Bulimia nervosa, commonly referred to as “bulimia”, is an eating disorder that is characterized by bingeing (eating large amounts of food) and purging (compensating to get rid of the extra calories from the food). Bulimia differentiates from binge eating disorder (BED) when there are consistent episodes of purging.
What Is Bingeing?
Bingeing refers to eating a large amount of food in a single sitting, typically an amount that makes a person uncomfortable and overly full, even when they may not be hungry. While there is no exact amount of food that defines a binge, it is usually considered to be an amount that makes a person feel as if they are “stuffed” or can’t eat anymore, usually eaten in a short period of time. This would be different than occasionally overeating, in that binging happens frequently and can be very distressing. Often, this type of eating happens alone or in secret due to feelings of guilt or shame. A binge may be triggered by stress, restrictive dieting, negative emotions, or trauma. Bingeing often makes a person feel out of control around food, as if they can’t stop eating.
What Is Purging?
Purging is often a response to the binge, as a way to counteract the amount eaten. Purging often happens right after a binge episode and may also be a response to any guilty feelings. Purging may take the form of self-induced vomiting, laxative use, or enemas. In some cases, overexercising may be considered a form of purging, if the intention is to “burn off” any extra calories eaten during a binge.
A common misconception is that these forms of compensation are effective ways to lose weight, when in fact, they do not contribute significantly to weight loss. Instead, they often keep an individual trapped in a cycle of overeating and then trying to get rid of the extra calories. The negative side effects of bulimia vary based on the type of purging, but may include damage to the esophagus, difficulty having normal bowel movements, ulcers, tooth decay, organ failure, and more.
Bulimia is often associated with negative body image and a desire to lose weight. This eating disorder may often be a response to help cope with emotions by way of overeating and then purging to numb the negative feelings of these emotions. Many people suffering with bulimia do not seek treatment due to the negative stigma surrounding the disease, though 2% of the world’s population face struggles related to bulimia.
Treatment for bulimia will often include medical intervention which depends on the severity of the eating disorder; goal-focused nutrition counseling, and therapy to treat any mental health concerns. Since many people with bulimia also struggle with anxiety, depression, body dysmorphia or other mental health disorders, bulimia can be difficult to overcome.
However, asking for help is key for recovery, and individuals struggling with bulimia deserve the support system that a treatment center like Destination Hope can provide. Bulimia, like other eating disorders, functions as a coping mechanism for difficult emotions. By working directly with a trained team of medical staff and licensed therapists, those struggling with bulimia can begin to overcome their disordered eating habits and move forward on their path toward healing.