Eating disorders, such as bulimia nervosa, are complex mental health conditions that can be difficult to understand. It’s estimated that about five million Americans experience this disorder, most of whom are women.
Understanding the condition and its associated symptoms is vital to recognize it better and support those affected. Here’s everything you need to know about this eating disorder.
What is Bulimia Nervosa?
This eating disorder is characterized by episodes of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors like self-induced vomiting, exercising excessively, or using laxatives or diuretics.
These behaviors prevent weight gain after binging or purging the food from the body. Bulimia typically involves a cycle of binging and purging, which can become difficult to break without professional help. The main difference between bulimia and anorexia is that bulimic people binge eat and purge more than those with anorexia.
The Signs & Symptoms
Common signs and symptoms of bulimia include extreme food restriction, feelings of guilt or shame after eating, secretive eating habits, and frequent trips to the bathroom during meals. Other physical signs may include irregular menstrual cycles, tooth decay caused by frequent vomiting, dehydration, fatigue, and digestive problems.
An overlooked symptom of bulimia is oral cancer. Purging lets vomit out, which can be acidic and cause a lot of damage to the enamel. When the gums are exposed, more bacteria can live in them. This leads to periodontal disease, which can turn into oral cancer. That’s why bulimic people need to get robust replacement teeth. These teeth can protect their mouth from disease as they heal.
It is important to note that individuals with bulimia are often at a normal or slightly above-average weight, so their condition may be harder to spot than other types of eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa.
It’s essential to understand the risk factors associated with bulimia so that individuals at risk can receive prevention and treatment resources.
Like many other mental health conditions, genetics influence an individual’s risk for developing bulimia. For instance, if you have a family member with a history of any eating disorder, there is an increased likelihood that you may develop one as well. Additionally, specific genetic markers have been linked to an increased risk for bulimia nervosa.
Socioeconomic Status & Cultural Pressures
Research has found that individuals from higher socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to develop bulimia than those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. This could be due to more significant cultural pressure among higher-income households to maintain a specific body size or weight. Additionally, certain cultural norms around dieting also increase the risk of developing bulimia; for example, if dieting is considered a sign of success or normal behavior in your community or culture.
Mental Health Conditions
Individuals with certain pre-existing mental health conditions—such as depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), and bipolar disorder—are at an increased risk of developing bulimia nervosa. These conditions often trigger feelings of low self-worth or being out of control, leading individuals to turn to disordered eating behaviors such as binging and purging as coping mechanisms.
Treatment & Support
If you think you or someone you know may have an eating disorder such as bulimia nervosa, it is essential to seek help immediately. Here are some treatment options for people with bulimia.
Psychotherapy is often the first line of treatment for people with bulimia. During psychotherapy sessions, individuals will work with a mental health professional to identify underlying issues contributing to their disorder and develop strategies to cope with them. In particular, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is highly effective in treating bulimia because it helps people recognize unhealthy thought patterns and replace them with healthier ones.
Nutrition counseling is also essential when treating bulimia since it helps individuals learn how to make healthier food choices and better understand the importance of balanced nutrition. A registered dietitian can help create a meal plan tailored specifically for you that takes into account your medical history and any dietary restrictions. This will help ensure that you get all the essential nutrients needed for good health while still enjoying the foods you love.
Bulimia nervosa is a severe medical condition requiring professional attention for individuals suffering from it to recover fully. People must understand the signs and symptoms for them to identify this type of disorder early on so we can provide support for those affected by it more effectively. With proper guidance and support, individuals can recover from this debilitating condition and live healthier lives free from its effects.