There is More to Bulimia Nervosa

Young Woman in the Woods wonders what is bulimia nervosa

By Angela Nix, Family Therapist

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a cycle of eating substantial amounts of food (binge eating), followed by purging to rid the body of unwanted calories. People dealing with bulimia nervosa often feel they have no control over their hunger when they binge, and this repetitive cycle controls many aspects of the individual’s life, physically, socially and emotionally.

Statistically, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and it is one of the most misunderstood mental disorders. According to research bulimia affects 4.7 million females, and occurs most often in the adolescent and young adult years.

Binging and purging is the most common symptom of bulimia, but there is more to this eating disorder than we realize, such as:

  1. Purging is more than you think. There is often a misconception about purging, as many think it is only self-induced vomiting. However, purging can show itself in forms of over/excessive exercising, diuretic use (i.e., enemas), ipecac use, and laxative use.
  2. Medical symptoms of bulimia nervosa. Low potassium levels are the most serious consequence of bulimia because it causes heart arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), cardiomyopathy (weakening heart), muscle weakness that can border on paralysis, involuntary muscle contractions, and imbalanced electrolytes. Individuals will also often experience chronic constipation and diarrhea and should talk to their doctor to rule out other medical issues that could be causing this.
  3. Restricting before a binge. Another misconception is that restricting is not eating for several days. However, it can also mean eating smaller portions that are medically and nutritionally necessary or skipping several meals, causing the body to need more nutrients over time. The individual’s hunger cues will eventually increase exponentially, which will then lead to a binge, typically in isolation.
  4. Behaviors following eating. Purging does not always follow a binge but can occur after any consumption of food or when an individual is highly stressed or experiencing other emotional issues, such as depression or anxiety. Patterns such as going to the shower shortly following a meal, turning on water, fans, or other sound machines while in the bathroom are signs that can indicate an eating disorder is or has already developed and that purging is occurring.
  5. Comorbid disorders with eating disorders. Eating disorders, including, bulimia, are not only about body image. Often, they co-occur with other disorders, as they develop when trying to manage negative emotions and experiences in harmful ways. Conditions that co-occur with bulimia and other eating disorders include depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and substance abuse.

Depending on the severity of the disorder, treatment options for bulimia can range from an outpatient setting to partial hospitalization programs, or residential treatment. At Magnolia Creek, we offer a comprehensive and strengths-based program for treating bulimia that emphasizes self-acceptance, validation, and personal empowerment. We provide residential and partial hospitalization programs to address psychological, medical, nutritional, spiritual, and relational needs. Our customized treatment plan combines elements of spirituality, mindfulness, nutrition, and exercise, in addition to weekly individual therapy sessions, daily psychoeducational groups, and weekly meetings with clinicians and dietary staff.

Our evidence-based modalities such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) help to end the behaviors and modify the thoughts contributing to an individual’s disorder. CBT is one of the most widely used therapies for treating bulimia, as it concentrates on the direct relationship between our emotions and our behaviors. As individuals focus on ways their negative thinking influences their emotions and eating disorder behaviors, they learn specific skills to help change their behavior.

With early detection and intervention, recovering from bulimia is possible. Learning to regulate eating and developing healthy ways to cope with stress and negative feelings will help in the long-term recovery from bulimia. Magnolia Creek can help you fully recover from your eating disorder. To learn more about our treatment program, please call us at 205-409-4220 or complete our contact form.


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