Teens and adults who are victims of bullying can experience a variety of health issues, including eating disorders. Many people do not recognize the connection between bullying and bulimia. The fact is that bullying and bulimia can be connected to one another when you look at how bullying affects the mind set of the victim. The stress caused by the constant harassment doled out by the bully can initiate physical reactions, including those associated with bulimia and anorexia nervosa.
Bulimia Definition – Bulimia is an eating disorder commonly found in women and teenage girls. It is characterized by consuming excessive amounts of food and then forcing themselves to vomit. It is often found in teens and young women who experience extremely high levels of stress. In some cases, teens who are bullied may experience the signs and symptoms of bulimia during times when the harassment is at its peak.
What Is Bulimia? – Bulimia is an eating disorder that normally results from extreme bouts of depression or a traumatized, victimized mental state. Much like depression, bulimia occurs in cycles. Once the cycle begins, the actions are repeated over and over again as the stress levels increase. As tension and stress continue to increase the frequency increases between sessions of binging and purging. Listed as an eating disorder, the effects of the condition are felt through every area of the body, not just the digestive system.
Bulimia Statistics – There are several statistics about bulimia that are important to know and understand. A few of these include:
- Almost 95 percent of individuals who are diagnosed with bulimia are within the ages of 12 and 25 years of age
- For individuals who have been diagnosed with a mental condition, those who are also diagnosed with an eating disorder have the highest mortality rate
- Approximately 10 to 15 percent of individuals who are diagnosed with bulimia are men
- Over 70 percent of girls in middle and high school let pictures in magazines influence the self image they have of themselves
- Almost 25 percent of female college students admit they have used binging and purging as a way to control their weight
- Almost 24 million people, men and women alike, suffer from some sort of eating disorder
- Out of all reported cases of eating disorders, only one out of every ten cases receives treatment for their condition.
- It is believed that almost half of the people diagnosed with an eating disorder also meet the criteria for depression and other types of mental illness.
Bulimia Facts – Bulimia is an eating disorder that can have deadly consequences if not treated early. Because of the intensity of the binging and purging cycles, there is an excessive amount of stress placed on the body as a whole. The digestive system alone undergoes repeated trauma as large amounts of foods are consumed, only to be purged from the body in a violent, sometimes uncontrolled manner.
Bulimia is not limited to teens and adults who have weight problems, Diagnosed cases of bulimia are found in almost every culture, class and race of people. Weight, self-esteem, depression, anxiety and self-loathing can all be causes that start the cycle of destruction.
Bulimia Nervosa – There are two types of bulimia, purging and non-purging. Purging bulimia involves vomiting after meals. No matter how much food is consumed, the bulimia patient will immediately find a way to regurgitate and purge the meal. Purging methods also include the use of diuretics, laxatives and enemas to get rid of the unwanted calories associated with the foods that were consumed. In non-purging forms of bulimia, the person will adhere to a strict diet, often depriving themselves of much needed nutrients calories. They may also fast for several days or exercise to the point of obsession.
Symptoms of Bulimia – Several symptoms are associated with bulimia, these include:
- Eating excessive amounts of food
- Immediately vomiting after a meal
- Feelings of depression and guilt after finishing a meal
- Excessive bouts of paranoia when it comes to eating and gaining weight
Symptoms that are often seen in bulimia patients normally have to do with problems in the digestive system. The problem is that those same issues extend deep into the body and affect many of its functions. For many years, it was believed that bulimia only stressed the stomach and digestive systems. It didn’t take long for studies to change that way of thinking. Not only is the digestive system damaged, the heart and other body organs are also put in jeopardy if the disorder goes untreated.
Signs of Bulimia – Signs of bulimia are similar to the symptoms but they are primarily connected to the outward, physical appearance of the person suffering from the disorder. The most common outward signs include teeth that have lost their luster and fingers that look chapped and dry. These two common signs are caused by repeated contact with stomach acid as the person vomits or tries to purge the contents of their stomach.
