07 Feb What is bulimia nervosa?
Bulimia nervosa, AKA bulimia, is another type of eating disorder. In contrast to anorexia, a person with bulimia consumes large quantities of food (usually in a very short period of time—this is called “binging”) and then attempts to “purge” the body of that intake, either through vomiting, laxatives, fasting or excessive exercise. People with bulimia tend to be of average weight, so the disorder is often harder than other eating disorders to detect. Of note, people with bulimia and people with anorexia may switch eating disorders at times (i.e., a person with anorexia may switch to binging and purging and vise versa). The defining characteristics of bulimia are:
- episodes of eating large quantities of food in a short period of time (this is called binging)
- feeling a loss of control during those binges
- behaviors that “make up” for the binges such as self-induced vomiting or laxative use (called purging)
- fears over body image and weight
People with bulimia feel intense feelings of disgust after binging and this is why they feel the need to purge (to vomit). Unlike some with anorexia, most individuals with bulimia are aware that they suffer from an eating disorder. They know that their eating patterns are abnormal and tend to be quite ashamed and depressed about it.
The major medical consequences of bulimia are electrolyte imbalances (causing heart issues), potassium deficiencies, tooth decay (from the vomiting), kidney problems and esophagus damage. Like anorexia, without treatment, bulimia can be a long-term illness and individuals who have it may struggle throughout their lives to develop a healthy relationship to food. With all eating disorders, medical consequences aren’t the only problem. People with eating disorders potentially suffer family, social, academic and mood problems that are quite significant and impact a person’s ability to live.
Anorexia and bulimia are just two of the many distorted eating patterns seen among today’s youth. For example, binge eating disorder is when individuals frequently binge but do not purge and the recently added category of ARFID (avoidant restrictive food intake disorder) is when individuals restrict their food intake due to fears about taste and texture. Taken together, approximately 30 million people in the U.S. suffer from some type of eating disorder.
Do you know anyone who has suffered from bulimia nervosa? What did you know about the disease compared to what you now understand?