The American Psychiatric Association considers bulimia nervosa to be one of the three main types of eating disorders, along with binge eating disorder and anorexia nervosa. While eating disorders affect millions of individuals at any moment, they most often manifest in girls and women between the ages of 12 and 35.
Binge Sessions and Bulimia Nervosa
One of the hallmarks of bulimia nervosa is the existence of a cycle involving binge eating followed by purging using induced vomiting or even laxatives. In an average binge eating session, an individual suffering from bulimia nervosa could consume thousands of calories in a short period of time. They likely feel out of control, and only stop eating if they are somehow interrupted, fall asleep, or experience severe stomach pain. After a binge session, the individual is afraid of weight gain or experiencing discomfort; they will then turn to purging. This cycle of binging followed by purging happens at least many times a week, or perhaps even several times in a single day. A single binge session could lead to the consumption of thousands of calories that tend to be high in fat, carbohydrates, as well as sugars. Someone with bulimia nervosa may consume food during a binge session so rapidly they are unable to even taste what they are eating.
What Does Bulimia Nervosa Look Like?
On the whole, individuals with bulimia nervosa do not tend to be as underweight as those suffering from anorexia nervosa. This is due to the existence of intense binge eating sessions; someone with bulimia nervosa may be anywhere from slightly underweight to obese. Because of this, loved ones often overlook the signs and complications of bulimia nervosa, which could include:
- A puffy face and cheeks
- Teeth beginning to decay from exposure to stomach acids after their enamel wears off
- A sore throat that is chronically inflamed
- Severe dehydration from the purging of fluids
- Kidney problems caused by the use of diuretics, or water pills
- Gastroesophageal reflux disorder, caused by constant vomiting
- Intestinal issues caused by irritation from laxative abuse
- Salivary glands below the jaw and in the neck become swollen
While it is rare, bulimia could lead to potentially fatal complications such as cardiac arrhythmias, gastric rupture, and esophageal tears.
Bulimia Nervosa Prevention
The Mayo Clinic says that there is no definitive way to prevent the development of bulimia nervosa. There are, however, factors that may increase one’s risk of developing the disease including one’s biology, frequent dieting, and emotional and physical issues. Bulimia nervosa is more common in girls and women than in boys and men. And it tends to begin in one’s late teens or even early adulthood.
Some ways to help steer an individual (or yourself) towards a healthier relationship with food include:
- Talking to a primary care provider about what early indicators to look out for
- Discouraging dieting, especially iterations that involve fasting, the use of weight-loss supplements, or laxatives
- Having regular, enjoyable family meals
- Avoiding talking about weight at home
- Fostering and reinforcing a healthy body image in one’s children, no matter what shape or size they may be; this can be coupled with helping them build confidence in ways that do not hinge upon their appearance.
Bulimia Nervosa Treatment
The American Psychiatric Association says that the first step in treating bulimia nervosa is to disrupt a patient’s cycle of binging and purging. However, simply interrupting this caustic cycle is not enough: it is essential to also address the underlying psychological issues that inform the behavior in the first place, perhaps through psychotherapy.
If you or a loved one is experiencing bulimia nervosa or otherwise disordered eating, we are here to help at Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists. You may contact us via phone (866-525-2766), email, or by filling out our contact form.