September 24, 2018
Signs of Bulimia: Understanding and Treating the Disorder
Written by Rachel Eddins
What is Bulimia?
Trying to understand what are and are not signs of bulimia can be daunting. Often you may lack the understanding that certain types of behavior are signs of an eating disorder.
Bulimia is characterized by episodes of eating much more than intending to, binging, followed by an attempt to avoid weight gain, such as purging.
Purging can include vomiting, using laxatives, or extended periods of exercising.
Often, the sufferer of this disorder feels a lack of control while binging and desperately attempts to remedy the uncomfortable feeling by purging. Here are some signs of bulimia with the causes, symptoms, and treatment of this serious disorder.
What causes bulimia?
There is no one cause of bulimia, but it can be a combination of several factors, including:
- History of abuse of trauma/bullying
- Stressful transitions and life changes
- Unhealthy relationship with food in the family
- Negative body image
- Pressure from society to be “thin”
- Co-occurring disorders such as Borderline Personality Disorder or Bipolar Disorder
Symptoms & Warning Signs of Bulimia
- Weight fluctuations
- Stained/discolored teeth
- Decaying of teeth
- Broken blood vessels in the eyes
- Enlarged glands in the neck
- Eating in secrecy
- Lack of control when eating/Eating very quickly
- Extreme shame when eating
- Extreme concerns with body weight and shape
- Evidence of purging behaviors after meals (i.e., frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, excessive exercising, laxative wrappers)
- Rigid or excessive exercise routine
- Complaints of constipation and stomach pain
- Distorted body image
- Hiding food; excessive amounts of food wrappers
- Eating unusually large amounts of food with no change in weight
These bulimia facts were compiled by the National Association of Eating Disorders.
- Bulimia can affect anyone the prevalence among women 1.5% and .5% in men
- Most people who struggle with bulimia are of normal weight or even overweight, as opposed to people with anorexia, who are frequently underweight
- 30-70% of people with bulimia also have an addictive disorder. This is very serious because adding substances or alcohol to an already stressed body can have deadly consequences
- 59-83% of development of bulimia may be genetically related
- Many people struggling with bulimia also struggle with depression, anxiety, and/or substance abuse
- Adolescent Hispanics were significantly more likely to suffer from bulimia
Health Consequences of Bulimia
The health consequences of bulimia can be very severe. Here are a few:
- Tooth decay and destruction of tooth enamel by stomach acid
- Electrolyte imbalance and irregular heartbeat, which can lead to heart failure
- Gastric rupture
- Esophageal rupture, which can be deadly
- Chronic irregular bowel movements and pain
- Peptic ulcers and pancreatitis
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- Acid reflux
Treatment for bulimia can include the following levels of care:
- Medically stabilize in a hospital setting
- Residential treatment
- Partial hospitalization
- Intensive outpatient
Level of care depends on severity and people tend to move down the levels of care as they start to recover from bulimia.
Clinical therapy for bulimia includes the following:
- Meeting with a dietician regularly and following a prescribed meal plan
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy with a therapist which will identify how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interrelated and fueling the disorder.
- Family-based therapy
- Interpersonal therapy used in identifying difficulties in relationships and developing effective communication and assertiveness skills.
- Medications: some antidepressants may help with bulimia, especially if someone also suffers from depression and/or anxiety.
Self-Care Tips for Bulimia
- Stick to your treatment plan. Try not to skip any appointments with your therapist and dietician and try not to stray from meal plans.
- Educate yourself about bulimia.
- Stay connected. Don’t isolate yourself and lean on your support systems, such as your family and friends.
- See your doctor about any medical issues you may have developed over the course of your illness.
- Be kind to yourself. Resist the urge to weigh yourself or constantly check mirrors.
- Be cautious with exercise. Talk to your treatment team regarding exercise, especially if you have a history of using it to purge.
- See our tips for coping with binge eating.
Understand the Signs of Bulimia with a Therapist
Bulimia is a very serious eating disorder that can lead to long-term physical and emotional consequences if left untreated. If you or a loved one is suffering from bulimia or another eating disorder, reach out for help.
At Eddins Counseling Group, in Houston, we have many qualified therapists that specialize in eating disorders. Or consider seeking help in a group setting. Our Eating Disorder Recovery group is a great adjunct to bulimia treatment.
Call us at 832-559-2622 or book an appointment online to begin your journey of healing.