Bulimia is an eating disorder. It can affect people of any age and any gender. It manifests itself in episodes of frenzied food consumption. People affected by bulimia are usually heavily critical of, and affected by their weight and physical appearance. They also often lack confidence in their body and criticize their physical appearance. Bulimia can easily be identified by a general practitioner and there exists solutions to help people affected get better.

What is bulimia | Definition

Bulimia involves going through periods of excessive food consumption. During these episodes, bulimic people report feeling a loss of control. The food is rapidly consumed in amounts that are significantly greater than what they would normally consume.

These periods of binge eating may last from minutes to hours. They recur over many months, for some even over years.

These periods of binge eating are often followed by compensatory behaviour, aimed at losing weight. Sometimes, the objective is to relieve the physical or mental pain that then follows when the person feels ‘too full’. To eliminate those calories, people suffering from bulimia will use different methods:

  • Taking laxatives or diuretics ;
  • Self-induced vomiting ;
  • Excessive working out;
  • Severe food restrictions.

In these cases, these crises become a bulimia-binge pattern. When these crises are not followed by the compensatory behaviour, they are then qualified as binge eating. People with binge eating disorder may gain weight because of these overeating crises.

The statistics :

  • Eating disorders (EDs) affect girls and women ten times more than boys and men
  • 5 times out of 10, bulimic behaviour starts during weight loss diets
  • 2 times out of 10, bulimia follows depression

What are the social, psychological, and physical causes of bulimia?

There are no exact causes that can explain with certainty the origin of bulimia. Generally, it affects people who are increasingly worried by their weight or their body shape. These people believe that they need to lose weight. This negative body image causes and maintains a low self-esteem.

At the social level, the cult of thinness that is so prevalent in society negatively influences teenagers’ view of their own bodies, oftentimes from a young age. Images of thin bodies are ubiquitous: in media, in cinema, on social media, in fashion, etc. The message this sends is devastating, especially for growing teens who are simply discovering themselves. It almost says that to be pretty or handsome, you must be skinny.

From a psychological point of view, there are many factors. Personal trauma can be at the original of Eds:

  • Physical aggression or bullying;
  • A breakup;
  • A way too strict familial context;
  • A feeling of injustice or abandonment.

At the level of the brain, researchers have found a link between the dysfunction of serotonin production and bulimic behaviours. In fact, serotonin is involved in stimulating the centre of satiety. In people suffering from bulimia, researchers have found a decrease in the quantity of serotonin produced. However, they go back to normal after being healed.

Hereditary factors can also have an influence. In families where a member suffers of bulimia, there is greater chance that a parent has experienced an eating disorder.

What are the consequences of bulimia?

Bulimia has severe health and psychological consequences. It also influences one’s social life.

Most of the physical symptoms are due to purging behaviours. In general, bulimic crises exhaust the body. Vomiting creates abdominal cramps and irritates the esophagus because of the gastric acid. In the long term, this acidity causes erosion of tooth enamel. Therefore, they progressively lose their whiteness. It is also possible to notice an increase in volume of the salivary glands, though this is not painful generally.

In everyday life, this illness affects the behaviour of those affected. Bulimic people are conscious that their behaviour is abnormal, which increases their anxiety. The episodes are followed by feelings of anxiety and guilt. In a systematic manner, people affected by bulimia isolate themselves when they go through an episode. With time, this isolation can take more and more space in their lives.

Compensatory behaviour (restrictive eating and excessive exercise) can promote the development of obsessive behaviours. Bulimic people often become inflexible, creating unrealistic expectations of their personal performances.

Indicators help identify eating disorder problems:

  • Weight fluctuation;
  • Uncommon changes in their eating habits (fasting, eating alone, counting calories, etc.);
  • Relentless involvement in professional projects, sports, school, etc.;
  • Excessively working out;
  • Behavioural changes (irritability, lack of concentration, anxiety, etc.);
  • Sleep troubles.

If you are having concerns about a family member, a general practitioner can help you identify indicators of EDs. Let them know of your worries.

As a parent or friend, it is also important to strengthen a relationship with the body focused on well-being rather than looks. Physical and mental health prevails over a person's appearance, regardless of their size and shape. Thus, it is not necessary to make comments on other people’s physical appearance.

And to help young people build their self-esteem, it's important to avoid criticism about their bodies. The teenage years are a time of life when your metabolism changes.

Don't hesitate to make time for meals with family or friends. Sharing good times over a meal is a great way to create positive memories. Moreover, they help build a healthy relationship with food.

There are organisms that can help. You can contact Anorexie et Boulimie Québec, who can help you over the phone.

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