Bulimia is a condition which a sufferer will eat a large amount of food, many hundreds of calories, quickly and without control. In some cases the issue is not the amount of food but the secretive, hurried and shameful way it is eaten. In bulimia, their binges will follow by an attempt to compensate their behaviours most commonly by making themselves vomit (purge). Sometimes a sufferer will deliberately starve themselves, take laxatives or use diuretics. This forms a bulimic cycle in which they may carry out this behaviour on a daily basis, once in a while, or consistently over a number of months or years.
While the bulimic pattern exists, the sufferer will experience an array of negative feelings that fuel their habit including self hatred, disgust, low self esteem and are likely to have depression. On the outside, bulimic sufferers will often come across as confident do-gooders who are personable. They are deeply unhappy. Unlike anorexia, bulimia is not necessarily visible and can remain hidden from those who are closest to them for a long time and so becomes a very successful tool to hide the emotional pain.
What is happening?
Those who have bulimia will often describe feelings of emptiness, which is hunger they are trying to fill through bingeing. The desperate feelings they experience is what triggers a binge. When they feel full, they get the urge to get rid of it as if it is something evil. Vomiting brings relief. Other compensating behaviours bring a similar sense of a relief that helps them ease their pain. Once the food has been removed from the body, a ‘high’ may be experienced. Some sufferer’s speak of ‘purity’ making themselves feel better.
The effects on the body: frequent weight changes; sore throat, tooth decay and bad breath caused by excessive vomiting; swollen salivary glands making face redder; poor skin condition and hair loss; lack of interest in sex; lethargy and tiredness; increased risk of heart problems and damage to other internal organs
Psychological signs: uncontrollable urges to eat vast amounts of food; obsession with food or feeling ‘out of control’ around food; distorted perception of body shape and weight; emotional behaviour and mood swings; depression; anxiety; low self esteem; shame and guilt; isolation; feeling helpless and lonely
Behavioural signs: Bingeing and vomiting; disappearing to the toilet after meals in order to vomit food eaten; excessive use of laxatives, diuretics or enemas; periods of fasting; excessive exercise; secrecy and reluctance to socialise; shop lifting for foods; unusually high amounts spent on food; food disappearing unexpectedly or being secretly hoarded