Bulimia nervosa, commonly called bulimia, is an eating disorder that is often misdiagnosed or missed altogether. It is most common among young females, although both males and females of any age, race, or demographic may struggle with any eating disorder. There are many signs and symptoms of bulimia. It is important to understand that if you believe you struggle with bulimia or any of its symptoms, you should talk with someone you trust and ask them to help you get the medical attention you need.
The warning signs of bulimia include:
- Preoccupation with food
- Frequent overeating, especially when distressed
- Excessive concern about weight
- Strict dieting followed by eating binges
- Binging on high-calorie, sweet foods
- Feeling out of control
- Depressive moods
- Planning binges or opportunities to binge
- Leaving for the bathroom after meals (to purge)
- Being secretive about binges or vomiting
- Vomiting after binging
- Overuse of laxatives, diuretics, diet pills, or exercise to “control” weight
- Denial of hunger
- Use of drugs to induce vomiting
- Swollen salivary glands, damaged teeth, gastroesophageal reflux
- Broken blood vessels in eyes
Bulimia nervosa (BN) is a medical diagnosis. People diagnosed with BN meet the following basic criteria:
- Binge eating – eating a large amount of food in a small amount of time with the feeling that you can’t stop or control it, with physical or emotional distress.
- Purging – compensation via vomiting, laxatives, water pills, starvation, exercise, etc.
- Binging & purging more than 2 times per week for at least 3 months.
- Body dissatisfaction – self-evaluation and self-esteem overly influenced by weight and shape.
- Weight can be normal, overweight, or underweight. Large weight swings can be a warning sign.
To be diagnosed with BN, a person must meet all of the above criteria. However, it is important to note that if a person does not have an eating disorder it does not mean that he or she does not have disordered eating. You can have disordered eating without having an eating disorder.
There are many complications resulting from bulimia nervosa, including mental disorders, digestive conditions, and heart conditions. The following are conditions resulting from BN behaviors:
- Difficulty concentrating/focusing
- Difficulty regulating moods
- Osteoporosis, even at a young age
- Increased risk of stress fractures (broken bones)
- Stunted growth
- Thyroid abnormalities
- Low energy/fatigue
- Impaired body temperature regulation – low body temp.
- Hair thinning and/or falling out from the head
- Tooth enamel erosion, loss of teeth, and/or gum disease
- Puffy cheeks – swollen salivary glands from vomiting
- Erosion of digestive linings from mouth to intestines (irritation due to vomiting and/or laxatives)
- Rupture of the esophagus – can lead to circulatory collapse and death
- Gastric rupture due to severe binge eating
- Slowing of the digestive tract due to restrictive eating
- Chronic constipation and irregular bowel movements
- Slow, irregular pulse
- Low blood pressure
- Dizziness and faintness
- Shortness of breath
- Heart arrhythmias
- Cardiac arrest (heart attack)
The longer that a person continues in disordered eating behaviors, the more his or her mortality rate increases. These effects can be long-lasting, but it is important to know that one can fully recover from bulimia.
It is crucial to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Do not feel guilty about what you should have noticed in the past. Move forward and get help to prevent further detrimental effects of this disease. A person with bulimia nervosa will need to be on an extensive treatment plan involving a medical doctor, psychiatrist/psychologist, and registered dietitian. With proper medical attention and support of family and friends, a full recovery can be achieved.