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7 Things to Know About Bulimia

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Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), 30 million women and men will struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

Bulimia is characterized by binge eating, often with high caloric foods followed by purging. If not stopped, it can cause major health concerns. Bulimia does not discriminate against race, sex, weight, body type or socioeconomic status.

Many people struggle with this life-threatening illness. So, why is this disorder so misunderstood? 

Through my personal experience, I’d like to provide some insight. 

1. Development of bulimia 

Bulimia, along with other eating disorders, has been stereotyped as only related to weight.

It’s important to understand that this is not always true. Yes, social idealization of being thin can be a culprit, but environmental factors often contribute to the development of eating disorders. This was true for me. 

In my experience, trauma played a role. Sexual abuse, constant emotional and physical torture from high school bullies, along with a loss as a young adult left me emotionally scarred. Over time, depression set in. This was the beginning of the foundational cracks in my mental health. 

On the verge of an eating disorder, you are often unaware of what is happening to you. So when one emotional evening had me eating too much, I got painfully bloated. I purged for the first time. The release felt good. There were no thoughts about weight. Only loss and pain. Because of my emotional state, somehow the release I felt made me feel better, emotionally. On days I felt down, I ate junk and the cycle repeated. Before I knew it, what had been manifesting over time, suddenly had a strong, overpowering grip on me. 

It’s important to know that something that causes a negative impact on your psyche has the potential to manifest into something destructive. 

2. A day in the life of a bulimic

Dopamine is released during overeating, which creates a sensation of pleasure and euphoria. This process allows us to continue the behavior so that we feel good again. It’s an addiction. 

I lost a little weight and was complimented on the way I looked. I welcomed it. I lacked self-esteem, so the more compliments I received, the better I felt. 

For something that had nothing to do with weight, it soon became all about it. 

I told myself that I was going to stop once I’d reached my goal. I never did. Still, I thought I was in control. 

A day in the life of a bulimic consists of being consumed with thoughts of food. Every minute of every day. Food cravings, ingredients, calories. How food would impact the scales. A tug of war between “I’m going to be good today!” and the consequences of failing.

Guilt immediately after eating and more so knowing you’d purge. This immediately turns to disgust once the inevitable has happened. 

Apprehension and panic take hold. Will everything come up? When you feel lightheaded or pass out, this quickly switches to, “maybe I should have left a little inside to keep me going.”

On the outside, I would put on a façade. Behind closed doors, I was depressed and felt as though I didn’t want to go on. 

3. Changes in behavior

I became obsessive and compulsive. The daily battle was intensifying. The me I once knew morphed and I became irritable and had aggressive outbursts. I was deceitful and found myself doing things I could never have imagined. Lying, treating people disrespectfully, stealing. 

4. The truth about bulimia

Many don’t understand why they become bulimic. I believe it’s one of the contributory factors of relapse. They are treating the symptom and not the cause. 

  • Many bulimics look healthy.
  • It can disrupt personal and family dynamics.
  • You can be bulimic even if you eat healthy meals between purges.
  • This is not a choice. It’s a serious illness.
  • There’s an increased risk for suicide and medical complications

Misconception: Those battling bulimia can stop at any time. 

Those tormented by bulimia make frequent trips to the bathroom after meals and often abuse laxatives. They drink excessive amounts of water when consuming food. 

You may see scars over the knuckles. 

5. Setbacks and triggers

Setbacks are to be expected. I can attest to this. 

The sequence of binging and purging can be triggered in response to stress and anxiety. The feeling of guilt and being a failure for slipping up, adds to this. 

6. Side effects of bulimia

  • Cardiovascular complications
  • Syncope, from dehydration and lack of nutrition
  • Memory loss and lack of concentration
  • Digestive issues
  • Esophageal damage
  • Hair loss and dry skin and nails
  • Dental problems
  • Menstrual irregularities

And more…

7. Road to recovery

A strong support system is crucial. Positive reinforcement for all the small steps that are made towards recovery are encouraged. 

Supporters: these words of encouragement are for you.

The more I learned, the more I realized why I hadn’t been successful in my recovery. The key to it all was nourishing your mind, body and soul.

It isn’t enough to eat healthy and hope that nothing triggers a purge. Staying strong emotionally and physically through exercise is important, but isn’t enough. Dealing with past trauma is a crucial part of healing, but on its own, it isn’t enough. Taking time to yourself to reflect and relax, giving back and being grateful for what you have, all have healing properties, but that too isn’t enough. 

You need mind, body and spiritual fulfillment.

Win your battle with bulimia!

To those that are fighting their own battle: Here is a letter from me to you.

Take the first step on your journey to a more fulfilled life…


By Shani-Lee Wallis

Author of “War with Myself: Achieving Victory in the Battle with Bulimia.”

Getty image by Betsie Van Der Meer

Originally published: February 24, 2022
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