Bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurrent and frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food (e.g., binge-eating), and feeling a lack of control over the eating. This binge-eating is followed by a type of behavior that compensates for the binge, such as purging (e.g., vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics), fasting and/or excessive exercise.
Unlike anorexia, people with bulimia can fall within the normal range for their age and weight. But like people with anorexia, they often fear gaining weight, want desperately to lose weight, and are intensely unhappy with their body size and shape. Usually, bulimic behavior is done secretly, because it is often accompanied by feelings of disgust or shame. The binging and purging cycle usually repeats several times a week. Similar to anorexia, people with bulimia often have coexisting psychological illnesses, such as depression, anxiety and/or substance abuse problems. Many physical conditions result from the purging aspect of the illness, including electrolyte imbalances, gastrointestinal problems, and oral and tooth-related problems.
Bulimia Nervosa is defined as:
- Recurrent episodes of binge eating experienced as out of control
- Regular purging, fasting, or excessive exercise to prevent weight gain
- At least two episodes of binging and purging per week for at least three months
Bulimia Nervosa Causes:
The exact cause of bulimia is unknown. As with other mental illnesses, there are many possible factors that could play a role in the development of eating disorders, such as genes, certain behaviors, psychological disorders, and family and societal influences:
- Biology: There may be genes that make some people more vulnerable to developing eating disorders. People with first-degree relatives — siblings or parents — with an eating disorder may be more likely to develop an eating disorder as well, suggesting a possible genetic link. It's also possible that a deficiency in the brain chemical serotonin may play a role in the development of bulimia.
- Behavior: Certain behaviors, such as dieting or over-exercising, can contribute to the development of bulimia. For example, dieting helps encourage rigid rules about food, which when broken can lead to loss of control and overeating.
- Emotional Health: People with eating disorders may have psychological and emotional problems that contribute to the disorder. They may have low self-esteem, perfectionism, impulsive behavior, anger management difficulties, past trauma, family conflicts and/or troubled relationships.
- Society: The modern cultural environment often cultivates and reinforces a desire for thinness. Success and worth are often equated with being thin in popular culture. Peer pressure and what people see in the media may fuel this desire to be thin, particularly among young women.
Bulimia Nervosa Risk Factors:
Certain situations and events might increase the risk of developing an eating disorder. These risk factors may include:
- Sex: Girls and women are more likely to have bulimia than boys and men are.
- Age: Bulimia often begins in late adolescence or early adulthood. Bulimia is more common in college students than in younger teens.
- Family History: Eating disorders, such as bulimia, are more likely to occur in people who have parents or siblings who have had an eating disorder.
- Dieting: People who lose weight are often reinforced by positive comments from others and by their changing appearance. This may cause some people to take dieting too far, leading to bulimia.
- Family Influences: People who feel less secure in their families, whose parents and siblings may be overly critical, or whose families tease them about their appearance are at higher risk of bulimia and other eating disorders.
- Emotional Disorders: People with depression, anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder are more likely to have an eating disorder.
- Occupation: Athletes, actors and television personalities, dancers, and models are at higher risk of eating disorders, such as bulimia. Eating disorders are particularly common among ballerinas, gymnasts, skiers, runners and wrestlers. Coaches and parents may unwittingly contribute to eating disorders by encouraging young athletes to lose weight.
Bulimia Nervosa Complications:
Bulimia may cause numerous serious and even life-threatening complications. Possible complications of bulimia include:
- Heart problems, such as an irregular heartbeat and heart failure
- Severe tooth decay
- Chronically inflamed and sore throat
- In females, absence of a period
- Digestive problems, and possibly a dependence on laxatives to have bowel movements
- Kidney issues
- Severe dehydration
- Drug and alcohol abuse
Bulimia Nervosa Treatment Options:
There are several methods currently used to treat binge eating disorder and they are often combined depending on the needs of the individual:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: Method in which the client is taught techniques to monitor and change their eating habits, as well as to change the way they respond to difficult and stressful situations.
- Interpersonal psychotherapy: Method in which the client is taught to examine their relationships with friends and family and to make changes in problem areas.
- Medications: Antidepressants may be helpful for some individuals.
- Self-help groups: These groups may be a good additional source of support for many.
Often those who have bulimia nervosa suffer with the disorder for years, feel ashamed, depressed may feel very alone. It is important to recognize that you are not alone, there are millions like you and there are successful treatment options available for you.