The Effects Of Bulimia On The Body
When you think of bulimia, you may think of binging (eating a large amount of food) and purging (throwing that food up). Although bulimia nervosa’s main diagnostic features do include the intake of large amounts of food in a short period of time, the purging part is more varied. The word “purge” means to get rid of something unwanted, but in terms of bulimia, the means in which someone purges is not always vomiting. Other common ways of purging are through use of laxatives, diuretics, and/or over-exercise. If you are struggling with bulimia, chances are you caught in an endless, internal battle over your desire to be thin, and the tremendous compulsions to binge eat. Bulimia nervosa, just like other eating disorders, does not typically begin solely because of the desire to look a certain way. Instead, bulimia is usually a symptom itself, of something much deeper, like a traumatic experience or lack of self-worth.
Yet, it is a common belief that individuals with eating disorders should look very thin or frail, making it difficult to spot those who struggle with bulimia. While, bulimia can cause weight fluctuations, or help an individual maintain a certain weight, they are not typically severely underweight. Yet, just because bulimia is not as evident to the untrained eye, does not mean it is any less life threatening or serious.
If you struggle with bulimia, you may not realize the internal damage being done on your body. If you purge through vomiting, your body’s electrolyte levels are most certainly out of balance. Electrolyte imbalances take an extreme toll on the heart’s functioning, causing heart palpitations (which you may be noticing). These heart palpitations are an indicator of a more serious heart condition, and should not be ignored.
If you use vomiting as your primary way to purge, you may be experiencing a sore throat. This is commonly due to the acidic nature of vomit. This acidity causes a burning sensation, and is essentially eroding your esophagus. This will, if it has not already, result in acid reflux and heartburn. If you notice blood in your vomit, this indicates tearing of the esophagus, and the need to seek medical attention. Vomiting on a regular basis can also create internal, and often painful stomach changes that seriously impact your body’s ability to break down and process food.
Use of laxatives or diuretics can also have a serious impact on your digestive system. Your body can become dependent on these pills, making it extremely painful, and nearly impossible to process food, and therefore have a bowel movement without them. This can lead to the straining that produces hemorrhoids. These dangerous pills also cause harmful changes to kidney function.
While you may believe that bingeing and purging is a way to control body shape and size, you may not recognize all the negative, physical side effects that will come as a result. Bulimics often use putting their fingers down their throat as the go-to approach to purging. This is due to the easy accessibility, but can result in dried, cracked knuckles, and hand callouses. Over time, the stomach bile that comes up with the vomit contributes to yellowing teeth, enamel erosion, and swollen gums. Also, many are unaware that vomiting on a regular basis causes puffy cheeks from distended salivary glands.
Just like anyone else suffering from a serious mental disorder, bulimics have a lot going on in their minds. If you struggle with bulimia, chances are you have noticed mood fluctuations. This is often from a combination of negative self-talk, low self-worth, and negative body image, coupled with the effects of malnutrition that occur due to the constant purging of nutrients. Depression surrounding self-perception or life circumstances/experiences/traumas are common. Anxiety around food or inability to act out in eating disorder behaviors also contributes to mood changes.
Obviously, just like with any eating disorder, symptoms vary depending on the history and severity of behaviors. Below is a comprehensive list of bulimia’s potential symptoms.
Symptoms of Bingeing/Purging
- Loss of control over eating
- Constipation or irregular bowel movements
- Irregular heartbeat
- Calloused knuckles (from sticking fingers down throat)
- Yellowed or discolored teeth
- Sore throat
- Low sex drive
- Feeling faint
- Mood changes – depression, anxiety
If you or someone you know may be struggling with bulimia nervosa, please seek help. Confidential National Eating Disorder Helpline: 1-800-931-2237