General English


  • noun a psychological condition in which a person eats too much and is incapable of controlling his or her eating. The eating is followed by behaviour designed to prevent weight gain, e.g. vomiting, use of laxatives or excessive exercise.

Origin & History of “bulimia”

The condition now called ‘bulimia’ – in which bouts of overeating are followed by bouts of purging – was recognized and so named in the 1970s. The word used to name it, however, is much more ancient than that. It goes back to Greek boulimia, which meant ‘ravenous hunger’ (it was formed from limos ‘hunger’, with the prefix bou-; this may well have been adapted from bous ‘ox’, in which case the word would have meant literally ‘the hunger of an ox’). It originally came into English, via medieval Latin, in the late 14th century, and for many hundred years its standard form was bulimy. It was applied to a sort of hunger so extreme that it could be categorized as an illness.