Bulimia Nervosa

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

Condition updated on November 9th, 2018

Bulimia Nervosa

In the United States, millions of men and women suffer from bulimia nervosa (bulimia). Bulimia is an eating disorder in which a person suffers from a fear of gaining weight. People with bulimia engage in harmful behaviors to prevent weight gain.

These harmful behaviors include:

  • Extreme dieting
  • Excessive exercising
  • Binge-and-purging (eating a lot of food in a short amount of time and immediately vomiting or using laxatives to prevent weight gain)

Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa

The prevalence of eating disorders like bulimia is growing at an alarming rate. Sometimes it can be difficult to identify symptoms and warning signs of bulimia. This is because a person who suffers from bulimia may maintain an average or overweight body weight.

Symptoms of bulimia include:

  • Binging (Eating an excessive amount of food in a short amount of time) and purging (Inducing vomiting or forcing bowel movements)
  • Misuse of diuretics or laxatives
  • Bad breath or tooth decay
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Excessive exercise
  • Shame about body
  • Irritability, especially when confronted with concerns or comments about eating habits or weight
  • Struggles with body image
  • Low self-esteem
  • Suffering from anxiety or depression
  • Insecurity about physical appearance
  • Presence of deeper emotional issues or life stressors
  • Poor ability to manage stress
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Feeling out of control with life and body
  • Sensitivity to the remarks or concerns from family and friends

Causes of Bulimia Nervosa

There are several factors that may contribute to the onset of bulimia. Each factor that may cause bulimia will put an affected person at high risk for serious life consequences. These consequences will affect both the body and the mind. Such factors that may cause a person do develop bulimia include mental health issues. Bulimia is a mental health disorder that is triggered by another mental health issue. These mental health issues typically cause a poor body image and low self-esteem. People with bulimia have deeper emotional issues that they do not understand or know how to cope with. This causes the affected person to project their mental health issues onto their body image. The result is symptoms of bulimia.

Such mental health issues include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Addiction
  • Low self-esteem. Low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence may cause a person engage in harmful behaviors to compensate for their poor self-image. This can be especially prevalent for those who struggle with managing stress in a healthy way.
  • Low self-worth
  • Body dsymorphic disorder (Seeing body as flawed or malformed)
  • Poor stress management skills
  • Family Influence. People with bulimia may have family members who suffer from bulimia or other eating disorders. It is easy to learn behaviors of bulimia when there is someone to model that behavior. Considering this, it is not surprising to hear that eating disorders run in families.

Treatment for Bulimia Nervosa

It is critical for a person who suffers from bulimia to seek treatment. If left untreated, bulimia will have significantly negative effects on the affected person’s mental health and physical health. It can even develop intoanorexia nervosa, a disorder that can be fatal.

A patient with bulimia will either be treated in an inpatient or outpatient setting. It is not uncommon for treatment for bulimia to extend for several months or even years.

Proper medical and psychiatric intervention is often needed for the treatment of bulimia. Medical and mental health professionals treat patients with a combination of:

  • Medical monitoring
  • Psychiatric medication
  • Mental health counseling
  • Group therapy
  • Nutritional education
  • Exercise regiments

It is not uncommon for a person to be resistant to getting treatment for bulimia. It can be very stressful for a patient to comply with treatment. This is because the patient is expected to let go of many poor habits that they believe are helping improving their quality of life. It takes patience, trust, and commitment to help a patient successfully complete treatment.

Common forms of therapy used for the treatment of a patient with bulimia include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Nutritional education
  • Psychiatric treatment
  • Family therapy
  • Psychoeducation
  • Psychotherapy

Treatment for bulimia requires tough treatment and recovery process. With commitment of both the patient and the family, it is possible to learn tools to cope with bulimia nervosa. It will take time and patience for a patient to recover.

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