What Is Bulimia?
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by binge eating and then compensating for the binge in some way, such as purging through the act of vomiting, excessive use of laxatives, diuretics, fasting, or excessive exercise. Since purging or burning all of the calories consumed is impossible, many individuals with bulimia end up gaining weight compared to average ranges for their age and height based on health care standards. However, some individuals maintain their weight, while others become underweight.
Regardless of weight, this behavior is extremely dangerous and can even be fatal. When the first bulimia symptoms develop, they require early intervention and effective treatment from a team of specialists. Bulimia can lead to devastating consequences if left untreated. It is more than a physical condition. It’s also a mental health disorder, so treatment revolves around addressing the distorted emotions and thoughts that individuals develop about their own bodies. Most of the time, they have a poor self-image and negative relationship with food.
Recognizing Bulimia Symptoms
Binging and purging can take a toll on individuals who develop bulimia, especially since most will binge and purge several times a week or, in serious cases, several times a day. However, it’s not always easy to identify bulimia symptoms in the early stages of the eating disorder. In particular, the physical signs of bulimia can take some time to develop.
Some of the major health consequences include dehydration, erosion of tooth enamel, swelling of the salivary glands, bleeding in the esophagus, and imbalances of body salts called electrolytes like potassium, sodium and chloride. The electrolyte imbalances are probably the most worrisome physical health consequence of bulimia nervosa. Our bodies need these salts in order to have nerve impulses go through our body and contract our muscles and our heart is an important muscle that needs these salts. When someone with bulimia nervosa has an electrolyte imbalance, it can cause them to have irregular heartbeat and even for their heart to stop beating.
Below are the most common effects of bulimia on the body.
Request a Call
Request a free consultation from an Eating Disorder Coordinator.
Physical Symptoms of Bulimia
- Wildly fluctuating weight
- Dental problems and eroding teeth from purging
- Dry skin and brittle nails
- Abnormal bowel function
- Electrolyte imbalance, which can cause cardiac arrest
- Constipation, acid reflux or other stomach issues
- Inconsistent or loss of menstrual periods
- Irregular heartbeat
- Muscle cramps and weakness
- Thinning hair
- Tingling hands or feet
- Wildly fluctuating weight
Because many individuals with bulimia use vomiting to purge after eating, they may also show signs of regularly induced vomiting, including the following:
- Scars on the knuckles
- Swollen cheeks
- Discolored teeth
- Tooth decay
- Scrapes and cuts in the mouth or throat
- Gastric reflux
Request a Call to Get Help for Bulimia
Behavioral Symptoms of Bulimia
Mental and emotional signs are often the first clues family members and friends notice in a loved one experiencing bulimia nervosa.
The biggest impact on mental health of bulimia nervosa is low self-esteem. People without eating disorders typically evaluate themselves based on a variety of different areas, They might base their self-esteem on how well they’re doing in school, their career, relationships, or sports, for example.
People with eating disorders, and in particular bulimia nervosa, give an outsized level of importance to their shape and weight. Even if they’re succeeding in many areas of life, if that number on the scale changes and they feel that they’ve gained weight or their shape and weight isn’t how they want it to be, that can make them feel like a failure and push them further into the binging and purging cycle.
When people diet very strictly, they tend to get really hungry and really want to eat a lot of food. They also might start to feel psychologically deprived, which makes them crave the foods that they’re forbidding themselves. Both of those factors create a recipe for out-of-control binge eating. Then once individuals with bulimia nervosa have binged, they feel terrible about it.
In order to counteract the effects of the binge episodes, they’ll engage in those compensatory behaviors like vomiting or taking laxatives or diuretics or exercising or fasting. Once they’ve engaged in those behaviors, though, unfortunately, they aren’t very effective at getting rid of the calories. And so it causes the person with bulimia nervosa to want to redouble or triple their efforts at dieting to try to desperately gain back control over their eating, which only further fuels the cycle. We call this vicious cycle of dieting and binging and purging the cognitive behavioral model of bulimia nervosa.
The most common mental signs and symptoms of this disorder include the following:
- Frequent complaints about being fat
- Poor body image and constant nit-picking about supposed body flaws
- Mood swings
- Interpersonal problems
- Eating past the point of discomfort
- Eating huge meals
- Keeping hidden stashes of junk food
- Secretive meal eating or snacking
- Disappearing to the bathroom after eating
- Regularly fasting or dieting
- Exercising excessively
- Making excuses for long absences from social gatherings, school or work
- Making excuses for missing money or food
To better understand the dangers of this disorder, we’ve included a few bulimia statistics below.
