Bulimia is an eating disorder characterised by a binge and purge cycle: individuals eat a large amount of food (usually accompanied by feelings of loss of control). This is followed by intense guilt and a ‘purge’ of the food intake by vomiting, use of laxatives and over-exercising.
Bulimia effects are serious and both physical and psychological. The sufferer often feels a deep sense of shame about their bulimia symptoms and this can deter them from talking about it and seeking help. Sufferers feel trapped by the cycle of bulimia effects: the cycle of difficult feelings and emotions causing a binge, followed by overwhelming guilt and a purge, which is distressing and usually secretive.
Here we discuss in more detail these three questions:
- What is bulimia?
- What are the symptoms of bulimia?
- What are the causes of bulimia?
The individual has regular cycles of binging; which is very different to simply ‘over-doing it’ or comfort eating. It is likely to involve the consumption of more than 2,000 calories in a short amount of time, with a strong sense of being out of control. After a binge, the individual will have an overwhelming urge to purge by vomiting, taking laxatives or by over-exercising.
As well as the cycle of binging and purging, there are other bulimia signs which may be evident. Individuals often find it increasingly to eat socially and may withdraw from shared meals and socialising where food is involved. There may be bulimia nervosa symptoms of discarded food wrappers or other evidence of secretive eating. You may notice sudden mood swings and a preoccupation with food. Bulimia effects include the erosion of the enamel on teeth, leading to yellowing teeth, rapid tooth decay and sensitivity due to repeated vomiting.
Bulimia nervosa is a very serious disorder with significant health risks. The binge-purge cycle places great stress on the heart and respiratory system, which can result in electrolyte imbalances, cardiac arrhythmia and even cardiac arrest.
Like other types of eating disorders, bulimia causes are multi-factorial and will vary for each person. The sufferer will have a fear of being fat, although people with bulimia will often be a normal weight or overweight. The binge is triggered by emotional or psychological distress and so bulimia treatment will need to address this in order to be effective. Bulimia can develop and be present at any age, but the highest risk is among young women in their late teens and early twenties.
Bulimia treatment programmes are well developed and established, based on CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) approaches, with good outcomes for recovery.
We have an outpatient clinic for adults as well as young people, treating eating disorders including bulimia and binge eating disorder.