What is Bulimia?
Bulimia, or bulimia nervosa, is a type of eating disorder that often gets ignored or trivialised. It does not present many of the same outward signs and symptoms of other eating disorders, like anorexia. Even by people in the medical profession, it is not often looked upon with the severity it deserves.
Bulimia is a serious behavioural problem and needs to be treated with the utmost seriousness and immediacy of any medical problem. There are many reasons for this. None of the reasons for minimising the severity of the problem is legitimate. Let’s take a look at bulimia so that you may help yourself or someone you love if you see the warning signs of bulimia in them.
Bulimia is an eating disorder, but the behaviour and psychology of it are different from a more well-known disorder, like anorexia. In anorexia, a person has unrealistic body expectations and restricts their calorie intake to the point where organs will shut down if left untreated. Bulimia is very different from that.
Signs & Symptoms of Bulimia
In bulimia, the person with the disorder has a compulsion to binge eat or overeat. This is an almost unstoppable urge, and often carries a lot of shame with it. They may hide the fact that they are binging, like hiding food, particularly junk food, in their rooms.
Then there is the other half of bulimia, the purging. People with bulimia will feel the next compulsion after binging, where they must purge, or evacuate the food they just consumed. This may be due to shame again, but it is a more likely part of an obsession with weight that they have. They must remain in control of their weight and stay at a certain amount. They will do things to maintain their weight like making themselves vomit or abusing diuretics to the point where it may be harming.
Bulimia is a hard disease for others to track because the outward symptoms are behavioural, and only obvious to people paying attention at certain times. Some of the warning signs that others may see when someone has bulimia include:
- An obsession or preoccupation with eating and food
- Purging of food using diuretics and vomiting, such as sticking fingers down one’s throat to trigger a gag reflex
- Hiding or storing food in unusual places
- Immediate trips to the bathroom after eating
- Exercising obsessively
- Signs and symptoms of depression, sadness, disturbed sleep, and others.
- Brittle and corroded teeth from vomiting, due to stomach acid and bile hitting the teeth.
- Swollen cheeks and jaws
- Sunken in eyes
- Visible blood vessels in the eyes
- Skin damage around fingers and knuckles from vomiting
- Negative or unrealistic body image.
If you see these symptoms or notice a person displaying two or more of these symptoms, it may be time to have an honest conversation with them about their eating habits.
Now, most people with bulimia will stay at the same weight and will be obsessed with that fact. This is one reason why it may go unnoticed by loved ones and medical professionals. Bulimia does, however, carry a cost to it, that must not go unnoticed.
Bulimia causes and effects
A person with bulimia is damaging their body by using vomiting or abusing diuretics, causing diarrhoea. That is not the only thing that happens to the body when a person binges and purges. Some of the health problems that can arise as a result of bulimia include:
- Purging causes an imbalance in electrolytes in the body, which may result in cardiac events, such as arrhythmia or a heart attack.
- Purging also causes dehydration as liquids do not get absorbed or are evacuated, which can lead to kidney damage.
- Vomiting damages the throat, oesophagus, teeth, and mouth. Dentists are often the medical profession that notices bulimia first as a direct result of this.
- Overeating and purging damage the stomach and the stomach lining, putting it at risk for ulcers or tears.
- Purging imbalances in the body’s chemistry can also lead to fainting, dizziness, or feeling light-headed.
- This does not even include the damage to self-esteem, the mood, and unhealthy coping skills that are developed as a direct result of this disorder.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
All of this leads to the conclusion that bulimia hurts the person in many different ways. The shame and embarrassment that it causes are one of the leading reasons that people with this illness do not seek help. Another reason is that compulsion, that uncontrolled need to manage their weight and body image in a certain way. That won’t allow them to reach out for help, because the change and giving up the control is difficult for them, as it is for anyone really.
The hard part is realising that healthcare professionals often do not screen for this, or even try to address when the symptoms are clearly present in front of them. One reason for this is that most can manage their lives. Their bulimia does not interfere with their family, work, or social circumstance. Seeking treatment may seem odd to others, even though the person with bulimia is suffering or literally dying inside.
Weight is the other issue that prevents people with bulimia from getting help. Most actually manage their weight very well and will obsessively keep it the same, up to the point of being with a range of a few ounces. Doctors and nurses will look at weight as one obvious indicator of health and assume they are not struggling since it stays the same and typically does not go dangerously low. This does not mean they are healthy; their physical and mental health is suffering.
Getting help for Bulimia
Treatment is an option if any of this sounds like you or someone you know. Cognitive behavioural therapy is one way that unrealistic expectations are managed, and there is a good amount of research supporting its effectiveness. Mindfulness training and relaxation techniques help with the compulsion and the anxiety that comes from it. Some medications can help with the depression and anxiety that come as a result of the damage of bulimia. This is a very treatable condition, and the main issue is getting people into treatment.
Bulimia nervosa is a behavioural eating disorder that causes damage to a person, both emotional and physical. It may not be noticeable to others, as they work tirelessly to keep their weight at a certain level. If you know the symptoms, you will be able to spot better a loved one struggling with this condition. What you can do to support someone, or yourself, with this condition is to get them into treatment as soon as possible. With help and support, this is a condition that can be overcome, and the pain can stop.
Contact Detox Plus UK for free help and advice today on 02072052734.
Research suggests that it is likely that there are a number of factors that can increase the likelihood that an individual will go on to develop some form of an eating disorder, including bulimia nervosa. These factors include genetics, gender, personality, general psychological health and social and environmental influences.