Types of Bulimia

Bulimia is an eating disorder that includes binging food, followed by periods of compensating behavior. As such, it can present in two forms. Do you want to know more?
Types of Bulimia
Florencia Villafañe

Written and verified by the nutritionist Florencia Villafañe.

Last update: 31 October, 2023

Did you know that there are different types of bulimia? Although many people have heard about this illness, not everyone is aware of how it occurs.

As some scientific articles have suggested, this eating disorder is one of the most common among adolescents, especially among women.

Its symptoms and the factors associated with it are quite varied. However, it’s commonly associated to societal pressures regarding having the perfect figure. To get to know more about this, we invite you to continue reading.

What is bulimia?

Bulimia, also called ‘bulimia nervosa’, is an eating disorder (ED) that is characterized by the presence of recurrent binge eating, followed by compensating actions like induced vomiting, laxative abuse, fasting, or intense exercise. The main objective here is to avoid gaining weight.

Often, this diagnosis is given when these symptoms occur at least twice a week, over a period of three months. It’s important to distinguish it from binge eating disorder (BED), since that doesn’t include periods of compensating behavior.

In those suffering with bulimia, the changes in eating patterns and the obsessive, controlling behavior about weight create a physical and psychosocial deterioration. This then develops into a state of malnourishment, which affects the body’s most important functions, especially in the brain.

Although the female population is the more affected demographic, it also occurs in men, children and pre-teens, regardless of gender. Generally, binge eating begins after a period of dieting; the course of the illness can also be chronic or intermittent, with moments of relapse.

An article published in the Spanish Paediatrics Association  states that those who practice activities such as modeling, dancing, athletics, or rhythmic gymnastics are at a higher risk of developing the disorder.

A woman throwing up in the toilet.
Bulimia is one of the most common eating disorders, especially among adolescent women.

What types of bulimia exist?

In those suffering with bulimia, we can observe a constant worry about body shape and weight; because of that, many people tend to exhibit reduced eating habits, which includes food restrictions and extreme diets. According to the study bulimia nervosa and its subtypes, we can split it into two categories. We detail them below.

Purgative bulimia

In purgative bulimia, the person usually consumes laxatives, diuretics, or other medication that affects the metabolism. They also self-induce vomiting, use enemas, and other methods that allow them to ‘reverse’ consuming excessive amounts.

A distinctive characteristic of those suffering with this form of the disorder, is that they usually purge in private. Regardless of how and when they purge, however, with time, the body will begin to suffer changes; from damage of the throat, to problems with the teeth, and digestive tract, to name a few.

Non-purgative bulimia

Contrasting the previous form, those suffering with this variation of bulimia don’t purge, but rather they exhibit compensating behavior. They assume that their food will be digested and absorbed into the body. Therefore they don’t resort to vomiting or using diuretics or laxatives.

Instead of this, they may carry out behavior to ‘compensate the intake’ like doing excessive exercise or fasting for long periods of time.

What are the risks of suffering from this disorder?

Suffering with one of the types of bulimia we’ve mentioned in this article has a negative impact on health. When someone suffers with the illness for a prolonged amount of time, or if it’s a recurring issue, it can cause the following:

  • Renal deficiency
  • Chemical or electrolyte imbalance
  • Dental cavities
  • Digestive problems or constipation
  • Dehydration
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Heart problems
  • Gum disease
Constipated woman pain in her stomach.
The different types of bulimia can lead to health risks. In particular, they affect the digestion, the absorption of nutrients, and the functions of vital organs like the kidneys.

How can we treat the types of bulimia?

The treatment for bulimia nervosa can vary for each person according to the way it presents itself. However, being a disorder with a psychological origin, scientific evidence suggests that the treatment shouldn’t just focus on food and nutrition education, but also mental health.

One of the main objectives is to develop a healthy and friendly personal relationship to food. As such, professionals may implement the following:

  • Use of anti-depressives, as and when a professional suggests
  • Psychological therapy; individual and family
  • Nutritional education from an expert that specializes in that area
  • In some cases, it can also include hospitalization

In fact, there are admission centers and programs which offer patients support and attention 24 hours a day.

You may also be interested in: 5 Healthy Snacks that Help Treat Depression

Every type of bulimia requires professional attention

Bulimia, regardless of the form in which it presents itself, requires professional intervention. This disorder won’t resolve itself, and actually tends to worsen over time. As such, an early diagnosis is fundamental.

Overall, any warning signs must be taken into account for consideration. Doctors, nutritionists, and psychologists can direct those suffering towards more healthy eating practices in order to beat the disorder.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Glazer, K. B., Sonneville, K. R., Micali, N., Swanson, S. A., Crosby, R., Horton, N. J., … & Field, A. E. (2019). The course of eating disorders involving bingeing and purging among adolescent girls: Prevalence, stability, and transitions. Journal of Adolescent Health64(2), 165-171.
  • Nagl, M., Jacobi, C., Paul, M., Beesdo-Baum, K., Höfler, M., Lieb, R., & Wittchen, H. U. (2016). Prevalence, incidence, and natural course of anorexia and bulimia nervosa among adolescents and young adults. European child & adolescent psychiatry25(8), 903-918.
  • Acerete, D. M., Trabazo, R. L., & Ferri, N. L. (2013). Trastornos del comportamiento alimentario: Anorexia nerviosa y bulimia nerviosa. Protocolo AEPED. Capítulo7.
  • Rava, M. F., & Silber, T. J. (2004). Bulimia nerviosa (Parte 1): Historia. Definición, epidemiología, cuadro clínico y complicaciones. Archivos argentinos de pediatría102(5), 353-363.
  • Puentes, M. S. (2005). La bulimia nerviosa y sus subtipos. Diversitas1(1), 79-87.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.