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What Is Bulimia?

Our ‘What Is … ?’ series is a collection of one-page information handouts for common mental health conditions. Friendly and explanatory, handouts in the series describe how it can feel to struggle with a difficulty and are reliable sources of information for your clients. Drawing upon established cognitive behavioral models, each handout has a particular focus on maintaining factors that might prevent the problem from getting better. What Is Bulimia? is designed to help clients with bulimia nervosa to understand more about their condition.

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Languages this resource is available in

  • English (GB)
  • English (US)
  • Polish
  • Vietnamese

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Introduction & Theoretical Background

Many people go through periods where they eat more or less than usual. If these episodes are extreme, distressing, or happen often, they may be a sign of bulimia nervosa. Bulimia is a type of eating disorder where you have episodes of binge-eating (eating large amounts of food in an uncontrolled way) and compensation (doing things to prevent weight gain such as vomiting or using laxatives). At some point in their lives, about 3 in every 100 women and 1 in every 100 men develop bulimia (van Eeden et al., 2021). Fortunately, psychological treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are very effective in overcoming bulimia. 

The What Is Bulimia? information handout is designed to help clients with bulimia nervosa understand more about their condition. It includes:

  • A summary of the most common symptoms of bulimia.
  • Descriptions of what it can feel like to have bulimia.
  • A description of why bulimia might not get better by itself, derived from the Fairburn, Cooper & Shafran (2003) transdiagnostic cognitive model of eating disorders.
  • A brief overview of evidence-based psychological treatments for bulimia.

Therapist Guidance

Our ‘What Is … ?’ series is designed to support your clients:

  • Reassure and encourage optimism. Many clients find it hugely reassuring to know there is a name for what they are experiencing, and that there are evidence-based psychological models and treatments specifically designed to help.
  • Scaffold knowledge. The handouts are perfect during early stages of therapy to help your clients understand how their symptoms fit together and make sense.
  • Signposting. If you’re just seeing a client briefly for assessment, or you have a curious client who wants to know more, these resources can be a helpful part of guiding them to the right service.

References And Further Reading

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.
  • Hay, P. (2013). A systematic review of evidence for psychological treatments in eating disorders. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 46, 462-469.
  • NICE (2017). Eating Disorders: Recognition and Treatment. NICE Clinical Guideline 69. London: National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.
  • van Eeden, A. E., van Hoeken, D., & Hoek, H. W. (2021). Incidence, prevalence and mortality of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 34, 515-524.
  • World Health Organization. (2019). ICD-11: International classification of diseases (11th revision). Retrieved from