Is Bulimia a Serious Problem or Not?
What is Bulimia?
Before finding an answer to whether bulimia is a serious problem or not, lets first understand what is bulimia. Bulimia, or Bulimia Nervosa, is an eating disorder characterized by binge eating followed by purging. Binge eating is eating high volumes of food in a short period of time. Purging means forcing oneself to vomit, or eliminate food using laxatives or diuretics. Purging is not the only after-eating behavior for those who suffer from bulimia. They may also participate in other behaviors to compensate for overeating such as fasting or excessive exercise.
Those who suffer from bulimia typically engage in the practice due to fear or extreme stress related to their body size, shape, weight, or appearance. Many of those suffering from bulimia may also have comorbid disorders such as: Body Dysmorphic Disorder, another obsessive-compulsive related disorder. Other disorders that can be noticed are depression, sudden mood change, anxiety, and/or an impulse-control disorder.
Characteristics of Bulimia
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), which is the diagnostic manual used to make medical diagnoses, an individual must exhibit the five following characteristics to meet diagnostic criteria for Bulimia Nervosa:
1. “Recurrent episodes of binge eating, characterized by both:
• Eating, within any two-hour period, an amount of food that is definitively larger than what most individuals would eat in a similar period of time and under similar circumstances, and
• A feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating.
2. Recurrent, inappropriate compensatory behaviors in order to prevent weight gain, such as: self-induced vomiting; misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or other medications; and/or fasting or excessive exercise.
3. The binge eating and inappropriate compensatory behaviors occur, on average, at least once a week, for at least three months.
4. Self-evaluation is unjustifiably influenced by body shape or weight.
5. The disturbance does not occur exclusively during episodes of anorexia nervosa.”
What Are the Signs of Bulimia?
As far as signs of bulimia, there are many behavioral and physical symptoms that may indicate a person is suffering from this disorder. However, just visually looking at person you may not know that the person has an eating disorder. Unlike to anorexia nervosa, in bulimia the body shape may stay unchanged and the person might seem absolutely normal. Only the closest people can notice changes in behavior and look for ways to help that person.
The red flags are the following: extreme concern over body shape/ weight, excessive eating, purging, excessive dieting or exercise, or overuse of laxatives/diuretics. Most obviously, if they exhibit these characteristics of the disorder, there is a possibility that the individual may suffer from bulimia. However, there are other behavioral and physical signs that might not be as direct or obvious:
1 – Due to poor nutrition, an individual suffering from bulimia may demonstrate: poor concentration, dizziness, drowsiness, muscle weakness, bowel problems, gastrointestinal problems, and more.
2 – Due to the act of purging, the acidic vomit can lead to: tooth erosion or decay, constant sore throat, fatigue, bad breath, and more.
3 – Due to underlying mental health concerns, someone suffering from Bulimia Nervosa may also demonstrate signs such as extreme anxiety, depression, mood fluctuations, obsessive and/ or compulsive behaviors, impulsive behaviors, and isolation.
How Serious is Bulimia
As soon as you notice similar symptoms in your close friend or family member, immediately contact specialists. Ignoring the problem may lead to more serious outcomes, because bulimia is more mental disorder than eating disorder. A patient needs bulimia evaluation checkup and an immediate treatment. As for a formal diagnosis, doctors can evaluate bulimia after conducting several tests to narrow down the diagnosis. For diagnostic test your doctor may conduct the following:
1 – Interviews with the patient (and/or patient’s parents if they are underaged).
2 – A physical exam. Measuring height, weight, blood pressure, heart rate, examining abdomen, skin and nails, and possibly a cardio exam.
3 – Laboratory analysis. A urine test and blood test to examine kidney, liver and thyroid functions.
4 – Psychological evaluation. A therapist or a mental health provider will likely ask about eating habits and ask to complete self-assessment questionnaire.
Finally, based on the results of the diagnostic test a therapist will recommend a proper treatment program for patient.
Treatment For Bulimia
For an individual suffering from Bulimia Nervosa, there are many treatment options available. The most common forms of treatment include: psychotherapy, nutritional education and counseling, and medication management.
For an individual with bulimia, psychotherapy is an important step in recovery, because it is a serious mental problem. Finding a therapist or psychiatrist who specializes in eating disorders is also helpful in the therapeutic process. Cognitive- Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most commonly used approach to treating bulimia. The viewpoint of CBT is that our thoughts impact our emotions; our emotions impact our behaviors; our behaviors impact our thoughts; and around the cycle goes.
CBT theorizes that psychological problems are based on learned but unhelpful patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. We need to retraining our ability to understand how our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors interact and affect ourselves and others. By retraining our mind we can find healthy ways to address our psychological struggles. By using CBT and other direct forms of psychotherapy, an individual suffering from bulimia is aided in modifying their relationship with food, body image, eating patterns, and underlying social-emotional struggles.
Nutritional Education and Counseling
Nutritional education and counseling allow an individual suffering from bulimia to learn more about nutrition and food. They are able to create healthy, nutritious, and structured meal plans. With the combination of psychotherapy and nutritional counseling, those with bulimia are able to learn coping skills when faced with the urge to binge or purge. Moreover, they will be able to re-learn what their body needs and how to listen to it. With healthy and nutritious eating plan they again may eat without worrying about gaining weight.
People who suffer from bulimia should consult their doctors and psychiatrists in regards to medication management. In some cases, doctors or psychiatrists may prescribe antidepressants, antianxiety, mood stabilizers, stimulants, or other forms of medication. Whether your doctor chooses to prescribe medication or not, there is a variety of approaches that can assist with bulimia characteristics and its underlying causes.
The road to recovery for an individual with bulimia takes dedication and perseverance and also a combination of the treatment options listed above. Further, beyond these treatment approaches, it is important for someone suffering from bulimia to have a strong support system. Family member, friends or people close to them should be ready to encourage and help them in their journey to recovery.