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Bulimia – Signs and Causes
Bulimia, also called Bulimia Nervosa, is a psychological eating disorder. Bulimia involves the process of binge-eating, and induced purging afterwards. Teenagers that suffer from Bulimia seem to eat more than others their age, but get little to no nutritional value from the food they quickly get rid of. Often Bulimia is the result of other medical conditions, such as low self esteem, stress, anxiety, or depression.
For teenagers suffering from Bulimia, the binge is seen as a reward and is a way to cope with daily stresses and unpleasant feelings. Typically the binge eating occurs in secrecy, unless the binging and purging is carried out with friends who are also experimenting with binging and purging.
Binging involves high calorie foods that are sweet or high in fat content – basically junk food. Some binges are planned in advance, but more often they are impulsive. Triggers for binges include problems with self image, prolonged dieting, interpersonal stressors, and dissatisfaction with body type (Bulimia).
Not only does the teenager binge on huge quantities of high-caloric food followed by purging, but quite often laxatives are also used as a way to maintain or keep weight off. This cycle of binging and purging can result in a dramatic weight fluctuation, which can be very dangerous. Teenagers try to hide the signs of throwing up by running the sink or tub, faucet while spending long periods of time in the bathroom. Potential medical problems include: cardiac arrhythmias, electrolyte imbalances, esophageal tears, and dental problems. Prolonged purging presents a serious threat to the patient’s physical health, resulting in hormonal imbalance, depletion of needed minerals, dehydration, and damage to vital organs (Teenagers with Eating Disorders).
Binge eating in Bulimia Nervosa may temporarily numb the teen’s negative feelings, but this state is quickly followed by feelings of failure. The Bulimic is often ashamed of their binging and purging and views their behavior as a loss of control, which in turn reinforces their low self esteem.
Teenagers suffering from Bulimia follow their binge-eating behavior with compensatory behaviors in an attempt to counteract the binge episodes. The act of purging may temporarily reduce the feeling of fullness and also reduce the fear of weight gain. Some teenagers have reported that they actually look forward to the purging behavior, which causes a temporary feeling of release.
Symptoms that Bulimics exhibit include: hiding foods; avoiding and arguing over certain foods they will or will not eat; a recurrent and increasing pattern over time of emotionality, mental dullness, physical weakness, low frustration; and a pattern of leaving or asking to leave the group (usually within twenty to thirty minutes) with some excuse in order to purge their meal. They often make comments about being fat, unattractive, and for the need to lose more weight, despite evidence to the contrary.
Bulimics exhibit obsessive thinking that borders on a fixation; a fixation that is contradictory, illogical, and irrational with regard to food choice, weight loss, and purging. At times they will refuse to eat, and then later offer to eat in order to negotiate permission to continue partial purging and starvation (Answers to Questions about Teenage Bulimia and Anorexia).
Other behaviors that teenagers with Bulimia use in an attempt to prevent weight gain include: using enemas, diuretics, diet pills, fasts, insulin abuse, laxatives, chew-spitting, and excessive exercise. Bulimics are obsessively involved with their weight and body size. The teen will often impulsively check their body size weight. This includes frequent weighing, measuring, and looking at themselves in the mirror. They don’t see the emaciated person looking back at them; they see a fat person that needs to lose a lot of weight. The Bulimic feels that their individual self worth is directly tied to their body shape and weight (Bulimia).
Treatment can save the life of a teenager with an eating disorder. Teachers, relatives, friends, and physicians will often play an important role in helping the afflicted person start and stay with a treatment program. Caring, encouragement, and persistence, as well as up to date information about Bulimia and its dangers, is needed to convince the teen that they need help.
Teenagers that suffer from Bulimia must regain a sense of control and self esteem in their life that is independent of their physical appearance. Often a comprehensive treatment plan is needed, involving a variety of experts in the medical field as well as an internist, a nutritionist, a psychotherapist, and a psychopharmacologist – a person who is knowledgeable regarding psychoactive medications that are often useful in treating eating disorders.
Use of individual psychotherapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teaches patients how to change abnormal thought processes, is often the most productive form of treatment. Cognitive-behavior therapists focus on changing eating behaviors by using a reward system or model behavior. These therapists also help the teenager work to change the distorted and rigid thinking patterns associated with Bulimia (Answers to Questions about Teenage Bulimia and Anorexia).
“Answers to Questions about Teenage Bulimia and Anorexia” Bulimic Behaviors. 2001.
17 Mar. 2005 http://www.crisiscounseling.org/Handouts/BulimiaAnorexia.htm
“Bulimia” Bulimia Nervosa better known as Bulimia. 2004. 17 Mar. 2005 http://www.raderprograms.com/bulimia.htm
“Teenagers with Eating Disorders” AACAP-Facts for Families #2. Jul. 2004. 17 Mar.
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