Bulimia nervosa is a serious eating disorder characterized by a binge-and-purge cycle. This cycle consists of frequent episodes of binge eating followed by efforts to avoid gaining weight, often by extreme means such as vomiting or exercising to excess. This can cause damage to your digestive system and create chemical imbalances in the body that harm the functioning of major organs, including the heart. It can even be fatal. While it is most common among young women, bulimia can affect women and men of all ages. When you’re struggling with the eating disorder, life is a constant battle between the desire to lose weight and the overwhelming compulsion to binge eat.
You don’t want to binge, as you know you’ll feel guilty and ashamed afterward, but time and again you give in. After the binge ends, panic sets in and you turn to drastic measures to “undo” your overeating, such as taking laxatives, vomiting, or going for an intense run. No matter how trapped in this vicious cycle you feel, though, there is hope. With treatment and support, you can break the cycle, learn to manage unpleasant emotions in a healthier way, and regain your sense of control.
Bulimia symptoms include:
- Frequent episodes of consuming a very large amount of food followed by behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting.
- A feeling of being out of control during the binge-eating episodes.
- Self-esteem overly related to body image.
Many people with bulimia also struggle with co-occurring conditions such as:
- Self-injury (cutting and other forms of self-harm without suicidal intention)
- Substance abuse
- Impulsivity (risky sexual behaviors, shoplifting, etc.)
Eating disorder symptoms are beginning earlier in both males and females and, at any given point in time, 1.0% of young women and 0.1% of young men will meet diagnostic criteria for bulimia nervosa.
The diagnostic criteria for Bulimia are:
- Recurrent episodes of binge eating. An episode of binge eating is characterized by both of the following:
- Eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g. within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat during a similar period of time and under similar circumstances.
- A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (e.g. a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating).
- Recurrent inappropriate compensatory behavior in order to prevent weight gains, such as self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or other medications, fasting, or excessive exercise.
- The binge eating and inappropriate compensatory behaviors both occur, on average, at least once a week for three months.
- Self-evaluation is unduly influenced by body shape and weight.
- The disturbance does not occur exclusively during episodes of Anorexia Nervosa.