You’ve heard about anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder marked by starvation, but what about its counterpart bulimia nervosa? More than eight million Americans have eating disorders, and one in 20 of those are bulimic. It’s a constant struggle not to gain weight by trying to eliminate calories and fat after you eat them. Are you or someone you know at risk?
Food … it looks good … it smells good … it tastes good; but for “Allison,” who has battled bulimia for 13 years, it’s a source of fear. “It’s scary. I wish that I didn’t have to take care of myself with food,” she says.
Dr. Richard Kreipe understands Allison’s terror. He’s treated people with eating disorders for more than a decade and knows the signs of bulimia all too well — binge eating then …
“They may fast. They may vomit. They may exercise. They may take laxatives. There’s some kind of a compensatory mechanism to try and get rid of the calories that were ingested in the binge. “This is all followed by some really strong feelings of depression or anger, anxiety, guilt and frustration.”
Can you tell if someone has bulimia just by looking at them? “They may be a normal weight. They may be overweight. They can be very thin,” notes Dr. Kreipe.
Bulimia usually starts in the late teens or early adult years. Women have it more than men. They may have been sexually abused as children, and the greatest risk to their health is suicide, “Because they just can’t stand the ups and downs — the vicious addiction that they feel trapped by,” says Dr. Kreipe.
The disorder is usually treated with a combination of:
* Supervised eating and exercise plans,
* Psychological therapy and
* Anti-depressant medicines like Prozac or Zoloft.
However, before the treatment can be effective, the person needs to admit to the problem. Allison says, “Really encourage them to be honest with themselves and to find at least one person they can be honest with.”
There are some medical conditions that can mimic bulimia, like thyroid problems, diabetes and metabolism imbalances.