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A Better Understanding of Bulimia Nervosa

Despite the fact that both society and the medical world have come a long way in how they think of and treat mental health issues, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding eating disorders. Bulimia Nervosa is an eating disorder which is often misunderstood. Many people incorrectly believe that Bulimia Nervosa is simply a person choosing to make themselves vomit after they eat in order to stop themselves from gaining weight. This is not the case. In fact, there is a lot more to the condition than this. For sufferers of Bulimia to recover and manage their condition, it is essential that this condition is given the serious consideration that it deserves and that the sufferer gets the support they need.

What is Bulimia Nervosa?

Components of Vicious Circle of Bulimia

Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by two behaviors; bingeing and purging. During the bingeing phase, sufferers eat large amounts of food compulsively in a short period of time. They may feel completely unable to stop or control their behavior. They may eat things that they wouldnt normally eat. The second phase is the purging phase. This involves getting rid of the food. They may do this by inducing vomiting or diarrhea, or by fasting for a period of time, or exercising obsessively. There are several ways that a sufferer of Bulimia Nervosa may induce vomiting or diarrhea. These are often harmful – just as extreme fasting and extreme exercise can also cause damage.

It is important to highlight that a sufferer of Bulimia Nervosa is not in control of their symptoms or the related behavior. They are suffering from a very real mental health condition that changes how they think and impairs their ability to make sound judgments. They may have a distorted view of their body, be suffering from the consequences of past trauma, or feel like their behavior is justified in some way.

The Health Impacts of Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia health impacts vector illustration.

Bulimia Nervosa can result in malnutrition, even though many people suffering from the condition have a normal body weight. This can cause widespread damage throughout the body, from hair loss to brittle bones, immune dysfunction to cardiovascular disease. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can range from mild to life-threatening and come with many different unpleasant symptoms. The other health impacts of Bulimia Nervosa include the effects of purging. Frequent vomiting impacts the gullet, mouth, and teeth. The misuse of laxatives, diuretics, and other medicines can have serious consequences, including damage to the cardiovascular system and digestive tract.

People with Bulimia may experience fatigue, nausea, bloating, and other unpleasant physical symptoms. They often feel a sense of shame about their condition, and many sufferers work hard to keep the illness a secret from the other people around them. This can make the problem worse, as feelings of guilt, anxiety, and isolation can build up.

Signs of Bulimia Nervosa

Overweight woman eating tons of junk food and drinking beer

This is an eating disorder that is notoriously difficult to spot. Sufferers may be a healthy weight despite their condition. They may hide the signs and only binge or purge when they are sure nobody else will know it is happening. However, there are a number of typical signs to look out for, but it is important to remember that these might be very subtle or not apparent at all.

 

  1. Bingeing – eating a large amount of food in a short time (this might be hidden, but signs may include buying large amounts of food, eating in private, or being secretive about eating).
  2. Purging – inducing vomiting, inducing diarrhea, fasting, or extreme exercise (this might mean disappearing soon after eating, choosing to eat in private or frequent bouts of unexplained illness).
  3. Obsessive thoughts around weight, food, or body image.
  4. Mood swings.
  5. Anxiety, stress, tension.
  6. Depression, low mood, and thoughts of self-harm.
  7. Feeling unable to control eating.

Who is at Risk of Bulimia Nervosa?

Contrary to what many people think, Bulimia Nervosa can occur in anyone. There are, however, certain groups of people for whom Bulimia is more common. Even though it is much more common in women than men and much more common in teenagers and young adults, this does not mean that men or older people do not get Bulimia – they do.

People are more likely to suffer from Bulimia Nervosa if they are dealing with past trauma or abuse. It is also more likely if they have other people around them with eating disorders, such as family members. Having a distorted body image or feeling under pressure to look a certain way can also have a huge impact. For example, those who feel like they have to stay slim for a job or who belong to a friendship group or family that places a high value on being slim or controlling eating.

Bulimia Nervosa and Other Eating Disorders

All eating disorders are not the same, and it is vital to think of them differently. However, there are links between different conditions, and a person may experience a change of symptoms over time so that their diagnosis changes. Bulimia is often associated with Anorexia Nervosa, another serious eating disorder. Both these conditions can have far-reaching impacts on the health of the individual.

Treatment for Bulimia

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Bulimia should be treated as a matter of urgency. This requires the attention of an expert in the treatment and management of eating disorders. Talking therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy are often used to help change the thoughts and feelings that a sufferer has around their body and the idea of food and health. It is crucial that the sufferer of any eating disorder has sustained support and that treatment is tailored to suit their individual needs. As with many mental health issues, those suffering from eating disorders will all have unique histories and unique needs that have to be addressed. 

If you are concerned about your own health or that of someone you know, then you can speak to a medical professional or contact a charity or advice service that can provide expert advice on eating disorders. For more information, check out https://anad.org/.

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