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Bulimia: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Cost

Last Updated: Jul 06, 2023

What is bulimia?

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Bulimia nervosa, more commonly referred to as 'bulimia,' is a serious and potentially fatal eating disorder where an individual will often binge eat followed by deliberately purging themselves through vomiting or other means. People with bulimia often eat large amounts of food in a short span of time, even when they are not hungry, and feel like they can't control their habit of overeating. They may then purge, which means getting rid of the food through unhealthy methods like making themselves throw up or using laxatives.

People with this kind of eating disorder often use different methods to get rid of extra calories and prevent unwanted weight gain. For instance, bulimia patients may regularly self-induce vomiting or abuse certain drugs such as diuretics, laxatives, enemas, or weight-loss supplements after binging. Or, in order to avoid weight gain, these people may use other methods to get rid of extra calories, such as strict dieting, fasting, or excessive exercise.

All in all, bulimia is an exhausting eating disorder to overcome, not just because it's related to food but also to self-image. Bulimia patients tend to be very critical of themselves, overthinking about their self-image and perceived flaws. However, with effective treatment, they can start to feel better about themselves, stick to healthier eating patterns, and reverse any serious complications related to their condition.

What causes bulimia?

The root cause of bulimia is still largely unknown, though there are many theories about what could trigger such a disorder. Some say that it could be due to a combination of genetic and biological factors, while others believe that emotional health or societal expectations might play a role in its development.According to another theory in this regard, there is a lot of pressure in society to look and act a certain way, and this pressure can come from many sources such as popular culture, the media, or even our friends and family. When we don't feel like we measure up to these standards, it can negatively affect our body image and self-esteem. In some cases, this mental pressure can lead to dangerous or potentially fatal disorders, such as bulimia.

Bulimia is a serious eating disorder that, if left untreated, can be damaging or lethal. If you or someone you care about is struggling with bulimia, don't wait to get medical intervention or help. Professional treatment is essential for overcoming bulimia, and there are many resources available to help you get the help you need.

What are the symptoms of bulimia?

There are several symptoms and signs that may indicate someone is suffering from bulimia. These include:

  • An unhealthy or detrimental obsession with body shape and weight
  • A persistent, deep fear of becoming obese or gaining unhealthy weight
  • Binge-eating or consuming food in large quantities quite often
  • Skipping meals or eating very little food at times
  • Eating in secret (hiding from others)
  • Urge to do too much exercise or an intense workout
  • Misusing laxatives or diuretics on a daily basis (or frequently)
  • Using too many herbal products or dietary supplements for weight loss
  • Purging after binging, by vomiting or by other means such as use of laxatives
  • Fasting for long periods of time or restricting calorie intake
  • Avoiding certain essential foods altogether

What are the risk factors for bulimia?

Bulimia is more common in women (or females) than in men (or males). This common eating disorder usually strikes a person in their childhood or late adolescence. Other factors that can potentially increase a person's risk of suffering from bulimia include:

  • Biology: It may be a significant player when it comes to the development of certain eating disorders, including bulimia. People who have their first-degree relatives (parents, siblings, or offspring) suffering from an eating disorder are believed to be more likely to develop one themselves, possibly suggesting a genetic link. Being overweight in childhood or teenage years may also increase the risk.
  • Dieting: Starving oneself excessively is often linked with a higher risk of being struck by an eating disorder. For many people with bulimia, severely restricting calories between binge episodes can trigger the urge to binge eat again. Other binge-eating triggers may include (but are not limited to) poor body image or shape, stress, excess food availability, and boredom.
  • Psychological and emotional disorders: Some of these issues or disorders, including anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, are often very closely linked with eating disorders. It must be noted that people who suffer from bulimia usually have negative or ill feelings about themselves. In some cases, environmental stress and traumatic events may also be contributing factors.

Summary: Although eating disorders can affect people of any age, they are most common during adolescence and early adulthood, and females are at the highest risk. This means that young women or teenage girls are primarily susceptible to developing a disorder related to eating, such as bulimia. So if you are a teenage girl or young woman, it is crucial to be aware of the warning signs of an eating disorder so that you can seek help if necessary!
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How can you prevent bulimia?

Although there is no surefire way in which bulimia can be prevented, you can still take certain steps to encourage healthier behavior or professional treatment before the situation worsens. Here are some tips that can help:

  • Have family mealtimes as often as possible (aiming to keep them regular)
  • Instead of talking about your children's weight or body shape with them, focus on developing healthy habits together
  • It is critical to try to instill in your children a healthy, realistic body image
  • Discourage fad dieting, which can often be harmful to your children's physical as well as mental health
  • Talk with your doctor, as they may be able to identify early indicators of an eating disorder and help you (or your loved ones) prevent it from developing

Bulimia: Diagnosis and Tests

To diagnose bulimia nervosa, your doctor or healthcare provider will first of all assess your physical condition and ask about your medical history and symptoms. It must be noted that being honest and transparent with your doctor about your eating habits is very important if you are indeed looking forward to getting better.

