Over 725,000 people in the UK have an eating disorder, with bulimia nervosa being one of the most common forms.
Not only is bulimia a serious eating disorder but also a serious mental health condition. The earlier the individual receives treatment, the more likely they are to have a full recovery.
Men and women of any age can develop bulimia, although it is more common in young women and typically develops in mid to late teens. There is no definitive cause of bulimia, but there are various risk factors that could contribute to its development.
Risk Factors For Developing Bulimia Nervosa:
Biological factors: People who have close relatives (parents, siblings, or children) with an eating disorder, may be more likely to develop one themselves. This suggests that there is a genetic link when it comes to bulimia and other eating disorders.
You are also more likely to develop an eating disorder if you were overweight as a child or teenager.
Psychological and Emotional factors: Having depression, anxiety, or a substance abuse disorder can also make you more at risk of developing an eating disorder as they are all closely linked. People with bulimia are likely to feel negative about themselves. People who experience traumatic events and high levels of stress may also have a higher risk of developing bulimia and other eating disorders.
Dieting: People who put themselves on strict diets can be at higher risk of developing an eating disorder. Many of those with bulimia severely restrict their calorie intake in between binge episodes which can trigger the urge to binge again, followed by purging. Other triggers include; stress, poor body self-image, food and in some cases, boredom.
Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa:
- Eating large amounts of food in a short period of time (binge eating)
- Making themselves sick, taking laxatives or taking part in excessive exercise (purging)
- Fear of gaining weight
- Being critical about their body shape and size
- Mood changes – anxious and tense
- Being secretive
Behaviours can be hard to spot as a lot of people with bulimia keep their behaviours a secret. It is important to look at physical symptoms too:
- Going to the bathroom after every meal, being gone for a while, looking pale on their return… indicating they have been sick
- Hiding or hoarding food
- Making excuses for missing food, or money taken for binging
- Scratchier/raspier voice than usual
- Dizziness and/or fainting
- Dry skin
- Irregular heartbeat
- Obsession with body image
Serious Health Complications in Relation to Bulimia Nervosa:
Due to binge eating and purging behaviours, the body can experience some serious health complications. Here are some of those complications that could take place:
- Dehydration – In severe cases, this can cause major medical issues such as kidney failure.
- Heart problems such as having an irregular heartbeat or heart failure.
- Severe tooth decay and gum disease as a result of excessive vomiting.
- Absent or irregular periods (for women)
- Having problems with the digestive system.
- Anxiety, depression, bipolar and other mental health conditions.
- Self-harm, suicidal thoughts, or attempting suicide.
Diagnosing and Treating Bulimia Nervosa:
It is important to seek professional help as soon as possible if you think you or a loved one have an eating disorder. The sooner you get help, the better the chances of having a full recovery.
When diagnosing bulimia nervosa your GP will often go through the following procedures.
Talking with you in regards to your eating habits and how you feel about your body as well as asking about any weight loss methods that you might have. They are also likely to do a physical exam, looking at your weight, your teeth and gums, heart rate, blood pressure and other aspects of general health. In some cases, you may be asked to provide a urine and blood sample for further testing. You may be asked to have a test to see if there are any heart problems present, such as an electrocardiogram.
Your GP will use the DSM5, a mental health guide created by the American Psychiatric Association, in order to check your symptoms with those listed under Bulimia Nervosa.
There are various treatments available for bulimia nervosa however most people are given a combination of medication and psychotherapy. The only medication that has been approved by food and drug administration for the treatment of bulimia, is an antidepressant known as Fluoxetine (Prozac). This may help the individual even if they are not showing symptoms of depression.
There are multiple therapies available, with the main one being Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This form of therapy is designed to identify unhealthy and negative beliefs and behaviours and help the individual to change them for healthy and positive ones. This therapy also aims to help the individual change their poor eating habits.
Other therapies include family therapy, which aims to help the individual’s family intervene with their teenager’s negative behaviour and know when to step in and what they can do to help. Another is known as interpersonal therapy, this one aims to help individuals rebuild their relationships with friends and family, helping them with their communication and problem-solving skills.
In severe cases of bulimia, some individuals may be hospitalised for around the clock care. This is usually as a result of severe health complications that have occurred as a result of bulimia nervosa. For some patients, they may be offered day treatments rather than being an inpatient.
It is possible to recover from an eating disorder. In some cases the symptoms may go away for some time but can return in future, this is known as a relapse. In cases such as this, it is usually easier to spot the symptoms the second time around and the individual can seek help and support as soon as possible. The earlier the person can be diagnosed and treated for an eating disorder, the higher their chances are for a full recovery. There is no shame in admitting that you need help. You are not alone and there is plenty of support available for you.