Other signs of bulimia include a lack of self-esteem, bouts of depression, disheveled appearance, dry skin, brittle hair, poor hygiene and little to no appetite or energy. Individuals who suffer from bulimia are often extremely fatigued and have difficulty concentrating on tasks. The lack of nourishment they receive through the foods they “consume” are minimal leading to a host of vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Long Term Effects of Bulimia – The long term effects of bulimia are wide ranging. The constant binging and purging dramatically affects the electrolyte balances within the body. This can lead to multiple conditions including chronic heart disease, kidney damage, the deterioration of bone, damage to the ovaries and irreparable damage to the digestive system. The longer the disease is allowed to progress, the more extensive the damage can be. For those who don’t attempt to seek viable treatment, the end result may be death.
One long term side effect of bulimia that many people don’t consider is its effect on the brain. The deficiency relating to electrolytes has a dramatic and, sometimes traumatic, effect on the brain. Not only are functions within the brain affected, but also a person’s mental and emotional state. As vitamin and mineral deficiencies begin to increase, the brain can begin to starve causing a person’s mental capacity and ability to process information to slow down dramatically. Combine that with the ever-present bouts of depression and a recipe for disaster is in the making.
Bullying and harassment can have an immediate impact physical portion of the body. When someone is bullied, their physical body resorts to a misguided form of damage control. Bodily processes slow down and a person’s fight or flight response begins to kick in. In some people, these feelings can cause intense emotional distress that leads to stomach upset, nausea and vomiting. The cycle of depression, binging and purging bring abnormal feelings of comfort to the bulimia victim.
Bulimia Side Effects – Bulimia affects the body on all levels. Not only does it cause depression and emotional upset, it causes muscle fatigue and cramping, physical fatigue, chronic pain, low blood pressure, organ failure and a severely depressed immune system. When a person lives with an eating disorder without getting sufficient treatment, the body can deteriorate to the point where death may occur without warning.
Side effects are often not noticeable in the early years of the disorder. While some may be apparent, others mimic the signs and symptoms of other health problems. If others do not recognize the possibility of a problem, the person may be able to hide the fact they have the disorder for months or even years without anyone ever finding out. Individuals who are closest to the patient may have a feeling that something is amiss, but a person who is bulimic quickly learns ways to cover their signs and symptoms, hiding them from all but the highly trained medical professionals who are adept at recognizing them.
Bulimia Teeth – Bulimia teeth are noticeable if people know what to look for. The teeth of a person who has bulimia often look rough, pitted and dull. The enamel of the teeth begins to wear away as acid is forced to continually wash over them when the person purges. Repeated contact with stomach acid continues to wear away the surface area of the tooth creating large pits and fissures form.
Individuals who are recovering from bulimia may have to have crowns put on their teeth to repair the extensive damage. Long term exposure to stomach acid can literally destroy teeth to the point that they may not be able to be adequately repaired. Crowns and caps can cover the damage, but when the acid penetrates deep inside the tooth, the damage may be to extensive to adequately repair with superficial coverings. When this occurs, they may have to be extracted and the person fitted with dentures.
Anorexia and Bulimia – Anorexia and bulimia are similar to one another in that a common train of thought often supports both conditions. Obsessive thoughts of being overweight or too heavy will lead a person to control their weight using drastic, sometimes dangerous, methods. While anorexia deals mainly with refusing food and nourishment, individuals who suffer from bulimia consume excessively large quantities of food only to go to the bathroom and vomit it back up.
They use the food as a source of comfort and allow themselves to consume as much as they want, sometimes doing so to the point where they are in physical pain and experience intense feelings of discomfort. When they have consumed everything they want, the feelings of guilt, remorse and obsession take over forcing them to vomit to regain their strange sense of normalcy.
For the bulimic person, binging and purging quickly becomes their “normal”. They become used to the concept and after several months, they no longer think about what they are doing. They just do it. While this way of thinking can be changed, it takes time and considerable effort. It will not happen over night. In some cases, this is the reason behind an inpatient treatment program. By staying at the facility, the patient is removed from the negative factors that allow them to convince themselves that their behavior is normal and acceptable.
Bulimia Treatment – For individuals who actually see a doctor for their disorder, treatment can take many forms. For individuals who see a physician early on, counseling can bring some comfort to the mental aspect of the disorder. By dealing with the mental and emotional aspects of the disorder, the patient’s self esteem and self image can be dramatically improved through counseling. When the bulimia is thought to have been caused by repeated bullying, the patient’s counselors may suggest an inpatient program to isolate the person and keep them away from negative influences.
