What you should know about the oft-misunderstood condition of bulimia.
For most people, eating is a normal activity that gives the body the nutrients it needs to survive, maintain energy levels, and stay healthy. Eating is more difficult for someone with bulimia.
People with bulimia will eat large amounts of food, often in secret, while feeling a loss of self-control. They then attempt to rid themselves of the extra calories in harmful ways.
There are two categories of bulimia, though they often overlap. A person with purging bulimia binges on food and then forces self-induced vomiting or abuses laxatives, enemas, or diuretics to prevent weight gain.
For this person, the purging will bring a sense of relief. Someone with non-purging bulimia uses other methods such as fasting or excessive exercise to rid themselves of any calories they consume.
What causes someone to become bulimic, what are the symptoms, and what can be done for someone living with this life-threatening illness?
Causes and Risks
Most common among adolescent girls and young women, bulimia isn’t a one-size-fits-all condition. Often, bulimia is related to self-image. Individuals with bulimia are very self-conscious about their weight and the shape of their body. What causes someone to go to the extremes of binging and purging is not always clear. Many factors can contribute to this eating disorder. Here are four of the most common.
1. Genetics. If you have a close relative who is bulimic or has suffered bulimia in the past, you are more likely to develop the disorder as well.
2. Diet obsessed. Always have dieting and exercising on the brain? Then you’re more prone to go on binges. When strict rules about food are broken, you feel a loss of control and have feelings of guilt that lead to purging.
3. Emotional health. You’re more likely to develop bulimia if you struggle with low self-esteem, impulsive behavior, perfectionism, family conflicts, or anger management problems. Also, if you’ve been frequently criticized or teased for your appearance, you’re at a higher risk.
4. Social Pressure. Whether or purpose or not, the media often equates success and beauty with being thin. Society is bombarded with images which many try to unrealistically attain. As a result, those individuals who fall prey to the pressure often become bulimic. These include models, actors, gymnasts, ballerinas, runners, and wrestlers.
Afraid someone you love is suffering from bulimia? It can be difficult to determine, since people with bulimia usually binge and purge in private. Additionally, an individual with bulimia is often a normal weight, making it easy to hide the eating disorder.
If you are concerned about a loved one you suspect may have bulimia, look for the following red flags:
- compulsive exercise
- damaged teeth and gums
- large quantities of food that disappear in a short amount of time
- packages of laxatives or diuretics in the trash
- persistent complaints about being overweight
- regular visits to the bathroom following or during a meal
- sores in the mouth or throat
Bulimia is an incredibly dangerous condition that can lead to serious medical problems, especially in the throat and mouth. Therefore, this condition should not be ignored and cannot be corrected without professional attention. Since the disorder is not just about food but related also to self-image, bulimia is a multifaceted disease that requires a multidisciplinary approach to treat.
Treatment for bulimia may combine antidepressants with psychotherapy. The best outcome for treating the disorder occurs when the family, primary physician, mental health physicians, dietician and a case manager are all involved. Support groups are also available and are beneficial for those recovering from bulimia. Progress may be slow and relapses can be common, but for those who persevere, eating will once again become an enjoyable and normal part of a healthy life.
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