Unlike anorexia nervosa, those who fall into the bulimic category, go through cyclical periods of excessive eating, followed by a purging action such as vomiting or putting themselves under gruelling exercise regimes - all in an effort to prevent weight gain.
The symptoms of bulimia
The symptoms of bulimia appear in a range of ways:
- Binge eating - Eating excessively, consuming very large amounts of food within a short period of time. Often the eating can take on a somewhat frenzied nature.
- Purging - Forcing oneself to vomit after binge eating. Sometimes people use laxatives or go through an intense exercise regime to prevent weight gain.
- Fear of weight gain
- Intense self-criticism regarding own body weight or shape.
- Intense mood swings, with high anxiety.
What is the Binge/Purge cycle?
Bingeing and Purging is a cycle of behaviour that include compulsive thoughts and negative emotions - especially towards oneself in relation to body image.
The cycle of binge/purge often begins with an extreme, punishing, or restrictive diet. The diet’s intensity often leads the sufferer to crack, driving them to binge eat; often in a state where they completely let go of their self-control.
Binge eating is often followed by an intense and crippling period of self-hatred or a feeling of letting oneself down, rapidly driving the sufferer into a purging behaviour, often as a way of punishing their lack of self-control.
This pattern of behaviours typically repeats over and over again, while the sufferer may find it impossible to stop. Recognising the situations and emotional states that trigger this pattern is key to treating the condition.
What triggers this pattern of behaviours?
Each binge/purge cycle is likely to be triggered by an event or a series of events. The triggers - in themselves - may not have created the eating disorder, but their occurrence will set the sufferer on the next cycle.
Binges often stem from a period of food deprivation, however subtle. And often that period of food deprivation is triggered by feelings of sadness, loneliness, guilt or feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
These emotional states can arise quickly or over a longer period of time. They may be triggered by an argument or situation involving criticism. Emotional eating through bingeing often provides a brief period of relief or numbing of negative feelings, but are always followed by a sense of self-hatred. The rhythm of bingeing and purging often reflect the push and pull of intimacy and ambivalent attachments.
The Bulimic’s Internal World
- A need for control - often occurring in those who feel a lack of control in the lives either in the present or the past.
- Unmet needs
- Difficulty in managing their emotional life - often related to the secrecy accompanied by the binge/purge cycle.
- Poor problem-solving skills - often as a result of a lack of mental clarity