Bulimia: Causes and Symptoms of the Eating Disorder

Sunayana Ponnappa  |  Updated: May 17, 2017 11:45 IST

Bulimia: Causes and Symptoms of the Eating Disorder


Eating disorders have been rising at an alarming rate in the recent times. Disorders like anorexia nervosa, binge-eating, purging-eating, etc., have life-threatening conditions that affect a person’s emotional and physical health. They can develop at any stage in life, but usually surface during teen years or early adulthood. They are classified as mental disorders and claim more lives than any other mental illness. One in every five sufferers dies prematurely either by physical consequences or suicide.

Bulimia nervosa or Bulimia is one of the most frequent and recurrent eating disorders among people. It is a psychological and severe disorder in which the patient ingests a ridiculously large amount of food in a short period of time, as much as 2,000 calories in a sitting, and then attempts to vomit it all out to avoid gaining weight. To compensate for the over-eating, the patient tries to excessively exercise, forcefully vomit or misuse diuretics, enemas and laxatives after eating.
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What Causes Bulimia?

Bulimia can be triggered by stress, poor body image, anxiety disorders, low self-esteem or even boredom. The exact cause of the illness is unknown to medical professionals, although the media is touted to be a leading cause as it sets an unreasonably high standard for the public, that influences them into believing that they aren’t good enough or beautiful. Fashion magazines, TV shows and movies frequently showcase a parade of skinny models and actors and brainwash the viewers into believing that only having a “size-zero” figure or “thigh-gap” can make you desirable. Being plump or fat is looked down upon and considered disgusting. These demands put actors, athletes, dancers and models at a higher risk of developing bulimia.

Psychological DNA also plays a role in the development of this illness. Researchers have uncovered that there is a connection between our DNA and the factors that would make men or women more susceptible to being affected by bulimia. These are diseases with a neurobiological basis and should be treated as such. It was discovered that patients with parents who suffered from the disorder were twice as likely to have the variant gene as compared to those without the disorder.
Childhood traumas such as sexual assault, childhood neglect or abuse, troubled family relationships, or the death of a loved one can also be a reason for the development of bulimia.

According to Dr. Madhu Sarin, a Psychoanalyst who runs the Centre of Psychotherapy and Clinical Research in New Delhi, “The root to most eating disorders like bulimia is a sense of negligence and lack of attention. Strained relationships between parents and the child gives the child a feeling of worthlessness and the need to prove his or her value, which results in them going to extreme lengths to gain acceptance in society. The attitude of the parents, upbringing and criticism affects the behaviour and self-image of the child.”
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According to Dr. Ruchika, a general Psychiatrist at Saraswathi Institute of Medical Sciences, "There are a lot of causes for bulimia like the environment, genes, cultural influences, etc. The maladaptive coping mechanism of the mother is transferred to the offspring, making the child mentally weak as well. Instead, parents should be role models to the child and should get the required help for the child and themselves. The child should be taught to accept failure from a young age and not to get bogged down by external pressures.

Symptoms of Bulimia

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The most dangerous side-effect of bulimia is dehydration. Due to the purging, vomiting, laxatives, etc. there is a fall in the potassium levels of the body due to electrolyte imbalance. This leads to lethargy, light-headedness, irregular heartbeat and even death in extreme cases. Constantly low levels of potassium could also lead to kidney failure.
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The only way to end this cycle of binging and purging is to get the patient the necessary help required as soon as possible. It is common for those suffering from bulimia to also suffer from depression and anxiety. Getting help for co-existing conditions is vital to recover from bulimia. By getting professional psychiatric help, one can regain their health, eat normally again and learn to accept themselves by developing healthier attitudes toward food and their body.


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