About Eating Disorders

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 and altered hunger and fullness signals
  • Experiencing a traumatic event
  • Genetic predisposition and societal pressures (e.g., drive for thinness)
  • Lack of environmental control and 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 and II disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and substance use disorder.

  • Inappropriate conflation of body weight and shape with identity
  • Distorted body image and fear of weight gain
  • Eating alone or in secret and consistent retreats after meals
  • Extreme exercise-routine rigidity, refusal to hydrate, and 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 and lethal electrolyte imbalances
  • Impaired decision-making and impulse control
  • Delayed wound healing
  • Tooth decay, muscle fatigue, and irregular bowel activity
  • Heart palpitations, low pulse, and blood pressure
  • In males: decreased frequency of erections and nocturnal emissions
  • In females: polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometrial cancer, amenorrhea, difficulty conceiving, and if pregnant, increased risk for miscarriage and postpartum depression

Recovery Starts Here

If you have questions about anything - eating disorders, our programs, specific needs or concerns - or you'd like to schedule an initial phone assessment or a comprehensive in-person medical assessment, please give us a call or complete our contact form. Our admissions team is here to help.

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