A few facts about bulimia

The following information was obtained from the National Alliance on Mental Illness:
•What is bulimia nervosa?
Bulimia is a serious eating disorder marked by a destructive pattern of binge-eating and recurrent inappropriate behaviour to control one’s weight.
It can occur together with other psychiatric disorders, such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, substance dependence, or self-injurious behaviour.
Binge-eating is defined as the consumption of excessively large amounts of food within a short period of time. Inappropriate behaviours may include purging behaviours such as self-induced vomiting or abuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas.
Non-purging behaviours include fasting or excessive exercise.
For those who binge-eat, sometimes any amount of food—even a salad or half an apple—is perceived as a binge and is vomited.
People with bulimia nervosa often feel a lack of control during their eating binges. The food usually is eaten secretly and gobbled down rapidly with little chewing.
A binge usually is ended by abdominal discomfort. When the binge is over, the person with bulimia feels guilty and purges to rid their body of the excess calories.
People with bulimia are overly concerned with body shape and weight. They make repeated attempts to control their weight by fasting and dieting, vomiting, using drugs to stimulate bowel movements and urination, and exercising excessively.
Weight fluctuations are common because of alternating binges and fasts.
Unlike people with anorexia, those with bulimia usually are within a normal weight range.
Constant concern about food and weight is a primary sign of bulimia.
Common indicators that suggest the self-induced vomiting that persons with bulimia experience are the erosion of dental enamel (due to the acid in the vomit) and scarring on the backs of the hands (due to repeatedly pushing fingers down the throat to induce vomiting).
Some people with bulimia have swelling of the glands near the cheeks called parotid glands. They may also have irregular menstrual periods and a decrease in sexual interest.
A depressed mood also is common, as are frequent complaints of sore throats and abdominal pain.
Despite these signs, bulimia nervosa is difficult to catch early. Binge-eating and purging often are done in secret and easily can be concealed by a normal-weight person.
People who have bulimia also have many rules about food—good foods, bad foods—and can be entrenched in these rules.
This pre-occupation and these behaviours allow the person to shift their focus from painful feelings and reduce tension and anxiety perpetuating the need for these behaviours.
People with bulimia can severely damage their bodies by frequent bingeing and purging. Electrolyte imbalance and dehydration can occur and may cause cardiac complications and, occasionally, sudden death.
In rare instances, binge-eating can cause the stomach to rupture while purging can result in heart failure due to the loss of vital minerals like potassium.
If you are concerned that you or someone you know may have an eating disorder, contact your physician, the Northwestern Health Unit, or Riverside Community Counselling Services.
Editor’s note: Eating Disorders Awareness Week is Feb. 4-10.