Bulimia Nervosa is an illness in which an individual consumes a large amount of food, called a binge, and then purges the food that was eaten either through vomiting or some other compensatory behavior. The individual experiences a distinct feeling of being out of control while the bingeing and purging occurs. In the United States, approximately 1% of the population suffers from bulimia. Of that percentage, the majority are women, though males are less likely to report the illness (nimh.nih.gov).
Bulimia is cyclic in nature insofar as bingeing leads to purging and vice versa as well as that acting on bulimic behaviors often produces feelings that are coped with by using more behaviors. The overvaluing of body weight and shape, and the sense of being out of control while engaging in the behaviors cause the sufferer to experience high levels of distress. Bingeing often occurs after a period of food restriction or as a way to ease emotional pain. The urges to binge become stronger as the distress from not eating increases and the experience of more uncomfortable feelings arise. An excessive amount of food is eaten in a short period of time, often to the point of physical pain, in order to cope with the feelings. After engaging in overeating, the individual suffering from bulimia will likely begin to experience emotions such as guilt and fear, prompting them to purge to prevent weight gain and rid themselves of the discomfort. The purging behavior can be an emotional release, providing a short period of numbness that can become relied upon. After the purging is over, the individual often experiences feelings of shame for their actions and is then more likely to begin the cycle again to create relief from the uncomfortable emotions.
There are many signs of bingeing behavior. Signs can include the following:
In addition to knowing the signs of bingeing, it is important to also be aware of symptoms of purging. They include:
Like all eating disorders, bulimia has the potential to cause great physical harm to an individual. Complications from bulimia include:
The majority of these physical issues can be reversed when an individual seeks treatment for bulimia. Some symptoms can take both time and extensive treatment to reverse, while others are permanent.
It is important to understand that bulimia is not a choice, rather a mental illness that requires professional treatment. Bulimia often occurs in conjunction with poor self-esteem, abuse, trauma, and biological causes such as family history of bulimia. Regardless of the contributing factors there is help available. It is crucial for a person with bulimia to take the following steps to obtain the help they need to begin the healing process. These steps include:
It is also crucial that during treatment, individuals with bulimia identify their triggers and make plans to avoid relapsing after they leave their program.
Struggling with bulimia can sometimes feel like a hopeless battle. Through acknowledgment of the illness, the support of others and participating in treatment, those with bulimia can begin to address the contributing factors to their illness. The journey to health begins when the shame of the disorder can begin to heal and new skills are used to cope with feelings.
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