How To Understand Bulimia

Bulimia nervosa is a type of eating disorder also known as binge and purge syndrome.  Someone who suffers from bulimia typically binges on large quantities of food and then attempts to prevent weight gain by vomiting, fasting, exercising compulsively, or abusing laxatives, diuretics and even enemas.  Below are some facts to give you a better understanding of bulimia:

  1. 90% of bulimics are women. 
  2. Bulimics are not as easy to identify as sufferers of anorexia nervosa because their weight may range from underweight to normal to overweight.
  3. Bulimic cycles vary:  Some people binge and purge as frequently as several times per day (for example, after every meal) while others  suffer episodes as sporadically as every few months. 
  4. Bulimics report a loss of control when they are binge eating.  They eat far more food than the amount required to sate hunger.  After the loss of control, the bulimic will frequently experience shame and self-loathing over her inability to control her overeating. 
  5. Although the cause of bulimia is not fully understood, many bulimics share the characteristics of low self-esteem and dissatisfaction with their appearance (particularly body size).  Some researchers believe that while the symptoms of bulimia are behavioral, the illness may have a biological core that is related to the body's inability to regulate serotonin.  Although controversial, some studies suggest a correlation between childhood experiences of abuse (physical, sexual or verbal) and bulimia.
  6. A girl suffering from bulimia will exhibit some combination of the following symptoms:
    • Binging episodes followed by purging
    • Preoccupation with food and/or weight
    • Mood swings and/or depression
    • Swollen puffy face and/or neck
    • Bloodshot eyes
    • Heartburn
    • Bloating and constipation
    • Fainting and dizziness
    • Endocrine and electrolyte imbalances
    • Dental decay
    • Internal bleeding, ulcers and other gastrointestinal disorders
    • Cessation of the menstrual period
    • Heart damage
  7. Treatment for bulimia is often delivered by a health care team that includes a nutritionist and therapist along with the primary physician.  In addition to learning healthy eating habits, patients must learn new coping strategies to address the underlying psychological issues.  Patients suffering from bulimia are frequently prescribed anti-depressants if they exhibit symptoms of underlying depression.  

If someone that you know suffers from bulimia, try to maintain a non-judgmental attitude and refer the person to appropriate resources available in your community.  The complex emotional and psychological issues that underlie bulimia nervosa must be addressed if this disease is to be overcome.  


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