Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder in which the person gorges on large amounts of food, and then tries to get rid of the food by inducing vomiting, exercising excessively or other methods such as using laxatives. When they feel upset they binge, i.e. eat large amounts of food, often in secret. Immediately after, they feel guilty and ashamed about having binged; so they purge, i.e. try to get rid of the food they have consumed by vomiting, over-exercising, etc. These feelings of guilt are a result of their body image issues and desire to be thin. Their misplaced self-image also leads to a low self esteem. Purging gives them a misguided sense of control over their lives; they feel that even though things around them may be out of control, they are able to control the way they look and their body image.
The physical implications of bulimia can be severe, but timely treatment can help a person feel better about themselves and develop healthier eating habits. They also learn to cope with their anxiety and stress in healthier ways.
Note: Some people rely on food as a source of comfort and may engage in binge-eating when they are going through emotional turmoil. However, unlike people suffering from bulimia, they do not try to compensate for the excess weight by purging or excessive exercise. Such people, who lose control of the amount of food they eat when they are distressed, may suffer from binge-eating disorder.
The main behavioral symptoms of bulimia are:
Some of the physical signs are:
There is no known cause for bulimia and it is usually a combination of factors in person's life that leads them to develop the disorder. Like most other eating disorders, people suffering from bulimia use these habits to cope with other deep seated emotional issues. Some of the factors that may lead to a person developing bulimia are:
Bulimia is a severe problem but it can be treated and you can recover fully if you seek timely help. Treatment mainly involves counseling and therapy to teach you how to cope with stress and anxiety better. Sometimes, you may be prescribed some medication such as antidepressants.
If there are physical complications you may be admitted for inpatient care until your condition stabilizes. If you are underweight, then a team of specialists will help get you back to healthy weight and follow a healthy diet. It is essential that you stick to your treatment plan at all times. Contact your doctor or caregiver immediately if you feel the urge to binge.
People suffering from bulimia have a great sense of shame associated with their problem so they may be reluctant to talk about it. However, bulimia causes severe damage to a person both physically and emotionally.
As a caregiver, you need to be extremely supportive. Encourage them to talk about their problem and seek treatment. They may be reluctant at first but you need to be patient; do not be pushy or use scare tactics, such as citing harmful consequences of the disorder. During the treatment phase, it is important that you ensure that everyone around maintains a healthy eating habit, and avoid conversations regarding weight and body image. Encourage your loved one to stick to the treatment plan and offer your full support in their time of weakness.
Living with bulimia can be an extremely stressful experience. The emotional stress along with the physical punishment can severely hamper your overall life. However, it is treatable and the first step to getting better is to accept that you have a problem and seek help. Treatment for bulimia can take time so patience and perseverance are important, and sticking to your treatment and diet plan is essential for your recovery. At any point if you are feeling low or feel the urge to binge, reach out to someone and talk to them. Develop better coping mechanisms for such times; go out for a run, talk to friends and family, etc.