Bulimia is an eating disorder that is characterised by forcing oneself to vomit or by using other regurgitation measures. Bulimia often involves eating large quantities of food in an uncontrolled manner. Besides potentially causing serious physical side effects, bulimia can be a source of great suffering.
For people struggling with this disorder, it is very important to try to become aware of what they gain by depriving themselves of healthy eating habits.
Facts about bulimia
What is bulimia?
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder. Perhaps do you have eating frenzies, during which you eat large quantities of food, or perhaps every little bite is one bite too many. No matter how much you’ve eaten before: if you feel it is too much, you try to get rid of it by forcing yourself to vomit. You may also be taking laxatives, or practice a sport discipline in an excessive manner so as to lose calories. All these symptoms are part of what is defined as bulimia. Anorexia can also involve vomiting. However what distinguishes anorexia from bulimia is the very low weight characterised by an anorexic condition.
Why do I have eating frenzies?
There is hardly anything that is so easily accomplished as eating, and the reward is immediate. The sugar contained in the food as well as the messenger substances released in the body while eating contribute to a sense of calm and relaxation. Perhaps do you try, through the food you eat, to control uneasy or uncomfortable feelings and to satisfy your need for satisfaction, warmth and security. Perhaps do you feel that eating frenzies are the only possible way for you to let go.
Why do I need to vomit after eating?
The act of vomiting causes certain substances to be released, which can induce a feeling of relaxation. This feeling, as well as the strong physical sensation caused by vomiting, can make you feel better than before you had your eating frenzy. Through vomiting, your stomach also empties itself, thus helping you getting rid of the discomfort of a full stomach while alleviating your feeling of guilt and fear of putting on weight. Vomiting can also induce other sensations such as painful self-punishment or even feelings similar to orgasm.
What are the physical consequences of bulimia?
Bulimia is experienced by the body as a stressful state. An irregular food intake can be the cause of deficiency symptoms, which in turn can increase the urge to eat. Physical stress, deficiency symptoms as well as weight fluctuations can also disturb the menstrual cycle. Frequent vomiting can damage the tooth enamel or cause irritation to the digestive tract.
You can sometimes feel weak or chronically tired. If you vomit more than once a day, the loss of mineral salts can cause the heart rhythm to be disrupted, which can lead into a life-threatening situation.
How can I stop bulimia?
The first step is to acknowledge and understand your bulimic behaviour. Bulimia is quite particular: you gobble down large quantities of food, which you afterwards only want to get rid of. You can’t get enough, while at the same time you don’t allow yourself anything proper. Yet bulimia is an attempt for you to get in touch with your own body, and more specifically with you belly, your stomach, so to say the “centre of your body”. This “in-and-out” movement is also similar to other processes related to breathing or to sexuality. Eating and vomiting are connected to very strong physical sensations – it might indeed make you feel very connected to your own body. This holds a large potential that still hasn’t found a way to fulfil itself. There is a “something” that wants out and somehow cannot. Only you know what this can be.
What you can do:
- Should you suspect having bulimia, go to an information centre that is specialised in dealing with eating disorders or other mental health issues. The earlier you go, the better it is. Bulimia can have a major impact on your quality of life.
- Consider a therapy that would allow you to address the issues and problems that could lie at the source of your bulimia. Information centres can recommend you the therapist or nutrition consultant best suited to your needs.
- Make an appointment for a medical examination. Information centres can also recommend physicians that know about issues related to eating disorders. If you vomit more than once a day, you should have a medical check-up on a regular basis.
- Ask yourself which behaviour you would have to develop in order to feel satisfaction, to relax, to just let go.
- Put these into practice. Don’t assume that you will immediately feel as if you just had an eating frenzy. Your brain will learn little by little and by repeating these gestures that it can feel good.
- Find ways that provide you with a good, positive and satisfying experience of your own body. This is the best way to find the road back to yourself. A body therapy can also be helpful.
Text: Arbeitsgemeinschaft Ess-Störungen (Information centre for eating disorders)