What is Bulimia Nervosa?
The eating disorder known as bulimia nervosa, or simply bulimia, is a mental illness characterised by episodes of binge eating and purging. These habits are frequently accompanied by depression, issues with body satisfaction, and a severe fear of gaining weight.
“Bingeing” is the term used to describe eating an unusually large amount of food in a short space of time while feeling out of control in the context of eating disorders. Bingeing frequently takes place in private and can result in strong feelings of guilt and shame.
How Does Bulimia Nervosa Develop?
Anyone can be impacted by bulimia, much like other eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, however, studies have found that women may be more susceptible than men. Furthermore, research suggests that bulimia nervosa affects girls and women of colour at a rate that is 50% greater than that of white women, although these individuals are less likely to receive a diagnosis and treatment.
Causes of Bulimia Nervosa
It is unclear what specifically causes eating disorders such as bulimia. They may arise for a variety of reasons, including genetics, biology, emotional well-being, societal expectations, and other variables.
Risk Factors Associated With Bulimia Nervosa
As previously mentioned, bulimia nervosa is more common in women and girls than in boys and men and tends to start in late adolescence or early adulthood. The following factors could make you more likely to develop bulimia:
Biology – There may be a hereditary component to the increased risk of eating disorders in those with first-degree relatives who have them (siblings, parents, or children). The risk may rise if a youngster or teen is overweight.
Emotional and psychological problems – Eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa are often related to mental disorders like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse and people with bulimia may experience poor self esteem. In certain instances, traumatic experiences and environmental stress may also be contributing factors.
Dieting – Dieters are more likely to experience eating disorders. Between binge episodes, a lot of bulimics drastically restrict their caloric intake, which can lead to cravings for further binge eating followed by purging. Other factors that can lead to binge eating include stress, perception of poor body shape and boredom.
Signs and Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa
Bulimia nervosa has a number of warning signs and symptoms, including:
- Obsessive thoughts or actions around dieting and weight loss.
- Evidence of binge eating disorder, such as large amounts of food missing from its customary location or an unusual number of food wrappers or containers.
- Dental issues, scabs on hands and knuckles, and puffy lips and cheeks could all be signs of frequent vomiting.
- Evidence of purging behaviours to prevent weight gain. For example, going to the restroom right after eating, vomit sounds and odours, having certain food rituals, or being uneasy when eating.
- Collapse in mental health.
- Withdrawing from loved ones and acquaintances.
- General irritation or other changes in mood.
- Weight fluctuations.
- Rigorous or obsessive exercise, such as exercising when injured or exercising against their will.
It can be challenging for friends and family to notice bingeing and purging as someone with bulimia nervosa is likely to try everything in their power to disguise it. Consider having a conversation with the individual you’re concerned about if you observe any of the warning indicators mentioned above, as well as behavioural changes like irritability, low self-esteem, obsession with body weight, or indications of poor mental health.
Helping a Loved One With Symptoms of Bulimia
Discuss your worries with your loved one in an open and sincere manner if you believe they may be experiencing bulimia symptoms. Although you’re unable to force an individual to seek professional care, you can still offer encouragement and support. Additionally, you can assist in setting up an appointment with a licensed medical or mental health professional and even volunteer to accompany them.
It may not be obvious to others that something is not quite right because most people with bulimia nervosa are typically average weight or slightly overweight.
Health Implications of Bulimia Nervosa
Bulimia nervosa can physically harm a person, in addition to the emotional toll it causes. Electrolyte and chemical abnormalities that harm the heart and other vital organs can result from it. Cardiovascular arrest and electrolyte imbalance has the ability to be fatal. Other negative effects on the health of people with bulimia nervosa include:
- Digestive problems that continue for a long time, especially in the upper digestive system, due to damage caused by vomiting and stomach acid.
- Irregular menstruation cycles or trouble becoming pregnant.
- Gum disease and tooth decay brought on by prolonged contact to stomach acid.
- Kidney issues as a result of severe dehydration.
- Nutritional inadequacies, which cause hair loss, dry skin, and brittle nails.
People with bulimia nervosa are also at greater risk of self-harm and suicidal thoughts. It is of paramount importance that you call a helpline, tell a friend, or go to a counsellor or doctor if you are having thoughts of harming yourself or ending your life.
Prevention of Bulimia Nervosa
Although there is no sure-fire way to stop or treat bulimia nervosa, you can influence someone to adopt healthier habits or seek professional help before things get out of hand. This is how you can assist:
- Regardless of their size or shape, encourage and reinforce a positive body image in your kids. Encourage them to develop their confidence in areas other than beauty.
- Enjoy frequent meals together as a family.
- Don’t discuss weight at home. Instead, concentrate on leading a healthy lifestyle.
- Encourage appropriate weight-control methods instead of dieting, particularly when they involve fasting, the use of laxatives or supplements to lose weight, or self-induced vomiting.
- Consult your primary care physician. They might be in a good position to spot early signs of an eating disorder and contribute to its prevention.
- Consider having a helpful conversation with a relative or friend about their apparent food concerns because they may be precursors to or indicators of an eating disorder.
It’s critical to seek assistance as soon as you can. When an intervention is made early in the course of the illness, treatment for eating disorders is typically the most successful. However, it’s never too late to get help; even if you’ve been struggling for some time, healing is still possible.
Even if you don’t feel unwell enough to have an eating disorder, you should seek support if you exhibit any symptoms of disordered eating. These symptoms may include dieting, bingeing, feelings of guilt, restricting particular foods, excessive exercise, or simply feeling bad about your body shape. A crucial first step would be to ask for assistance from a school counsellor or other mental health expert at your educational establishment.
If you notice any of these signs, seek medical help right away:
- Lightheadedness, or alterations in your heartbeat or blood pressure.
- Persistent pain in your neck, chest, stomach, or mouth (gums, cheeks, or teeth).
- Trouble staying hydrated (yellow urine).
- Signs of hormonal imbalance like decreased libido, decreased sexual function, or, if you menstruate, a missed period or other disturbance in your menstrual cycle.
- Changes in your skin or hair loss.
- Cravings or thoughts to hurt or end your own life. If this occurs, seek assistance immediately. Speak to a friend, a counsellor, a doctor, or dial a helpline.
At The Wave, we are aware of the challenges associated with having an eating disorder such as bulimia nervosa. It is possible for what started out as placing emphasis on healthy nutrition to get out of hand. Bulimia nervosa may have also developed as a result of early trauma or abuse, contextual variables like culture and stigma, or peer pressure.
No matter what, we recognise that your health comes first. If you’re prepared to seek help, The Wave will work with you to address the underlying causes of your eating disorder, develop coping mechanisms and appropriate eating habits, and get rid of what may otherwise be a fatal condition.
At The Wave Clinic, we also utilise family based treatment to help young adults regain self-esteem and confidence to work towards a happy and healthy future.