What is Bulemia?

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.

What are the signs of Bulimia?

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:

  • Frequent trips to the bathroom, especially following meals
  • Overeating without appearing to lose weight
  • Hoarding food
  • Spending long periods of time in the bathroom
  • Showering or radio noise in the bathroom
  • Food going missing
  • Messy toilets
  • Depression/anger/anxiety
  • Finding wrappers
  • Anxious to get people out of the way/out of the kitchen

What are the dangers of Bulimia?

Due to the binge/purge cycle, Bulimia can severely disrupt the digestive system. It can cause additional health problems such as:

  • Metabolic and electrolyte imbalance – frequent vomiting disrupts the delicate balance of electrolytes, especially potassium and sodium, which can lead to organ failure and cardiac arrest
  • Poor concentration
  • Dehydration – due to vomiting and laxative abuse
  • Loss of memory
  • Gastro-intestinal problems – including constant reflux, stomach ulcers, bloating and oesophageal problems
  • Gastric rupture – the stomach and the oesophagus may rupture due to excessive bingeing and purging
  • Tooth decay – the acid present in vomit erodes the enamel of the teeth
  • Irregular heartbeat – heart muscle becomes weakened and electrolyte imbalance can cause cardiac arrhythmias and cardiac arrest
  • Broken small blood vessels and weakening of major blood vessels of the body – small blood vessels  in and around the eyes may rupture due to the pressure of the vomiting and this can affect vision
  • Damage to the kidneys – due to low blood pressure, malnutrition and dehydration from vomiting and laxative abuse, also electrolyte imbalance
  • Swelling of face/cheeks – salivary glands become enlarged to cope with the constant vomiting
  • Bruised or cut fingers – due to using the fingers for self-induced vomiting
  • Hormone irregularities – due to vitamin/mineral deficiencies which may cause irregular periods and may lead to infertility
  • Damage to the immune system – due to vitamin/mineral deficiencies
  • Depression
  • Sore throats/stomach cramps/difficulty swallowing – caused by the acid in the frequent vomiting
  • Damage to lining of the bowel – due to laxative abuse, and can be permanent
  • Chronic and irregular bowel movements – can cause constipation
  • Pancreatitis – the digestive enzymes attack the pancreas, which is caused by laxative abuse and excessive vomiting
  • Ketoacidosis – a high level of acid in the blood caused by starvation or excessive purging, and can lead to coma or death

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.

Other eating disorders

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED)

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Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder (UFED)

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