Bulimia nervosa is known as “binge and purge” by many. People suffering from bulimia will eat excessive amounts of food and will do something shortly after to rid their bodies of the food. The most common methods to purge the body of this food is vomiting, using laxatives and excessive exercising. Individuals with bulimia often eat because food gives them comfort. However, after they finish the food, they tend to feel out of control and their self-image issues set in. After they binge and eat the excessive amount of food, the individual often feels ashamed and is terrified to gain weight. This fear causes them to go to great lengths to purge. Eventually the body gets so used to purging after eating, the individual will not have to go to any lengths to purge as their body has been conditioned to purge as soon as food is ingested. Much like anorexia nervosa, as bulimia is a physical as well as a mental disorder, recovering from this disease is no easy task.
Symptoms of bulimia include:
- Having a negative body image
- Going to the bathroom shortly after eating
- Exercising excessively
- Eating much more food in a binge episode than they normally would if that were a standard meal or snack
- Eating to the point of physical pain
- Swollen salivary glands in the cheeks
- Sores in the mouth (caused by the acid from vomit)
- Sores or calluses on the knuckles
- Irregular or loss of menstrual periods
- Abuse of laxatives or diuretics
- Feeling ashamed of overeating
- Frequent weight changes
- Tooth decay, loss of tooth enamel
- Thin or dull hair
- Lack of energy
Similar to anorexia nervosa, another eating disorder, bulimia can be attributed to biological and social factors. If an immediate family member has suffered from an eating disorder, the individual has a pre-disposition of developing the disease. However, family history is not always the cause. The environment surrounding the individual (celebrities, media portrayal of body image, peers who are obsessive about image) plays a huge role in how they view themselves. Like all eating disorders, bulimia is a combination of physical and psychological factors.
Physical and psychological exams are used by health professionals in diagnosing bulimia. Physical examinations include blood tests to determine the levels of certain minerals in the bloodstream to detect the level of malnutrition and a recording of measurements (height and weight). A psychological examination is administered to determine the esteem issues that are involved in the development of this disorder. The patient may often times have developed a behavioral disorder (such as depression or an anxiety disorder) that will need to be treated as well. The psychological exam is used to determine this.
Treatment of bulimia involves psychological counseling and, if needed, the use of behavioral medication such as antidepressants. If the bulimia is caused by another disorder (generally behavioral), the disorder may have a longer recovery period as there is more than one disease to treat. Part of the psychological counseling that is used is the constant monitoring of eating habits, ensuring the individual is eating, and keeping down, three meals a day. Another goal of the treatment is to reduce the concern the patient has about their body image and to ensure they understand the triggers that cause their urge to binge and purge and to avoid those triggers.