Bulimia is an eating problem which makes people want to eat a lot of food at once and then try to get rid of the food from their body. Bulimia can feel like too much to deal with. But you can get better. And we can help you.

What is bulimia?

People who have bulimia eat lots of food at once and then get rid of the food. This could be by throwing up, using laxatives or doing a lot of exercise. Bulimia is a mental health illness which often makes people feel like they don’t have control over eating.

This is called binging and purging. And often the more people with bulimia binge eat, the more they want to purge. It can be a cycle.

Everyone’s different. But many people who have bulimia have low self-esteem or don’t think they’re good enough. Some people think they need to be thinner to fit in. If you feel like this, Childline is always here to support you.

Things to remember:

  • anyone could have bulimia – girls or boys
  • bulimia can start for lots of reasons
  • if your life is full of stress and pressure, bulimia can feel like a release
  • bulimia is a serious eating disorder and mental health condition
  • there are other ways to cope and Childline can help you get the support you need.  

the signs of bulimia

Some of the main signs of bulimia include:

  • feeling in a cycle of bingeing and purging (eating lots then making yourself sick)
  • leaving the room to go to the bathroom straight after eating
  • loneliness
  • wanting to be thinner
  • getting obsessed with exercise
  • feeling the need to eat a lot, even if you’re not hungry
  • having a list of food you’re ‘not allowed’ to eat
  • buying lots of food and hiding it
  • feeling depressed or anxious (especially at meal times)
  • feeling guilty or ashamed
  • putting on a lot of weight or losing a lot of weight really quickly. 

to take my mind
off this

Get support if you're struggling with bulimia

recovering from bulimia

If you’re going through a difficult time at home or school, bulimia can feel like a release. It could feel like a way of getting out pressure or stress. Or anything negative. But bulimia is really dangerous. It can feel like it’s taking over your life. 

Things you can try: 

  • Write down your feelings
    Especially the way you feel about food. You can sign up for a locker to use our mood journal to do this.
  • Be honest
    It’s much harder to recover on your own. So tell someone about what’s going on. And let someone know if you relapse or are finding it hard to recover.
  • Find distractions
    Think of activities to do just after eating to help make sure you don’t make yourself sick. It could be chatting to a friend. It could be playing a game. Whatever works for you.
  • Plan ahead
    Think about what you want to say to yourself when you have the urge to make yourself sick. You could write it down and carry it with you.
  • Be positive
    Write down a list of things you like about yourself. Start with really small things. As you start thinking about it you might start to notice more positive things about who you are.
  • Avoid negative websites
    Stay away from blogs and websites that promote bulimia. Instead, try reading things that make you feel good about yourself.
  • Set goals
    Set yourself small goals and celebrate your achievements.
  • Try something new
    It doesn’t matter if it’s small – doing something new can help you believe in yourself. Check out our hobbies and interests message board for ideas.

Getting support

It’s really important to talk to someone if you have bulimia. Trying to cover up what’s going on could make you feel ashamed or alone.

But talking can make recovering from bulimia feel a little easier. Getting professional help from a doctor or counsellor is also really important. 

How bulimia starts

Lots of people who have bulimia feel bad about themselves. They could be having a difficult time at school or at home. If your life is full of pressure and stress, bulimia can feel like a way of coping.

Bulimia could start because of a mixture of different problems, for example:

These are some of the ways bulimia can start or get worse – without help, it can feel like it’s getting out of control. Talk to a Childline counsellor about what’s happening. It can help things start to get better.

Making yourself sick is  dangerous

Forcing yourself to be sick is bad for your body. Doing it again and again can be really dangerous.

Making yourself throw up a lot can cause:

  • tooth decay
  • bad breath
  • a sore throat
  • damage to the lining of your stomach
  • sores on your fingers.

Being sick a lot also means your body isn’t getting enough nutrients to stay healthy. This could make your hair and skin get dry and damaged. You could also get tired and weak and might even have heart problems. 

Helping a friend with bulimia

It can be hard to help your friend if they have bulimia. People with bulimia sometimes get secretive. They might shut you out.

But you can still help them. Be supportive and don’t judge them. Knowing you’re there to help could mean a lot to your friend.

Help them take their mind off things by doing something together that you enjoy. You could go for a walk or go to the cinema, for example.

It’s also a really good idea to think of activities you can do with your friend after meal times. This can distract them so they don’t try to make themselves sick.

Try to compliment your friend on their personality rather than their appearance. This can really help them over time.

Find out more about helping a friend.

Other sites we recommend: 

  • Beat has lots of support for young people experiencing eating problems, including a helpline
  • YoungMinds has more advice to help with eating disorders.