Bulimia: The Princess Diana Eating Disorder

One of the most well-known people to have suffered from bulimia was Princess Diana, the ex-wife of Britain’s Prince Charles. According to doctors and therapists, Princess Diana’s secret battle led to a greater public awareness of, and a better understanding of bulimia.

The ‘Diana Effect’

Bulimia was revealed as Princess Diana’s “secret disease” in 1992 in Andrew Morton’s book: Diana: Her True Story. Morton described that she first struggled with bulimia in 1981, and was still suffering from it during the late ‘80s when she sought treatment.

During the mid-and late-1990s, after this news became public, there was a sharp increase in the number of bulimia cases reported. Some people speculated that the news of the princess Diana eating disorder was causing more cases of bulimia to occur. However, another fact was soon revealed: it was because of Princess Diana’s admission of her struggle with food that many people were finally able to come forward and admit that they had an eating disorder.

Because of Princess Diana’s courage to combat her eating disorder, many other people have also confronted their problems and sought treatment. This movement has come to be known as the “Diana Effect.”

Causes of the Princess Diana Eating Disorder:

  • Princess Diana admitted that she began to follow a strict diet after people made comments on TV and in magazines about her “pudgy” appearance. Once she started dieting, she couldn’t stop.
  • Her eating problems were further exacerbated when her marriage underwent great upheaval, and food became the answer to the emptiness she felt.

How Princess Diana Helped us Understand Bulimia

Due to Diana’s openness and willingness to communicate, we have a better understanding of bulimia. Here are some of the lessons that we can learn from Diana‘s public confessions about her problems with eating and food:

  • Bulimia can emerge following a significant stressor, especially for those with perfectionistic tendencies and expectations.
  • Eating disorders can be fueled by criticism regarding appearance; low esteem can lead to dangerous dieting behavior.
  • Overeating, or bingeing, can provide comfort when a person feels alone or helpless. The ensuing guilt and shame then often causes the person to try to get rid of the extra calories through vomiting, using laxatives or water pills, or excessive exercise.

More on bulimia, signs and symptoms, medical complications and treatment information.

A final Thought About the Princess Diana Eating Disorder

When Diana spoke about her bulimia, she wanted people to know that those with eating disorders are often misunderstood. While the media led people to believe that her bulimia was the problem, she believed that bulimia was only a symptom, and that the true problem was the emptiness she felt in her marriage. She was using food as a coping strategy to manage her feelings.

Diana’s interpretation of the causes of her eating disorder reflect the attitude of psychologists at the time in which she was suffering. More recently, scientific research has led to a revision of these views; it is now understood that eating disorders are not a symptom of depression or low sense of self worth. Rather, they are complex biologically based illnesses, which in many cases, can be offset by factors such as stress or depression. In some ways, Diana was correct in understanding that her “emptiness” had been influential in her development of bulimia, however, it is likely that she was genetically predisposed to having bulimia in the first place.

A Princess for the People

Many eating disorders therapists credit Princess Diana’s bravery with saving the lives of many people who suffer from bulimia. Princess Diana allowed her personal battle with bulimia to become public, which is only one reason that she is so beloved and will continue to be influential, even after her death in 1997.

Follow these links to learn more about eating disorders, the causes and symptoms, and treatment options.


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Updated by Tabitha Farrar – 2014
Written by Kelly Morris – 2007