To understand how bulimia starts, it is important to know more about this eating disorder and how it affects people. Bulimia is a mental health illness that manifests itself through the control of food intake. Those who suffer with the illness will cycle through periods of bingeing on food before purging themselves of excess calories. This cycle of bingeing and purging can lead to damage on many parts of the body.
Since bulimia is a mental health disorder, it is a complex condition in terms of treatment. Moreover, because it is difficult to spot the physical signs early on, it is an illness that often goes unnoticed until it is at the later stages.
What Causes Bulimia?
Most people who either have bulimia or know someone with the condition are interested to know how bulimia starts. The answer will not be the same for every person though. It is not possible to pinpoint an exact cause of this eating disorder for every single person. There may be a specific event that triggers this unhealthy eating pattern, for example, or it could be a combination of factors.
Risk factors for bulimia include having a poor body image, having low self-esteem, seeing thinness as perfection, suffering a traumatic event, having a family history of eating disorders, or having a history of mental health problems.
In many individuals, the issue of how bulimia starts is a complex one. Some people see food as a way to release their emotions or as something they can control (when they are unable to control other areas of their life). Some are under pressure to be thin because of a hobby or job that they have such as modelling, acting, ballet, athletics, or horse-riding. As we have alluded to, why and how bulimia starts is different for everyone.
What is clear, however, is that despite many people believing that eating disorders affect only young girls, the reality is that anyone can develop this mental health disorder. In the UK alone, it is estimated that over one-and-a-quarter-million people are affected by eating disorders, and that around eleven per cent of those are male.
Could You Have Bulimia?
If you are worried that you may have bulimia, the following signs will help to give you an indication:
- Eating substantial amounts of calories over a short period
- Being unable to stop eating until you feel physically sick
- Eating alone when others are in bed, or going out on your own to eat
- Trying to get rid of the excess calories that you have eaten by making yourself vomit, exercising, or taking laxatives
- Feeling ashamed about the amount of food you have eaten or the lack of control you had when eating
- Having a fear of gaining weight
- Having low self-esteem because of how you view your body shape
- Allowing your feelings about your body and your food consumption to take over to the point that it interferes with daily life
- Struggling with feelings of anxiety and tension.
It is often difficult to spot the signs of bulimia in others because, unlike other eating disorders such as anorexia, there is often no obvious weight change. Nevertheless, those who are worried about a loved one can look out for the following signs:
- Disappearance of food or evidence that large quantities of food have been consumed – i.e. empty wrappers in the bin
- Frequently heading straight to the bathroom after a meal and leaving the tap running to mask the sound of vomiting
- A faint smell of vomit in the bathroom or on your loved one that has been disguised with mint, perfume, or air freshener
- A preoccupation with weight or dieting
- Leaving toilet paper in the toilet bowel
- Flushing the toilet more than once
- Marks or scars on hands and knuckles from purging
- Discoloured teeth from frequent vomiting
- Excessive exercising.
People who have bulimia often make excuses about the amount of food they are eating, or will eat alone so that loved ones do not see how much food they are consuming. They may also have tiny red pinprick marks on their faces, which are caused by burst blood vessels when they vomit.
The Negative Effects of Bulimia
It might seem as though bulimia does not cause much damage because in the beginning there may not be any noticeable physical symptoms. Nonetheless, constantly bingeing and purging can put the body under immense stress and can result in major damage.
One of the more substantial risks to health and life is severe dehydration, which can come about due to purging. Excessive vomiting and the use of laxatives can lead to an imbalance in the body’s electrolyte levels. This can result in low potassium levels, which can cause symptoms such as irregular heartbeat, lethargy, and even death.
Those who struggle with bulimia may suffer numerous health problems, including:
- swollen glands
- dental problems from constant vomiting
- sore throat
- bad breath
- menstrual problems
- brittle fingernails
- dry hair and skin
- bowel problems such as constipation
- kidney problems
- heart problems
Treatment for Bulimia
There is no blood test or examination that can diagnose bulimia, but if you are worried that you or someone you love is struggling, it is important to speak to a doctor as soon as possible. The earlier the treatment is accessed, the higher the chance of a full recovery.
Treatment for eating disorders such as bulimia is complex due to the condition being a mental health disorder. Unlike treatment for other mental health problems such as addiction though, it is not possible to treat the problem with abstinence. It is necessary to help the affected person develop healthy eating habits, but this can be difficult.
Those with eating disorders often have underlying mood disorders as well such as anxiety disorder or chronic depression, and these issues must also be addressed. Treatment often comes in the form of therapy in an outpatient or inpatient facility.
The aim of treatment for bulimia is to help the sufferer develop a healthier relationship with food and to challenge any dysfunctional thoughts. The first step though is to break the cycle of bingeing and purging. This is usually done through psychological counselling, but there may also be a need for antidepressant medication. The combination of both can help to reduce bingeing episodes.
A counsellor or therapist is likely to use cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help the sufferer challenge his or her negative thought processes and replace them with positive alternatives. The use of CBT can help to change the way the affected person thinks about food, body shape, weight, and other beliefs they might have.
Nutritional counselling is also likely to be a big part of treatment for bulimia. If you are a sufferer, you need to learn how to eat healthily and nutritionally, and this will mean learning how to eat three meals a day with healthy snacks in between.
Individual counselling is also likely to be used and the aim of this is to help you identify any underlying issues that may have caused your bulimia in the first place. With a counsellor, you will learn how to overcome any emotional of psychological issues to help you move forward after treatment.
How to Access Help for Bulimia
Overcoming bulimia is extremely important. Without treatment, your condition is likely to get worse. Fortunately, there are many organisations across the UK that can help you to get better. Here at Addiction Helper, we work with charities, local counsellors, private clinics, and the NHS to ensure that our clients have as much choice as possible when it comes to beating their illnesses. We provide free advice and information about how bulimia starts and how it can be overcome.
If you are ready to get started on a programme of recovery, please call us today. We have a team of friendly advisors ready to take your call and direct you to the organisation that can help you turn your life around. Our dedicated helpline is available 24-hours a day or, if you prefer, we can contact you; simply leave your details on this website and we will be in touch as soon as possible.