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Understanding Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is a disorder in which food intake gets out of control. Having this eating disorder is nothing to be ashamed of. Talk to your doctor or another person you trust. You may find it’s a relief just to tell someone. Your doctor can also suggest treatments that may help.

What is bulimia?

People with bulimia go through cycles of binge eating and purging. In binge eating, you consume huge amounts of food at one time. Often these are foods high in sugar and fat such as ice cream and cake. Purging means you try to get rid of what you’ve eaten. Some people do this by making themselves vomit. Others use laxatives, enemas, or water pills. Instead of purging, some people exercise too much. Or, they may just stop eating for a while. The cycle of binging and purging may occur once or twice a week. It can also happen more often. Commonly, there are times when eating is normal.

Who does it affect?

Bulimia mainly strikes teenage and young adult women, but can affect anyone. No one knows just what causes it. A brain chemical known as serotonin may be involved. Your genes may also play a role. Peer pressure and the value our culture places on being thin may affect you as well.

Treatment can help

If you have bulimia, you feel out of control. You also feel guilty and ashamed. As a result, you may try to hide your eating problem from others. In most cases, bulimia won’t go away on its own. Telling someone is the first step. The second is getting treatment. There are many people who can help. These include doctors, nurses, and mental health professionals.

The effects of bulimia

Over time, bulimia can harm your health. In some cases, it may damage your heart. It can also lead to the following problems:

  • Inflammation of your pancreas (a gland that makes hormones and enzymes that help digest food)

  • Tooth decay (from stomach acid)

  • Inflammation of your throat

  • An imbalance of water and minerals in your body, leading to serious problems

  • Dehydration

  • Constipation


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