The Alarming Link Between Diets and Bulimia

Catherine Liberty's picture

Researchers have proven time and time again that a restrictive diet has the ability to induce every single physical and psychological symptom we associate with bulimia. 

What may come as even more of a shock is the fact that this isn’t new information. The scientific community has been aware of the link between restrictive eating and the onset of bulimia for nearly 70 years! 

Back in 1944 a famous physiologist called Ancel Keys conducted a large study and was able to prove that all of the behaviours we associate with bulimia can be accounted for by a restrictive diet.

The Ancel Keys study proved that symptoms thought to be specific to bulimia nervosa were actually the results of starvation. 

Put simply, research has irrefutably proven that a restrictive diet can and does lead to every single symptom of bulimia. Here are the steps involved:

Step 1: You start to diet

Any kind of restrictive eating deprives your body of the essential nutrients it needs for survival and as a result you begin to experience intense food cravings, strong urges to binge eat, obsessive feelings about food and psychological side effects such as depression and anxiety. 

Step 2: You give in to the urges and binge eat

The urge to binge is so strong that it’s now impossible to resist using willpower so despite your best intentions you begin to regularly binge on food. 

Step 3: Binge eating leads to purging

You feel disgusted with yourself after binge eating so in order to alleviate the feelings of physical fullness, and in an attempt to avoid any weight gain, you force yourself to purge.

Step 4: This causes you to develop bulimia

Purging, restricting and not eating enough food puts your body in a permanent malnourished state. This further magnifies binge urges, eventually you give in and binge, this leads to more purging and you’re now trapped in the bulimic cycle. 

Restrictive eating actually changes your brain chemistry

All of the psychological side-effects we associate with bulimia can be attributed to restrictive eating as two large scale research studies from  Oxford and Harvard Universities have proven.

These studies show that people on restrictive diets significantly deplete their serotonin levels within 21 days and when serotonin levels are depleted this directly results in the psychological side effects associated with bulimia. 

So side effects like obsessive and compulsive behaviour, distorted body image, depression, anxiety, moodiness and apathy. 

What do the professionals have to say about dieting and bulimia?

"Getting rid of dieting could wipe out at least 70% of eating disorders. Get rid of dieting!" (Dr Adrienne Key, Royal College of Psychiatrists).

“Dieting is a primary trigger of the downward spiral into an eating disorder” (Thompson & Sherman, 1993)

 “Girls who severely dieted were 18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder within 6 months than those who did not diet.  And 2/3 of new cases of an eating disorder came from those who dieted moderately.” (BMJ 1999;318:765) 

Food restriction is the number one cause of eating disorders.

This is not our own interpretation or a best guess, it is scientific fact.

Think back to when you first became bulimic. Did it start with dieting or any kind of restrictive eating? If so then that’s really good news. 

If a restrictive diet was responsible for trapping you in the bulimic cycle then The Bulimia Help Method can show you the way to achieve full lifelong recovery. 

It doesn't even matter what led you to restrict your food in the first place.  By feeding your body the nutrition it needs you can reverse ALL of the psychological symptoms associated with bulimia and achieve full, life-long recovery. 


ruby56's picture
But how and when do we deal

But how and when do we deal with the psychological factors that initially drove our desire to 'improve our bodies' and lose weight? I completely agree with the presented argument that food restriction is what causes the bingeing and purging. It seems quite obvious. I also agree that once proper eating structures are re introduced, the want to binge dies and we become happier and healthier. However I still want to understand why there is such a desire to diet and restrict in the first place. What differentiates me from the majority of other people who are also unhappy with the way they look and also try to lose weight in the hope of becoming better looking? Why don't they all have bulimia and anorexia?

Bulimics and anorexics must have initially had a stronger desire to lose weight, a stronger will and want to diet in the first place... otherwise wouldn't everyone who every attempts food restriction have an eating disorder? So what I really cannot get my head around is what made ED sufferers desire to alter their looks different from the rest of the world. I agree knowing the reason behind this might not be so important in the vital stages of recovery. But do they not need to be addressed at some point?

I just can't understand (despite accepting it) why my dieting efforts turned into bulimia when it didn't for so many other people.

Catherine Liberty
Catherine Liberty's picture
Hi Ruby! You're right. I

Hi Ruby!

You're right. I think it's really hard to understand why some people develop bulimia and other people don't. I certainly don't have the answers and as far as I know no one really has any conclusive answers for this either.

I think it's similar to situations like :
- the way some people smoke and go on to develop lung cancer while others never to.
- Some people drink a lot of alcohol and become alcoholics while others drink a lot of alcohol and never form that dependancy and so on.

Personally I can't say Ive ever delt with what drove me to restrict my food in the first place but at the same time I fully believe I am 100% recovered from bulimia, I'm sure it must have been a combination of things but even if I got to the bottom of those things it's doubtful they would be relevant in my life right now.

In recovery I think you learn so many new life and coping skills, you look at things from a totally different perspective, in many ways you become a totally new person, you have new vavlues, new beliefs, new love for yourself and others. Your life transformes and so no matter what triggered that initial food restriction I like to think that transformes too.

Of course this is just one theory, we can only believe what we feel is right from what we have witnessed I think.

Catherine x

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The Alarming Link Between Diets and Bulimia | Bulimia Help

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The information provided in this website is for information purposes only. The information on this website is NOT a substitute for proper diagnosis, treatment or the provision of advice by an appropriate health professional. Please refer to the full disclaimer and copyright. If you do think you might suffer from an eating disorder, it is important that you talk to your General Practitioner, as there are many physical complications that can arise from being at an unhealthily low weight or from losing weight very quickly, or from purging. We advise you to seek professional help with working on an eating disorder.


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