Bulimia Nervosa is a life-threatening eating disorder that is becoming increasingly common in the US. Here at intervention.com, we often see familes struggling with bulimia who wish to know more about the disease. We’ve prepared some bulimia facts and statistics for you to become more informed about what’s happening with you and your family.
Bulimia Nervosa: An Overview
In short, bulimia nervosa is the name for the mental disorder that describes binging and purging eating behaviors. Binge eating happens when someone eats an excessive amount of food within a two hour period. The binging behavior includes an inability to stop eating, a trance-like state, and intense guilt and shame afterwards. Purging refers to the efforts made to “un-do” or “reverse” the binge. This could mean vomiting, using laxatives, or exercising excessively. Oftentimes the purge is meant to control weight and appearance; however, it can also represent self-punishment or an attempt to regain control.
- Nearly 1.5% of all American women are estimated to suffer from bulimia at some point in their lives. Girls and younger women are the most vulnerable for developing bulimia.
- About .5% of American men will experience bulimia at some point in life. Gay and bisexual men are more at risk than straight men.
- Bulimia nervosa has a mortality rate of 3-4%. This means that of all bulimia cases, between 3% and 4% will die due to the disease.
- Only 6% of those suffering from bulimia will ever get treatment.
- 1/3rd of bulimia-sufferers also struggle with self-harm conditions, like cutting or burning.
What makes bulimia so dangerous?
Both binging and purging behaviors have negative consequences on our health.
Typically, binging involves foods high in fat, sugar, and salt with low nutrient content. Snacks, fast foods, desserts; these are the things most often binged upon. Consuming lots of these treat foods without enough nutrient dense fruits, vegetables, and proteins can lead to malnutrition. Additionally, high sugar, salt, and fat consumption can lead to heart disease and diabetes.
Purging behaviors of all kinds can be extremely dangerous. The most common way to purge is to force oneself to throw up all of the food consumed during a binge. Throwing up frequently can lead to lethal tears in the esophagus, tooth decay, and hand injuries. All purging methods including excessive exercising and laxative use, lead to mineral deficiencies. A mineral deficiency can become very serious and lead to an irregular heart beat, heart failure, and even death.
Signs of Bulimia Nervosa
How can you tell if you or someone you love has bulimia? If you see binging and purging behaviors happening on a regular basis, or multiple of the following signs, bulimia might be the answer.
- Eating excessive amounts of high calorie foods with no apparent change in weight
- Obsession with appearance or body weight
- Frequent trips to the bathroom after meals
- Excessive use of diuretics or laxatives
- Eating in secret. This could include going to kitchen when others are sleeping
- Obsession with eating, or with certain types of food
- Excessive, rigid exercise for long periods of time
- Rituals that allow for bingeing and purging
Why does Bulimia happen?
As with all mental illnesses, there is no simple reason that bulimia nervosa happens. Chemical imbalances in the brain, genetics, cultural notions about beauty, and traumatic life events can all contribute to the development of bulimia.
Participating in certain sports that require a lean body type, such as ballet and swimming, can lead to bulimia as well. Intense social pressure to be thin can push us towards binging and purging behaviors.
Before bulimia nervosa fully develops, young men and women often start out with just dieting. The dieting, which might include exercise and food restriction goals, progresses gradually towards bulimia. Extreme dieting often leads to cravings for the “forbidden” foods which then causes a binge episode. Afterwards, feeling guilty and ashamed about the binge, the bulimia-sufferer will start purging. Dieting doesn’t always lead to bulimia, but it is often how we start out on that path.
- Most people with bulimia are normal or overweight. They do not always look dramatically skinny or unhealthy.
- Latin@s and African Americans are at higher risk for bulimia than other races.
- Bulimia usually starts in the late teens and affects more younger people than older people.
- 30%-70% of those suffering from bulimia have another addictive disorder as well. This could include drug and alcohol abuse.
- Shoplifting occurs more frequently among those with bulimia than in the normal population. Psychologists think this is due to low-impulse control and the high costs of binging behaviors.
Relapse is very common with bulimia. 30%-50% of those who quit using bulimia behaviors eventually start again. This is why early, and intensive treatment is the best option. Cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, and learning new social skills are the top ways to treat bulimia nervosa.
At intervention.com, we have the expertise and experience to help you recover from this life-threatening eating disorder. Please reach out to us, we’ll be there for you.