How to Cope with the Residual Effects of Bulimia
Bulimia is an eating disorder in which the sufferer binges on large amounts of food and then purges to rid their body of the calories. Binges typically consist of high-calorie foods like fried food, cookies, potato chips or sweets. Purges may take the form of forced vomiting, abusing laxatives and diuretics, or excessive exercise. The cause of bulimia is unknown, but social, psychological or cultural factors may all play roles. In reality, food and weight are only part of the condition and are usually symptoms of underlying emotional pain that the individual is trying to numb with food and a focus on weight control.
Signs of bulimia may include:
- Secrecy around food
- Visiting the bathroom abruptly after meals
- Eating large amounts of food or fasting
- Puffy cheeks
- Preoccupation with weight
- Scarred hands from excessive vomiting
- Yellow teeth
- Weight fluctuations
The Lingering Effects of Bulimia
If bulimia is left untreated, there can be severe health consequences. Some of these include:
Electrolyte imbalance / heart failure – Chronic binging and purging can cause electrolyte imbalances. Electrolytes are chemicals within the body (such as sodium, potassium and chloride) that are required for healthy cell and organ functioning. When electrolytes are off due to dehydration from purging, organs don’t function properly. This can cause serious problems, including heart failure.
Dental problems – People with bulimia often suffer from dental problems. Tooth decay may be evident, resulting from the surge of stomach acids in the mouth.
Esophagus issues – Acid from regular vomiting can wear down the esophagus lining, making it painful to eat certain foods. The pressure from constant vomiting can also cause a rupture of the esophagus.
Kidney damage – Low potassium levels, malnutrition and chronic dehydration from purging or diuretic abuse can impair kidney functioning.
Pancreatitis – Repeated binging and purging and diuretic abuse can irritate the pancreas causing inflammation, cysts and infections.
Bone loss – Bulimia can impact the hormones that regulate menstruation, causing low levels of estrogen. Prolonged loss of menstruation or irregular periods can put women at risk for low bone density later in life.
Recovery from Bulimia
The first step in recovering from potential damage associated with bulimia is to treat the disease itself. When you are no longer binging and purging, the body is better able to heal. Your body will do some of the repairing on its own, but you can help by practicing healthy self-care like proper nutrition, staying hydrated and getting plenty of sleep.
Eat a healthy diet – This probably goes without saying, but it’s more important now that you’re in recovery. People with bulimia often suffer from “Lazy Bowel Syndrome,” whereby they find it difficult to digest anything without gas and bloating. Load up on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, plenty of water, and lean meats or proteins. Bulimia damages the healthy bacteria in your gut, so it’s a good idea to supplement your diet with a probiotic.
Take supplements – Calcium is especially important for those recovering from bulimia, who may be at a higher risk for developing osteoporosis. Taking a multi-vitamin is a good idea too, as it will fill in all of your nutritional gaps while you restore a healthy diet.
See your dentist – People with bulimia may suffer from tooth decay. Visit your dentist to help treat any current damage and use fluoride toothpaste to prevent further damage.
Go to therapy – The brain can suffer from chronic bulimia. Some long-term consequences of bulimia on the brain include substance abuse, self-harm, suicidal thoughts or tendencies, and impulsiveness. If you suffer from any of these, it is important to speak to your doctor immediately. Your doctor may suggest medication or therapy to work through this.
Though you may be suffering some aftermath from bulimia, it’s important to give yourself credit for embarking on recovery. It isn’t easy, but hopefully you’re finding it’s well worth it. Be kind to yourself. Eat well, exercise often, get enough sleep, and surround yourself with positive and loving people. The body has an amazing ability to repair itself when it is nourished in such a way.
Choose a better life. Choose recovery.