Bulimia is a very common eating disorder characterized by a cycle of binge eating followed by vomiting (purging). The act of eating very fast large amounts of food over an insignificant period of time is what is referred to as binge eating. Purging on the other hand is about forced vomiting, excessive exercising, laxative use, or unexplained fasting in an attempt to shed off weight gained from binging or eating.
Medically, at least according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), for one to be diagnosed as to be suffering from bulimia, they need to have at least 2 binge-eating episodes in a period of one week for a duration of at least 3 months. Practically however, some people suffering from bulimia could not fit this diagnosis criterion.
Individuals suffering from bulimia will often feel a great loss of self control over their eating habits. Guilt feelings are also common among bulimia sufferers, as they will experience bouts of guilt consciousness because of their ‘bad’ eating behavior. These people will know, at least subconsciously, that their eating behavior is not normal. Bulimia tends to affect young adult women and adolescents, people who are often of normal or almost-normal weight. This is one of the significant differences between Bulimia and anorexia – another common eating disorder where the sufferer does not eat completely.
Causes of Bulimia
While the real causes of bulimia are yet to be known, there are several factors believed to impact on its development. Which are:-
- Cultural factors seem to play a big role in the development of not only Bulimia but also other eating disorders. The current emphasis put on health, particularly in thinness and being slim can significantly influence the people who are emotionally dependent on the society.
- There is also enough evidence to suggest that changed levels of serotonin (a chemical found in the human brain) can lead to clinical depression thus causing bulimia
- Genetic composition of a person can also cause bulimia in the sense that someone whose relatives have bouts of Bulimia is genetically predisposed to Bulimia.
Symptoms of Bulimia
Perhaps the earliest most obvious indication of Bulimia is someone being too much concerned with their weight and overall body shape and size. Individuals who suffer from bulimia tend to hide their binge and purge problem from the society, a move that makes it even harder to diagnose the actual problem until when it is too late. Some of the common symptoms of Bulimia include missed or loss of menstrual period, general body weakness, abdominal pain, fatigue, diarrhea and vomiting.
- A thorough physical examination could show signs of chronic binge eating and purging
- The presence of dehydration and/or malnutrition signs such as swelling of legs and feet, dry skin, changes in the color of nails and hair, and loss of feelings and sensation in the feet or hands.
- Dental cavities, enlarged salivary glands, loss of tooth enamel, and scars on one’s knuckles because of self-induced vomiting.
As is with any other medical condition today, diagnosing and treating Bulimia should be done early enough to avoid complications that could lead to hospitalization. Early diagnosis and treatment is also important because the behavior could develop into a habit that would be hard to break in future. Common forms of treatment for Bulimia include:
1. Home Self Care
You can be of help to someone suffering from Bulimia by monitoring their behavior at home and helping and encouraging them stick to a reasonable recommended eating pattern.
2. Medical Treatment
Bulimia treatment takes the form of counseling and thorough behavioral therapy. This is because of the underlying fact that bulimia, like other eating disorders, is not really about the food but because of someone’s self esteem, self-confidence and self-perception. Thus, the most effective behavioral therapy is one that concentrates more on the root cause of Bulimia, and not the Bulimia itself. The best form of therapy is individual, family, and group therapy. Group therapy is where individuals suffering from the same condition get together and openly share their experiences.
As for counseling, it will mostly be combined with antidepressant medications for the most effective results. Note that a serious condition of Bulimia could call for hospitalization where an electrolyte imbalance which occurs as a result of starvation is corrected. Doctors will also administer fluids for purposes of rehydration. In some situation, IV nutrition could also be needed.
Follow-up is a very important part of treating bulimia and other eating disorders. For the treatment to be a success, one will need to monitor the patient’s compliance with the recommended treatment program. After-care could be about scheduled medication, behavior change e.g. dietary restriction, or both.
Experts are of the opinion that early diagnosis and treatment of Bulimia increases the odds of recovery. Further, it is believed that the chances of relapsing are fairly high and will mostly be triggered by low self esteem and social stress.