binge, bulimia, bulimia nervosa, CBT, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, dieting, eating behaviour, eating disorder, eating disorder awareness week, female, gender, male, psychology, purge, universal, welfare
People with bulimia try to control their body weight by restricting the amount of food they eat, they then binge eat large amounts before carrying out compensatory behaviours to overcome the calorie intake. For example, excessive exercise, vomiting or laxatives. This becomes a vicious cycle that can be hard to break. Life becomes a constant battle between the desire to lose weight and stay thin and the overwhelming compulsion to binge eat. People with bulimia can consume an average of 3,000-5,000 calories in one binge session but then feel guilty and ashamed afterwards. As a result they make themselves vomit or use laxatives as a drastic measure to try and ‘undo’ the binge. Interestingly, bulimia does not always involve purging, it can include over exercising, fasting and going on crash diets to make up for binges as well.
The most common physical symptoms of bulimia are abdominal pain, swelling of the hands and feet, chronic sore throat, broken blood vessels in the eyes, dizziness, tooth decay, ulcers, loss of menstrual periods and ruptured stomach.
It is difficult to pin point singular causes of bulimia. The act of binging and purging is often seen as a way of dealing with emotions such as low self-esteem where losing weight is a way of gaining self-worth. Another psychological factor could be tied to depression; this is because binging can be a way of coping with unhappiness and stress. Many people with bulimia have been reported to have experienced a difficult childhood, family problems, arguments and criticism from their peers or relatives. Many people with anorexia also have coexisting physical illnesses such as substance abuse, cardiovascular and neurological complications and impaired physical development.
Recently, it has been suggested that cultural and social pressure has contributed to the increasing rates of bulimia. Bulimia mainly affects women aged 16-40 with around 1 in 100 women in the UK suffering from the disorder. Bulimia is becoming more common in men, but women are ten times more likely to develop the disorder (Harding, 2013). This difference could be the result of social stereotypes relating to masculinity that means males are less likely to report particular issues due to it being deemed a ‘womanly disease’. It has been suggested that the media and fashion industries create pressure for people, in particular young women, to aspire to low body weights.
Research has even proposed that there may be a genetic factor related to developing bulimia as it has been found that people who have a close relative who has or has had bulimia are four times more likely to develop it than those who do not have a relative with the condition (NHS, 2014). Recent research has suggested that there may be particular genes related to the disorder. One such gene that has been identified is the 5-HT2A gene, which has a role in the susceptibility of eating disorders (Nacmias et al., 1999).
There are several treatments that aim to break the cycle of binging and purging that characterises bulimia. The most common ones are:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – involves talking to a therapist and looking at your emotions in detail to work out new ways of thinking about situations, feelings and food. It may also involve keeping a food diary to determine the triggers of binge eating.
- Interpersonal Therapy – involves meeting with a therapist to discuss your condition, focussing more on your personal relationships.
- Medication such as certain antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), the most common being Prozac.
Though, it should be noted that the recovery process for bulimia is unique to each individual.
Now, is purging a necessary evil? No. In fact, the human body, regardless of self-induced vomiting, laxative use or even excessive exercise, will still digest half of what is consumed during a binge. It is interesting that the body is still able to absorb the calories regardless of these activities. Purging, although in some cases causing some weight loss, is a temporary method. Over time, the binge/purge cycle can commonly lead to weight gain, as the metabolic rate of the body will change.
If you are concerned that you or someone else may have an eating disorder, please speak to someone you trust and contact your GP as soon as possible. You can also talk to your assigned Tutor who will usually be situated in College or the Senior Tutor if you feel this is necessary. Alternatively, contact numbers have been provided below.
Nightline: 0191 334 6444
Beat Helpline: 0845 634 1414.
Beat Youth Helpline: 0845 634 765