What is bulimia? It is a potentially life-threatening mental illness that is as much about body image as it is about food.
Bulimia Nervosa (typically just referred to as bulimia) is an illness that is difficult to detect as it can be brought on by normal behaviors and can initially have no external signs and symptoms. Often, it's only once the bulimic is sick that family members find out about bulimia, ask what is bulimia, read more about the bulimia definition, and in retrospect, see the bulimia warning signs.
When the family looks at a bulimic, they often see a moody, teenage girl obsessed with her body and her appearance. She seems like many other teenagers - obsessed with looking like the latest pop sensation. She is often average to above average weight, so the families don't mind her dieting behavior. When she gets upset and complains that diets don't work, her family might even try to help her maintain strict eating habits as they feel they are helping her.
But the family doesn't know that what they're seeing is part of bulimia. The bulimic is working very hard to hide her binge eating and purging behavior. Inside, the bulimic's stomach is cramping, and only appears bloated due to excess water weight caused by bulimia. She is hiding severe tooth decay, gum problems and cavities. It hurts for her to swallow because her esophagus has been damaged from all the purging. Her heartbeat is no longer regular and may actually fail resulting in death. (read Effects of Bulimia)
Once the family finds out the bulimic has been binging and purging, they are often disgusted with what she has been doing. They see the problem as merely behavioral and think she could stop if she wanted. But the bulimia definition is that of a mental illness, not a behavior, and just like any other illness it requires recognition and professional treatment for bulimia.