Bulimia nervosa is a serious and potentially life-threatening eating disorder. The features that distinguish bulimia from other eating disorders are the tendency of the person with bulimia to eat large amounts of food at one time, typically called bingeing, and then to almost immediately afterward vomit it back up or take laxatives to speed up a bowel movement. This process is called purging.
Like those with anorexia or other types of eating disorders, people with bulimia often are unhappy with their body shape and size, desperately want to lose weight and are very fearful of gaining weight. People with bulimia may be dangerously thin like those with anorexia, but there are also people of a normal weight who have bulimia. The condition is far more common among women than men, but it affects various economic levels and ethnicities.
When a person becomes bulimic, there are usually a number of factors that lead to this development. Oftentimes, the person with bulimia has other related disorders, such as anxiety or depression. There’s no question that society itself, and the constant pressure to be thin and beautiful, can certainly play a role in bulimia. Family issues, either environmental or genetic, seem to be a factor as well, and stressful life events might also lead a person to become bulimic.
Treatment of Bulimia
Over time, bulimia can do very serious damage to the body. The constant bingeing and purging can lead to severe problems in the gastrointestinal tract, and the malnutrition that often results from bulimia causes problems elsewhere in the body, including the skin, the blood and even the heart and brain. However, treatment is available for bulimia, and it is often successful. Typically therapy, counseling and sound nutritional advice are critical components of treatment for someone with bulimia. In some cases, medication is needed to treat the problems that bulimia has created in the body, as well as any related medical issues such as anxiety or depression.
SOURCES: National Alliance on Mental Illness; U.S. Office on Women's Health