want to fight the disease himself. It is not your illness, but your loved one's. Listening is a wonderful way to support your loved one.
  5. Get to know the symptoms so you can act early. Everyone's symptoms of bulimia do not manifest in the same way, so it is very important to understand how the person in your life's symptoms emerges. For example, when your loved one starts eating significantly less than other times, often vomiting or exercising excessively, you can start taking certain measures as long as you do.
  6. Do physical activities with the individual. This may be a cliché, but regular exercise is of great benefit to the mental health of people with psychological diagnoses. It relieves tension and anxiety and helps in the production of transmission substances that fight a low mood. Regular and balanced exercise is therefore actually a successful antidepressant. Remember, however, that exercise in advanced stages of bulimia should be restricted or discontinued to further weight loss.
  7. Encourage a balanced eating and sleeping pattern. An established routine not only helps the person to manage their illness, but also to see signs / symptoms early.
  8. Take a good look at yourself! Remember, a person with diagnosed bulimia can also negatively impact you by involving you in their disorder. Living with a person diagnosed with bulimia can feel frustrating, exhausting and sometimes chaotic. Make time for yourself too.
Bulimia does not only occur among teenage girls; anyone from the age of 12 can experience bulimia. So should parents of children and teens; even the children of the elderly, also be aware of the symptoms (since the symptoms also occur among the elderly).
Did you know?
Bulimia has been a disorder that has only occurred among women for decades, but statistics now show that there is an increase among teens. Recent research in South Africa has shown that almost 19% of schoolgirls between the ages of 15 and 18 are affected by an eating disorder.


If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues, we suggest the following options:
  1. call your GP (if available);
  2. go to your nearest hospital emergency room;
  3. call one of the following emergency numbers: SADAG (the South African Depression and Anxiety Group) 24-hour helpline: 0800 456 789 or suicide crisis line: 0800 567 567; or
  4. contact Wie is ek?