Bulimia nervosa is a severe eating disorder in which a person consumes a large quantity of food within a short period of time, after which there is a need to get rid of the food. Usually, the food will be expunged through purging in order to avoid weight gain.
Purging may be induced through vomiting, excessive use of laxatives, long periods of exercising, and fasting. The condition can lead to serious complications such as dehydration, heart rhythm problems, and permanent damage to the esophagus. It most often begins in the teen years or young adulthood, but the disorder can occur at any age.
In the United States, about 1.5 percent of females and 0.5 percent of males will be diagnosed with bulimia in their lifetimes.
There are two common types of bulimia nervosa, which are as follows:
- Purging type – individuals with this type of bulimia engage in self-induced vomiting or abuse of laxatives.
- Non-Purging type – individuals engage in excessive exercising or fasting to avoid gaining weight. Self-induced purging is not often utilized.
Causes of Bulimia
The exact cause of bulimia nervosa is currently unknown though it is thought that multiple factors contribute to the development of this eating disorder, including genetic, environmental, psychological, and cultural influences. Some of the main causes for bulimia include:
- Stressful transitions or life changes
- History of abuse or trauma
- Negative body image
- Poor self-esteem
- Professions or activities that focus on appearance/performance
Signs & Symptoms of Bulimia
An individual suffering from bulimia nervosa may reveal several signs and symptoms. Bulimia is characterized by frequent binge eating episodes. During this binging episode, patients are unable to control their intake of food and begin to feel guilt, disgust or embarrassment which will make them start eating in secrecy.
Friends and family may notice that a person with bulimia will make regular trips to the bathroom right after meals. This is because people with bulimia compensate for the excessive intake of food through self-induced purging.
Other signs and symptoms of bulimia are:
- Regular weight fluctuations
- Broken blood vessels within the eyes
- Electrolyte imbalances, which can result in cardiac arrhythmia, cardiac arrest, or ultimately death
- swollen neck glands and under the jaw line
- Oral trauma, such as lacerations in the lining of the mouth or throat from repetitive vomiting
- severe dehydration
- Inflammation of the esophagus
- peptic ulcers
Signs of binge eating and purging are:
- Disappearance of large amounts of food
- Eating in secrecy
- Lack of control when eating
- Switching between periods of overeating and fasting
- Frequent use of the bathroom after meals
- Having the smell of vomit
Ways to Treat Bulimia
Since negative body image and poor self-esteem are often the underlying factors at the root of bulimia which is now characterized by a cycle of binging and purging, recovering can be a very difficult process. it is, therefore, very important for intensive therapy to be integrated into the recovery process. This therapy may consist of behavioral therapy or family therapy. Treatment for bulimia nervosa usually includes:
- Ending the binge-purge cycle: The initial phase of treatment for bulimia nervosa involves breaking this harmful cycle and restoring normal eating behaviors. A dietician can help to develop a healthy diet and enlighten the individual on how to eat healthily.
- Improving negative thoughts: The next phase of bulimia treatment concentrates on recognizing and changing irrational beliefs about weight, body shape, and dieting.
- Resolving emotional issues: The final phase of bulimia treatment focuses on healing from emotional issues that may have caused the eating disorder. Treatment may address interpersonal relationships and can include cognitive behavior therapy, dialectic behavior therapy, and other related therapies. An antidepressant may be administered to treat depression.