Bulimia is an eating disorder that is characterised by a combination of binge-eating and vomiting and starvation. It can affect anyone but is most common in young women aged between 17 and 20; it is rare in males but it becoming increasingly common amongst younger men.
What causes bulimia?
As with anorexia, there can be a number of different causes of bulimia; some of these are outlined below:
- Lack of self-esteem
- Societal pressures
- Desire to be thin
- A reaction to an emotional or tragic event
Symptoms of bulimia
People with bulimia usually get caught up in a cycle of binge eating and vomiting, which can sometimes be fairly easy to spot; however, as they become more obsessive about eating, bulimics can become increasingly deceptive and it may be difficult to identify the illness in some cases. Common symptoms of bulimia include:
- Eating a large amount of food in a very short space of time (binge eating)
- Taking laxatives
- Fluctuating body weight
- Bouts of starvation
- Hiding food
- Lying about eating habits
- Avoiding other people
- Avoiding eating around others
- Going to the toilet after eating
- Lack of self-esteem
Weight gain is often much less drastic than anorexia and bulimics often experience fluctuations in their weight which reflect the cycle of starvation and over-eating.
Effects of bulimia
Bulimia can be very dangerous and can lead to serious long-term health problems; in extreme cases, it can result in death due to irreversible damaged to the vital organs. Other effects of bulimia include:
- Dental health issues (this is due to the acid produced during vomiting)
- Sore throat (regularly vomiting causes the throat to become sore)
- Abnormal periods and possible infertility
- Inflamed saliva glands
- Bowel issues (usually resulting from taking laxatives)
- Skin and hair issues (this is due to a lack of nutrients in the body)
- Chemical changes in the body: these are caused by using laxatives and vomiting- symptoms may include damage to the kidney, heart palpitations and muscle spasms.
Treatment for bulimia involves a combination of psychological therapy and nutritional advice. Most patients undertake a course of cognitive behavioural therapy, which helps them to identify the source of their stress and anxiety and helps them to build up the confidence to deal with pressures without damaging their bodies by binge eating and vomiting.
Nutritional advice helps patients to understand why the body needs food and what damage they are doing to their bodies by not eating. Gradually, as they become more comfortable with talking about food, they can start to discuss a suitable diet for the future.
Some patients are given antidepressant medications to treat bulimia; these medications raise the level of serotonin in the body, which lifts people’s moods and makes them have a more positive outlook on life.
Bulimia is only treated in hospital if the case is very severe and the patient is suffering from serious physiological and psychological complications as a result of having bulimia.