What Is Bulimia?

February 28, 2024

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What is bulimia? Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that causes you to eat large amounts of food at one time (binging) and then get rid of it (purging). The physical, behavioral, and emotional symptoms vary. The exact causes of bulimia are unknown — it may be a combination of genetic factors and learned behaviors. Education and symptom awareness can help mitigate many bulimia health risks.

Understanding Bulimia Disorder

Bulimia is an eating disorder marked by cycles of uncontrollable binge eating, defined as consuming a significantly larger amount of food than usual within a span of less than two hours. These episodes are accompanied by a sense of loss of control. Subsequent purging behaviors include either self-induced vomiting or the misuse of diuretics, laxatives, or enemas to prevent weight gain.

The frequency of these binge-purge episodes varies widely, ranging from multiple times daily to several times weekly.

Individuals with bulimia often maintain a normal or higher-than-average body weight, which can conceal their condition for extended periods. It’s not uncommon for persons with bulimia to delay seeking treatment until their 30s or 50s, at which point the disordered eating patterns may be deeply rooted and more challenging to alter.

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There are two primary subtypes of bulimia based on how individuals compensate for calorie intake:

Purging type: Individuals engage in self-induced vomiting or misuse of medications to promote bowel movements.

Non-purging type: Individuals may resort to fasting or excessive exercise instead of purging to counteract the calories consumed during binges.

What are the symptoms of bulimia, then?

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Bulimia Symptoms

Signs of bulimia can be physical and psychological in presentation. Bulimia symptoms may include:

Maintaining a body weight that is normal or above the average

Uncontrollable binge-eating episodes, coupled with a fear of not being able to stop

Engaging in secret self-induced vomiting

Undertaking excessive physical exercise

Practicing extreme fasting

Displaying unusual eating rituals

Misusing laxatives or diuretics

Experiencing menstrual irregularities or cessation

Suffering from anxiety

Enduring feelings of self-dissatisfaction and negative body image

Showing signs of depression

Obsessing over food, body weight, and shape

Dealing with a consistently sore or inflamed throat

Feeling fatigue and a lack of energy

Having dental issues, such as enamel erosion from frequent vomiting

Individuals with eating disorders like bulimia typically share certain emotional traits, such as:

Tendency toward low self-esteem

Sense of helplessness

Extreme fear of gaining weight

Profound dissatisfaction with their body size and shape

For those with bulimia, bingeing can be a coping mechanism to alleviate stress and anxiety, but it often leads to feelings of guilt, self-disgust, and depression. The relief found in purging is usually temporary. There may be an inclination toward impulsivity and higher engagement in risky behaviors, including substance abuse.

Symptoms associated with bulimia can be indicative of other health or mental health issues. Consultation with a healthcare provider is essential for an accurate diagnosis.

Side Effects of Bulimia

Bulimia can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening side effects due to its impact on the body’s systems. These side effects include:

  • Electrolyte imbalances, which can result in irregular heartbeats, heart failure, or sudden death.
  • Gastrointestinal issues, such as chronic constipation, bloating, abdominal pain, and potential rupture of the stomach or esophagus from frequent vomiting.
  • Long-term damage to the digestive system, including the possibility of developing GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).
  • Oral health issues, with repeated exposure to stomach acid causing tooth decay, gum disease, and mouth sores.
  • Osteoporosis, stemming from nutritional deficiencies and hormonal disruptions affecting bone density.
  • Skin problems, including acne, dry skin, and carotenemia (yellowing of the skin) due to vitamin imbalances.
  • Severe dehydration, which can lead to kidney failure.
  • Psychological effects, such as increased risk of self-harm, suicidal ideation, and the development of other mental health disorders like anxiety or substance abuse disorders.

The side effects of bulimia mean that anyone affected by this eating disorder should seek medical and psychological treatment to mitigate these risks and address both the symptoms and underlying causes of the eating disorder.

Bulimia Treatment

Treatment for bulimia typically involves a combination of individual therapy and family therapy, aiming to alter behaviors and address nutritional issues. A multidisciplinary care team, including healthcare providers and nutritionists, will be involved in the treatment plan. Family members are often integral to the recovery process, providing essential support.

Therapeutic sessions delve into the connections between thoughts, emotions, and actions. A therapist will assist in identifying and transforming thought patterns that contribute to harmful behaviors.

Medications – especially antidepressants or anti-anxiety agents – might be prescribed for co-occurring anxiety or depression.

In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary to resolve issues with electrolyte imbalances.

FAQs

What are the health risks of bulimia?

Bulimia can lead to severe health risks including electrolyte imbalances, gastrointestinal problems, dental issues due to acid erosion, and heart complications. These risks result from recurrent binge eating followed by purging behaviors, such as vomiting, excessive exercise, or the misuse of laxatives.

Is bulimia a mental Illness?

Yes, bulimia, also known as bulimia nervosa, is classified as a mental illness. It is characterized by a cycle of binge eating followed by purging to prevent weight gain, often accompanied by an extreme fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image.

What does it mean to be bulimic?

What does bulimia mean, then? It means suffering from bulimia nervosa, a serious eating disorder marked by periods of binge eating followed by purging. Individuals with bulimia often feel a lack of control during these episodes, leading to recurring cycles of overeating and compensatory behaviors like vomiting, fasting, or over-exercising to prevent weight gain.

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Get Treatment for Bulimia at Connections

Eating disorders are highly treatable and we can help you with this here at Connections in Southern California.

We designed our beachside facility with one overarching goal in mind: to create a small and welcoming space where people battling various mental health issues can begin the recovery process guided by compassionate professionals and surrounded by a small number of peers dealing with similar issues.

Treatment for eating disorders like bulimia is highly personalized at Connections. As well as accessing evidence-based treatments, you’ll also have chance to participate in a range of holistic treatments, helping you to achieve whole-body recovery from bulimia.

Call 844-759-0999 today and begin your bulimia recovery tomorrow.

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