Pregnant Women With Bulimia Have More Anxiety And Depression, Study Finds

ScienceDaily – Sep. 18, 2008 — Women who have bulimia in pregnancy have more symptoms of anxiety and depression compared to pregnant women without eating disorders. A new study from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) shows that they also have lower self-esteem and are more dissatisfied with life and their relationship with their partner.

The findings come from the world’s first major population study of psychosocial factors in bulimia (bulimia nervosa) during pregnancy. Bulimia in pregnancy can have serious consequences for both mother and child.

The new study includes more than 41 000 pregnant women who responded to a questionnaire from the Norwegian Mother and Child Study (MoBa) from the NIPH. Read more about MoBa in the link at the bottom of this page.

Higher incidence of physical and sexual abuse

Out of more than 41 000 pregnant women, 96 (0.2 %) met the criteria for broadly defined bulimia (bulimia nervosa) in the first trimester of pregnancy. 67 of the women reported that they had also had bulimia six months before pregnancy, while 26 had developed bulimia after becoming pregnant. It is unknown whether these women had bulimia earlier in life.

Women with bulimia reported lower self-esteem and less satisfaction with life and their relationship with their partner. In addition, they reported a higher prevalence of symptoms associated with anxiety and depression.

- Women with bulimia reported a higher prevalence of life-long physical abuse, sexual abuse and major depression compared with others, says Cecilie Knoph Berg at the Division of Mental Health at the NIPH. – Women who had bulimia six months before pregnancy but who were symptom-free in the first trimester, experienced higher self-esteem and satisfaction with life compared to other women with persistent symptoms.

Bulimia was measured six months before pregnancy and in the first trimester of pregnancy by completing the questionnaire in the first trimester.

Knoph Berg is the first author of “Psychosocial factors associated with broadly-defined bulimia nervosa during early pregnancy: Findings from the Norwegian mother and child cohort study” which is published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.

Mostly women with bulimia

Eating disorders affect both young and old but often occur for the first time in adolescence. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia are about ten times more common among women than men. At any one time, Norwegian women in the age group 15-44 years have an eating disorder: 0.3 percent have anorexia, two percent have bulimia and three percent have binge eating disorder. The figures are based on Norwegian studies, with international studies showing similar results.


Bulimia (bulimia nervosa) is episodes of binge eating combined with various behaviours to compensate for the large intake of food and to avoid weight gain. These behaviours include vomiting, use of laxatives, periods of fasting or training. Vomiting leads to disturbances in the body’s salt balance and enamel erosion of teeth. People with bulimia are often of normal weight or overweight. Approximately 30 percent of persons with bulimia have a history of anorexia.

Adapted from materials provided by Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
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8 thoughts on “Pregnant Women With Bulimia Have More Anxiety And Depression, Study Finds

    • Thanks, she’s one of my favorite authors. Such a shame that there wasn’t the medications back in those days to assist in her battle with bipolar disorder.

  1. I got over my bulimia/anorexia (13 years) 3 years before my first pregnancy. I enjoyed pregnancy very much and had no problem about gaining weight, etc. But the tendency towards depression, fear, anxiety and low self-worth has been a constant challenge. Even after 20 years of physical health (total recovery from ED), I am still working on accepting and loving myself as I am. It amazes me to see the ravages that had/have to be worked through. On the other hand, why should it surprise me? Bulimia/anorexia served as a coping mechanism for me during an unbearable time of life when everything was out of control and I had little or no say in the matter. I suppose trauma can take a life-time to heal. In any case, I’ve decided to accelerate my progress this year and make some substantial changes in my life. I listen to my heart.
    All the best,

    • Thank you so much for sharing, others can learn from your struggle. Continue on, progress doesn’t come easy most times as we trudge forward and leave the past behind. I commend you at recognizing that bulimia or anorexia is an illness and we did not choose to get tied up in this disorder. Take care.

  2. Dr. Webster: Thank you so much for your comment and also so much more information to add to this article.

    I try to include eating disorders as much as I am able within this blog, as the response is tremendous with each posting. This article brought the same.

  3. This is a great article and hopefully will explain some points to sufferers who read it.

    Pregnancy in itself can bring on anxiety and depression in many women, and for the majority thankfully it is short lived. But for many it continues long after the pregnancy ends and the child is born.

    The same can be said for women who develop an eating disorder during pregnancy. The cause of this is probably linked to the person being prone to having an addictive personality.

    For some reason these women see themselves as ugly and fat being pregnant and can not adjust to the cravings for certain kinds food that is common during pregnancy.

    This then leads to negative emotions and guilt associated with eating food they normally would not have had or felt like having if they were not pregnant.

    For a lot of these women they turn to purging to counteract the negative feelings and become hooked by the ED.

    This happens because there is a pleasure hormone released in the brain similar to endorphins, where the sufferer gets a rush from purging.

    But this rush is short lived so the sufferer continues to binge and purge to get these pleasure feelings. This in turn becomes an addiction that invades the subconscious mind of the sufferer and becomes entrenched, leading to years of misery and pain.

    To fix this the sufferer has to fix their subconscious mind, hard to do but not impossible with the correct methods.

    Dr Irina Webster MD.

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