- Bulimia disproportionately affects more women than men, partially due to societal stereotypes and expectations.
- Although women have a higher risk of developing bulimia, men can still get it. Among men, those who are gay or bisexual are at a greater risk of developing bulimia than those who are heterosexual.
- Bulimia is very prevalent in those who are younger. The onset of this disorder is usually in the teens.
- Many people who have bulimia have a co-occurring disorder. In fact, almost half of all individuals with bulimia have a comorbid mood disorder.
- Suicidal thoughts and tendencies are more common in those affected by bulimia. Tragically, suicide is one of the more common causes of death for this disorder.
- In addition to having fairly high rates of relapse, it’s reported that only 1/10 of those with bulimia seek treatment.
Types of Bulimia
While bulimia is characterized by excessive eating and by a fixation on weight gain and body image, the way individuals deal with the excess calories can vary. Bulimia is divided into two major types: purging and nonpurging.
The purging type of bulimia is by far the most common variant affecting teenagers and adults, and it is what most people think of when they hear the term bulimia. As previously discussed, the binging cycle is followed by the need to purge the calories immediately from the body.
Instead of vomiting, individuals will try to manage body weight by having long periods of unhealthy fasting following each binge cycle or exercising vigorously for long periods of time.
Bulimia Treatment Programs Near Dallas, Texas
Residential treatment is the highest level of care offered at Eating Disorder Solutions. Our bulimia treatment center offers a quiet, peaceful, recovery-focused space for addressing the root causes of disordered eating and other harmful habits to help build toward a healthier future.
During residential treatment for bulimia, our clients receive three peer supported, supervised meals and snacks per day as planned by our staff nutritionist and dietitian. Between meals, clients participate in processing groups and individual therapy sessions to begin addressing underlying traumas and co-occurring mental health conditions. Our weekly experiential therapy groups include trips to local restaurants, grocery stores, and other fun outings to challenge disordered thinking and enrich the recovery process.
As part of our full continuum of care, our partial hospitalization program helps support early recovery during the transition between residential and outpatient care, helping our clients stay on the path of recovery and achieve their goals.
Eating Disorder Solutions’ partial hospitalization program keeps the focus on daily bulimia treatment while allowing clients to return home or to our transitional housing at the end of each day. At this stage of care, clients receive three supervised meals and two snacks during the course of treatment and continue to participate in group and individual therapy. Clients are responsible for a final snack each night and weekend meals to begin practicing new life skills in real world scenarios.
Similar to our partial hospitalization program, our intensive outpatient program helps to maintain long-term recovery through peer support, group and individual therapy sessions, and other resources to keep clients on the right path. Treatment is three to five days a week depending on specific continued care needs. At this level of care, our primary focus is sustaining the positive lifestyle and behavioral changes while also providing a safe space for processing challenges as they arise.
Eating Disorder Solutions’ outpatient treatment center is conveniently located near downtown Dallas, TX and accessible by car, bus, or train. We offer flexible scheduling options to allow you to get the help you need while working, going to school, or tending to other obligations. Additionally, as a member of the EDS recovery community, our clients and alumni gain access to support resources such as our active online alumni community, so you know help is there whenever you need it.
The Impact of Bulimia if Left Unchecked:
- Electrolyte imbalance and problems with regular organ functions
- Vomiting; leading to major losses of electrolytes. After repeated occurrences, this can affect heart growth and function.
- The lack of necessary nutrients can bring organ failure, particularly the heart and kidneys, which can result in death.
- Long-lasting dental problems.
- Agitation to your menstrual cycle, increasing chances of infertility.
Start Bulimia Treatment in Texas Today
You can overcome bulimia and we can help. We will help you stop the cycle of binging and purging, transform negative thoughts about weight, body shape, and size, and provide coping skills for emotional battles. Seeking treatment for bulimia nervosa takes a lot of courage, and at Eating Disorder Solutions, we understand this can be a scary step to take. That’s why we are here to help the entire way, from initial diagnosis and insurance coverage to treatment planning and intake.
Our integrated approach to bulimia treatment will help you develop a better relationship with yourself and food while strengthening and caring for your body. Contact us today to start your journey to recovery. For more information on bulimia treatment in Texas call 855-808-4213.