Bulimia Essay, Research Paper
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by episodes of uncontrolled binge eating, often involving extremely large amounts of high-calorie foods, followed by induced vomiting or the use of laxatives, or diuretics to “purge” or cleanse the body of the food eaten during the binge. An estimated thirty percent of high school and college age girls use this method to stabilize their weight, and then it turns into a fixed pattern of conduct. The binge eating and purging are carried out in secret; therefore, the disease may go undetected for years. This is a serious medical and psychological problem with potentially dangerous complications.
The causes of bulimia are most often psychological in nature, and episodes of binging are often stress related. Binging may be a means by which an individual with bulimia attempts to manage emotions. It allows the person to focus away from unpleasant or uncomfortable emotional problems. Comfort is associated with emptiness after binging.
Many individuals who suffer from bulimia come from families in which they were subjected to physical or sexual abuse. In some families, substance abuse is also a factor. Many women started their first binge because of real or imagined male rejection. Others are perfectionists and overachievers with high standards but low self-esteem. Particularly if a woman’s basic emotional needs were not met in childhood, she may come to believe that her problems would be resolved if only she were attractive (that is, thin) enough, and this obsession leads to bulimia. There is literally a “morbid fear of fatness” (Weil 149).
This disorder affects many more women than men, especially those in professions that stress appearance, such as modeling, acting, or dancing (Balch 171). Obsession with weight can also result from social factors. In today’s society, we are bombarded with the message “thin is in”- and the thinner the better. As many as one in eight girls between the ages of thirteen and nineteen, including many college students, may have an eating disorder (Brody 205).
Your Perfect Weight says that bulimics who are purgers seldom eat a comfortable amount of food at the dinner table and stay for conversation. They will generally make a trip to the bathroom immediately following the meal to get rid of what they ate. They may turn the shower on to drown out the sounds of vomiting. However, bulimics often manage to starve themselves for brief periods of time as well. If they are able to ward off effectively the binge-purge behavior for a day or two, they may be able to fast or eat next to nothing during that period. These short rests from eating actually turn into a different type of purge. Most bulimics have tried every type of fad diet, read all the latest diet books, and at one time or another taken diet pills (Brody 134).
People with bulimia may also be obsessed with exercise as a means of controlling weight. In the book Why Are They Starving Themselves, Elaine Landau writes about one very attractive nineteen-year-old bulimic who had signed up for a different exercise class on each of five consecutive nights of the week. She claimed that in addition to helping her burn off calories, the classes also helped her to occupy her time and took her mind off the things that troubled her. Unfortunately, the classes ended at eight-thirty in the evening, which provided sufficient time for several binges before the woman went to bed. To guard against this possibility, she began to invite several of her girl friends over after class to continue to exercise to music with her in her den. This did not work as well as she had hoped, however. For one thing, most of her friends did not continue to join her after a few days, claiming that they had better things to do than execute fifty sit-ups every night. Two other friends, who did not share her bulimic compulsion, simply claimed that her workouts were too strenuous.
There are many indications of possible physiological elements in this disorder. For example, people with eating disorders tend to have a type of chemical imbalance similar to one found in persons with clinical depression. Both have high levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), a hormone produced by the pituitary gland that inhibits T cell function and thereby depresses immunity. People who suffer from bulimia may also have low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which can lead to cravings for simple carbohydrates- common binge foods.
Unlike people with anorexia, whose self-starvation eventually becomes obvious, those with bulimia can hide the disorder for long periods, even years, because their weight is usually in the normal range (some are even overweight) and like I mentioned before, the binging and purging is done in secret. There are however, many physical signs of bulimia. For example, bulimics may have bradycardia (low heart rate), constant heartburn, or irregular heartbeats, and may even go into cardiac arrest. They have potential kidney and liver failures, and may even have osteoporosis. They may get edema (tissue swelling from water retention) due to electrolyte imbalances. Bulimics may have extreme fluctuations in blood pressure, irregular menstrual periods, bloating, abdominal pain and cramps, internal bleeding, and they may even vomit out blood. They have severe damage to their bowels, and constantly have indigestion, gas, and constipation. They suffer from dehydration, fainting spells, insomnia, tremors, blurred vision, and swollen cheek glands. Bulimics have severe throat problems caused by stomach acids and esophageal scarring and dental decay from excessive vomiting. They have broken blood vessels in the face and under the eyes and have intestinal rupture from excessive use of laxatives.
People with bulimia often feel extremely guilty about their behavior, which is why they may successfully hide the disorder for years, even from their spouses and children. They gradually exclude friends and family and spend more and more time on their single-minded quest for food (Weil 211). The sudden disappearance of large quantities of food may not just be due to a large, healthy appetite. Groceries and money disappear from home constantly. The size of the binge varies depending on the food and the finances available. Some may binge occasionally while others may binge for a major part of the day. When money is not available, a bulimic may even steal food (Brody 97). Binging may be planned or unplanned.
Bulimia is a serious disease and it in many cases turns deadly. Each case is different, but every case is dangerous. I think that more people should take it seriously and realize that many people around them may have bulimia. We see “beautiful” skinny people every day in magazines and on television, and we aspire to look like them. The media gives us this picture of the ideal person and we automatically say to ourselves that this is how we’d like to look. Our attitudes are unhealthy and can ruin our physical and mental health. Bulimia is serious- it kills. Plain and simple- love yourself for who you are and what you look like, and other