What is Bulimia?

Bulimia Nervosa is a psychological and dangerous eating disorder. Typical characteristics of bulimia include binge eating, a feeling of lack of control during a binge eating session, purging after eating, and self-worth is based on one’s body shape and weight.

What is binge eating and what is purging?

Binge eating can be described as the consumption of an abnormally large amount of food in a short amount of time. Often when a person is binge eating they have no control over what they eat or how much and cannot stop themselves from eating.

Purging can be described as an inappropriate and unhealthy method of preventing weight gain, usually after a binge. Purging can include self-induced vomiting, the use of laxatives and diuretics, or excessive exercising.

Similar to anorexia, when a person has bulimia, they have an intense fear of gaining weight and becoming fat and they become trapped in a cycle of severe diet restriction, followed by binge eating sessions, followed by purging. This cycle can be used as a means of coping with difficult circumstances or situations.

Often, a person with bulimia will have extremely low self-esteem, as they measure their value against the ability to control their eating habits, weight, and size.

Warning signs

Many people with bulimia maintain a normal body weight for their age and height. They also may seem like a very positive and successful person on the outside, however on the inside they are often struggling and dealing with feelings of guilt, shame, and self-loathing. The binge and purge process is usually hidden and kept a secret, because of these factors, this disorder can go unnoticed and untreated for a long times.

A person with bulimia may have a preoccupation with dieting, disappear to the toilet after meals in order to purge the food, may suddenly be secretive about their eating habits, and have problems dealing with social situations and situations around food.

Physical symptoms may include fluctuations in weight, general digestive problems such as cramps or constipation, poor skin, sore throat and mouth ulcers and erosion of tooth enamel due to vomiting.

Bulimia can also create a strain between the individual with the disorder and their family and friends due to the fact that the sufferer may isolate themselves to engage in abnormal eating habits and/or avoid social activities so they can binge and then purge.
Getting Help

The effects of bulimia can be less apparent than the effects of anorexia as an individual with bulimia can maintain a normal weight for their age and height while also giving the impression they are coping well.

An individual suffering with bulimia may avoid seeking help because they feel shame and are frightened of the reaction they may receive if they speak about their disorder. Shame and fear are huge barriers to change, but you need to remember that you will not be judged for seeking help. If you are helping a loved one who is suffering with bulimia, it’s important that you listen openly to them and avoid all judgement and criticism.

Currently, there are many self-help programmes available for people seeking treatment. They can be used on their own or in conjunction with the help of a professional. You can find a free downloadable one HERE.

As negative body image and low self-esteem are often underlying factors of bulimia, it is important that an therapy is integrated into an individual’s treatment process. Cognitive therapy is known to be helpful as it helps a person to look at the false or negative beliefs that they have about themselves and their behaviour. It can encourage the person to evaluate themselves in a more realistic way and to help them gradually accept themselves.

Group therapy also aims to increase self-esteem and to develop coping mechanisms and problem solving skills, so that the eating disorder is no longer used in that way. Family therapy can also aid the recovery process by creating an open environment in which the sufferer can speak about their disorder and any family issues which may be contributing to it.

As with any eating disorder, it is important to remember there is no straightforward process. People will often go through periods or relapse but this is all a part of the process and should not be seen as a failure. Dealing with relapses in a healthy way can actually increase the chances of long term recovery.

Recovery can only begin when the person is ready to change. So to take the first step to recovery is already a huge milestone.

Further information can be found online, as can a large amount of self-help guides and programmes. You can also visit your GP and ask about what treatments would suit you best or visit the national eating disorder or Ireland’s website; bodywhys.ie, or call their helpline: 1890200444.

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