Beating bulimia

John Prescott

Bulimia nervosa is often regarded as a condition that affects only young women, but it can affect men and women of any age. Read on to find out what it is and possible causes. 

What is bulimia?

Bulimia is an eating disorder that is characterised by bingeing and purging. Bingeing is when you eat large amounts of food in a small space of time, often in secret.

Afterwards, you may feel guilty about the bingeing, and this can cause you to purge. This is usually done by deliberately making yourself vomit.

What causes bulimia?

There is no single cause of an eating disorder such as bulimia. It's thought that a variety of reasons may trigger it, for example:

  • Low self-esteem. You may have a low opinion of yourself. Losing weight or constantly trying to control your weight can often be seen as a way of gaining self-worth.
  • Being depressed. You may use bingeing as a way of coping with your depression or stress. However, purging doesn't relieve the depression, and the cycle continues.
  • Emotional stress. Bulimia can sometimes occur following stressful situations or life events. It can develop after a traumatic experience, such as a death or divorce.
  • Physical illness or sexual abuse. Bulimia can occur in people who have experienced physical illness or sexual abuse. Some people with bulimia have experienced difficult childhoods with family problems, arguments and criticism.
  • Mental health problems. Research has shown that bulimia is more common in people with some other psychological problem, such as an anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Having an unhealthy body image. Bulimia can be caused by cultural and social pressures. Some people believe that the media and fashion industries create pressure for people to be thin.

Male bulimia

Eating disorders can affect anyone of any age and any sex. It can be difficult for men to admit they have bulimia, especially because of the common misconception that only women experience eating disorders.

In 2008, former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott admitted publicly that he had bulimia. High levels of work stress had led him to binge as a way of comforting himself. Afterwards, because he worried about his personal appearance, he purged as a way of controlling his body weight. This cycle can become addictive.

Don't suffer in silence

People with bulimia can find it hard to admit that they have a problem with food, and it can be especially difficult for men. Bingeing and purging can be a way for people to gain control in their lives if they feel like they don't have any.

Many men are unwilling to admit that they can't control their eating habits, as they see it as a sign of weakness. This can stop them from seeking the help they need.

John Prescott says he only took control of the disorder after seeking help. There are several organisations in the UK that can support and help anyone who is experiencing bulimia. These include b-eat and the National Centre for Eating Disorders.

Medical help for bulimia

If you have an eating disorder such as bulimia, see your GP. They will be able to make a diagnosis and talk to you about possible treatment options.

Read more about treatment for bulimia.

Male bulimia: Steve's story

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder and mental health condition. People who have bulimia try to control their weight by binge eating, then purging the food from their body by vomiting or using laxatives. In this video, Steve explains how he beat the disease, and the health issues he still faces today.

Media last reviewed: 22/04/2015

Next review due: 22/04/2017

Page last reviewed: 11/09/2014

Next review due: 11/09/2017


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