Bulimia Nervosa is really difficult to define and has been for years. It dates back in history and was originally classed as an ‘ominous variant’ (whatever that means) of Anorexia Nervosa. This link to Anorexia Nervosa I do think is important, however, because a lot of people assume Bulimia to be a case of uncontrolled eating that anyone would want to counter balance. Whilst this may be true and Bulimia Nervosa is categorised by periods of overeating followed by an act of purging, whether that be over-exercise, laxatives, diuretics or induced vomiting, I find this definition to be misleading. It relates to the act of overeating being the catalyst for efforts of weight loss when, in fact, the desire to lose weight is often what induces the overeating itself.
When somebody with a similar experience to me enters the cycle of Bulimia then what they will find is that through an intense desire to lose weight and a fear of weight gain they will restrict their intake. At this point, Bulimia is pretty much the same as Anorexia. The fear of weight gain and a desire to be thinner causes people to eat less food.
However, for a bulimic person, as the day goes on and they continue to restrict, impulse signals are sent around in the brain in response to our conscious ‘plan’ to restrict our eating. When our body recognises that we plan to not eat for the foreseeable future it reacts in a way that relates to our Neanderthal ancestors. You see, years ago humans would anticipate periods of time in which food would be scarce and therefore our bodies would instinctively react with an increased desire to eat (much like modern-day temptations) in order to stock up on calories before the season of rationing i.e in Winter.
The brains of those submitting to Bulimia Nervosa react in the same way. We restrict our intake, plan to restrict further and then BAM! The thoughts of food just cannot escape our minds. People often then enter a trance-like state in which in order to allow themselves to eat without the fear of weight gain, they compulsively numb out in the food with the knowledge that they will make up for it afterwards.
Having satisfied our chemical cravings induced by the brain, we are then brought back to the real world to deal with the guilt and feelings of ‘failure’ that we have not succeeded in restricting in the way we wanted to when we woke up that morning. So we then purge. Purging ultimately refers to any compulsive act that aims to counterbalance an intake of calories. For me, induced vomiting, exercise and occasional laxatives where my go-to options. I thought that purging was the answer to life. I’d restrict until I could no longer and then reassure myself that whatever I ate to satisfy my body’s impulses, could be reversed and I wouldn’t see the effect of it on the scales.
The health effects that this has on the body and mind are very serious and this is why 1 in 5 people with an eating disorder will die. One of the biggest risks of Bulimia is the effect it has on the heart. Through a combination of extreme and frequent strain on the heart when over exercising and purging, as well as electrolyte imbalances, cardiac arrests are not uncommon. What may also start as a few bodily convulsions after purging or going for a long run can easily become full blown seizures. Continuous palpitations, acid reflux, shivering, unquenchable thirst, dry skin and nails, sensitive teeth, a clicking jaw, stomach ulcers, a torn or ruptured oesophagus, seizures, heart attacks and an endless list of other physical side effects are what’s included in the deal. I want to add that everybody experiences eating disorders differently and that this is simply my perspective. You may have a completely different view of it and that is fine, however, what I have explained comes from a place of physiological knowledge, research and my own experience and the most important thing to emphasise that it is very serious.
If someone came home with a cancer diagnosis to tell you they had a 20% chance of dying, it would scare you. However, eating disorders, regardless of the fact that they have a high fatality rate, just don’t get the same response. A lot of people’s confessions of eating disorders gets brushed under the carpet simply because it isn’t understood and therefore I hope this article serves a purpose of better educating those who struggle to get their head around the seriousness of the illness. If you need someone to take it seriously and have a wake up call, show them this article and I hope it is of some service to you.