Bulimia nervosa is a serious eating disorder characterized by binge eating followed by drastic attempts to purge the food before it digests. Purging is typically carried out through self-induced vomiting or laxatives. Sufferers of bulimia believe that the binge/purge cycle allows them to enjoy food or satisfy intense cravings while avoiding weight gain; however, bulimia rarely results in weight loss and often causes weight gain as well as a multitude of other health problems. Beyond binging and purging, bulimics may also turn to fasting, stimulants, diuretics and excessive exercise.
Bulimics may suffer from many health problems due to the binging/purging cycle. The exposure to stomach acid from frequent vomiting often leads to gum inflammation and deterioration of the teeth and esophagus. Many bulimics also suffer from dehydration, osteoporosis, and other mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, self-harm, poor self-esteem and substance abuse. Bulimia has a strong genetic component, and sufferers often have relatives with the illness as well.
Unlike people who suffer from anorexia nervosa — a disorder which involves severely restricting food intake — those with bulimia tend to fall within normal weight limits or struggle with obesity. In fact, studies have shown that the process of binging and purging often leads to weight gain, instead of the desired weight loss. There is quite a bit of overlap between the two eating disorders, however, as many people with an intense fear of weight gain often engage in a mixture of food restriction behaviors and binging/purging.
Bulimia is about nine times more likely to occur in females than males and is more common in young women than older women. It is estimated that approximately 2-3% of females suffer from bulimia at some point in their lives, with about a 1% prevalence rate at any given time. The condition is more common in developed countries where food is widely available but there is an extreme pressure to be thin. Bulimia is often difficult to diagnose as many people with the disorder suffer in silence and secrecy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most preferred method of treatment for bulimia, although antidepressant drugs have also shown a modest benefit. After ten years of treatment, about half of patients will make a full recovery, one-third will recover partially and 10-20% will still have the condition.
Example: Jackie avoided going to the dentist because her self-induced vomiting had caused severe acid erosion on her teeth. She worried that the dentist would discover her secret, ongoing battle with bulimia.