Your healthcare provider may confirm the diagnosis of bulimia if they find you displaying the following symptoms:

  • ou tend to consume a huge amount of food in a short period of time or in just one sitting
  • You go through episodes of uncontrolled eating quite often
  • You force yourself to vomit or overuse laxatives in order to get rid of the excess food you've consumed
  • Binge eating episodes have occurred regularly (every week) for a span of at least two or three months
  • Your self-esteem and self-image are greatly influenced by your body weight and shape

Furthermore, you must be aware of the fact that there are no laboratory tests specifically meant for diagnosing bulimia. That said, your healthcare provider may conduct some other tests that can help them understand the severity of your individual condition and how it has impacted your overall health. These tests may include:

  • Urinalysis
  • Blood test
  • Kidney function test (KFT)
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG)

Summary: While there are no laboratory tests specifically for diagnosing bulimia, there are other ways that doctors use to confirm the condition, as mentioned above.

When should I see a doctor?

If you're experiencing stress, anxiety, or other negative effects in your life as a result of your relationship with food, you may have an eating disorder. It's important to seek out immediate medical help or treatment if you're experiencing any of the following symptoms, apart from your urge to binge eat:

What are the possible complications of bulimia?

The complications of bulimia can be severe and even life-threatening at times. They mostly include:

  • Social isolation and anxiety
  • Issues with relationships
  • Negative self-esteem
  • Mental imbalance
  • Persistent or recurring dehydration (sometimes a cause for kidney failure)
  • Heart-related issues (including palpitations, irregular heartbeats, strokes, and heart failure)
  • Abnormally absent or irregular menstruation (in females)
  • Digestion-related issues
  • Any gum disease (including tooth decay)
  • Suicidal thoughts or the intention of self-injury

Home remedies for bulimia

Bulimia nervosa is a mental disorder rather than a physical disease, so there is no guaranteed or formal cure available for it. However, there are many different kinds of treatments that have proven helpful for patients, including both medication and therapy.

In addition, some home remedies like yoga, meditation, nutritional planning, and probiotics (among others) can also be beneficial, though it's always important to consult with a healthcare professional before trying anything new.

Some other home remedies that can help deal effectively with this eating disorder include the following:

  • Aloe vera: Bulimia nervosa is a tough battle because it not only comes with the challenge of maintaining a positive self-image, but also requires managing episodes of binge eating and purging. When you deplete your body of nutrients through purging, you can often get bloated. On such occasions, aloe vera can help to soothe an upset stomach and can quickly reduce bloating, making it less of a trigger for your disorder.
  • Ginseng: It is an herbal remedy that is both effective and widely available for treating bulimia nervosa. Ginseng is an adaptogen herb that not only helps to stimulate the appetite but can also improve mood, relieve anxiety, and calm compulsive behaviors. Ginseng extracts and supplements are convenient to find and can be an easy option for bulimia treatment.
  • Spinach: It is not only an excellent leafy green vegetable for overall health, but it is especially high in folic acid. Folic acid has been linked to reducing symptoms of depression, and a diet rich in vegetables is often the best way to start rebuilding a healthy digestive system. Spinach functions in two ways, affecting both the dietary and mental aspects of bulimia nervosa; so by adding spinach to your diet, you are not only getting the nutritional benefits that come with eating this leafy green, but you are also helping to ease the symptoms and signs of bulimia.

Summary: While there are no guaranteed home remedies that will work for everyone when it comes to a condition such as bulimia, there are still some that may be effective and beneficial for many people. Apart from what has already been discussed above, some home remedies for bulimia nervosa may include things such as ginger or licorice root tea, which can help with nausea, and drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. That said, always be sure to consult with a healthcare expert before trying any home remedies, as they will be able to give you the best advice for your specific situation.

What should I eat during bulimia?

If you have an eating disorder, there are certain healthy foods that you should include in your everyday diet. These foods may include bananas, nuts, green tea, oatmeal, spinach, eggs, beans, flaxseeds, ginger, oranges, vinegar, salmon, broccoli, etc.

These foods are safe for you to consume and won't usually have a negative effect on your health even if you eat them in large quantities. In addition to these foods, you can also ask your doctor about what other foods would be best for your individual case.

What should I not eat during bulimia?

If you are suffering from bulimia, it is important to be mindful of the types of foods you are consuming. Avoid eating sugary, processed, and greasy foods, as they can have a negative impact on your health, both physically and mentally. These types of foods can trigger binge eating episodes, which can then lead to further harm.

