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What is Bulimarexia?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jan 24, 2024
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Bulimarexia is a term used to refer to an eating disorder that mixes characteristics of bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa. This is not a formal diagnostic term; patients with bulimarexia are typically diagnosed with an eating disorder not otherwise specified (ED-NOS), a term used to describe people who clearly have disordered eating but do not fall into the diagnostic criteria for anorexia or bulimia. Treatment of an ED-NOS can be complicated and may require extensive therapy, nutritional counseling, and hospitalization in some cases.

Patients with bulimarexia usually have poor self esteem and a distorted body image. Women are more likely to develop this condition. The patient engages in an aggressive campaign designed to generate weight loss and falls into a cyclical pattern of disordered eating. This can include prolonged fasting accompanied with the use of medications like diuretics to try and lose weight, followed by a binging and purging cycle where the patient eats large amounts of food and vomits.

Health risks with bulimarexia are considerable. Patients can develop organ damage as a result of the extreme stress on the body along with issues like damage to the enamel on the teeth and reduction in bone mass leading to an increased susceptibility to fractures. Comorbidities like depression can be observed and patients may overexercise, putting additional strain on the body. Patients with bulimarexia can lose weight precipitously and will still report dissatisfaction with their appearance.

Treating an ED-NOS is often difficult due to the lack of a clear guideline for patient care as there are with anorexia and bulimia. Patients with bulimarexia require a customized treatment plan to address their disordered eating and body image issues while also working on reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. This can include counseling with a mental health professional along with nutritional therapy. Nutrition for such patients may be complicated as patients try to avoid certain foods.

In some cases, a bulimarexia patient will need to receive care in an inpatient facility. This may be recommended when a patient is at serious risk of medical complications, including death, as a result of the disordered eating, or when patients do not respond to outpatient treatment. At an eating disorder clinic, patients receive highly attentive care from doctors and nurses with the goal of getting them healthy enough to return to outpatient treatment. Many patients with eating disorders report lifelong struggles with food even after treatment, and it is important to pursue continuing care after the dangerous phase of the disease is over.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By orangey03 — On Feb 12, 2012

Bulimarexia is what some anorexics develop when they lose the power to continue starving themselves. Sometimes, even when you have been powerfully wounded by mean comments about your appearance, you just get hungry. You remember what it was like to enjoy a pizza, and it has been so long since you have had one that you eat the entire thing by yourself.

My best friend noticed that I was developing this eating disorder, and it is to her credit that I got help early. I had been starving myself for about three weeks before the pizza incident, and she happened to be at my house when I ate it and vomited it up.

I got counseling, and it did a world of good. All I really needed to do was confront my problems, instead of letting them take control of me in the form of an eating disorder. After I discussed my issues at length with my counselor, I began taking back control of my life and eating healthy rather than sparsely.

By wavy58 — On Feb 11, 2012

@Perdido – I think there is a high that comes with being very empty. I have gone through diet fads where I had to subsist on juice and soup for days, and the lightheaded feeling of having so much room in my abdomen was a good one.

Also, there is a feeling of control and power that comes with it. You feel a bit giddy that you can actually make yourself skinnier by controlling what goes into your body, or more specifically, what does not.

Of course, eventually, you can't take it anymore. I remember actually crying because I missed french fries and hot dogs, and I gave into the temptation. I think this is probably similar to what bulimarexics experience.

By Perdido — On Feb 10, 2012

I know how hard it is to stick to any restrictive eating plan, so I understand why an anorexic person would eventually give in and gorge herself. I have gone on portion control diets before, and after a few days, I usually ended up eating a whole bag of chips and several cookies.

I know that I am not bulimarexic, because I think I only need to lose about seven pounds. Also, I would never starve myself to the point of malnourishment.

I do get how tempting it can be to shrink yourself quickly by eating next to nothing. One day, I was sick with the stomach virus and couldn't keep anything down. I felt so skinny that day, and I hate to admit that I really liked the feeling.

By Oceana — On Feb 10, 2012

@honeybees – It is so strange how someone with this eating disorder can think that other people the same clothing size look just great yet see themselves as overweight. It just shows how distorted their body image is, since it has no basis in reality.

I know of two people who have bulimarexia, and both of them were shaped negatively by their mother's comments. One girl started obsessing over her weight, even though she was only about five pounds overweight, after her mother mentioned that she was getting pudgy. The other bulimarexic was a guy whose mother criticized everything about him, including his weight.

Parents don't consider the damage that they can do to their children with just a few harmful words. They can create a disorder where no problem exists.

By bagley79 — On Feb 10, 2012

What is the best way for someone to get help for bulimarexia?

I have a friend who is really having a hard time with this. She is so skinny and yet she spends hours a day exercising. She only takes a few bites of food at a time yet tries to act like everything is normal.

I also know she has been doing some binging and purging and I am really worried about her. She doesn't want to talk about it and I don't know how to help her.

She is an adult so this is something she would need to do on her own. I just don't want her to wait until it is too late.

By julies — On Feb 10, 2012

Combining the symptoms of anorexia and bulimia into one term makes a lot of sense because there are so many times when these conditions overlap.

Both of them can really wreak havoc with your body and your self image. Thankfully this is something I have never struggled with, but the daughter of one of my best friends is going through this now.

What is really scary is she has not had a period for over a year. This is just one symptom that shows how much damage this can do to your body.

She was around 13 when she first began showing anorexia symptoms. I think she had problems before this, but this was when her parents first realized there was a problem.

She has been through an inpatient treatment program and as far as I know, has had good results. I think with something like this, the counseling is probably even more important than the nutritional education.

Most of them know how they should eat and what is healthy or not, but it is working through the mental thinking that is the hardest part.

By Mykol — On Feb 09, 2012

@honeybees - My sister has struggled with an eating disorder for many years. This began before she was a teenager and she still fights it today.

She is now a mom and maintains a healthy weight, but I know there are many times it is hard for her. She is very committed to exercising and making sure she does not gain any weight.

It wasn't until she began vomiting up her food that my parents sought help. It can be hard to get someone in this condition to realize they need any kind of help and usually they are very resistant to it.

There are many different causes of anorexia, and I don't know if she was ever able to figure out what the cause of hers was. She was able to make some good changes after counseling, but it was still an uphill battle for her.

Now that she has two daughters, she really makes a conscious effort to see they have a good body image of themselves. Since this is something she has personally gone through, she would be able to quickly see any signs of anorexia in her daughters if they began struggling with this.

By honeybees — On Feb 09, 2012

One of my college roommates had an eating disorder. This was many years ago and these issues where not discussed as openly as they are today.

I lost touch with her after college and don't know if she ever received any type of anorexia nervosa treatment or not. As far as I knew, she just drastically cut back on her eating, and did not do the binging and purging.

The few times she ever talked about it she said there was a boyfriend who said she was fat. That statement shaped how she thought of her body image.

I am short and petite and wear a small clothing size. What is so sad is that we wore the same size of clothes and shared clothes many times.

She looked in the mirror and saw herself as fat when she was wearing my clothes. She would look at me and say I was thin, but would see herself as fat with the same size of clothes on.

I don't know what it would take for her to be able to change the way she looked at herself. I hope this is not something she still struggles with many years later.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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