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
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