Bulimia is an emotional disorder that distorts how one perceives their body image, leading to bouts of overeating followed by forced purging, vomiting, or fasting. Much has already been published about how eating disorders and mental health are intrinsically linked. Many of us might be more or less knowledgeable on how bulimia is caused by mental and emotional distress.
But there are many surprising ways bulimia can affect our physical health without us realizing it. Here are some surprising ways an eating disorder can affect our bodies and some steps to care for ourselves.
Since the pattern of binge-eating and forced vomiting can take a toll on our digestive system, we may experience the following side effects:
- Sore throat
- Stomach pain
- Dental problems since high acid content can cause enamel to break down
- Gum disease
- Tooth sensitivity
- Puffy jaws and cheeks
High acid content can also cause the following symptoms:
- Esophagus tears or irritation
- Esophagus rupture that produces blood in our vomit
- Stomach irritation
- Acid reflux, heartburn, and hyperacidity-related stomach pain
- Damage to our intestines can cause constipation, diarrhea, or bloating
In rare cases, it can also cause harm to the colon, especially if the eating disorder is accompanied by abusing laxatives. In cases like this, taking a FIT test for the colon might be prudent. These tests are accurate and answers arrive instantly, which can give an insight into the health of your colon.
Since purging or vomiting can be a violent event, bulimia can cause low blood pressure in the body, anemia, and a weak pulse. These conditions can help cause you to feel faint and weak regularly. It can also cause dehydration, which can then lead to extreme fatigue and weak muscles. It can also throw off your body’s electrolytes and can damage your heart in various ways.
Because purging constantly can cause a body to have nutritional deficiencies, many people with bulimia can suffer from hormonal imbalances. It can also kill one’s sex drive. Bulimia and anorexia nervosa can also disrupt one’s menstrual cycle, either by delaying it or stopping it altogether. And when a body’s ovaries no longer produce eggs, it becomes impossible for sperm to fertilize, affecting the body’s ability to reproduce.
Not many people know that bulimia can also cause damage to the body’s skin, hair, and nails. Since dehydration is one of the biggest consequences of frequent purging, it’s possible for people who are bulimic to lose their hair or experience having their hair be unhealthy, frizzy, or dry. Dry nails and skin are also some of the most common side effects of dehydration.
If you or someone you know is having an experience with bulimia, here are some steps you can take to help them or yourself:
- Start by being kind—to yourself or the sufferer. Often people develop eating disorders because they have experienced so much unkindness from external forces about how they should weigh, and they have begun to internalize those voices. The road to recovery ultimately begins by acknowledging that there is a problem and that you need help, and it is not a weakness to admit that.
- Tell someone you trust and whom you know you can be safe with. Ask them to help you tell your primary care provider—the first person who can ultimately provide you with practical help.
- Trust your doctor, especially when they start recommending mental health professionals to certain facilities. If they provide specific tools to help battle your tendencies, give them a chance.
- Be specific about the kind of help you need. If you need someone to listen and don’t necessarily need advice, tell them that. If you need someone to go with you to the hospital, be specific about this as well. If there are other ways you feel you can be supported in your recovery without feeling like your eating habits are being policed, tell them as well.
- The same is also true if you’re more of a caregiver or supporter: Ask your loved one who is suffering how they can feel helped and supported. Don’t just assume you know what they need or force them into a specific course of action. Listen to them, validate their pain, and ask how you can help.
Bulimia can be a devastating disease, but it’s one that we can recover from. Know that it’s never too late and that help is available, and you don’t have to battle it alone.