The dangers of bulimia are not always understood by the general public, or by those who suffer from the disorder. Bulimia is an eating disorder in which people eat large amounts of food (binge) and then throw up (purge) in order to avoid weight gain. Sufferers may also use laxatives to help move food through their digestive systems faster so less of it is absorbed by their systems in an attempt to avoid weight gain. Some people with bulimia abuse diet pills as well as laxatives. They may also exercise compulsively.
Fact: Despite what many people believe, research has shown that even if you throw up right after eating, you won’t get rid of all the calories you consumed. It’s difficult to determine exactly how many calories a person loses by vomiting, but it’s quite possible that if you binge on 2000 calories and then vomit right away, you might still absorb as many as 1200 calories or more. Since digestion begins as soon as you eat, some calories may be absorbed before you vomit even if you vomit immediately after a meal. That means purging doesn’t necessarily prevent weight gain from binging.
Statistically, women suffer from bulimia more than men do, however men can and do also suffer from bulimia. The prevalence of men to women might be statistically higher due to a lower incidence of men coming forward for diagnosis. Most people with bulima are diagnosed in their teens or twenties, though children as young as six have been diagnosed with the disorder and it is often diagnosed in older people as well.
Dangers of Bulimia
There are many dangers of bulimia. Serious medical problems can result from the condition. Without treatment, it can even result in death.
Bulimia can cause intestinal problems such as diarrhea and constipation. The acid content of vomit damages the esophagus. It also damages the tooth enamel, causing the teeth to take on a clear appearance. (See how bulimia damages teeth) It can cause stomach ulcers and sores inside the mouth. In extreme cases the constant binging and purging can even cause the stomach to rupture.
Dehydration, vitamin deficiencies, and low blood pressure can lead to liver and kidney problems and damage.
Bulimia causes dehydration, anemia, and low levels of sodium, potassium, and magnesium in the body. It causes hypotension (low blood pressure) and a slow or irregular heartbeat. Over time, it weakens the heart muscle and can lead to heart failure.
Blood vessels in the eyes may break from excessive vomiting which can interfere with vision. In this video, a girl just purged and broke a blood vessel. (Warning – Not for the squeamish)
Overall muscle weakness, lethargy, and fatigue may occur. Bulimic people may lack the energy for day-to-day activities.
It can cause hormonal imbalances leading to an irregular or absent menstrual period in women. Over time, infertility can be a consequence of an eating disorder that is not treated.
There are also many negative psychological effects associated with bulimia. These can include depression, feelings of shame, anxiety and low self-esteem. Furthermore the longer a person struggles with the disorder the more obsessive their thoughts become regarding body image and weight, which can lead to clinical depression and suicidal thoughts.
There is hope for people who suffer from bulimia. Despite the many dangers of the disease, many of these problems are reversible with treatment.
If there are medical problems, they should be addressed first. Any chemical imbalances must be corrected. Heart conditions must be stabilized. In some cases, the damage may be permanent, however. For instance, kidney damage may not be reversible even with treatment.
A mental health professional should provide the primary treatment. People with bulimia need to learn to regulate their eating and to develop new ways of coping with stress and other feelings. He or she is also educated about the risks of bulimia. Education is an important part of the treatment process. In addition, people with bulimia may suffer from clinical depression or anxiety disorders and may require medication for these.
A dietician may also be involved in the treatment to help develop an eating plan. The patient is educated about balanced eating and is encouraged to practice flexibility.
People with bulimia may hesitate to seek treatment because they don’t understand the seriousness of their condition or because they are ashamed of their condition. However, it is critical that treatment is sought and that it is continued. It is very difficult for a person to stop binging and purging without professional help.
Updated by Dr. Lauren Muhlheim and Tabitha Farrar – 2014
Written by Kelly Morris – 2008