Bulimia nervosa is a serious disease that can affect every area of a person’s life. In the United States alone, approximately 30 million people have diagnosable eating disorders, and 1.5% of American women have bulimia.1 Bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurring episodes of binge eating, followed by vomiting, laxative or diuretic use, food intake restriction, or excessive exercise.2
Other common signs and symptoms of bulimia nervosa are:2
- Eating a large amount of food in a set period of time (often within 2 hours).
- Binge eating in secrecy.
- Exercising much more than normal to compensate for the food consumed.
- Feeling as though one’s eating is out of control.
- Feelings of guilt or shame accompanying binges.
- Increased risk of cavities and loss of dental enamel due to repeated vomiting.
- Scarring on the back of the hand from stimulating the gag reflex.
- Swollen salivary glands due to self-induced vomiting.
- Vomiting, fasting, or using laxatives or diuretics to compensate for the food consumed.
The harmful behaviors seen in people with bulimia nervosa can have a lasting negative impact on physical health, mental health, and overall daily functioning.2,3 Repeated cycles of binging and purging can lead to disturbances in fluid and electrolyte levels with the possibility of tearing in the esophagus, gastric rupture, and heart problems increasing over the course of the eating disorder.2,3 The binge-purge cycle can also lead to nutritional deficiencies due to vomiting and restricting behaviors. Additionally, over-exercising can lead to injury.2
Many people with an eating disorder have other mental health issues as well, with almost half of those with bulimia nervosa having depression or bipolar disorder, and more than half having an anxiety disorder.1,2 At least 30% of people with bulimia nervosa also struggle with a substance use disorder at some point in their lives.1
Finally, since bulimia nervosa often involves secrecy, guilt, and shame, the person may isolate from family or friends. Frequent, compulsive behaviors associated with bulimia nervosa may begin to supersede important activities or hobbies. For example, a person may skip events to binge, purge, or exercise.2,3 Some people with bulimia nervosa may continue to exercise despite experiencing an injury or other medical issue, exacerbating the problem.2
Eating disorders are not likely to resolve spontaneously. To recover from bulimia nervosa, it is important to have support and formal treatment. One type of support that is easiest to access is an eating disorder hotline. Those who answer these calls are trained to provide support, offer education about available resources, and link callers to appropriate treatment.
How Does a Hotline Help?
Hotlines can be helpful for several reasons:4
- Some may find it easier at first to discuss their eating disorder when calling a confidential helpline because of the comfort anonymity brings.
- Many hotlines are free to call and often available around the clock.
- Helplines are operated by trained staff who can provide support and offer resources for a variety of behavioral health conditions in addition to eating disorders, such as mood, anxiety, or substance use disorders that often co-exist with eating disorders.
- A good hotline can save lives.
- An effective helpline should be organized by a reputable organization, employing specially trained staff educated on the best ways to offer support to someone struggling with bulimia.
- The staff should be knowledgeable about the issues surrounding bulimia nervosa, aware of the resources that are available, and know how to direct callers to the help that they need.
- Hotlines give callers the opportunity to connect to another person and reduce anxiety, isolation, or feelings of being overwhelmed.
Bulimia nervosa is easy to overlook since much of the behavior occurs in secrecy.
Bulimia nervosa is easy to overlook since much of the behavior occurs in secrecy—binges tend to happen when the person is alone to avoid having to explain the subsequent purges or other compensatory behaviors.2 Bulimia can also lead to feelings of shame or embarrassment, either from loss of control or purging behaviors. Calling an eating disorder hotline can help a person in various ways, such as by providing encouragement, managing difficult emotions, getting through a meal or tough situation, avoiding a binge or purge, and even providing education to callers with eating disorders or those calling with worries about a loved one.5
Helplines are especially good for referring callers to providers who offer appropriate treatment options, and for providing the support the caller needs to enter recovery. The simple act of calling a helpline can make a world of difference to an isolated person who is struggling. You may feel alone, but there are people waiting to listen and help.
Bulimia Hotline Listings
You may want to consider one of these hotlines when you’re ready to reach out for help.5,6,7
Operational Monday–Thursday, 9 a.m.–9 p.m. and Friday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m., volunteers are trained to provide support and connect callers to providers and treatment centers across the country.
An online chat is also available, and there is a text option for crisis situations: text “NEDA” to 741741.
Available from Monday–Friday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. CST, ANAD’s hotline is a national network that helps callers deal with difficult or painful situations or emotions and provides support and referrals to local treatment.
Professional counselors and specially trained volunteers are available to listen and provide support to callers who are suicidal, hopeless, or in crisis.
This hotline provides information about prevention and referrals to eating disorder treatment.
The well-known eating disorder treatment network operates this hotline, which makes referrals to specialized eating disorder treatment throughout the United States and Canada.
This hotline provides mental health referrals internationally.
This hotline is operated by trained individuals under supervision and is available from 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. EST, Monday–Friday, with extended hours until 8 p.m. on Wednesdays.
A 24-hour crisis line geared specifically for those with bulimia.
This hotline helps you contact your local Mental Health Association where you can find mental health services and self-help support groups within your community.
Call to discover resources for mental and behavioral health conditions.
This national organization provides referrals and other supportive resources to callers.
The self-help group that focuses on eating disorders and promotes wellness in all areas offers this helpline to refer you to a local chapter and provide information about recovery. This can be especially helpful as an additional source of support or for those who cannot afford treatment.
Since bulimia nervosa often occurs in conjunction with substance use, it can be especially helpful to learn more about addiction. This hotline provides someone to talk to so you can learn about the treatment options available in your area.
Anyone in crisis can call and speak to a trained operator for support and referrals.
Bulimia nervosa is highly treatable—calling a hotline for assistance and information is a good first step on the road to recovery from an eating disorder.
- National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. (2017). Eating disorder statistics.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- Rushing, J.M., Jones, L.E. & Carney, C.P. (2003). Bulimia nervosa: A primary care review. Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 5(5), 217–224.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Using technology-based therapeutic tools in behavioral health services. P1-28.
- National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. (2017). Eating disorders helpline.
- National Eating Disorders Association. (2016). Contact the helpline.
- The Something Fishy Website on Eating Disorders. (2017). Helpful hotlines.