Bulimia Nervosa

It is estimated that more than six percent of Australian women suffer with BULIMIA NERVOSA. Bulimia is an eating disorder and a variation of Anorexia Nervosa that occurs mostly in adolescents and young adult women. Although Bulimia can develop from Anorexia it can also occur without a previous history of Anorexia.

Characterized by binge eating, Bulimia is the secretive and rapid consumption of large amounts of food in a short period of time. In most cases, bingeing is then followed by a form of purging in a bid to prevent weight gain. Bingeing usually brings on feelings of "guilt" for having consumed a large amount of food. This is what sparks the purging behaviour.

Bulimia can be classified into two categories - purging and non-purging. The latter involves the act of fasting or excessive exercise in place of purging.

Common bulimic behaviour includes the act of self-induced vomiting, fasting, excessive exercise and laxative, diuretic and emetic abuse. This repeated binge then purge cycle is normally accompanied by self-deprecating thoughts, depression, shame and an awareness that the eating disorder is out of control and quite unhealthy.

Unlike Anorexia, many Bulimia sufferers can go undetected for years as they are generally within a normal weight range and appear to be fit and healthy. Many will go to great lengths to keep their "shameful" secret from those who love them the most.

The exact cause of Bulimia is unknown but it's thought to be attributed to feelings of low self-esteem and the fear of becoming overweight. With so many pressures today to look a certain body shape and maintain an unrealistic weight, is it any wonder that young women in particular are falling prey to these stereotypes of the "perfect" body? As a large proportion of our population is facing obesity, more and more people are adopting an unhealthy approach to eating and dieting in a bid to conform to the stereotypical view of "beauty" that family and social pressures has placed on them. These pressures can have a disastrous effect on many people who feel inadequate about their weight.

Typically, Anorexic and Bulimic people are often perfectionists with unrealistically high expectations. As adolescence is a time of self-discovery and self-growth, the need for other people's approval is very strong during this time and is what prompts many young people into heading down an unhealthy path in an effort to gain this approval.

People who suffer from any type of eating disorder have two things in common - they constantly feel they are "fat" and are generally dissatisfied with their physical appearance.

WARNING SIGNS - the following behavioural patterns signal someone is experiencing Bulimia.

  • They display mood swings
  • Excuse themselves to go to the bathroom after each meal
  • Consume large amounts of food in short periods of time
  • Keep food hidden in their bedrooms or secret hiding places
  • Have an unusual swelling around the jaw
  • Buy big quantities of food and consume them almost immediately
  • Frequently use laxatives
  • Have a fear of obesity

    As a consequence of constantly bingeing and purging, there are many medical complications that can arise.

    Self-induced vomiting does immense harm to your body. It can result in the erosion of tooth enamel, which damages cavities and forms discolouration of the teeth. More seriously, vomiting, laxatives and diuretics flush sodium and potassium from the body resulting in an electrolyte imbalance. This can lead to an irregular heartbeat, which could pose the threat of heart failure and death. Laxative abuse can affect normal bowel movements and render a person unable to go to the toilet freely. Vomiting causes irritation and can tear the lining of the throat, esophagus and stomach.

    Bulimia can also lead to a string of other medical problems including loss of menstruation, breathing difficulties, low blood sugar, dizzy spells, lack of protein, kidney damage, severe hydration, gastritis, ulcers and bowel tumors.

    If you or someone you know is suffering from Bulimia, it is very important that medical attention is sought immediately. Bulimia is treatable and it is never too late to get assistance and support to beat this eating disorder.

    There are two main forms of therapy used to treat sufferers of Bulimia. The first is cognitive behavioural therapy, a form of psychological therapy that can be undertaken individually or with family and friends. The other is antidepressant medication. In some cases, a combination of the two is carried out simultaneously.

    It is important to understand that being Bulimic is not healthy or "cool" and only leads to self-destruction. Nothing can ever be gained from being Bulimic except unnecessary heartache and ill health. No problem is too big to solve and there is always help at hand - all you have to do is ASK for it!

    - Annemarie Failla

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