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If you are concerned that you – or a loved one – may have an eating disorder, we are here to help.
What is Bulimia?
Bulimia nervosa (also known as just bulimia) is a serious eating disorder characterized by a cycle of binging and behaviors such as self-induced vomiting to compensate for the effects of binge eating.
Bulimia affects 1-2% of adolescent and young adult women and 80% of patients are female. People with bulimia usually appear to be of average body weight and recognize that their behaviors are unusual. Bulimia is frequently associated with symptoms of depression and changes in social adjustment, and people with bulimia may attach self-esteem to body image and feel out of control during binge-eating episodes.
Bulimia is a serious condition that can have severe complications if left untreated. With treatment, however, you can take back control of your body image and eating habits and manage the risks of living with bulimia.
What’s the Difference Between Anorexia and Bulimia?
The principal difference between anorexia and bulimia is that while a person with anorexia takes extreme measures to lose weight or avoid gaining weight, a person with bulimia employs strategies to consistently purge food from their body after an episode of binge eating by taking laxatives or making themselves throw up. People with anorexia and people with bulimia both tend to fixate on their body weight and shape and have trouble accurately assessing their body image.
Bulimia Signs and Symptoms
Some of the warning signs of bulimia include:
- Evidence of binge eating: Disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time, finding wrappers and containers.
- Evidence of purging behaviors: Frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, signs and/or smells of vomiting, presence of laxatives or diuretics packages.
- Excessive, rigid exercise regimen despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury; compulsive need to “burn off” calories
- Unusual swelling of the cheeks or jaw area.
- Calluses on the back of the hands and knuckles from self-induced vomiting.
- Discoloration or staining of the teeth.
- Creation of lifestyle schedules to make time for binge-and-purge sessions.
- Withdrawal from usual friends and activities.
- Behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting, and control of food are becoming primary concerns.
Click here to read more about other symptoms of bulimia.
Causes of Bulimia
The exact cause of bulimia is not fully understood, but a number of factors may contribute to its development.
One possible cause of bulimia is a combination of genetic, environmental, and social factors. Research suggests that people with certain genes may be more prone to developing bulimia and other eating disorders. Additionally, certain environmental and social factors, such as a history of trauma or abuse, low self-esteem, or a culture that places a high value on thinness, may increase the risk of developing bulimia.
Other potential causes of bulimia include psychological issues, such as anxiety, depression, or perfectionism, as well as physiological factors, such as imbalances in brain chemicals that regulate appetite and mood. It is also possible that bulimia may be triggered by dieting or attempts to control weight, which can lead to a cycle of binging and purging behaviors.
Bulimia Health Risks
Bulimia nervosa can be extremely harmful to the body. The binge-and-purge cycles can damage the entire digestive system, the heart and other major organ functions. Some of the health consequences include:
- Electrolyte imbalances (caused by dehydration from purging) can lead to irregular heartbeats and heart failure
- Rupture of the esophagus from frequent vomiting
- Tooth decay and staining from stomach acids released during vomiting
- Chronic irregular bowel movements and constipation from laxative abuse
- Gastric rupture is an uncommon but possible side effect of binge eating
Helping Someone with Bulimia:
If you have a friend or family member that is struggling with bulimia, there are a few things you can do to support them:
- Set aside a time for a private meeting with your friend to discuss your concerns openly and honestly in a caring, supportive way.
- Ask your friend to explore these concerns with a counselor, doctor, nutritionist, or other health professional.
- Avoid placing shame, blame, or guilt on your friend regarding their actions or attitudes and avoid giving simple solutions.
- Remind your friend that you care and want your friend to be healthy and happy and express your continued support.
The right approach for bulimia treatment typically depends on the severity of your condition as well as your age, overall health, medical history, and other factors. In more severe cases, urgent medical care is needed to address physical health complications.
Nutrition counseling from a registered dietitian that specializes in eating disorders is a critical part of recovering and managing your bulimia. The specialized bulimia treatment team at Nourish will work with you to understand biological, psychological and social contributors to your eating disorder. Your treatment team will seek to understand the psychological issues that contribute to your eating disorder and help identify and treat root causes.
At Nourish, we have a team of bulimia dietitians that specialize in working with patients at all stages of recovery. We offer nutrition counseling over telehealth and accept insurance in order to make accessing care as easy and affordable as possible. Click here to find your dietitian today and begin your recovery journey.
Binge Eating Disorder Signs and Symptoms
Binge eating disorder is often associated with symptoms of depression. There are several signs that someone might be battling with BED, including insisting on eating alone, overeating when not hungry, or eating until uncomfortably full. Episodes of binge eating are usually followed by feelings of guilt or shame, and often lead to more serious health complications.
Causes of Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder (BED) is caused by a complex combination of genetic, psychological and cultural factors. Family history, long term dieting, and a disrupted relationship with food may increase the risk of binge eating disorder. Binge eating disorder sufferers often struggle with co-occurring mood and anxiety disorders, have experienced some kind of trauma, or struggle to navigate developmental milestones and life changes.
Binge Eating Disorder Health Risks
There are serious health risks associated with binge eating disorder (BED), including: Cardiovascular disease, Type II diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome as well as Sleep Disorders, GI Disorders, Pain Disorders, Menstrual Dysfunction and Pregnancy Complications. That’s why it’s important to recognize that BED is a mental health illness, not a matter of trying to exercise more self-control.
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