Bulimia nervosa is a serious eating disorder than can lead to chronic health problems.
What is Bulimia?
Bulimia is an eating disorder characterized by cycles of binging and purging. Individuals consume inordinate amounts of food in a short period of time, then purge either by self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, periods of fasting or excessive exercise. Mentally and emotionally, bulimia is characterized by a frenzied need to eat, followed by extreme guilt or shame, which leads to purging.
In a way, eating disorders are similar to addictions. The obsession with food and the negative body image are difficult to overcome and require constant vigilance. Some individuals find they have triggers, particular images or topics or life events that instigate a new struggle with the disorder. While some people find that one treatment is enough to “cure” the disorder, many find that the disorder flares up during certain time periods in their life, particularly if it’s linked to trauma or stress.
What are the Symptoms of Bulimia?
Bulimia can be a difficult eating disorder to diagnose because of the limited physical alterations from the disorder. Most of the harmful effects of bulimia are internal.
The most apparent signs of bulimia include:
- Constant use of toothpaste, gum and breath mints to hide bad breath from vomiting
- Long and intense exercise sessions, particularly right after a meal
- Seemingly insatiable appetites
- Sensitivity about discussions concerning food
- Yellowed teeth and chapped lips.
How is Bulimia Diagnosed?
Unlike anorexia, bulimia doesn’t have weight requirements for diagnosis. In fact, most individuals with bulimia have an average or slightly higher-than-average weight and experience no significant weight loss once they begin the binging and purging cycle.
An official diagnosis for bulimia typically requires that an individual fulfill the binging and purging cycle at least twice a week for three months. In practice, however, diagnosis requirements vary from case to case, as the affects of the disorder can vary. In some, the disorder can rapidly advance, while others may only gradually fall into the binge and purge cycle over an extended period of time.
The initial diagnosis can be made by either a general practitioner or a mental health doctor. Treatment typically involves a team effort of doctors and treatment options. While a patient may be diagnosed early on in the process, getting the patient to recognize the disease is the most important step in treatment.
Understanding the connection between bulimia and anorexia can help clarify the differences between the two.