Understanding Bulimia

Nancy is eighteen, intelligent and popular at school. But she has a secret that no one knows about. About once a week she buys a large quantity of cake, cookies, ice cream and laxatives. Alone, after eating until it hurts, she takes the laxative to purge her body of the unwanted calories. She is deeply ashamed of herself, and terrified that someone might find out. Nancy has bulimia, an eating disorder that involves compulsive binging on high calorie food, followed by self-induced vomiting or purging the body with laxatives.

Who Is Bulimic?

Bulimia can occur in anyone, but the typical bulimic is a young, educated woman who first began “binging and purging” in her teens. Beneath their confident, successful exterior, bulimics often feel over-dependent on the approval of others. They may have low self-esteem and difficulty expressing anger. Many bulimics are depressed. Some have other compulsive disorders.

Signs of Bulimia

Bulimia can be difficult to recognize. Many bulimics have normal weight. And they are aware that their eating disorder is abnormal and usually hide it. But bulimia takes a toll on the body and mind. Bulimics are frequently depressed, especially after an eating binge. Induced vomiting can cause enlarged glands in the neck. inflammation of the esophagus, tooth decay and injuries to the mouth. Less obviously, vomiting upsets the body’s electrolyte balance, which can result in urinary tract infections, kidney failure and heart irregularities. Laxative abuse can damage the colon. Bulimics may complain of indigestion, facial puffiness, sore throats, constipation, muscle weakness, irregular menstrual periods and fatigue.

Treating Bulimia

Treatment for bulimia aims to normalize the eating cycle and change the patient’s attitude about food, eating and body size. Psychotherapy, behavior modification, family therapy and nutrition intervention are all valuable. Medication may be advisable for underlying depression.

Can Bulimia Be Prevented?

The causes of bulimia are not well understood, but may be related to depression, early childhood trauma, and society’s expectations that women be slim and attractive.

It’s hard to treat something we don’t really understand, but modeling good eating behavior to your children is a sensible approach. Avoid chronic dieting and focusing on your weight and that of your children. Provide nutritious, tasty food at regular meals and snacks.

Above all, let your children know that you love them as they are. But listen carefully to their worries and anxieties. If your intuition says your child needs help, don’t ignore it. Share your concerns with your child’s doctor and ask for advice.

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