Bulimia nervosa is a repetitive cycle of eating large amounts of food — more than what most people would eat in one meal — in short periods of time, then getting rid of or compensating for the calorie intake through vomiting, laxative abuse or over-exercising. This binge-purge cycle is often an attempt to numb feelings and cope with underlying issues like anxiety, depression, personality disorders and trauma. Learn more about our eating disorders program or call 866-569-8535.
Dangers of Bulimia Nervosa
Bulimia nervosa can be extremely harmful to the body. The recurrent binge-and-purge cycle can impact the entire digestive system, and purge behaviors can lead to electrolyte and chemical imbalances in the body that affect the heart and other major organ functions.
Dangers of bulimia nervosa include:
- Electrolyte imbalances that can lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure and death (electrolyte imbalance is caused by dehydration and loss of potassium and sodium from the body as a result of purging behaviors)
- Inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus from frequent vomiting
- Tooth decay and staining from stomach acids released during frequent vomiting
- Chronic irregular bowel movements and constipation as a result of laxative abuse
- Gastric rupture (an uncommon but possible side effect of binge eating)
Primary symptoms of bulimia nervosa include:
- Regular intake of large amounts of food in a very short period of time, accompanied by a sense of loss of control over one’s eating
- Repeated episodes of bingeing and purging
- Compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, laxative or diuretic abuse, fasting and/or obsessive or compulsive exercise
- Extreme concern with body weight and shape
Treatment for Bulimia Nervosa
Bulimia nervosa is a complex disease requiring treatment that targets the biological, psychological, interpersonal and social contributors to this disease. Many women with bulimia also suffer from co-occurring disorders such as substance abuse, anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Simultaneous treatment of these issues is necessary to effectively break the binge-purge cycle. This integrated approach to eating disorder treatment allows clients to address the underlying factors that propel destructive behaviors while obtaining nutrition education, a stronger sense of self and healthier coping skills.
At The Ranch treatment center, we provide a nurturing, nonjudgmental space where women can explore shame, family roles, interpersonal challenges, attachment issues, loss and grief, poor self-esteem, distorted body image, trauma and biological and environmental factors that can fuel bulimia.
Warning Signs of Bulimia
Eating disorder specialists have found that the likelihood of bulimia recovery increases the earlier the disorder is detected and treated. Individuals concerned that a loved one may have a problem should look for the following warning signs:
- Evidence of binge eating, including the disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time or wrappers and containers indicating the consumption of large amounts of food
- Evidence of purging behaviors, including frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, signs and/or smells of vomiting, and laxative or diuretic packages or wrappers
- An obsession with exercise or rigidity around their exercise regimen (e.g., exercising despite weather, fatigue, illness or injury)
- Unusual swelling of the cheeks or jaw area
- Sores or calluses on the back of the hands and knuckles from self-induced vomiting
- Discoloration or staining of the teeth
- Creation of complex schedules or rituals to make time for binge-and-purge sessions
- Withdrawal from usual friends and activities
- Behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting and control of food are or becoming primary concerns