Bulimia is an eating disorder that is classified as a psychiatric illness. Sufferers “binge and purge” in order to prevent themselves from gaining weight. This disorder affects millions of people in the U.S. It is also known as, bulimia nervosa. It is most common in women, but can affect men. The frequency of this eating disorder has nearly doubled since the year 1960.
What Is Bulimia?
People that suffer from bulimia eat large quantities of food, often very high in calories. They cannot seem to stop themselves from eating during a binge and they usually eat very fast, not even tasting the food. It isn’t uncommon to eat as much as 3,000 calories while binging.
When the binge ends, sufferers feel bad about eating so much. They then take steps to try and rid themselves of either the food or extra calories by doing the following:
Exercising too much
This disorder tends to be a coping mechanism for emotional stress and issues with body image. The complications can be life-threatening including:
Severe electrolyte imbalances from purging that could disrupt the heart rhythm and cause death.
Damage to the esophagus from gastric acids due to repetitive vomiting.
Tooth decay from gastric acids.
Bowel issues from laxative abuse.
It is important to catch the signs of bulimia early and seek treatment to prevent complications.
Symptoms of Bulimia
The following are symptoms of this eating disorder:
Constant worry about how you look and how much you weigh
Feeling the need to use weight loss supplements all the time
Using diuretics, laxatives, and enemas on a regular basis
A fear of gaining weight
Unable to control eating
Consuming more than normal amounts of food
Excessive exercise after eating
Self-induced vomiting after eating
If you think someone close to you may be suffering from bulimia, the following are the signs of bulimia to watch for:
Going to the bathroom after meals, sounds of vomiting/smell of vomit
Packages of laxatives or diuretics
Missing food, hidden food wrappers, abnormally large food consumption at meals
Exercising even if they are sick, or injured
Marks on the hands left from teeth while inducing vomiting
Overly obsessed with exercise, weight loss, and food
Very strict lifestyle and scheduled centered around weight loss and food
Bulimia Causes and Risk Factors
There are many different causes of bulimia and it is hard to pinpoint just one, usually it is a combination of factors including:
Self-Esteem Issues. Poor self-esteem with feelings of being worthless or useless can contribute to bulimia. These issues usually stem from a home environment that is overly critical, abuse as a child, feeling the need to be a perfectionist, or depression.
Professions Based on Appearance or Body Weight. Being involved in a profession or hobby that requires a certain body image or weight such as dancing, gymnastics, acting, singing, modeling, or running.
Body Image Issues Due to Peer Pressure or Media. Peer pressure and the media tend to dictate what people should look like or weigh. It can often focus on the need to be thin to look good and people can form unrealistic ideals based on what they see and hear.
Life Stressors. Life stressors can lead to bulimia when a person feels like they have lost control. Situations like a death in the family, loss of a relationship, moving, or even puberty can bring on bulimia. The person feels like they cannot control the life stressors, but can control their eating and weight.
Tests for bulimia involve both a medical examination and a mental evaluation. Bulimia can have serious effects on your health.
Medical history and physical examination
Lab testing (complete blood count, electrolytes, liver function tests)
EKG, chest x-ray, and other tests as needed
Eating habits and how you feel about food in general
If you eat large amounts of food and feel like you cannot stop eating at times
If you make yourself vomit, exercise too much, fast, use laxatives and/or diet pills
If the behaviors above have occurred a minimum of two times a week for three months
Your self-worth depends on how you look
They will ask about severe restrictive eating behaviors, sign of anorexia
Treatment for Bulimia
If bulimia has made you physically ill, you may need to be hospitalized until you are stable. There are instances where you need IV infusions to replace anything lost from vomiting. Electrolyte disturbances due to this can be fatal. Once you are stable your treatment plan may include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This type of therapy can help teach coping skills that change eating behaviors, improves self-esteem, and encourages healthy attitudes toward food. They can either be done in a group setting or one-on-one with a therapist that specializes in CBT. Programs last around four months.
Nutritional Therapy A nutritionist who specializes in nutritional therapy can help put together a diet plan.
Lifestyle Changes for Managing Bulimia
Eat Healthy Meals on a Normal Schedule. Choose healthy foods and eat at regular times throughout the day.
Start Walking After Meals. After each mealtime, just take a short walk to relax and burn just a few calories to replace any vigorous exercising.
Learn to Talk About Things. If something is bothering you, don’t keep it inside. Talk to a trusted friend, family member, or counselor. Issues with food are often the result of emotional distress that is not shared.
Try Writing in a Journal. If you have trouble talking about things, start keeping a journal of emotions. This will help you see where you can make some changes in your life. Sometimes this is better than someone else telling you what you need to change.
Think Positive. Give yourself positive “self-talks.” Practice positive mantra’s each day like, “I am beautiful for who I am”. Write down positive and encouraging words and put them around your house.
Alternative Medicine for Bulimia
With your doctor’s okay these therapies might compliment your treatment plan:
Meditation, yoga, hypnosis, and biofeedback can help relax you and improve well-being
Acupuncture may be helpful in relieving the accompanying anxiety and depression
Massage may be helpful in relieving anxiety symptoms
Note: Some alternative medicine and herbal remedies may contain ingredients that are used in weight loss. They do have side-effects and drug interactions that could cause harm. Always talk to your doctor about herbal remedies and supplements.
Bulimia is a body image and self-esteem disorder. Prevention includes the following healthy attitudes:
Modeling Behaviors. As a parent, model healthy eating and exercise behaviors for your kids. Eat healthy, practice moderation in both eating and exercise.
Avoid Negative Image Comments. Never talk about being too thin, too fat, or that kids needs to look a certain way. Never link weight or body image with being accepted in society.
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