About 30 million Americans of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder.[1] Even though a large number of people struggle on a daily basis with their relationship with food, many people do not understand the depths of eating disorders or how to help individuals who are suffering. There are many misconceptions surrounding eating disorders, especially bulimia nervosa. If individuals are informed and aware of the common bulimia myths surrounding eating disorders, they are better equipped to recognize the signs and symptoms to help themselves or someone they love seek treatment.

5 Common Myths about Bulimia

If struggling individuals learn about the common misconceptions of bulimia, they will realize that millions of people suffer from the eating disorder and that they are not alone. Once the common myths are dispelled, individuals can sooner begin the healing process.

Myth #1- Bulimia only affects teenage girls and women.

One of the common bulimia myths is that only teenage girls and women suffer from eating disorders due to it prevalence in social media, magazines, and movies. It is true that many teenage girls do suffer from eating disorders because they are constantly being bombarded by information on celebrity diets and images of the ‘perfect body’ type. Expectations from society, peers, and family can make it difficult to overcome bulimia. And although it is more common to hear about teenage girls and women suffering from bulimia, men also struggle with their self-image and body weight.

According to the U.S. Library of Medicine, the lifetime prevalence of bulimia nervosa is about 1.5% for women and .5% for men. This equates to 4.7 million females and 1.5 million males that are diagnosed with bulimia. Males suffering from bulimia experience a wide range of physical and mental consequences. They may purge after an episode of binge eating, frequently weigh themselves, and can have a distorted self-image. Males with bulimia nervosa may deny that they have an eating disorder and will start to withdraw themselves from once previously enjoyed activities and can even experience bouts of depression.[2]

Myths #2- Bulimia is only associated with purging.

Although it is common for individuals to engage in purging, or vomiting, episodes after they eat food, bulimia can also be marked by a wide range of physical and mental characteristics. In addition to purging, individuals may also use laxatives, diuretics, and excessive exercise to try and reduce caloric intake.

Often times, individuals with bulimia nervosa show signs of low self-esteem and change their lifestyles by incorporating rigid exercise regimes and withdrawing from previously enjoyed activities or friends.

Myths #3- Bulimia is easy to recognize.

Unlike individuals diagnosed with anorexia, those diagnosed with bulimia nervosa typically have a normal weight or are slightly overweight.[3] This may make it increasingly difficult to visually recognize that an individual is suffering from bulimia.

In addition to their image, it may be difficult to recognize that individuals are suffering from bulimia because both males and females attempt to hide their binge eating and purging episodes. It may take family and friends longer to recognize the signs that their loved one is struggling until they begin to notice the mental and physical distress that the person is exhibiting.

Myths #4- Bulimia is the only disorder to be concerned about.

A common misconception is that the people who are suffering from bulimia are only concerned about their weight and self-image. However, over half of all bulimic patients have a co-occurring diagnosis. This refers to individuals who are diagnosed with an eating disorder are also diagnosed with a psychological disorder, such as anxiety or depression. In fact, more than half of all bulimic patients also suffer from anxiety.[4] The obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors associated with caloric intake leads to an uncontrollable amount of worry and fear. This causes high levels of anxiety about gaining weight among patients suffering from bulimia nervosa.

Shining light on co-occurring disorders and getting informed on how frequent these cases are is essential in helping individuals seek effective treatment for a full recovery. Researched based techniques, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and self-soothing strategies are used to help individuals cope with their co-occurring disorder and live a healthy, fulfilling life again.

Myths #5- Bulimia does not affect long-term health.

Contrary to popular belief, bulimia can be extremely harmful to an individual’s health livelihood. There are a multitude of chronic mental and physical health consequences if the destructive eating behaviors, such as purging, persist. For instance, one of the health consequences includes throat and enamel erosion from stomach acid, which is caused by repeated vomiting. In addition to dental decay, more severe consequences include electrolyte imbalances that can lead to heart failure and inflammation of the esophagus.[5]

In severe cases, the cycle of shame and guilt surrounding caloric intake and body-image can cause individuals to be diagnosed with depression or have suicidal thoughts. It is absolutely vital that individuals become informed on the detrimental effects bulimia can have on a person’s health and happiness and should seek treatment to recover the mind, body, and spirit from the eating disorder.

Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists Can Help

Whether you or someone you love is suffering from bulimia, be proactive and seek treatment. The mental and physical consequences of bulimia nervosa can ultimately be prevented if individuals understand the common myths associated with the disorder. Seeking a team of medical professionals and Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists will not only improve the physical health of individuals who are suffering, but will also provide patients with the skills needed to cultivate self-compassion and live a healthy life.

Greta Gleissner is the Founder of Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists, a nationwide network of eating disorder treatment specialists that provide meal coaching and recovery skills such as CBT, DBT, ACT, MI, etc. EDRS works alongside treatment programs, teams and families to provide transitional aftercare support for post-residential treatment clients.

[1] https://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/

[2] https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/bulimia-nervosa-males

[3] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders-new-trifold/index.shtml

[4] https://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/

[5] https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/bulimia-nervosa

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