what is bulimia nervosa?
Bulimia nervosa (bulimia for short) is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a cycle of binge eating and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting designed to “undo” or compensate for the effects of binge eating.
symptoms of bulimia
- Frequent episodes of consuming very large amount of food followed by behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting, compulsive exercising, or using laxatives or diuretics.
- Feelings of being out of control during the binge eating episodes.
- Self-esteem overly related to body image.
signs of bulimia can include:
emotional and behavior signs
- In general, behaviors and attitudes indicate that weight loss, dieting, and control of food are becoming primary concerns
- Evidence of binge eating, including disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time or lots of empty wrappers and containers indicating consumption of large amounts of food
- Evidence of purging behaviors, including frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, signs and/or smells of vomiting, presence of wrappers or packages of laxatives or diuretics
- Appears uncomfortable eating around others
- Develops food rituals (e.g. eats only a particular food or food group [e.g. condiments], excessive chewing, doesn’t allow foods to touch)
- Skips meals or takes small portions of food at regular meals
- Disappears after eating, often to the bathroom
- Frequent dieting, including cutting out entire food groups (no sugar, no carbs, no dairy, vegetarianism/veganism)
- Fear of eating in public or with others
- Steals or hoards food in strange places
- Drinks excessive amounts of water or non-caloric beverages
- Uses excessive amounts of mouthwash, mints, and gum
- Hides body with baggy clothes
- Maintains excessive, rigid exercise regimen – despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury—due to the need to “burn off ” calories
- Creates lifestyle schedules or rituals to make time for binge-and-purge sessions
- Withdraws from usual friends and activities
- Shows extreme concern with body weight and shape
- Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws in appearance
- Has secret recurring episodes of binge eating (eating in a discrete period of time an amount of food that is much larger than most individuals would eat under similar circumstances); feels lack of control over ability to stop eating
- Purges after a binge (e.g. self-induced vomiting, abuse of laxatives, diet pills and/or diuretics, excessive exercise, fasting)
- Extreme mood swings
- Noticeable fluctuations in weight, both up and down
- Body weight is typically within the normal weight range; may be overweight
- Stomach cramps, other non-specific gastrointestinal complaints (constipation, acid reflux, etc.)
- Difficulties concentrating
- Abnormal laboratory findings (anemia, low thyroid and hormone levels, low potassium, low blood cell counts, slow heart rate)
- Feeling cold all the time
- Sleep problems
- Looks bloated from fluid retention
- Cuts and calluses across the top of finger joints (a result of inducing vomiting)
- Swelling of the cheeks or jaw area
- Has calluses on the back of the hands and knuckles from self- induced vomiting
- Teeth are discolored or dental problems, such as enamel erosion, cavities, and tooth sensitivity
- Dry skin and dry and brittle nails
- Fine hair on body (lanugo)
- Thinning of hair on head, dry and brittle hair
- Cavities, or discoloration of teeth, from vomiting
- Muscle weakness
- Yellow skin (in context of eating large amounts of carrots)
- Cold, mottled hands and feet or swelling of feet
- Menstrual irregularities — missing periods or only having a period while on hormonal contraceptives (this is not considered a “true” period)
- Poor wound healing
- Impaired immune functioning
health consequences of bulimia
Bulimia can be extremely harmful to the body. The recurrent binge-and-purge cycles can damage the entire digestive system and purging behaviors can lead to electrolyte and chemical imbalances in the body that affect the heart and other major organ functions. Some of the health consequences of bulimia include:
- Electrolyte imbalances that can lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure and death. Electrolyte imbalance is caused by dehydration and loss of potassium and sodium from the body as a result of purging behaviors.
- Inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus from frequent vomiting.
- Tooth decay and staining from stomach acids released during frequent vomiting.
- Chronic irregular bowel movements and constipation as a result of laxative abuse.
- Gastric rupture is an uncommon but possible side effect of binge eating.
facts about bulimia
- People struggling with bulimia can be at any weight.
- 5 percent of American women suffer from bulimia nervosa in their lifetime.
- Nearly half of bulimia patients have a comorbid mood disorder, like depression.
- More than half of bulimia patients have comorbid anxiety disorders.
- 1 in 10 bulimia patients have a comorbid substance abuse disorder, usually alcohol use.
Take the Eating Disorder Self-Test to find out if you might have an eating disorder like bulimia.
Reach out for Help and Support
If you think you are or someone you care about is struggling with bulimia, contact us here or click below to schedule an appointment online.