Purging Problems: Understanding Bulimia

a woman with an eating disorder

Bulimia is often equated to purging after eating, but that isn’t what bulimia is all about. There are underlying reasons for the eating disorder, and the symptoms and methods of making up from a binge involve more than just the purging portrayed in TV and film.

The Dangers of Bulimia

Bulimia is characterized by uncontrolled binge-eating followed by a phase of getting back in control or making-up for the binge. While purging is the most common (and most referenced in TV and movies), it is not the only measure individuals with bulimia take to rid themselves of calories. Some would use diuretics or enemas, and some would exercise excessively or fast for extended periods.

Bulimia can be harder to spot than anorexia. Individuals with bulimia don’t tend to withdraw from society and would often be seen eating with friends and family. Unlike movie portrayals, purging doesn’t necessarily happen immediately after the binge, so catching someone purging in the bathroom is highly unlikely.

Bulimia’s effects also tend to appear gradually and not as extreme as anorexia. Its effects are long-lasting but often reversible. However, when left untreated, bulimia can lead to dangerous conditions, which include heart problems, dehydration, ulcers, esophageal inflammation, esophageal injuries, and conditions tied to malnutrition that can eventually become life-threatening.

The Roots of the Problems

Multiple factors contribute to the development of bulimia. Negative body image and low self-esteem are some of the most common ones, particularly in young women. Like anorexics, bulimic individuals prioritize thinness. However, not to the extent of anorexics. Bulimia can also be a way to assert control over a sudden transition or a traumatic event.

Asserting control over one’s body through weight management is a form of coping mechanism to deal with a perceived lack of it. Social media also plays a significant factor. As society pays more attention to looks and body shape, individuals who actively post on social media (creators on YouTube, influencers on Instagram, etc.) often develop bulimia as an unconscious way to control their weight. The same is true for celebrities in TV, film, and stage. Athletes can also develop bouts of bulimia, especially under stressful situations.

Treatment and Recovery

eating disorder

Bulimia is more of a psychological and emotional condition than a medical one. Recovery plans for bulimia will undoubtedly involve therapy to get to the roots of the problem. Treatment can include breaking binge-eating and purging habits as well as reducing negative thoughts and perceptions.

Misconceptions about weight and diets, as well as irrational beliefs, will also have to be addressed. Getting to the emotional roots of bulimia can take some time and include several modes of treatment that include cognitive behavior therapy, dialectic behavior therapy, as well as targeted interpersonal and social interactions. Inpatient care is usually relegated to only the most serious of cases, but recovery will require some form of supervision.

Bulimia is not glamorous or straightforward as it is commonly portrayed in movies and television. It has deep-rooted causes and can become life-threatening if left untreated.

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