Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that often takes place in secret. Defined by patterns of binge eating and purging, bulimia can result in very serious health complications and even death. It is uncertain the exact number of individuals in the United States who suffer from bulimia nervosa, but it is estimated that one in five of all U.S. women in high school and college will suffer at least from temporary bulimic symptoms. It is also estimated that 90–95% of all bulimic patients are female, though boys and men can suffer from the eating disorder as well.
Like individuals suffering from anorexia nervosa, bulimics are often obsessed with their appearance and dieting. An individual suffering from anorexia nervosa will starve himself or herself to lose weight. Bulimics, on the other hand, will often binge on an exorbitant amount of food, followed by a purge, in which they use self-induced vomiting, laxatives and other methods to keep from gaining weight. Anorexia and bulimia can appear exclusive of each other in eating disorder patients, but in some cases, bulimia occurs intermittently with anorexia. In these cases, an individual will starve herself for a period of time leading up to a binge, which is followed with purging.
Parents, teachers, coaches and friends of pre-teen, teenage and college-aged girls should be especially familiar with the following signs and symptoms of bulimia:
- Binge eating – consuming excessive amounts of food in a short period of time;
- Eating in secret;
- Raiding the refrigerator, kitchen cabinets, hiding or hoarding food;
- Frequent talk about weight, body image and dieting;
- Rapid fluctuation of weight (gaining and losing);
- Use of diuretics or laxatives;
- Dry or loose skin, mouth or gum sores, tooth decay, thinning hair, bloating, lack of energy;
- Depression, isolation, anxiety, feelings of guilt, suicidal thoughts;
- Impulsive behavior resulting in drug use, shoplifting, shopping binges or multiple sexual partners.
Bulimia nervosa is a serious disease, which can cause medical complications including swelling of the stomach or pancreas, inflammation of the salivary glands, gum disease, abnormal heart rhythms, seizures, muscle spasms and in some cases even paralysis or death.
Most importantly, bulimia is an illness that often cannot be treated without the help of a professional. It isn’t as simple as an individual modifying his or her behavior. Bulimia has psychological and emotional roots that must be treated as well.
If you suspect a loved one is suffering from bulimia, do not ignore the signs. Seek immediate help from a professional or an eating disorders treatment center.