Bulimia is a serious psychological eating disorder also known as bulimia nervosa. It is characterized by frequent episodes of binging-eating and is then followed by inappropriate methods of weight control or purging. A person suffering from this disorder may use inappropriate methods like vomiting, fasting, excessive use of laxatives and diuretics, or even compulsive exercising to lose weight.
People who suffer from bulimia are generally very conscious about their personal appearance related to the shape and size of their bodies. They may be of normal weight or even slightly over weight at times but suffer from self–esteem issues that may lead to depression and stress. They feel the need to lose weight constantly and as a result indulge in inappropriate methods to lose the weight as mentioned above.
Binge eating is not in response to hunger usually and the person eats large amounts of food in a short period of time. Binging and purging becomes an obsession and a vicious cycle for these people who cannot control their urges and give in to feelings of guilt for their behavior. The individual experiences a short-lived sense of calmness soon after losing control and this calmness is followed by self-loathing.
It is very important to differentiate between bulimia and another eating disorder called “anorexia nervosa”. Anorexia nervosa is a disorder where people tend to “fast” and starve themselves in order to remain thin. They suffer from extreme weight loss and look very skinny. In spite of their skinny look, they somehow seem to believe that they are still overweight. They try to lose weight by any of these methods like, excessive exercise, intake of laxatives and not eating. Whereas, in bulimia the person generally looks normal and will eat or binge on large amounts of food followed by purging that is usually done in secret. This is the reason why their condition may go undiagnosed for any lengths of time until a serious complication from the physical self-abuse occurs.
Eating disorders are typically found to be associated with certain professions that are more concerned with physical appearances, weight issues and thinness of the body. They are modeling, gymnastics, film industry, dancing, wrestling and athletics or sports.
Statistics of Bulimia
Bulimia was diagnosed independently as an eating disorder in the early 1980’s and is most commonly seen in adolescent and young adult women. Men are also equally affected by this disorder. According to statistical reports, bulimia is estimated to affect between 3% of all women in the U.S. at some point in their lifetime. About 6% of teen girls and 5% of college-aged females are believed to suffer from bulimia. Approximately 10% of identified bulimic patients are men. Bulimics are also susceptible to other compulsions, affective disorders, or addictions. 20-40% of women with bulimia also have a history of problems related to drug or alcohol use, suggesting that many affected women may have difficulties with control of behavioral impulses.
Signs and Symptoms of Bulimia
If you suspect any of your friends or family members to be suffering from bulimia then look out for warning signs that may include any of the following:
Ø Trying to lose weight using extreme measures
Ø Always looking to use the bathroom after eating (to purge) or showing signs of throwing up
Ø Using diet pills or any other drugs to urinate or have bowel movements
Ø Exercise heavily even in bad weather, injury, fatigue or sickness
Ø There may be swelling in the jaw or cheek area
Ø Their teeth may appear “clear”
Ø They suffer from depression
Ø They may act differently and spend less time with family and friends often isolating themselves and becoming more withdrawn and secretive.
Ø They may also have cuts and calluses on the back of their hands or knuckles.
Look at the picture below to find out how bulimia harms your health.
The person who suffers from this disorder will be overly concerned with their weight and body shape. They may complain of generalized weakness, fatigue, loss of menstrual cycles and abdominal pain. There may even be complains of vomiting and diarrhea without the person revealing that it is self induced.
A physical examination by the doctor may reveal signs of chronic binging and purging. An oral examination may show dental cavities, loss of tooth enamel, enlarged salivary glands, and scars on the knuckles may be present as a result of chronic self-induced vomiting. The person may present with signs of dehydration, dry skin, malnutrition, swelling of the lower legs and feet, changes in hair and nails or even a loss of sensation in the hands or feet. There may also be other medical complications and long-term effects of bulimia.
A family member who suffers from such an eating disorder needs a lot of your support. You need to suggest the family member to see an eating disorder expert, although you may be faced with denial, resistance and or even anger. A doctor and or a counselor can help them to overcome the disorder.
Treatment of Bulimia:
A person suffering from bulimia presents many medical and psychological complications that are mostly considered reversible through a multidisciplinary treatment approach. The treatment usually involves counseling and behavioral therapy. It is important to carry out the treatment in the early stages of this disorder because over time the behavior patterns become more deeply ingrained and thus are harder to change. People who get early treatment have a better chance of full recovery from the disorder.
It goes without saying that support and encouragement at home from family members is very important for the successful treatment of bulimia. The person’s behavior can be monitored closely and can be helped to maintain a reasonable eating pattern. Family members can also ensure that the person continues to stay in treatment and keeps the appointments with the doctors and other therapists.
Medical treatment for bulimia can be managed by either a physician, a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist depending upon the extent of the medical complications. Any serious medical problem that is related to the eating disorder may require the person to be hospitalized . The person may require IV fluids to correct an electrolyte imbalance or even for nutrition.
Antidepressant medications prove to be beneficial in the treatment of bulimia. Fluoxetine (Prozac) is a drug that has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as a treatment of choice for bulimia due to their relative safety and low incidence of side effects. Other antidepressants like MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors), tricyclic antidepressants, and buspirone (Buspar) have also shown to decrease bingeing and vomiting in people suffering from bulimia.
An appropriate treatment module will address the underlying issues of control, self-perception, and family dynamics. In addition, the person can also be provided nutritional education and behavior management as a healthy alternative to weight management.
Group counseling or support groups can assist the patient in the recovery process along with individual therapy and family therapy. In group therapy, people suffering with the same disorder get together and share their stories and experiences. This therapy seems to work well for people with bulimia.
The ultimate goal for the person suffering from bulimia is to accept himself/herself and to be able to lead a healthy emotional and physical life. This may take some time, and so a positive outlook along with much effort on the part of the person affected is essential for a successful recovery.
Read here how clinical research is contributing to advances in the understanding and treatment of bulimia:
For more informationYou can find out more about bulimia from
http://www.womenshealth.gov/faq/bulimia-nervosa.cfm at 1-800-994-9662 or from one of the following organizations.
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), NIH, HHS
Phone: (866) 615-NIMH (6464)
Internet Address: http://www.nimh.nih.gov
National Mental Health Information Center, SAMHSA, HHS
Phone: (800) 789-2647
Internet Address: http://www.mentalhealth.org
Academy for Eating Disorders
Phone: (847) 498-4274
Internet Address: http://www.aedweb.org
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
Phone: (847) 831-3438
Internet Address: http://www.anad.org
National Eating Disorders Association
Phone: (800) 931-2237
Internet Address: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
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