Bulimia nervosa is known simply as bulimia. It is an eating disorder and serious mental health condition that affects anyone at any age, particularly young people aged 13 to 17 years.

When a person develops bulimia, they go through periods of bingeing on food in a very short amount of time. Afterwards, they make themselves sick, use laxatives (medicine to help them go to the toilet) or exercise in an extreme way, to avoid putting on weight.

There is not a specific cause of bulimia; however, the eating disorder can develop when a person feels out of control in their life and they use food to regain that control. People with bulimia often binge on food that is particularly bad for them, or they eat in secret away from others, before making themselves sick or taking a laxative.

Reasons why a person may develop bulimia can include:

  • having low self-esteem or lacking in confidence 
  • wanting everything to be perfect in their life
  • fearing rejection or feeling inadequate
  • having a strong desire to gain approval of others
  • genetics – if a close relative has had an eating disorder, or mental health conditions run in the family
  • brain chemical imbalances

Seek urgent help if you have rapidly lost weight for longer than a few weeks, lost weight over three months, or think your eating is out of control. Speak to your family doctor (GP) if any of these happening to you or a young person you care for.