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Recognizing and Treating Bulimia

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a recurring pattern of binge eating followed by either purging with laxatives, diuretics or self-induced vomiting, or through extreme dieting. It is a mental health disorder, meaning that recovery from the illness will require not only behavior modification but also a focus on improved emotional health. Binge eating is the consumption of more food than normal in a short amount of time. Bulimics feel out of control in terms of the amount of food they eat, and later try to compensate by later ridding themselves of the food, severely restricting their food intake and/or over-exercising. People with bulimia tend to put undue emphasis on how much they weigh or how they look. There is usually an ongoing preoccupation with calories and weight gain. Bulimics may choose to eat alone or excuse themselves to the bathroom where they attempt to disgorge themselves of food. This person may appear trim, attractive and in control, but internally they struggle with feelings of worthlessness and insecurity. The most effective treatment for bulimia is a multi-pronged approach blending counseling and family support with medical help and food and nutrition education. Counseling can provide patients with insight into what problems are creating distress along with better ways to cope with those stresses. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been widely successful in helping patients with bulimia recognize the connection between their negative thinking and their negative behaviors. Family support is important for recovery, not only because it strengthens key relationships but also because it builds self-esteem, something that is often lacking in the person with an eating disorder. Family involvement also creates an informed home environment that will be alert to signs of relapse. Since low self-esteem and low mood are often associated with the disorder, in some cases it may be appropriate to prescribe an antidepressant. Temporarily alleviating the symptoms of bulimia can aid patients in moving past former habits of thinking and behaving. A key piece of recovery will be learning the facts of healthy eating and nutrition. Eating appropriate foods at appropriate intervals can prevent compulsions to overindulge. Patients must also learn how their disorder has deprived their body of necessary vitamins and minerals, and how proper eating can replenish those imbalances. Bulimia is a serious illness, but recovery is possible. It will take effort on several fronts, but a healthy life inside and out is achievable. Getting help sooner rather than later makes the journey much easier.

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