Lately, discussions regarding eating disorders frequently pop out on social media. There are several types of eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. However, media portrayals tend to not give enough information or, worse, create misconceptions regarding the issue. Such as, eating disorders are only prone in women, people with an eating disorder are overly thin, and the only way to relieve its symptoms is by increasing one’s food intake or stop dieting.
In fact, the symptoms and body shapes of people suffering from bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa can be distinct from one another. Also, eating disorders could be experienced by people from various backgrounds, age groups, and gender. Understanding the types and symptoms of eating disorders is the first step towards helping others or even ourselves if we feel that we might experience the symptoms. In this article, KALM will specifically discuss bulimia nervosa.
Definition of Bulimia Nervosa
So what is bulimia nervosa? Bulimia nervosa is a type of eating disorder characterized by recurrent binge-eating episodes, which is the consumption of an abnormally large amount of food in a short period of time, immediately followed by a feeling of guilt. The person would then need to alleviate the guilty feeling by doing some compensatory behavior, which is the behavior that is believed to be compensating for the large amount of food being consumed. This cycle usually happens once a week for 3 consecutive months. One of the forms of compensatory behavior is vomiting food or purging. Other methods that are often used are fasting, over-exercising, and the misuse of laxatives, enemas, and diuretics which could induce vomiting.
A person with bulimia generally has a bodyweight that falls into the normal weight range compared to their same-aged peers. Whereas, people with anorexia nervosa usually have a less than average body weight. Other symptoms of bulimia are fluctuations in weight, deceptive behaviors relating to food, avoidance of eating with other people, frequent trips to the bathroom especially after eating, irregular menstruation cycle, and sensitivity to thoughts about food, body weight, and body image.
Risk Factors of Bulimia Nervosa
After we understand what bulimia nervosa is, the next step is to know what are the factors that could put someone at risk of experiencing bulimia. Here are some of the factors:
Young men and women can feel excessive pressure from society to reach an unrealistic society-accepted body standard/goals.
a. A strict diet would reduce one’s control over their food consumption thus could be followed by ‘cheatings’ to their diet habit and cause binge eating.
b. Dissatisfaction over one’s body would prompt unhealthy behaviors or methods to achieve the desired body weight.
c. The feeling of losing control over many aspects of life except one’s diet
d. Difficulty in separating from one’s family and build self-identity
e. The psychological need for perfection and the tendency to think dichotomously (black or white thinking)
a. Families of people with eating disorders commonly have characteristics such as the presence of family conflicts, insecure attachment from caregivers, and failure in establishing independence and autonomy in children
b. From the perspectives of the family system, eating disorders in young adults could cause an imbalance in family function as it shifts the family attention from other family or marital problems.
a. An imbalance of the neurotransmitter system in the brain that controls mood and appetite
b. The possibility of genetic factors
Physical signs and effects of bulimia nervosa
In many instances, eating disorders are accompanied by other comorbid mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, personality, and other disorders. Additionally, bulimia nervosa would also negatively affect the physical functioning of the sufferers, for instance:
- Inflammation and pain in the salivary gland
- Calluses on hands knuckles
- Erosion of dental enamel due to gastric acid
- Low potassium level in the blood
- Sensitive teeth to hot or cold
- Overflow of gastric acid could cause ulcers, rupture, or constrictions in the esophagus
- Disruption and dysfunction in the digestive system due to the consumption of laxatives
- Imbalance of body fluid due to the over stimulus of diuretics
If left untreated, bulimia can lead to major medical problems, including death.
How to Prevent and Manage Eating Disorders in Young Adults
Once we’ve understood the effects of bulimia, here is a list of things that could be done by KALMers to prevent and resolve eating disorders.
- Admit to yourself. You might have recurring thoughts that this diet cycle is only short-termed and you’ll feel better afterward. Especially after you lose weight and have greater control over food. But, that is not the truth. The first step towards recovery is to admit to yourself that you have a distorted relationship with food.
- Ask “Why?”. What could possibly be your reason to be wanting to reduce body weight and have a thinner body? Do you often associate a thinner body with a positive image, whereas gaining weight is associated with laziness, bad appearance, and worthlessness? By questioning our motivations, we would understand why we behave in a certain way including why we have unhealthy food consumption habits. In this case, counseling could help KALMers in understanding yourself better. Online counseling service with our KALMselor is available by downloading KALM application.
- Your self-worth does not depend on your body shape. Everyone has different body shapes. There is no specific one socially accepted ideal body shape. Appreciate the uniqueness of your body including the amazing things that your body could do. Besides, one is not only valued based on their body shape, but also their character, talents, and achievements. Avoid thinking that the thoughts about your body determine your value as a person.
- Be a critical viewer of the media. While there have been great strides in recent years to have a more inclusive representation of various body types in social media, there is still a preoccupation with thinness. When you hear a comment or see an image that promotes thinness at all costs, be brave enough to refuse the message. Don’t accept that the images you see are the ideals you should try to attain.
- Find more information about the types and symptoms of eating disorders. Genuine awareness will help you avoid judgmental or mistaken attitudes about food, weight, body shape, and eating disorders. This will also help you to learn the signs of potential eating disorders so you can spot a problem early and pursue treatment.
- Find more information about a healthy lifestyle, nutrition, and diet. A better understanding would lead to a better knowledge of how to take care of our body healthily. Avoid categorizing foods as “good/safe” or “bad/dangerous.” Remember that we all need to eat a balanced variety of foods. Also, allows room to enjoy all kinds of food in moderation.
- Access professional help if needed. If you feel that someone has an eating disorder, support them by helping them access professional help like a psychologist or a nutritionist. If you have an eating disorder, don’t be afraid to seek help, and don’t let it control your life any longer.
So that was a glimpse of information about bulimia nervosa. If KALMers would like to know more about bulimia nervosa and other eating disorders, KALMers could contact KALMselors (online counselors in KALM) provided by the KALM application (you can download the app here).
If someone you know might be struggling with an eating disorder, in this article we will cover the different things you should NOT say to them.
Author : Kalmselor Dwi Surya Purwanti, M. Psi., Psikolog (Kalmselors Code:DWI-888)
Note: You can counsel with Kalmselor Dwi through KALM App using Kalmselors Code: DWI-888
Editor: Jessica Delphina, Lukas Limanjaya
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