One of my best friends suffers from eating disorders, and bulimia is one of them.
Honestly, I thought I knew a lot about bulimia, but I quickly realized that I didn’t know much about it beyond a) it’s an eating disorder and b) it involves making yourself puke. But this friend of mine has told me about her binging, her purging, and everything in between… and now I’m no longer in the dark about the rituals of a bulimic. It can be maddening to hear about, so imagine how maddening it must be to actually deal with bulimia on a day to day basis.
Whether you’re trying to get more informed about bulimia to help a friend or to help yourself, check out everything you need to know about bulimia.
What is bulimia?
Bulimia is an eating disorder that is usually marked by binging and purging. In other words, eating a ton of food and then getting rid of the food that was consumed in an attempt to take off any extra calories or weight that might have been added. It’s accompanied by negative body image and an obsession over weight loss, weight gain and perceived flaws. It’s about more than food, it’s about self-worth and shame.
Not-so-fun-fact: Most people usually associate the purging with throwing up, but bulimia can be separated into two types based on purging methods alone.
Purging bulimia: Regularly throwing up or abusing laxatives as a way of inducing weight loss.
Non-purging bulimia: Exercising excessively and falling into fasts as a way of getting rid of extra calories and losing weight.
So just because someone isn’t heading straight to the bathroom after a big meal and opts for the treadmill instead, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t bulimic! It’s also worth nothing that some bulimics participate in both purging and non-purging bulimia, though most use the latter as a secondary method of weight loss.
What constitutes as binging? What if someone only throw up after eating little things?
You’ve heard of binge watching a TV show, right? Basically it’s the same concept but with food instead. Someone who is bulimic might secretly or not so secretly eat a large amount of food during a meal. That’s the binge.
But hey, listen up: Bulimics don’t only purge after eating a huge meal. A snack, dessert or a regularly sized meal can trigger the need to purge, so don’t get it twisted!
But it’s not a bad as being anorexic or something, right?
Before we get any further let’s make something clear: You can suffer from anorexia and bulimia. Yes, it’s possible, so it’s not always an either or game.
Now, let’s skip the “what is worse” BS and face facts: Both anorexia and bulimia are potentially life-threatening. Seriously, they’re both just really terrible and can eff up your body. When it comes to bulimia specifically, some side-effects. For those who use self-induced vomiting as their purging method of choice, the constant contact of stomach acid can really mess up your teeth and cause dental erosion…basically your teeth will waste away. You can also suffer from chronic gastric reflux, chronic dehydration, rupture of the esophagus wall from excessive vomiting, ulcers, swollen glands, infertility, electrolyte imbalance (which can lead to cardiac arrest), etc. If you have bulimia instead of anorexia, it’s not like you’re in the clear just because you aren’t necessarily starving to death. You’re still doing some serious damage to your bod. And not to be morbid or anything but if it gets too out of control you could get incredibly sick and potentially die from complications caused by your bulimia.
Is bulimia genetic?
Bulimia is a mental disorder and, like most mental disorders, there can be a genetic link when it comes to your likelihood of deal with them. And if it isn’t in your DNA then your surroundings might prompt some serious negative body image which can lead to an eating disorder like bulimia. According to an article in the Journal Of Eating Disorders, “among girls whose parents never commented on their weight, 4.2% reported use of any extreme weight control behaviors, while 23.2% of girls whose parents frequently commented on their weight reported use of any of these behaviors. Mothers’ more frequent talk about their own weight, shape, or size was associated with lower self-worth and higher depressive symptomology among girls.” If you suffer from an eating disorder this might sound disturbingly familiar.
Can guys be bulimic?
Of course they can. Statistically, bulimia affets people who identify as female above all else but it isn’t a gendered mental illness. I don’t often give Degrassi props because that show can be so heavy handed with Important Issues™, but they’re one of the few shows to actually highlight the fact that guys can suffer from eating disorders, too. There’s an episode dedicated to a male character, Toby, and his bought with bulimia via laxative abuse. Was it a perfect episode? Of course not. But it sure let us know that this isn’t just a girl thing.
I’ve been binge eating a lot and really felt the urge to make myself throw up afterwards. What should I do?
One of the most important things to remember is that you should always feel able to ask for help. Or, at the very least, confide in this problem with someone. You can see about getting a therapist who specializes in eating disorders and any other psychological hangups you might be dealing with. After all, most people with eating disorders also suffer from other mental health issues like anxiety and depression. You can also find support groups online. Tumblr has some great ED recovery communities like EatingDisorderRecovery.
My friend has bulimia. What can I do to help?
Well, for one, don’t say that. Bulimia isn’t so 1987 and it has nothing to do with maturity!
There are some important things you need to know before talking to your friend about their eating disorder. Please let your friend know that you’re there for them, but make sure you’re not doing more harm than good, no matter how sincere your intentions are. Understand that you can’t just force your friend who is suffering from bulimia into recovery. Blocking the bathroom and telling her not to go on that run isn’t going to solve her problem. So remember, be there for your friend but understand that it’s a long road to recovery.