Most people have some idea of what bulimia nervosa is. Most of us are aware that it is an eating disorder, and that people with bulimia will deliberately make themselves sick. What some people may not know is that it is that the condition is actually characterised by cycles of severe restriction of food intake, followed by binges where massive amounts of food are consumed and then almost immediately purged, either by vomiting or taking large amounts of laxatives. Unlike anorexia nervosa, bulimia can go undetected for a long time as sufferers will often not show much change in body weight. Bulimia is essentially a mental disorder that manifests as an eating disorder and can result in many outcomes that people might not expect.
What Can Happen as a Result of Bulimia?
First, it can be very expensive. That might seem strange for an eating disorder where someone is attempting to control their body weight, but during binge cycles, a bulimia sufferer can consume massive amounts of food. The compulsion to eat can be so great that bulimics will even spend money that should be going on household bills or rent on food.
Sufferers of bulimia will often develop yellowed teeth as the frequent vomiting causes acid from the stomach to damage the enamel on the teeth. Repeated vomiting can also result in swollen cheeks and eyes due to the pressure build up from leaning over to induce vomiting; this can also cause burst capillaries and bloodshot eyes. Other physical signs can include scars on knuckles and around the mouth from repeatedly pushing fingers down the throat to trigger being sick.
Bulimia sufferers can experience a sense of pride in having been able to make themselves get rid of all the food they have binged, something those of us who have never suffered from this disease would probably struggle to understand. At the same time, they can experience feelings of shame. Shame because, despite all the purging, bulimia sufferers often do not actually lose much weight. For someone suffering from a mental health disorder rooted in weight control, that can be hard to deal with.
A bulimia sufferer may cancel plans to go out with friends. Why? Because he or she plans their day around being able to time when they eat and the need to be able to purge immediately afterwards. Plans will be cancelled or turned down because the sufferer cannot fit in bingeing and being sick and still manage to go out. This need to fit their life around being able to binge and purge can also result in dropping out of academic studies and even losing jobs.
Maintaining friendships or romantic relationships can be difficult. As well as the inability to commit to plans, constantly hiding their behaviour makes them appear secretive. And if the frequent vomiting is not hidden, well, who wants to spend their time with someone who is constantly being sick?
Like those who suffer from other eating disorders, bulimia sufferers are often experts in nutrition. They will know the calorie content and nutritional value of an enormous range of foods. This knowledge is not always wasted, however, with many people in recovery from eating disorders going on to study nutritional sciences.
Bulimia sufferers usually lack energy. Despite bingeing on vast amounts of food, the immediate purging means that very few nutrients are absorbed into the body, so the affected person will not be getting the vitamins and minerals their body needs to function properly. The constant purging is also physically and mentally draining. As well as lacking energy, sufferers from bulimia will also be very dehydrated. Purging gets rid of a lot of water from the body, and so bulimics will tend to have very poor skin.
Why Do Individuals Get Bulimia?
The causes of bulimia, like any mental disorder, will vary from person to person. There is thought to be some genetic predisposition to eating disorders, and bulimia is seen more frequently in those who have a close relative who has also suffered from bulimia, but this is not evident in all sufferers. The biggest factor, as in anorexia, is most likely the prevalence in today’s society of images and portrayals of ‘ideal’ body type. Teenage girls are especially susceptible to this, as the need to ‘fit in’ and be popular can be particularly strong in those of school age. Bullying of those who do not fit what is considered the ideal is a significant contributing factor in those who develop bulimia as teenagers.
Bulimia nervosa is a mental disorder, and those suffering from it will often also suffer from anxiety or depression. The desire to exert extreme control over body weight can also arise out of an inability, for whatever reason, to control anything else in the sufferer’s life. This may not actually be the case but could be the perception of the sufferer.
I Have Bulimia, How Can I Get Help?
First, in recognising that you have a problem, you have already taken the first step on the path to getting better, and that first step is the most difficult. At Addiction Helper, we can give you advice on the kind of treatments available and help you to decide on the best options for you. So please, contact us today.
- (Irish News) 23 things you’ll only know if you’ve suffered with bulimia
- (NHS) Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder and mental health condition.