Bulimia nervosa is a type of eating disorder that causes teenagers and others suffering from it to consume excessive amounts of food in one sitting and then somehow purge the food from their bodies. Some bulimics remove the food by forcing themselves to vomit; others abuse laxatives or other medications. Teenage girls, particularly those in college, are more likely to suffer from bulimia than boys or younger teenagers.
Bulimia has three features: out-of-control binge eating, purging the body of the food and self-esteem connected to how a teenager looks and how much she weighs, according to HelpGuide.org. A bulimic is likely to focus too much on her weight and appearance. She may also be very secretive about her eating habits and may refuse to eat in social settings, like restaurants or parties. During a binge, she may eat until she feels physically ill. When not binging, she may skip regular meals. While some bulimics physically remove the food from their bodies to compensate for the binge, others may fast after binging or exercise to the point of excess.
Although you may associate a rail-thin teenager with an eating disorder, most bulimics weigh a normal amount or are slightly overweight. More tell-tale physical symptoms come from frequent purging. A teenager suffering from bulimia may have calluses on her hands from using her fingers to induce vomiting. Her teeth may look yellow and her cheeks swollen, also from frequent vomiting. Bulimics who use laxatives to purge may suffer from constipation as a result of overuse.
Often, bulimia is connected to other mental health and emotional issues. A bulimic may also struggle with depression or an anxiety disorder, according to MayoClinic.com. She may feel guilty about her eating habits or complain of feeling out of control. She may also be incredibly harsh on herself and feel that she is never good enough.
If a bulimic does not get help, she risks severe complications or even death. Abusing certain medicines, such as ipecac syrup, can lead to heart failure and cardiac arrest, according to HelpGuide.org. Purging can also disrupt the balance of electrolytes in her body, leading to low potassium levels. A lack of potassium can make a bulimic feel foggy and lethargic. It can also cause heart and kidney problems. Women with bulimia may stop getting their period.
Support and Treatment
If your teenager exhibits symptoms of bulimia, you can help her get treatment and find support for yourself. Therapy will help her learn to deal with emotional problems and break the binging and purging cycle. You may wish to join a support group for other parents of bulimics. At home, set a good example for your teenager by not being obsessed with dieting and by establishing regular meal times. Don’t berate your teenager for not eating and don’t try to monitor her every bite, as doing so may only make the problem worse.