Appearance and body shape are important issues for many people today. Some like to take good care of how they look and will exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet so that they can maintain a nice figure and a healthy body. However, for some individuals body, shape and weight can be a major issue. They will judge themselves very harshly for the way that they look, and many will become so obsessed with it that they will begin rigorously controlling the things they eat.
Such a problem often manifests itself in the form of an eating disorder. One that is increasingly common and very difficult to spot is bulimia nervosa – or bulimia as it is more commonly known. When bulimia takes over, it can destroy a person’s mental and physical wellbeing. It can control everything that he or she does, and it can interfere with his or her ability to live a normal life.
What is Bulimia?
Bulimia, as mentioned above, is an eating disorder, but it is also a mental health illness, and a serious one at that. It is commonly, but wrongly, assumed that bulimia is an illness that only affects young girls, but the truth is that it can affect anyone, regardless of age or gender.
Bulimia causes affected individuals to cycle through periods where they eat copious amounts of food over a short period, which is known as bingeing, followed by purging, which is where they try to get rid of the excess calories by making themselves vomit, exercising excessively, or taking laxatives.
Why Does Bulimia Occur?
It is common for people to worry about their appearance, especially in today’s society where social media has put the spotlight on body shape and weight. Trying to get the best ‘selfie’ can lead some individuals to take desperate measures.
It is hard to understand exactly why bulimia occurs in some people, but there are factors that make it more likely. For example, not everyone who wants to look good will develop bulimia. Nevertheless, studies have found that having a parent, brother, or sister with bulimia makes it more likely that you will be affected yourself. But there are other factors that can contribute to this mental health problem developing.
In some, it is a stressful life event that triggers bulimia, such as the death of a loved one, neglect, any form of abuse, being bullied, moving home, getting married, or getting divorced. One thing is clear, however; when bulimia takes over, it is an illness that can, and frequently does, have devastating consequences.
How to Tell if You Have Bulimia?
If you are worried that you might have bulimia, there are certain signs that you can look out for. These include:
- eating large amounts of food over a short period of time
- trying to get rid of excess calories by exercising excessively or making yourself vomit
- regularly taking laxatives
- becoming obsessed with food
- being nervous about eating around others
- feeling an uncontrollable urge to eat
- isolating yourself from others to keep your eating habits a secret
- losing interest in people you love and things you enjoy
- having a fear of putting on weight
- feeling anxious or tense about your situation
- being critical about your body shape and your weight.
If you can relate to any of the above, then you may have bulimia and so it is important to seek out some professional help. Many individuals with bulimia suffer in silence for many years, and because their weight stays relatively stable, others may not realise what is going on. Nonetheless, when bulimia takes over, it can be almost impossible to break free from without help.
It is crucial that you look for help as soon as possible in order to turn your life around. With a good programme of support, you can put your life back on the right track again. You do not have to live a life that is dictated to by your unhealthy eating habits.
The Consequences of Bulimia
If you are still unsure about whether to reach out for help for bulimia or not, it is important that you consider the consequences of this terrible illness. You may already be struggling with some of the following physical and mental symptoms:
- Feeling helpless
- Mood swings
- Sleeping problems
- Sore throat (from vomiting)
- Teeth problems (from vomiting)
- Muscle spasms
- Abdominal cramps
- Feeling tired and weak all the time
- Changes in your period (if you are a girl)
- Swollen glands.
Regular cycles of bingeing and purging can take its toll on your mental and physical health. Your heart, for example, will be placed under an enormous amount of stress if you are vomiting every day or taking laxatives. You might start noticing heart palpitations as it struggles to cope, or you may find that your heartbeat slows. Your risk of heart attacks also increases with continuing bingeing and purging.
Constant vomiting can also lead to the erosion of the enamel on your teeth, which could cause them to yellow. You might also develop sensitive teeth and be more prone to tooth decay.
When bulimia takes over, bingeing can become worse and the more and more you eat, the more your stomach will stretch. However, if your bingeing cycles get worse and you are eating large quantities of food, there is the risk that the lining of your stomach could tear, which can cause internal bleeding. In extreme cases, this can end up being fatal.
You are likely to suffer from stomach problems as a result of constant bingeing and purging. You might experience stomach pains that become a regular occurrence, and your throat may swell up and become painful from vomiting and the acid in the vomit.
Your mental health and wellbeing are also likely to take a hit. Trying to keep your eating habits a secret from those around you can lead to a great deal of stress. You may suffer anxiety, depression, and irritability as the illness worsens. This can lead to substance abuse as you try to block out the painful feelings you are experiencing.
Self-harming and suicidal thoughts are not uncommon among those with bulimia. You might have very low self-esteem and you could also be struggling with feelings of self-loathing, disgust, and guilt, particularly after a binge.
Can Bulimia Be Treated?
It is important to remember that bulimia is a serious mental health illness, but fortunately, it is one that can be treated. You do not have to continue living this way as help is available from many sources here in the UK.
To overcome your illness, you will need professional help that includes counselling and therapy sessions where you will work on identifying the cause of your eating disorder. Therapy will help you to develop a healthy attitude towards food; you will also learn what triggers your addictive behaviour and how to deal with these triggers.
If your illness is severe, an inpatient programme may be necessary, especially if you have trained your body to vomit after everything you eat. Constantly vomiting could mean that you have developed a reflex that causes you to do this every time you eat, no matter the amount. You will need professional help to rectify this.
You might be prescribed medication such as anti-depressants that may be effective in helping you to deal with the mental stress that your condition has placed on your body. Such medication might provide some relief and give you the ability to deal more effectively with the other elements of your illness.
Help for bulimia is available through the NHS, from local charities, and private clinics throughout the UK.