What is bulimia nervosa?

Bulimia nervosa is a psychological condition. It involves behavior that starts with periods of extreme binging on food. During a binge, you might feel like you have no control. After you binge, you may feel guilty. You may resort to unhealthy measures for weight loss. These can include vomiting, using laxatives or extreme exercising. Many people with bulimia do these behaviors in secret. They may feel shame even though they're within their normal body weight for their height.

Causes of bulimia

Doctors don't know what causes bulimia. They think it may be a combination of environmental, physical, psychological and cultural factors. These factors can include:

  • Female gender
  • Low self-esteem
  • Stressful life changes
  • Dissatisfaction with your body
  • Family members with this condition
  • Involvement in activities that focus on your appearance

Risk factors for bulimia

Bulimia often starts when you're in your late teens or early adulthood. It's more likely to happen if your siblings or parents have an eating disorder. Being overweight as a child may also make it more likely. If you suffer from depression, anxiety disorders or substance abuse disorders, you have a higher risk of having bulimia. Finally, people who diet may trigger the cycle of binging and purging that's common with bulimia.

Symptoms of bulimia

Symptoms can be hard to spot. That's because people with bulimia are often at normal body weights. However, they eat uncontrollably. Then, they purge by vomiting or abusing laxatives. They may use the bathroom frequently after meals. They might also exercise more than normal. They're often worried about their body weight and image.

Other symptoms of bulimia include:

  • Sore throat
  • Dental problems
  • Irregular periods
  • Weakness or exhaustion
  • Heartburn, indigestion or bloating
  • Mood swings or feeling out of control

Diagnosis of bulimia

For a bulimia diagnosis, you need to meet certain criteria. The first is binge eating repeatedly. This may include eating a very large amount of food. You might also feel like you're unable to stop eating within any two-hour period. Also, a doctor can diagnose you with this condition if you have continued inappropriate ways to stop weight gain. These can include making yourself vomit or using medications that remove water from your body. You might also stop eating for a period of time or exercise very often.

These two types of behavior must happen at least once a week for three months. Along with a psychological evaluation, doctors may perform a physical exam. Bulimia is a potentially life-threatening disease. It can cause imbalances that can affect your organs and heart.

Treatments for bulimia

Treating bulimia nervosa involves physical and psychological help. You may need counseling and medications. Relapses are possible. This means you stop your bulimia behaviors and start them again later. Bulimia can be hard to cure.

Treatment programs have you work closely with trained mental health and medical professionals. They help you address the causes of your eating disorder. They can also teach you new life skills. These may help you overcome negative body image and thought patterns. Medication, such as antidepressants, can be part of your treatment process. Your doctor can help you decide if they're the right choice.

You might work with a dietician to learn healthy ways of eating. This is a nutrition expert. Other therapists, such as yoga instructors or art therapists, can help you process your emotions. In the beginning, it's important to stabilize your physical health. Your doctor may want to do this before you start addressing the psychological element. It takes time to stabilize your eating patterns and change your behaviors.

Recovery from bulimia

The earlier the treatment starts the easier it can be to overcome negative behaviors. Recovery is more likely when loved ones help you create positive body image and self-esteem. If you start to show symptoms again, talk with your doctor right away. This can keep symptoms from worsening. It can also help you maintain your health.