Another facet is reinforcing the diet and re-establishing a healthy nutritional foundation. Supplements and protein shakes may be included to provide nutrients that are easily assimilated by the body. During counseling sessions, the physician will have to retrain the person to look at food in a more normal, acceptable manner. Food cannot be seen as the enemy. Individuals with bulimia may lose their sensation of taste due to the amount of stomach acid that washes over the tongue. Adding spices and natural flavorings may help them to begin to enjoy their foods once again.
In some cases, bulimia isn’t about the thought of gaining weight. Instead it is more about feelings of guilt and inadequacy. Many bulimics have no control over the amount of food they consume. They see food as a source of comfort and escape. As long as they are eating, they are in their comfort zone. When the food runs out or they decide they are finished, guilt and immediate remorse begin to set in causing them to want to be rid of their meal.
Breaking that cycle of destructive thinking is one of the hardest aspects of the person’s treatment plan. They must literally reprogram the way they think about food. This is no easy task when a person is constantly exposed to the negative elements in their environment. Leaving a person who is bulimic in the same destructive environment and expecting them to change their way of thinking and acting is like putting someone outside in a rainstorm and telling them to not get wet. It just can’t be done.
Bulimia Recovery – When a person begins on their recovery journey, they must want to take the first steps. If they do not want to change, all of the attempts by the physician, the counselors and family members will be for nothing. A person cannot be forced to do something when their heart and mind are not on board with the decision. Recovery will only begin when the person admits they have a problem.
Recovery programs can be found that are either inpatient or outpatient. They include counseling sessions as well as lessons on how to eat a healthy diet. Individuals who choose to go through a bulimia recovery program will be taught skills they can use to improve the way they think about themselves on all levels. Learning to see themselves through the eyes of others can be difficult for some, but it is a concept that must be learned if a person plans to improve.
Many recovery programs include exercises where individuals must learn how to appreciate their talents such as drawing, painting, writing, etc. Exploring these talents provides them with the concept that they are of value and have something to contribute to the world around them. Counselors and physicians will often use a variety of skills and techniques to pull a bulimic person out of their shell so that their true beauty can be seen by others as well as themselves.
In some cases, bulimia stories can be the pivot point for individuals who suffer with the disorder. Whether they are recovering or still in the grasp of the disorder, sharing stories can help others learn new and different ways of handling the many issues associated with bulimia. Counselors can only discuss the disorder from a clinical level. Putting bulimia patients in groups with other individuals who have recovered from the disorder, will allow them to see that there is life to be lived that does not include dangerous eating habits and unnecessary threats to their health.
Many treatment programs call for the patient to be placed with a mentor. The person chosen as a mentor would be in the advanced stages of their own recovery program. They would be sufficiently trained to help the client overcome moments of doubt and depression that could lead them into a relapse. The goal of the mentor is to show the patient they aren’t alone and help them get through the difficult times they will face both in and outside of the treatment facility.
Bulimia can tear a person down from the inside out. What starts as a physical condition can be aggravated by the mistreatment of others. Bullies who know and understand that their actions cause harm and discomfort will capitalize on them, pushing and pushing, until the person feels they have nowhere to turn. As the feelings of hopelessness continue, their physical health is put in jeopardy.
As their mental health deteriorates, the physical health begins to follow suit. Binging and purging, the use of diuretics, laxatives and enemas become common tools to help them reach their goals of weight loss and self-punishment.
When a person is able to admit they have a problem, they can begin the healing process. The road to recovery will be long and they will find many obstacles along the way. With the help of counselors, mentors, friends, family members and their highly qualified medical staff, the bulimic patient will be able to take the steps they need to get back on their feet and regain their good health.
Although the physical damage may not be able to be reversed, the body can be strengthened to the point that it is able to compensate for specific types of physical damage. Being able to consume a nutritious diet will help strengthen the body and improve how it functions on all levels.
Sources: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/bulimia_signs_symptoms_causes_treatment.htm, http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/bulimia-nervosa, http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/bulimia-nervosa.html, http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/bulimia-nervosa.html