Bulimia: Symptoms, causes and how to seek help


by Hayley Kadrou |
Published on

What is bulimia?

Bulimia is an eating disorder characterised by binge eating or eating excessive amounts of food in a short amount of time, followed by an attempt to rid the body of the binge. Bulimics may try to make themselves vomit, take laxatives, or perform extreme amounts of exercise.

Eating disorder charity, beat, explains:

“Bulimia is a serious mental illness where people feel that they have lost control over their eating and evaluate themselves according to their body shape and weight.”

This binge-then-banish behaviour becomes cycle that sufferers get caught up in, as they feel they can’t control their eating habits but want to lose weight.

“This behaviour can dominate daily life and lead to difficulties in relationships and social situations. Usually people hide this behaviour pattern from others and their weight is often in a healthy range," says beat.

Currently, bulimia is one of the most common eating disorders in the UK.

Recently, the Diagnostic Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders eliminated EDNOS from its list of eating disorders, which stood for Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. But previous to that, eating disorders were classified as EDNOS, anorexia or bulimia – and it was estimated that 40 per cent of people with eating disorders fell into the bulimic category.

How does an eating disorder like bulimia develop?

Dr. Hilary Jones, a GP, TV presenter, medical broadcaster and ambassador for Switch explains:

“Sufferers may have low self-esteem and episodes may often be triggered by depression or stress. ”

Like every eating disorder, anybody is at risk of developing bulimia – male, female, old or young.

However, those most at risk of developing bulimia are young women between the ages of 13 and 20.

In many cases, the sufferer will have been overweight at one point, and their attempts lose weight and manage their eating habits spiral beyond control.

What are the signs and symptoms of bulimia?

If someone close to you is bulimic, it may be hard to pick up on at first, as they'll often hide their habits from those closest to them. As far as you could see, they may be eating a normal amount.

Dr. Hilary advises looking out for the following behaviour:

• Fixation on calories consumed

• Extreme weight consciousness

• Low self esteem

• Choosing to eat alone

• Eating in secret

• Frequent bathroom trips, especially during/after meals

• Depression

• Frequent episodes of consuming large amounts of food fast

• Fear of gaining weight

• Irregular menstrual cycle

• Excessive exercising

• Regularly using laxatives

What are the effects of bulimia on the mind and body?

Over time, bulimia causes psychological and physical symptoms, which include:

• Rapid and out of control eating followed by self-induced vomiting

• Gastric reflux after eating

• Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance

• Cardiac arrhythmia, cardiac arrest or even death

• Inflammation or rupture of the oesophagus

• Erosion of tooth enamel by stomach acids contained in vomit

• Lesions on the knuckles from using fingers to induce vomiting

• Infertility

• Peptic ulcers

• Weight fluctuation

That's why it's important to address bulimia as soon as possible - the long term effects can be very damaging.

How should loved ones approach people they suspect of suffering from bulimia?

It is essential that those suffering from bulimia seek medical help, in order to help them make their ways towards healthy, stable eating habits and to assess the level of psychical and psychological damage already done.

Although it’s tough, keeping quiet about your suspicions only fuel the illness further. Dr. Hilary states: “Eating disorders are secretive and essentially rely on the compliance and avoidance of others to maintain.”

Remind both yourself and whoever you're talking to that you’re doing what you are because you love them.

Before confronting somebody, make sure you make space and time to talk through everything, in a environment where your loved one will feel safe and at ease.

“Remind them that you are not there to judge them and reassure them that they can confidentiality speak to you about their situation.

"Offer to support them should they feel ready to seek help, but don't pressure them, as they may not be ready to do this," says Dr. Hilary.

However, don't try and scare them into action by listing off the dangers one by one – they're probably aware of the harm they're putting themeself under, buy laying it out like this may come across patronising. Much like telling a smoker that smoking is no health kick.

Remember, prepare yourself for negative and even aggressive repsonses. Knowing someone has found out their secret is probably the last thing a bulimic wants to hear.

Let them know, once they’re ready and calm, you’re there to offer advise, support them or just to listen.

Where can sufferers and supporters seek help?







Eating Disorder Support: 01494 793223

Beat Adult Helpline: 0345 634 1414

Beat Youthline: 0345 634 7650

For more information on leading a healthy lifestyle, check out: makeyourswitch.co.uk


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