Eating Disorders: All About Bulimia
By: Maddie Kawall
What is Bulimia Nervosa?
Bulimia is an eating disorder in which a person binges on food or has regular episodes of overeating and feels a loss of control. The person then uses different methods -- such as vomiting or abusing laxatives -- to prevent weight gain. Many (but not all) people with bulimia also have anorexia nervosa.
What are the Symptoms of Bulimia?
- Frequent episodes of consuming very large amount of food followed by behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting.
- A feeling of being out of control during the binge-eating episodes.
- Self-esteem overly related to body image.
What Causes People to Become Bulimic?
Here are some causes to why people around the world decide to become bulimic:
- Culture: mostly women who come from different countries are bombarded with images of the "ideal" or "perfect" woman, so it makes it hard for them to see themselves as beautiful
- Major life changes: episodes can be triggered by stressful situations such as relocating, the end of a relationship, death to a loved one, or even being mistreated by others
- Dieting: drastic dieting or dieting too much can bring about the deprivation that may be a trigger to binge eating
- Low self-esteem: when people see themselves as worthless and unattractive; growing up and living in an environment conducive to abuse, criticism, pushing for perfection and depression
- Professions: people who are in jobs or activities that require an attractive appearance such as actors, models, runners, wrestlers, etc.
Health Problems Caused by Bulimia
- Calluses or scars on the knuckles or hands from sticking fingers down the throat to induce vomiting.
- Puffy “chipmunk” cheeks caused by repeated vomiting.
- Discolored teeth from exposure to stomach acid when throwing up. May look yellow, ragged, or clear.
- Not underweight – Men and women with bulimia are usually normal weight or slightly overweight. Being underweight while purging might indicate a purging type of anorexia.
- Frequent fluctuations in weight – Weight may fluctuate by 10 pounds or more due to alternating episodes of binge eating and purging.
Myths About Bulimia Nervosa
1. Bulimia is always associated with vomiting.
After binge eating, an individual suffering from bulimia will attempt to purge his or her body through any number of means. Vomiting is just one of the methods of purging. Laxatives and diuretics are also common methods individuals with bulimia will use to purge.
2. Only women suffer from bulimia.
While more females struggle with eating disorders than males, bulimia can also affect men. Some men may be better able to hide their disorder, especially men who are involved in sports or athletics.
3. A child or teen with bulimia will grow out of it.
It should not be assumed an individual with bulimia will simply “grow out of it.” Bulimia is a serious disorder caused by a number of factors. It is difficult for anyone to overcome the disorder without proper treatment. The longer it goes untreated, the more difficult it is to treat, as the behavior is more difficult to resist.
4. Bulimia is not life threatening.
Through the binge and purge process, the body loses potassium and other essential nutrients, as well as electrolytes that are necessary for proper function and health of the body. Potassium and electrolyte deficiencies can lead to heart attack or stroke, both of which can be fatal. Additionally, bulimia can cause ulcers in the stomach, which could result in the stomach rupturing.
How Can You Treat Bulimia?
- Admit you have a problem. The first step in bulimia recovery is admitting that your relationship to food is distorted and out of control.
- Talk to someone. It can be hard to talk about what you’re going through, especially if you’ve kept your bulimia a secret for a long time. You may be ashamed, ambivalent, or afraid of what others will think. But it’s important to understand that you’re not alone. Find a good listener—someone who will support you as you try to get better.
- Stay away from people, places, and activities that trigger the temptation to binge or purge. You may need to avoid looking at fashion or fitness magazines, spend less time with friends who constantly diet and talk about losing weight, and stay away from weight loss web sites that promote bulimia.
- Seek professional help. The advice and support of trained eating disorder professionals can help you regain your health, learn to eat normally again, and develop healthier attitudes about food and your body. Visit a bulimia rehabilitation center nearest you for more help.