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What Is Bulimia Nervosa?

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by bingeing on food and then purging through various methods such as self-induced vomiting, laxative and diuretic abuse, or taking enemas. The eating disorder affects up to 4 percent of women, mostly teenage girls, though a growing number of men and older women are suffering from this illness as well.

Those suffering from bulimia are excessively concerned with weight and body shape, often using eating disorder behaviors to cope with painful feelings, stress, depression or low self-esteem. The emotional cycle of bulimia typically follows a pattern:

  • Loss of self-control by consuming large amounts of food (up to 20,000 calories at a time)
  • A temporary sense of calm
  • Feelings of shame and self-hatred
  • Purging to cope with difficult feelings

Warning Signs for Bulimia Nervosa

People with bulimia are often able to maintain a normal weight and may even be overweight, making the eating disorder difficult to identify and diagnose. There is also a great deal of secrecy and denial among bulimics.

If you suspect that you or someone you care about is suffering from bulimia, keep an eye out for the following symptoms and warning signs:

  • Obsessive preoccupation with food, weight and body shape
  • Poor body image or low self-esteem
  • Consuming large quantities of food in a short period of time
  • Disappearing to the bathroom after meals (to purge)
  • Opened boxes of laxatives, diuretics or other medication
  • Excessive exercise
  • Periods of fasting
  • Depressed mood
  • Swollen cheeks
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Bloating and abdominal pain
  • Weakness

What Causes Bulimia?

When someone is suffering from an eating disorder, it’s natural to want answers. Scientists don’t know definitively what causes bulimia, but most agree that the eating disorder stems from:

  • Genetics
  • Family conflict
  • Stressful life events
  • Cultural obsession with thinness
  • Emotional and psychological issues

Treatment for Bulimia

Men and women suffering from bulimia need immediate help. Left untreated, bulimia and other eating disorders can be fatal and may result in heart disease, kidney damage, digestive problems and severe dental damage. Those with bulimia are also at risk for other impulsive and self-destructive behaviors such as cutting, substance abuse and promiscuity.

The goal of bulimia treatment is to put an end to eating disorder behaviors, address any underlying emotional or psychological issues, and help the individual develop a healthier set of coping skills. Some of the best bulimia treatment programs offer the following interventions:

  • Individual, group and family therapy
  • Nutrition and culinary education
  • Restaurant and grocery store outings
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
  • Medical care and medication management

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