What is bulimia nervosa?

Bulimia nervosa is a type of eating disorder that involves eating a large amount of food and then trying to ‘get rid’ of the calories consumed. There are signs that indicate someone might have bulimia nervosa, which can have serious physical consequences. As bulimia nervosa can have a serious impact on your health, it’s important to find out what you can do to get help.

This can help if:

  • you’re very critical of your own body

  • you feel out of control around food

  • you don’t like eating around other people

  • after you’ve eaten, you try to rid your body of the food

  • you’re worried a friend or family member might have bulimia.

Headless girl leaning against ute


One characteristic of bulimia nervosa is eating a large amount of food and feeling out of control while doing so (bingeing), followed by behaviours aimed at ‘getting rid’ of the calories consumed (purging). Purging might include vomiting, taking laxatives or exercising. For someone with bulimia nervosa, food, calories, exercise, weight and appearance often become their main focus, making it difficult to think about much else.

While someone who regularly binges and purges may be obsessed with controlling their weight and appearance, the underlying reasons for this behaviour are usually deeper. The behaviour may be a way of processing overwhelming feelings of anger, depression, stress or sadness.

Common signs

Some of the common signs of bulimia nervosa are:

  • eating unusually large amounts of food while feeling a sense of loss of control

  • being secretive about what you eat and when

  • visiting the bathroom after eating

  • over-exercising

  • being very critical of yourself

  • feeling moody and/or depressed

  • feeling tired all the time

  • sensitive or yellowing teeth (caused from vomiting and stomach acid).

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk with someone you trust, such as a family member, teacher, psychologist or doctor.

Physical effects of bulimia

Some of the physical effects of bulimia nervosa may include:

  • tooth decay

  • inflamed, sore throat

  • severe dehydration

  • stomach ulcers

  • inflammation of the oesophagus

  • severe malnutrition

  • brain dysfunction

  • heart failure.

Weight loss may be another effect of bulimia. However, people with bulimia may be slightly underweight, within a healthy weight range, or even overweight, so the symptoms and effects listed above are important to look at altogether.

What to do if this sounds like you

Many people with eating disorders feel that they’re not ‘sick enough’ or ‘thin enough’ to need help. Even if you’re not sure whether or not you have a diagnosable eating disorder such as bulimia nervosa, it’s important that you talk to someone. Making yourself vomit can put you at risk of serious medical complications regardless of how much you weigh.

It can be hard to know where to find the right support you need. ReachOut NextStep is an anonymous online tool that recommends relevant support options based on what you want help with. It can help you work out what's going on and provide personalised support recommendations. Try the ReachOut NextStep tool to learn about the support options available for you.

What can I do now?

  • Make an appointment with your GP to have an overall health check and discuss options for support.

  • Get personalised support options for eating disorders with the ReachOut NextStep tool.

  • Contact The Butterfly Foundation for more information.

  • Read about self-help tools for eating disorders.