What is bulimia, really?

This article was translated from the French original article “Etre boulimique, c’est quoi?” by a non-native English speaking person. I am French and we are quite famous for our poor language skills ;). So if you, dear English-speaking readers, have anything to point out/correct/suggest, please don’t hesitate to comment the article or to send me an e-mail at bouledevie@gmail.com. I would gladly and gratefully follow any improvement suggestions.

You might have found this article because you were researching bulimia, how to get rid of bulimia, or just wanted to know what everyday life is like for a bulimic person.

People share a lot of preconceived notions about bulimic disorder and food addiction. Let’s start with some of the most common :

  • bulimic people have a huge appetite
  • they are always hungry
  • they lack self-control and willpower
  • they forbid themselves to consume particular foods, which biases their relation to food in general
  • they are obsessed with their appearance
  • they eat huge quantities that they vomit, in order to remain skinny

There obviously are a lot more stereotypes, but this is enough to start.  

Food is not the core issue

The reality is a bit more complex than what is listed above. As weird as it might seem, bulimia is not a food issue. A bulimic episode does consist of eating a lot of food in a very short amount of time, indeed. But, paradoxically, this is just a detail. Let’s leave the scientific and therapeutic definitions to the experts and I’ll focus on what I know: what is a bulimic person’s everyday life?

A peek into a bulimic person’s head

We bulimic people are like everyone else, almost. From the outside, we can give the impression to be pretty well-balanced, confident about our lives and futures, successful in our careers. But there’s something else there, subtle and difficult to detect from a distance.

We are like aliens among humans: while possessing every attribute of normality, we don’t really fit in the context.

Most of our days begin normally. Sure, sometimes we wake-up anxious or depressed, but we usually begin the day feeling strong enough to resist the food temptation.

Every day is a new start, a reset. When we are not already completely depressed, every morning is an occasion to believe that “today we WILL achieve our goals whatever happens”. No bulimic episode, whatever it takes.

Though even on the good days, most of our thoughts focus on three things:

First is food– what we will or won’t eat, how we will or won’t eat it. 

Then come the auto-destructive thoughts, fuelled by paranoia.

The nervous tension gets bigger and bigger as these mix together. But surprisingly all this brain activity creates something less than the sum of its parts: a persistent feeling of vacuity and emptiness.  

For non-bulimic people, it can be extremely hard to imagine that underneath this seemingly normal person, is someone going through real distress, both emotional and physical. 

Everyone has their “down” moments. However, food addicts live a permanent down moment, episodically interrupted by sunny phases.

And since society, as well as bulimic people themselves, tend to underestimate the reality of facts and focus only on food issues, bulimic people have no choice but to keep on creating the illusion of being fine, sometimes very successfully.

The real issue is not the food. It is our obsession with it.

When this growing nervous tension reaches an unbearable point, the only way to calm it down is to eat. A lot. No matter how strong we try to fight it, no matter how many alternative solutions we try, we always end up in a bulimic crisis. Depending on our capacity to withstand the tension and these feelings of emptiness, we can experience bulimic episodes many times a day, a few per week or just once a month. But whether or not we resist doesn’t matter; the obsession for food is always present.

Bulimic people can be very selective during bulimic episodes or eat randomly huge quantities of any kind of food. Some will induce vomiting while others will not… What we eat, when we eat it, and whether or not we keep it down, are just details. What really makes a person bulimic is her constant obsession for food. Someone suffering from obsession with food but who manages to avoid bulimic crises is still a bulimic person.

Bulimia is stronger than willpower

Bulimia is the result of a deep and permanent feeling of emptiness and of very strong beliefs and judgments, that make even everyday life difficult to handle.

Bulimia is NOT a food issue to be controlled by diet or habit. Nor is it something to be forced or fought.  Because bulimia is not the enemy.

On the contrary, bulimic crises are a reflex developed by the body to remain alive, to handle nervous tension and to let it go when it is getting too strong. Stop feeling guilty about it and give up on the illusion that you have any control over bulimia.

You will fight, you will grow, you will get better. But until you know what you are fighting against, you will just waste energy. 


If you read this article because you know someone who seems to be a food addict : my biggest advice is to completely stop talking about their food issues and the way they eat. Even if it is hard, even if you are concerned and have the feeling that this person is not making the right decisions: the bulimic person does not make decisions, she just does her best to deal with her issues. She KNOWS that bulimic episodes are not good for her body, that vomiting can sometimes be dangerous, but if she could do otherwise, she would. For now, until she learns how to feel better, this is her only way not to experience very serious mental issues.

This article is just an introduction. You’ll find on this website many others explaining in further detail the topics explored above, along with solutions to help you or bulimic people close to you.

Any comments, questions or suggestions are more than welcome. Please feel free to share your impressions. If you feel too shy to write a comment, don’t hesitate to send me an email at bouledevie@gmail.com. I will happily answer it personally.

You can also follow Boule de Vie on Twitter & Instagram.


💛 Masha


  • katevsbulimia

    A great article. People who don’t know a lot about eating disorders often have a lot of misconception about them. Thank you for explaining that there is no one way to have an eating disorder and especially that eating disorders like bulimia can be almost impossible to detect as sufferers are usually so good at hiding it. I remember when I told my parents I had been suffering from an eating disorder they first asked me if I was sure that’s what it was. I had hidden it so well from them for a whole year that they still couldn’t recognise I had any ED symptoms even after I told them.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts 🙂


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