Bulimia nervosa is a prevalent eating disorder in the US. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), 1.5 percent of American women suffer from bulimia during their lifetime.
People with bulimia have no sense of control over their eating behaviors, cycling between periods of binge-eating and purging. They feel consume large amounts of food within a short time, sometimes until they feel painfully full.
These over-eating episodes bring feelings of shame and guilt, so they compensate by purging. People with bulimia commonly force themselves to vomit, exercise excessively, or overuse laxatives.
Bulimia is a psychological disorder, negatively affecting one’s moods, behaviors, and thoughts. However, it also causes some physical effects. The overeating and purging episodes lead to short- and long-term impacts on a person’s body.
The digestive system takes the brunt of the destructive eating habits of a person with bulimia. The first obvious physical consequences of bulimia include sore throat and stomach pain.
As the overeating-purging cycle continues, self-induced vomiting causes a variety of side-effects on the digestive tract. The high acid content of vomit damages the teeth. It causes tooth sensitivity and enamel erosion, which is why people recovering from bulimia wear partial or full dentures.
People with bulimia might also develop gum disease, swollen salivary glands, and a ruptured esophagus.
Bulimia can also cause intestinal problems, such as constipation and diarrhea. The excessive use of laxatives affects a person’s bowel movement, making them reliant on the product. The acid content of the vomit can lead to heartburn, stomachaches, and stomach ulcers.
The unhealthy eating habits associated with bulimia lead to nutritional deficiencies, which result in a hormonal imbalance. This interferes with one’s menstrual cycle, either causing irregularities or stopping it entirely, affecting ovulation.
Women with bulimia can also experience fertility issues, such as trouble conceiving. Bumilia during pregnancy can increase the risks for miscarriage, postpartum depression, and premature birth.
People with bulimia often struggle with fatigue and general weakness, which affects their sex drive.
The nutritional deficiencies associated with bulimia also affect one’s hair, nails, and skin. Frequent vomiting can lead to dehydration, draining the body of water.
People with bulimia nervosa generally have a dull complexion. The skin becomes dry and rough, and sometimes scaly. The nails turn brittle. The hair becomes frizzy, dry, and breakable.
Dehydration makes the muscles weak and fatigued. It also throws the body’s electrolytes out of balance, affecting one’s heart health. Electrolytes are necessary for regulating blood pressure; too much or too little electrolytes in the body can contribute to arrhythmia or irregular heart rhythm.
Because of the loss of electrolytes, bulimia can also cause anemia, a weak pulse, and low blood pressure.
Apart from cognitive behavioral therapy, a person recovering from bulimia also requires physical treatments. In many cases, the treatment is overseen by a team of mental health, medical, and nutritional professionals. The goal is to restore the person’s normal eating patterns and combat or reverse the physical side-effects of bulimia.
If you or someone you know develops an excessive obsession with weight and body image or an unhealthy relationship with food, consult a mental health professional immediately.