Bulimia nervosa is a serious psychiatric illness characterised by recurrent binge-eating episodes (the consumption of abnormally large amounts of food in a short period of time), followed by self-induced vomiting, fasting, over-exercising and/or the misuse of laxatives, enemas or diuretics.
Bulimia nervosa differs from binge eating disorder (BED). While binge episodes in both illnesses are associated with a sense of loss of control and are followed by feelings of guilt and shame, a person experiencing bulimia nervosa will immediately engage in compensatory behaviours such a vomiting or exercise.
A person with bulimia nervosa can be of any body shape, size or weight.
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Bulimia nervosa often starts with weight-loss dieting. The resulting food deprivation and inadequate nutrition can trigger what is, in effect, a starvation reaction — an overriding urge to eat. For some, the desire to eat is uncontrollable, leading to a substantial binge on whatever food is available, followed by compensatory behaviours. A repeat of this behaviour often follows, leading to a binge/purge/exercise cycle, which can become more compulsive over time.