The Effects of Bulimia on the Body
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder in which a person creates a destructive pattern of eating in order to control their weight. People with bulimia tend to go on eating binges, consuming large amounts of food in a short period of time. This is usually followed by an attempt to rid the food from their body using laxatives or self-induced vomiting. This behavior is usually carried out in secret, taking a tremendous emotional toll.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, up to 3 percent of the population has bulimia. Roughly 9 out of 10 people with bulimia are female.
In addition to mental stress, continued bingeing and purging also puts great strain the body. Unlike the eating disorder anorexia, people with bulimia may not appear to have significant weight loss. However, complications due to bulimia are serious and can put your life at risk.
Mental and Emotional Health
Bulimia is a mental health disorder. People with bulimia tend to show signs of depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorders. They’re also at risk for substance abuse problems and suicidal behavior.
Constant monitoring of food and weight can become an obsession. A person with bulimia may binge in secret and hide evidence of food and laxatives. Having to keep secrets contributes to the cycle of stress and anxiety.
Bulimia may cause moodiness and irritability. Compulsive exercising or preoccupation with appearance are common symptoms. It’s not unusual for someone with bulimia to spend a lot of time thinking about food and how to control it. This may be accompanied by feelings of embarrassment and shame. It’s hard to measure the emotional cost.
A sore throat or stomach pain may be the first obvious physical side effects of bulimia.
Chronic self-induced vomiting can cause a variety of symptoms in the digestive tract, beginning at the mouth. The high acid content of vomit can damage teeth, causing enamel erosion, tooth sensitivity, and gum disease. Puffy cheeks or jaws come from swollen salivary glands. Excessive vomiting may cause a sore or swollen throat.
Acid can irritate or tear the esophagus. Blood in vomit may be a sign of a ruptured esophagus. The stomach also becomes irritated. Stomachaches, heartburn, and acid reflux are common.
Putting your finger down your own throat is one way that people with bulimia induce vomiting. Doing this over and over can scar the skin on your fingers and hands, due to exposure to acidity.
Another way to rid the body of food is to use diuretics, diet pills, or laxatives. Overuse of these products can make it difficult to have a bowel movement without them. Misdirected use of diuretics may also damage the kidneys. Damage to the intestines can cause bloating, diarrhea, or constipation. Straining to move your bowels can result in hemorrhoids.
Recurrent bingeing and purging is physically demanding and can bring on general weakness and fatigue.
Frequent purging can cause dehydration, leading to dry skin, weak muscles, and extreme fatigue. Vomiting often can throw your electrolytes out of balance. Low levels of potassium, magnesium, and sodium are not uncommon. This is hard on the heart and can cause irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), weakened heart muscle, and heart failure.
Bulimia can cause low blood pressure, weak pulse, and anemia. Throwing up can be a violent event. The sheer force of it can even cause blood vessels in the eyes to rupture.
Bulimia can interfere with your menstrual cycle or stop it altogether. A hormonal imbalance and fatigue can kill your sex drive. If the ovaries no longer release eggs, conceiving a child becomes impossible.
Pregnant women who continue to engage in bingeing and purging behaviors face additional complications for themselves and their babies. These include:
- maternal high blood pressure
- gestational diabetes
- premature birth
- breech birth
- higher risk of C-section
- low birth weight babies
- birth defects
- breastfeeding difficulties
Use of diuretics or laxatives during pregnancy may be harmful to your unborn baby.