My husband was on the phone, chatting with a friend, several days ago. I could overhear their conversation and they were talking about his twenty-something daughter. Apparently, she has some serious esophagus problem. I am sitting there, bitting my tongue thinking “are you guys clueless? — it’s obvious she has an eating disorder”. He gets off the phone and I butt into what is clearly not my business. I tell him about my short bulimia experience ( twenty-five years ago when I “controlling” my drinking). He says he thought the same thing, but dismissed it because the girl is a healthy weight of 130. Because of her weight, they could rule out, she had an eating disorder.
That didn’t sound right to me, so I stalked the internet bulimia sites, to gather more information. For someone who knows a lot about eating disorders and has personal experience, I was shocked how ignorant I was.
Me: Bulimia is an unhealthy way to lose weight, but still very effective
Fact: FALSE. Bulimia is an ineffective and dangerous weight control method. Over time, people with bulimia tend to gain weight. It turns out that your body starts absorbing calories immediately as the food hits your mouth. Even the “best” purgers can only eliminate 30 to 40 percent of the calories they eat.
Me: Bulimia is consuming a lot of calories after an eating binge then throwing.
Fact FALSE. Binges can vary in size and one does not need to vomit to have bulimia.
Me: Ipecac syrup is a desperate way to encourage vomiting, but nothing more than that.
Fact: FALSE. Ipecac makes you vomit. It is toxic, meant only for one-time use in real emergencies. Mom’s will sometimes keep in the house for an accidental poisoning (for their child). But,with regular use, the toxins in ipecac build in the muscles of the body, leading to muscle wasting. The heart, most dangerously, suffers this muscle wasting greatly. So if you regularly use this syrup you have an increased risk of complete heart failure. This is what killed Karen Carpenter.
Me: It is hard to be cured of an eating disorder, you will probably struggle with it your entire life.
Fact: FALSE. There are great treatments for eating disorders that have good success rates. People get well!
Me: Being thin makes me happy
Fact: FALSE. You create that is not dependent on anything else. You can be happy regardless of your weight or circumstances. I really have a hard time with this one.
Me. Laxatives do not reduce weight.
Fact: Mostly True. Laxatives can get rid of a small percentage of the calories that is consumed (maybe only 2%). But, I was mostly correct in thinking that laxatives mostly give a temporary weight loss (of only water).
Me: Purging is hard to do for a long period of time.
Fact: False. Many bulimics get so good at purging they start to experience an automatic vomit reaction every time they eat. Also, many bulimics loss the ability to tell if their stomach is empty of full.
Bulimia General Information
Bulimia is an illness in which a person binges on food or has periods of overeating and feels a loss of control. The person feels guild and shame so they try to undo the damage — by vomiting or abusing laxatives.
Some (but not all) people with bulimia also have anorexia nervosa.
Many more women than men have bulimia. The disorder is most common in young girls and young women. The exact cause of bulimia is unknown. Genetic, psychological, trauma, family, society, or cultural factors may play a role. Bulimia is likely due to more than one factor.
People with bulimia often eat large amounts of high-calorie foods, usually in secret. People can feel a lack of control over their eating during these episodes. Binges lead to self-disgust, which causes purging to prevent weight gain.
Purging may include:
Forcing yourself to vomit
Using laxatives, enemas, or diuretics (water pills)
Purging often brings a sense of relief (temporary)
People with bulimia are often at a normal weight, but they may see themselves as being overweight. Because the person’s weight is often normal, other people may not notice this eating disorder. The persons weight also increase because, it is impossible to purge all the food you eat.
What to look for:
Suddenly eating large amounts of food or buying large amounts of food that disappear right away
Regularly going to the bathroom right after meals
Throwing away packages of laxatives, diet pills, emetics (drugs that cause vomiting), or diuretics.
Do you or someone need help?
Research conducted at the University of Chicago Medical Center showed that 40 percent of adolescents who received family-based treatment for bulimia were able to stop binging and purging, compared with 18 percent who received only individual therapy.
The National Eating Disorders Organization has a website with lots of information and resources. One helpful document is a Parent Toolkit. You can access it on their website or link to the .pdf I provided below.