MEDICALLY REVIEWED

Bulimia Nervosa: A Life-Threatening Eating Disorder

According to National Eating Disorders Association, 70 million people internationally live with eating disorders. Japan has the highest prevalence of eating disorders in Asia, followed by Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea, based on the finding reported by Eating Disorder Review.

Eating disorders are serious mental health issues that affect people of all genders, ages, and backgrounds. They are characterized by an unhealthy and often extreme relationship with food, which can harm their physical and mental health. The most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorders, and bulimia nervosa.

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by binge eating followed by purging behaviours like self-induced vomiting, laxative or diuretic abuse, or excessive exercise to maintain a relatively healthy weight instead of losing large amounts of weight. People with bulimia nervosa often have a distorted body image and are preoccupied with their weight and shape.

Common Symptoms

Bulimia nervosa typically begins in adolescence or early adulthood and is more common in women than men. Common signs and symptoms of bulimia nervosa include:

  • living in fear of gaining weight
  • being conscious about body shape and weight
  • binging large amounts of food in one sitting
  • secretive eating
  • frequent weight fluctuations
  • depression and anxiety; in other situations, may be at risk for substance abuse.
  • purging behaviours such as forcing oneself to vomit or exercise too much to keep from gaining weight after bingeing, using laxatives, diuretics, or enemas after eating even if they’re not needed, fasting or restricting calories or avoiding certain foods between binges, and using dietary supplements or herbal products excessively for weight loss

Risk Factors 

The exact cause of bulimia nervosa is still unknown but research suggests that it is from the combination of different factors including biological, psychological, and environmental factors. It is also often associated with the mixture of different personalities, behaviour, and emotional states. 

Other risk factors to consider are:

  • having low self-esteem
  • extreme concern with body size and shape
  • too much belief and attention on society and cultural ideals
  • being a female, as girls are more likely to have it than boys
  • often begins in the late teens or early adulthood
  • being overweight as a child or teen may increase the risk
  • depression, anxiety, or traumatic events
  • people who are on a diet
  • from families with a history of eating disorders

The Danger of Bulimia Nervosa

People with bulimia nervosa need to seek treatment as soon as possible. If left untreated, bulimia nervosa can lead to serious medical complications, such as:

  • gum infection
  • dental problems such as tooth sensitivity, cavities, and discoloured teeth
  • sore or inflamed throat
  • stomach ulcers
  • dehydration
  • electrolyte imbalances 
  • cardiac arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat
  • alcohol or drug misuse
  • self-harm
  • risk for suicide, as the disorder, can be associated with feelings of hopelessness and despair

Despite these dangers linked with bulimia nervosa, people should not be worried as proper treatment can help people suffering to effectively manage their condition, achieve long-term recovery, and improve the quality of their life.

Treatment  

Bulimia nervosa is a life-threatening and serious eating disorder but the good news is it can be managed to reduce risk and dangers, and eventually lead to a healthier and more normal eating lifestyle.

Effective treatments for bulimia nervosa include the following:

1. Therapies or counselling

2. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – CBT is a form of talk therapy that helps individuals identify and change negative thinking and behaviour patterns.

3. Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) – IPT focuses on improving interpersonal relationships. It can help people with bulimia nervosa understand the underlying causes of their disorder and develop new coping skills. 

4. Nutrition counselling – Nutrition counselling can help people with bulimia nervosa learn how to eat better and develop healthy eating habits that work best for them. It can also unlock ways how to healthily cope with certain emotions and feelings with food and diet. 

5. Medications – Since depression is one of the risk factors of bulimia nervosa, medications that are usually prescribed for it are anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medicines that may help reduce stress and anxiety. 

6. Lifestyle changes – Lifestyle changes that can help treat and manage bulimia nervosa include reducing stress and developing a regular exercise routine. Having support groups can also be a great resource for people with bulimia nervosa. Support groups provide an opportunity for individuals to connect with others who can relate to their experiences, open their thoughts and emotions, and receive healthier support and advice.

Conclusion

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that can lead to serious medical conditions, and in worse situations, death. And since its primary cause is still unclear and from a different mix of patterns and factors, treating it may also vary from one person to another, depending on their condition.

One of the best things that people could do to minimize the number suffering from this condition is to develop healthy attitudes about food and body image. People should champion self-appreciation and destroy stereotypes and unhealthy cultural ideas.

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