Bulimia Nervosa

What is Bulimia?

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that causes those affected to restrict food, and engage in cycles of binging and purging. Binge eating is characterised by episodes of excessive eating, during which sufferers eat far beyond the point of feeling full.

This excessive eating may cause you to feel some short-term emotional relief, but the negative feelings and distress often return. Therefore, this prompts sufferers to engage in purging, which is the process by which they attempt to rid their bodies of the calories that they have consumed during their over-intake of food. As well as causing individuals to experience guilt, depression, shame, and low self-esteem, the process of binging and purging is highly disruptive and can cause a whole host of physical health problems including chronic gastric reflux, ulcers, tooth decay, kidney damage, chest pain, infertility, cardiac arrhythmia, and even death.

Bulimia is known to be a very secretive disorder, and sufferers will often go to extreme lengths to conceal their binge-purge cycles, and the behaviours that are associated with them.  In addition, those who struggle with bulimia may fear seeking help and think that receiving treatment will mean putting on weight, which further increases the negative emotions surrounding their condition. This, combined with the fact that bulimia sufferers may not have drastic fluctuations in weight, makes the condition very hard to identify.

Bulimia nervosa is more common amongst girls and women between the ages of 15 and 25, but it is important to recognise that this serious eating disorder can affect anyone of any age, gender and background, and is becoming increasingly prevalent in males.

What causes bulimia nervosa?

Research suggests that it is likely that there are a number of factors that can increase the likelihood that an individual will go on to develop some form of eating disorder, including bulimia nervosa. These factors include personality, general psychological health and social and environmental influences.

Individuals with low self-esteem, and those that have an irrational fear of failure and an eagerness to please, may be more likely to develop the destructive behaviours that are associated with eating disorders. In addition, because bulimia nervosa is driven by a need to control food intake, individuals who are ‘perfectionists’ by nature, may be more vulnerable to developing this disorder.

Having a pre-existing mental health condition can also increase an individual’s vulnerability to developing eating disorders, including bulimia. Underlying problems such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and addiction, make it more likely that an individual will go on to develop an unhealthy relationship with food, in addition to their existing challenges.

Modern society presents an unprecedented amount of new reasons which may lead someone to develop an unhealthy relationship with food. Social media can create a feeling of being ranked on physical attributes, and is a very triggering place for many. Social factors may include having hobbies or occupations where being thin is seen as the ideal (such as modelling, dancing or running), and perceived pressure from the media to be thin (including celebrity airbrushing and pro-bulimia/pro-‘mia’ websites).

There are a wide range of environmental influences that may contribute to the development of bulimia nervosa. These may include receiving criticism for your weight or eating habits, having a stressful school or work life, or experiencing a traumatic life event such as losing a job, bereavement, or physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

Symptoms of bulimia

Bulimia is associated with a wide variety of symptoms, which can have an extremely detrimental effect on your physical and psychological well being, and can even be fatal. Common symptoms can include:

  • Binge eating followed by purging

  • An obsession with food and calories

  • Going to the toilet straight after meals to make yourself vomit or take laxatives

  • Excessive exercise

  • An overwhelming feeling of guilt after binge eating

  • Repeatedly weighing yourself

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Panic attacks

  • Anxiety attacks

  • Self-harm and suicidal thoughts

  • Anger management issues