Bulimia Treatments

Your healthcare provider may use a variety of techniques to treat bulimia nervosa. Your family doctor or a general practitioner (GP) will most likely refer you to a team of specialists, which may include mental health professionals as well as dieticians. Some of the possible treatment options that these professionals may then recommend include:

  • Psychological treatment, or psychotherapies: This option for bulimia treatment mainly involves a type of individual counseling that predominantly focuses on altering a person's behavior and thinking. Incorporating this into overall bulimia treatment entails employing techniques to foster healthy attitudes toward food and weight, such as exposure therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and others. This option not only helps patients cope with and manage difficult situations but also provides strategies for changing the way they respond to challenging situations.
  • Nutritional counseling: This kind of counseling is vital for those who want to change their eating habits for the better. It will give you an opportunity to be guided by a registered dietitian or counselor and learn how to get back on track with healthier eating habits.
  • Support groups: This option can be helpful for people with bulimia when used in conjunction with other forms of treatment, such as therapy. In support groups, people with bulimia and their loved ones meet to share their experiences with the eating disorder. This can provide much-needed support and understanding from others in similar situations.
  • Medication: Your doctor may prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors if you have bulimia. These drugs are a type of antidepressant that has the potential to reduce the frequency of binge eating and vomiting, but it is still unclear how effective they will be in the long run.

Summary: To summarize, there are a few main treatment options for bulimia, which are: counseling, medication, and nutrition education. In addition to these, there are also other options such as cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy. All of these aforementioned options are available to help those struggling with bulimia nervosa.

Which doctor should I consult for bulimia?

If you feel that you may be suffering from an eating disorder (such as bulimia nervosa), you must seek professional help without any delay. Your first step in such a situation should be to visit your family doctor or a GP. They will ask about your eating habits, how you're feeling, and examine your overall health and weight. They may then refer you to an eating disorder specialist or team of specialists, including nutritionists, clinical psychologists, psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, and others.

Which are the best medicines for bulimia?

Although there are other antidepressants (or different medicines) that might be prescribed off-label to treat bulimia, fluoxetine (Prozac) is the only one that is specifically considered safe for this purpose. Fluoxetine is basically a kind of SSRI (or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), which can help alleviate other bulimia signs and symptoms, even in patients who are not depressed. However, it's important to note that this drug should never be taken without a prescription or without consulting your healthcare provider first.

How long does it take to recover from bulimia?

According to reports from trusted sources, the recovery process from bulimia can last anywhere from a few months to a few years. This is because those suffering from bulimia have to relearn how to cope with stressful situations in a healthy way, which requires time, effort, and consistency. New, healthy coping mechanisms must be put in place of the harmful behaviors associated with bulimia if an individual wants to make a full recovery.

Are the results of the treatment permanent?

Most people with bulimia nervosa (or other eating disorders) do recover completely with proper treatment and care, but some find that they still experience symptoms from time to time. The frequency of periods of binging and purging can differ depending on a patient's life circumstances and stress levels, and these periods may keep coming and going. However, episodes like these can be managed, and they are not as harmful or damaging as chronic bulimia nervosa.

Who is eligible for the treatment?

If you often experience large amounts of food intake in one sitting, feelings of losing control during a binge, or having to force vomiting or over-exercise to avoid weight gain, you may be qualified for treatment of bulimia nervosa. In fact, you should tell your doctor about these signs and symptoms as soon as possible, seeking their help.

Who is not eligible for the treatment?

If you think you might have bulimia nervosa and visit a doctor or general practitioner, they will likely perform some examinations or checkups. If they tell you that there is no cause for concern, you may not need treatment specifically for bulimia. However, if you feel like there is something wrong with your eating habits, your doctor may refer you to other medical professionals, such as a psychotherapist or dietician.

What are the post-treatment guidelines?

Once your doctor tells you that you have recovered from bulimia nervosa, they will likely schedule routine checkups to ensure that you remain healthy and do not relapse. You may also have to continue with your psychotherapy even after the formal bulimia treatment is finished in order to maintain your recovery. You may also have to follow a diet plan given by a registered dietician for months or even years after your recovery from the eating disorder in order to prevent any further health complications.

What is the price of bulimia treatments in India?

The cost of bulimia nervosa treatment in India can vary depending on factors such as the severity of the condition, the type of treatment chosen, and the medical facility where the treatment is taking place. If you want an accurate idea of how much it will cost to treat your individual case, you can contact our team of experts. We will be able to give you a more personalized quote based on your specific needs.

What are the side effects of bulimia treatments?

The side effects of bulimia nervosa treatment are usually mild, like the side effects of the antidepressant or antianxiety drugs given to you. Keep in mind that the treatment is usually safe and essential if you have a chronic eating disorder, such as bulimia.

Bulimia: outlook or prognosis

Bulimia is an extremely serious eating disorder that can have many life-threatening consequences if left untreated for too long. People with bulimia often binge eat, consuming large quantities of food in a very short period of time, and then purge or get rid of the extra calories in an unhealthy way, such as through forced vomiting or over-exercising.

Bulimia can be tough to overcome because it's about more than just food. It's also connected to how you see yourself. If you have bulimia nervosa, you might be constantly worried about your weight and overall looks.

You might be really hard on yourself for the things you see as flaws. But there is help available, and it can make a big difference. With the right treatment, you can start to feel better about yourself, eat in a healthier way, and reverse any serious problems that have developed because of bulimia.

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Written ByDt. Ms. Archana Desai P.G.In Dietitics,BSc - Dietitics / NutritionDietitian/Nutritionist
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