Woman holding her stomach, stomach pain in the middle closeup isolated
Published On: May 1, 2024|Categories: Eating Disorder Information|

Americans struggle with many different mental health disorders. Perhaps surprisingly, eating disorders are near the top of that list. Approximately nine percent of the US population currently faces an eating disorder, and 9.8 million Americans will battle an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

Eating disorders (ED) are not talked about as widely and freely as other mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Most of the time, a great sense of shame is present around EDs, making them difficult to discuss. 

But conversations about eating disorders, including bulimia, are important to have. Not only do they promote healthy discussion about addressing the disorder and reorienting eating habits, but they also raise awareness of the long-term negative effects that prolonged bulimic habits cause.

What is bulimia nervosa?

To talk about the effects of bulimia, it is necessary to understand how this ED works. 

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder where you eat an unnecessarily large amount of food at once and then intentionally purge it all from your body. Binging is usually done privately, although loved ones may notice irregular eating patterns, including consuming very little at some meals and an overabundance of food at others. 

Usually, there is some lack of control regarding binge eating – you may find that you cannot stop eating or can’t control what kind of food you are consuming. When the urge to binge arises, it is difficult to fight against it.  

This overconsumption is typically the root cause of feelings of guilt, shame or poor self-image. Fear of gaining weight and dissatisfaction with one’s physical appearance often play a role as well and lead to purging to counteract overeating. Purging typically manifests in the form of excessive exercise, inducing vomiting, or misusing diuretics or laxatives. 

Additional signs of bulimia include:

  • Trying to find ways to lose or manage weight – these methods are often unhealthy
  • Fear of gaining weight
  • Fasting, restricting certain foods, or eating small meals in between binges
  • Having extreme mood swings
  • Struggling with body image and having an overall negative opinion of one’s shape/weight/appearance 

Bulimia poses a challenge to individuals because of both the number of health risks and various mental health complications associated with it. Most often the best way of fully recover from bulimia nervosa is routine meetings with therapists and trained nutritionists to reestablish healthy habits in one’s life.

What can bulimia lead to?

Bulimia affects every system in the body, from the mental stability of the brain to the internal lining of the stomach. Continuing to pursue these habits can lead to several serious physical and mental health illnesses. 

Mental health challenges 

Bulimia may worsen or trigger mental health illnesses like depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder. The habit of eating large amounts and then exercising compulsively often leads to worsened compulsive behaviors, which may contribute to a sense of feeling out of control. 

Bulimia is often not talked about and kept as a secret from one’s family and friends. This can lead to increased stress and fear of others finding out; isolation can occur in the hopes of keeping this information from loved ones. Stress levels rise when you feel like you must keep a challenging part of your life a secret.

Unhealthy digestive system 

Eating in an unregulated manner, and forcing the body to purge in unnatural or excessive ways causes many complications for one’s digestive system. Stomach pain and a sore throat may be one of the first indications of bulimia’s effect on the body. 

As purging through induced vomiting continues, the acidic stomach contents will inevitably cause problems like: 

  • Enamel decay of teeth and increased tooth sensitivity
  • Jaw or cheeks that appear swollen as a result of irritated and enlarged salivary glands
  • Irritation or tears in the esophagus
  • Acid reflux, heartburn and stomach pain
  • Bloating, constipation and diarrhea

Additionally, the intestines can feel irritated from overly frequent bowel movements as a result of laxative misuse, and the kidneys can suffer greatly from increased use of diuretics. 

Heart complications 

It may be surprising to know that an eating disorder like bulimia can cause heart complications, but as all your body systems are connected, the heart will inevitably suffer from prolonged bulimic habits. Dehydration occurs from frequent vomiting, leading to fatigue, weakness and an imbalance of electrolytes which directly impacts the functioning of the heart.

Anemia, low blood pressure and a low pulse may also be signs of bulimia’s effects.

Skin and hair

Losing water from dehydration, your hair, skin and nails will show unwanted signs, including dryness of the hair and skin and brittle nails. Without the proper nutrients from a balanced diet, it is not uncommon for the largest organ in the body (your skin) to show the effects.

Need help managing the effects of bulimia?

If you have been suffering from bulimia nervosa and need help resetting your routine and self-image, help is available. Reach out to Seeds of Hope today to speak with a counselor and discuss your path to recovery so you can meet your personalized goals. 

To get in touch, contact Seeds of Hope by calling 610-644-6464 or contact us online to learn more.

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