What is Bulimia Nervosa?
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder and mental health condition that is characterized by binge eating and purging. Binge eating is a period of uncontrolled eating, when a large amount of food is eaten in a short period of time. It is often followed by the person feeling shame over their lack of control. Purging is when the person with bulimia induces vomiting, uses laxatives, goes through a period of starvation, or participates in excessive exercise to rid their body of calories consumed during their binge eating period.
People with bulimia often have abnormal attitudes toward food and their body image.
Bulimia nervosa is more common than anorexia nervosa. However, people with bulimia often do not seek help, as they may be embarrassed or ashamed of their eating problems.
What causes Bulimia Nervosa?
The exact causes of bulimia are unknown. There are several factors that may contribute to a person developing bulimia nervosa:
- Social Factors – Peer pressure to fit in, and the media’s emphasis on the thin ideal may contribute to the development of bulimia.
- Stressful life events – Bulimia onset may be in response to feelings of stress.
- Genetics – Susceptibility to eating disorders may run in families. Having a relative who has been diagnosed with an eating disorder may be a risk factor for developing an eating disorder.
Signs that a child or teenager may have bulimia
People with bulimia are very good at hiding their illness. Their weight is often average or above average. It is important to seek medical help as soon as you suspect that your child has an eating disorder.
- Food is being consumed faster than expected – Because of their binge eating habits, people with bulimia will consume a large amount of food in a short amount of time. You might find that even though you went grocery shopping the day before, by the next day, it seems as though the entire pantry has been cleared out.
- Eating when no one is around – Because binge eating is associated with guilt and shame, people with bulimia will only binge eat in private. They might eat when no one else is home, or in the middle of the night, while everyone else is asleep.
- Puffy face – People with bulimia may have swollen parotid glands. The parotid glands are located just in front of the ears and may cause swelling in the face.
- Calloused knuckles – This is caused when a person with bulimia repeatedly stick their fingers down their throat to induce vomiting.
- Tooth enamel decay – Because of repeated vomiting, acid from the stomach may start to wear away tooth enamel.
- Fluctuations in weight – People with bulimia often have normal or above normal weight. However, because of bingeing and purging cycles, their weight may change dramatically over short periods of time.
Be aware of slang used by people with eating disorders.
- Pro-mia – stands for pro-bulimia
- Pro-ed – stands for pro-eating disorder
- Thinspo/Thinspiration – terms used for images that are used to inspire the viewer to become thin, and to continue their strict control over their eating habits.
Treatment of Bulimia Nervosa
Bulimia is a very serious illness. Untreated it can lead to problems in all parts of the body including the heart, bowels, teeth and the body’s chemicals (electrolytes). If a person with bulimia is going through a lot of binge and purge cycles, they may need to be hospitalized to help stop the cycle.
Generally, bulimia is treated with intensive therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy. This is a type of therapy that specifically focuses on the patient’s negative or inaccurate thought patterns . Family-based therapy might also be used. This involves parents being actively involved in the treatment process.
What can parents do to try to prevent eating disorders?
- Family dinners – Make eating meals together as a family a priority starting when your child is young. This can help reduce the risk of developing an eating disorder. An emphasis on health and nutrition, rather than fat and calorie content, helps to promote a healthy relationship with food.
- Participation in team sports – Involvement in team sports helps children to develop a positive body image, and strong self-esteem. These are both protective factors against eating disorders.
- Leading by example – It is important for parents and other role models to promote not only a healthy body image in children, but also to show they have a healthy body image themselves. Avoid saying negative things about your physical appearance and weight in front of children. Instead, focus on your positive attributes. Talk about exercise and food in terms of health, rather than emphasizing weight loss.
- Binge eating and purging are the main characteristics of bulimia. Bingeing involves uncontrollable eating of a large amount of food in a short amount of time. Binge eating is followed by excessive guilt, and a strong desire to rid the body of calories.
- Bulimia is associated with serious medical complications, such as electrolyte imbalance.
- Treatment of bulimia involves intensive individual and/or family therapy.