What is Bulimia Nervosa?
Bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurrent binge-eating episodes and persistent, inappropriate compensatory behaviors with the hope of avoiding weight gain. Binge-eating episodes involve eating, in a discrete period of time, an amount of food that is objectively larger than most individuals would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances. The episodes are accompanied by feelings of self-loathing, disgust, or guilt and a sense of lack of control. Individuals engage in often dangerous compensatory behaviors that may include purging, fasting, compulsive exercise, and/or the use of laxatives or diuretics. Individuals with bulimia nervosa may appear healthy, even though they are very ill. Additionally, their self-concept is unduly influenced by body weight and shape.
What Causes Bulimia Nervosa?
Like all eating disorders, bulimia nervosa develops over a period of time as a result of a complicated blend of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. There is no single cause to point to and, despite common misconceptions, families and communities of support are not to blame. In fact, they are often recovery’s strongest ally. Many individuals have genetic predispositions to bulimia nervosa that, depending on environmental influences, may or may not be awakened over the course of their lifetime. Communities of color are disproportionately affected by bulimia nervosa.
Malnutrition-Induced Changes in Physiological Processes & Altered Hunger and Fullness Signals
Experiencing a Traumatic Event
Genetic Predisposition & Societal Pressures (e.g., Drive for Thinness)
Lack of Environmental Control & Persistent, Extreme Stress or Minority Stress
What to Look For
Being familiar with the signs and symptoms can help you champion early intervention and recovery through bulimia nervosa treatment. Watch for elusive behaviors around mealtimes, inflammation around the mouth and knuckles, exercise-routine rigidity, hiding food, and/or immediately going to the bathroom after a meal. Associated disorders, or “comorbidities,” include major depressive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, bipolar I & II disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and substance-abuse disorders.
- Inappropriate Conflation of Body Weight & Shape with Identity
- Distorted Body Image & Fear of Weight Gain
- Eating Alone or in Secret & Consistent Retreats after Meals
- Extreme Exercise-Routine Rigidity, Refusal to Hydrate
& Overuse Injuries
- Abrasions or Scars on Knuckles, Inflammation around
Mouth, Burst Blood Vessels in Eyes
Risks of Bulimia Nervosa
Bulimia nervosa can have extreme medical and physiological consequences that may or may not resolve completely during recovery.
Dangerous & Lethal Electrolyte Imbalances
Impaired Decision-Making & Impulse Control
Delayed Wound Healing
Tooth Decay, Muscle Fatigue & Irregular Bowel Activity
Heart Palpitations & Low Pulse and Blood Pressure
In Males: Decreased Frequency of Erections & Nocturnal Emissions
In Females: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, Endometrial Cancer, Amenorrhea, Difficulty Conceiving & if Pregnant, Increased Risk for Miscarriage & Postpartum Depression