By Michael Russell
The German translation for bulimia is “Fresssucht”, literally meaning “addiction to eating”. Like all addictions, it has a devastating effect on the mind and body and needs to be managed through proper treatment.
Though experts disagree on the statistics, it estimated that between 8% and 10% of the US population suffers from bulimia. 90% to 95% of these are women of all ages. 10% of the affected will die.
It’s not always easy to recognize if a person has bulimia. Unlike anorexics, bulimics are not always extremely thin. They don’t avoid food, but rather enjoy it. It’s the part of getting rid of a meal that makes this a devastating and possibly fatal disease.
The most commonly known sign of bulimia is to induce vomiting following a meal. This can be after a regular meal or binge eating (eating a very large amount of food in one sitting). A binge-eating episode is usually triggered by stress or depression and can happen a few times a week. During the episode, the affected person will lose control over herself and her food consumption, then experiences a moment of calmness. For them, “comfort food” literally means that. It’s the emotion that follows next that pushes the person to purge, guilt and self-loathing.
Purging implies getting rid of the intake of food, very often by inducing vomiting, but also by excessive use of laxatives, enemas and/or diuretics. By these methods, bulimics try to get rid of the calories. Others symptoms of bulimia can be excessive exercising, strict dieting and occasionally, fasting.
Since there usually are no physical signs (at least in the beginning), it can be very hard to see if a person has bulimia. But there are quite a few warning signs in bulimic’s behavior that can give them away. They will very often go to the bathroom right after a meal (to purge). In order to cover the sound of their vomiting, they might leave the water running while in the bathroom. They might smell of vomit and will eat a lot of mints to cover up the smell and will be very adamant about privacy in the bathroom or in their bedrooms. The person is obsessed with her weight and will exercise at any cost, even if she’s sick or injured. A bulimic has a poor body image, so she might try to cover herself up with baggy clothes. In women, the menstrual cycle will stop. Swelling of the salivary glands will lead to swollen cheeks.
If left untreated, bulimia will take its toll on the body and on the mind. Some noticeable results are sore gums and bad teeth due to the stomach acid brought up during vomiting. Problems that can turn deadly are stomach ulcers and perforations, intestinal perforations, tearing of the esophagus and an imbalance of the body’s natural minerals and electrolytes, leading to heart failure.
Since bulimia itself is not a physical disorder but mental one, it must be treated as one. Sessions with a psychologist to unravel the reasons and causes behind the poor self-image can be helpful. There are also many treatment centres available that deal specifically with eating disorders. Sometime sharing feelings and experiences with others affected by bulimia or other eating disorders will help. In extreme cases, where the bulimic’s weight is dangerously low or he is dehydrated, hospitalisation will be necessary, BUT will have no long term effect if not accompanied or followed up by therapy.
Nowadays, there are an infinite amount of support sources available, be it school counsellors or online sites. The first step is up to the bulimic, admitting he has a problem and accepting treatment options.
Your Independent guide to Eating Disorders
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