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An Insight into Bulimia Nervosa

Updated on October 1, 2016
Kathleen Odenthal profile image

Kathleen is a 29 year old mom who struggled with anorexia for decades. She is now in recovery & hopes to educate others about this disease.

Weight, Calories and Fear of Fat Dominate the Mind of the Bulimic

CBT is one of the most effective therapies when it comes to combating an eating disorder. I have used this guide personally in my own recovery from bulimia and

The Many Faces of Bulimia

As with just about any illness or disorder, bulimia has no simple black and white definition. It is a highly complicated disorder with many faces.

Bulimia is a treacherous disease that takes its toll on the body and the spirit of the sufferer. With chronic purging behaviors (such as self-induced vomiting, ipecac syrup abuse, laxative abuse, enema abuse, water pill abuse etc.), the risks you take include the following:

  • Damage to your heart or heart functioning
  • Liver failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Damage to your esophagus
  • Damage to the functioning of your gastrointestinal system
  • Damage to your tooth enamel
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Heart failure

Beyond the phsyical consequences of bulimia are its damaging emotional effects. Your attempts to calm and soothe yourself with food have turned into the monster of out-of-control bingeing. The more you try to bring your bingeing and your wiehgt under control with purging, the more the binges seem to occur.

These behaviors serve to exaggerate the already heavy burden of shame you carry around about yourself and lower your self-esteem even further.

Those with Bulimia Nervosa often Suffer in Secret

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Bulimia Nervosa Through the Eyes of Sufferers

Bulimia nervosa doesn't care what age you are, what gender you are, how much money you have, or what faith you follow. Bulimia doesn't care how old you are, where you live or who you know. Everyone is susceptible to this grueling mental illness, no one is immune.

Cassy is a teenager who feels overwhelmed with thoughts of self-loathing and hopelessness after bingeing and purging 22 times today. The only way to forget about how much she hates herself is by burying her feelings with food. Once she's done eating, she feels guilty again and needs to go purge. The cycle continues.

Mary Ann is married with children. She lives a chaotic, busy life - and feels like she has no control over her family, as hard as she tries. She spends her days obsessing over calories and bingeing in private. She pops diet pills, laxatives and water pills to make up for bingeing.

Nicky is in middle school and thinks that her friends judge her because of her weight. She can't talk to her parents about it, because they are never around. She spends her time bingeing and purging to deal with her strong and unpleasant emotions.

Sufferers of Bulimia Use Self-Induced Vomiting to Control Their Weight

Bulimia Nervosa Through the Eyes of Medical Professionals

Although sufferers with bulimia nervosa may have varying signs and symptoms, bulimia is a much easier eating disorder to diagnose than anorexia nervosa. Experts rely on the presence of bingeing and purging behaviors to diagnose bulimia.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, provides guidelines that mental health professionals and insurance companies use to diagnose various mental illnesses. Here is a list of criteria for a diagnosis of bulimia nervosa according to the DSM-IV:

  • Episodes of bingeing, defined as recurrent episodes of eating an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in one sitting, or a sense of lack of control while eating (feeling like one cannot physically stop eating)
  • Episodes of purging, defined as recurrent compensatory behavior in order to prevent weight gain after a binge;purging behaviors include laxative use, enema use, ipecac syrup, water pill abuse, misuse of diet pills and excessive exercising
  • Experiencing binge-purge episodes at least two times a week minimum
  • Evaluating one's self worth by one's weight

Psychiatrists diagnose bulimics using two different categories, purging type (one who engages in self-induced vomiting or medication abuse) and non-purging type (one who engages in compulsive exercise or self induced starvation).

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Behavioral and Psychological Traits of Bulimia Nervosa

Those who suffer with bulimia can display very different behavioral traits - some sufferers are extremely secretive of their disease, and few, if any people know that they are even struggling with bulimia, others however may act out more apparently, using drugs, alcohol, self harming behaviors or acting recklessly, such as shoplifting.

These behaviors aren't characteristics of the person but rather, they are behaviors of the disease. Often it is hard for the person struggling to separate themselves from their disease though, and they end up continuing the binge-purge cycle because of powerful feelings of shame.

This vicious cycle can rip apart the life of the bulimic - physically, spiritually and emotionally.

Here is a breakdown of the behavioral characteristics a person struggling with bulimia might exhibit:

  • Bingeing episodes - a binge is defined as eating where the person feels out of control, or even disconnected from their body; a time when one eats feeling completely numb to the act of eating, it neither cures hunger or fills them up; a time when one consumes a larger quantity of food than someone without an eating disorder would consume in the same setting
  • Compensatory purging - this is defined as the misuse of laxatives, enemas, water pills, or diet pills, compulsive exercise or self induced starvation in order to compensate for eating an amount of food considered by the person to be "too large" or to prevent weight loss
  • Impulsivity - often, people with bulimia will engage in impulsive activity, such as drug use, alcohol abuse, or shoplifting
  • Acting secretive - those with bulimia are typically extremely ashamed of their disorder, and will eat in secret, purge in secret, and keep their disease a secret as long as possible
  • Avoiding situations that involve food - those who struggle with bulimia often feel uncomfortable when they are in front of food - because of this they often avoid any situation where they know that food will be present because they fear bingeing in public, or even just people watching them eat

Psychological traits exhibited by those who struggle with bulimia nervosa may include:

  • Low self-esteem and a general feeling of disgust about one's body
  • Measuring ones self worth by a number on a scale
  • Always trying to be perfect, but always feeling like you come up short
  • Black and white thinking where everything is either good or bad
  • Seeking and/or needing the approval of others to feel good about yourself
  • Feeling out of control in all aspects of your life

If you or someone you know may be suffering from bulimia nervosa, it is important to get help as soon as possible. The longer eating disorders go undiagnosed, the harder they become to treat.

© 2014 Kathleen Odenthal Romano

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    • Kathleen Odenthal profile image
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      Kathleen Odenthal Romano 3 years ago from Bayonne, New Jersey

      Thank you always exploring, thankfully I do not struggle with bulimia any longer, although I do have days when I struggle with my anorexia, I am continuing to improve day by day.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 3 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Interesting article. I can't imagine the horrible life of bulimia. I think i knew a woman who had this mental disease, she was a minister's wife who lived next door to me. She was overweight but not obese, she took a bite of a snickers candy bar, tasted it then spit it out. So happy you received the help you needed. Do you still struggle with it? Take care.....

    • Kathleen Odenthal profile image
      Author

      Kathleen Odenthal Romano 3 years ago from Bayonne, New Jersey

      It is truly awful disease. You wind up in a vicious cycle where you hate yourself for the behavior, and then use the behavior because you hate yourself. It can be very hard to stop the cycle, and very dangerous.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      I don't understand how people can willfully throw up. When I'm sick, I try like hell NOT to throw up. Yuck! Then again, I'm not a bulimia sufferer. I would imagine throwing up is the lesser of two evils in the mind of someone who has this disease.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      This is really serious. Thank you for this lesson on bulima nervosa. You provide really good information which shows how serious this situation really is. Thank you.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Interesting

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