Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by the binge/purge cycle.
A binge involves the individual eating a large quantity of food in a short period of time, during which they experience feelings of being out of control. The binge is usually done in secret, and the food consumed usually consists of high fat foods such as crisps, biscuits, chips, sweets, ice cream etc.
A bulimic can consume more than a day’s worth of calories in 1 hour, and up to 20,000 calories over 8 hours.
Following the binge, the individual becomes consumed with guilt and uses compensatory behaviours to get rid of the food, in an attempt to prevent weight gain. The most commonly used behaviours are self-induced vomiting/“purging”, or the use of laxatives or diuretics. This binge/purge cycle happens regularly, for some it can be several times a day, and for others several times a week.
People with bulimia are in a battle between the desire to be thin and lose weight, and the compulsion to binge eat. They can resist the compulsion to binge for a period of time, but they inevitably lose their resolve, which ends in a binge, and them feeling guilty and ashamed. Following the binge, they panic, and feel they have lost all control. In a desperate attempt to undo it and prevent weight gain, they resort to the compensatory behaviours.
Sufferers will often go to great lengths to hide their behaviours from others. They will frequently disappear to the bathroom following meals, or play the radio or run the shower to cover the noise of the self-induced vomiting. Due to the shame or embarrassment associated with the bingeing, food wrappers are often hidden.
As a parent or carer you may notice that a lot of food is going missing, or that they spend a lot of money on food.
Not all people with bulimia engage in self-induced vomiting or laxative misuse. Some try to compensate for the binges by exercising excessively, or by fasting for long periods of time.
Like anorexia, people suffering from bulimia have a fear of gaining weight, are intensely unhappy with their body and desperately want to lose weight.
However, unlike anorexia, sufferers often maintain an average, or just above average weight, so although bulimia is more common than anorexia, it is often more difficult to spot.
CARED offer courses for carers of eating disorder sufferers.
Individuals with bulimia tend to be either of average weight, or just slightly overweight, so this eating disorder is not as obvious as people suffering from Anorexia. Bulimics may display some of the signs and symptoms listed under Anorexia, but there are additional signs to look out for such as:
Due to the binge/purge cycle, Bulimia can severely disrupt the digestive system. It can cause additional health problems such as:
Although there are very serious medical complications which can result from all types of eating disorders, the good news is that almost all are completely reversible upon the person becoming weight restored and nutritionally healthy.