Bulimia Side Effects

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Bulimia is an eating disorder characterized by the patient forcibly vomiting after eating, normally with the intention of losing weight, but other times for other psychological reasons – such as a desire to regress to a more child-like state, or due to actual enjoyment of the sensation of vomiting itself. Those with bulimia then will force themselves to be sick either by producing a gag reflex or by retching and this will often increase in frequency and/or severity as time passes.

This then often has the desired effect of making the individual thinner as they do not digest fats or carbohydrates. However at the same time this also causes many side effects – some of which go above and beyond the side effects caused by other eating disorders such as anorexia. Here we will look at bulimia side effects, what they are and why they occur. Bulimia is a very serious condition and if you or anyone you know is suffering from it then it is highly important that you get it addressed before these side effects get too severe or cause irreversible damage.

Damage to the Esophagus

The esophagus is the technical term for the tube in our throat that carries food down (and on occasion up). This is designed in order to allow us to swallow foods which are edible and saliva will lubricate and break up those foods as we do. However on occasions where we vomit, this brings up not only food, but also the more powerful stomach acids that our body uses to break down larger and more difficult-to-digest foods. When these are brought into the esophagus this can present a problem as they will burn through the delicate lining. While this won’t be enough to cause lasting damage, if you are being repeatedly sick – as a bulimic patient is likely to – then it will cause you to be repeatedly damaging the esophagus in a way that can’t be reversed. This can also further cause damage to the vocal chords which can affect your voice.

Acid Reflux

Constantly being sick can also cause digestive problems, and specifically this will include acid reflux where acid gets through your esophageal sphincter more easily even when you are not being sick. This can cause heart burn and further damage the lining of your esophagus.

Stomach Ulcers

At the same time constantly filling and emptying your stomach will mean you often have a stomach filled with acid and nothing else. This can make stomach ulcers more likely, as well as infections of the stomach lining.

Mineral Deficiency

Bulimic patients often do not allow the food in their stomach to sit long enough for any the nutrients or minerals to be absorbed into the bloodstream. That then causes deficiencies which lead to a range of other problems. Such as…

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis can occur as a result of either a deficiency of calcium in the body, or an inability of the body to utilize that calcium. Thus bulimia can lead to osteoporosis which means various joint problems and brittle bones which can be highly dangerous.

Dry Skin and Hair Loss

It is ironic in a way that many people begin to develop bulimic tendencies as a result of a desire to look attractive and slim; for most people of course that level of slimness is not attractive, but furthermore the lack of vitamins and minerals as well as fats can cause the skin to dry out and flake and hair to fall out.

Infertility

A Freudian explanation for bulimia and anorexia is that the patient is trying to regain their childhood and prevent aging. The cause of this belief is that starving the body is a method by which women can prevent a lot of their normal development (bulimia and anorexia are both more predominant in women which is often used as support for this argument). Over time this will disrupt the menstrual cycle, the slimness will lead to a lack of visible breasts, and ultimately it will lead to complete infertility – which may be irreversible.

Weakness

When you stop digesting your food this prevents you from adding fat to your frame, but at the same time it also prevents you from adding muscle for which we need high amounts of the amino acids found in protein. Likewise a lack of calcium will limit the strength of your contractions. You can also expect to experience very low energy as a result of a lack of carbs for the body to burn and low iron etc.

Low Mood

What you eat directly affects your brain and which chemicals it produces. Hunger for instance will tend to lead to feelings of anxiety (coupled with a rapid heartbeat) and depression – and you won’t get the usual mood-boosting dopamine hit which our body releases when you eat.

Elimination Problems

A lack of normal digestion as well as a lack of the normal foods and substances in your system can lead to elimination problems such as diarrhea and constipation.

Dental Damage

The acid in your vomit won’t only damage your stomach and esophagus. At the same time it will also damage and stain your teeth as you evacuate your system.

Insomnia

One of the paradoxes of bulimia is that although you will be incredibly tired, you will also be unable to sleep and will find yourself tossing and turning throughout the night.

Immune System Damage

Your immune system is the part of your body which fights off illnesses and helps us to repair damage. Like any other function in the body however this requires energy to operate and that means that if you are not getting all the food you need then it won’t be able to run at full power. At the same time a lack of vitamin C and antioxidants will mean that your immune system is left to fend for itself without help which makes the task much more difficult – and it will be very busy running around putting out fires elsewhere that exist as a result of your lack of nutrients which means it will be stretched in too many directions. This means that bulimic patients can expect to suffer lots of illnesses and to find that their wounds do not heal as quickly as they should.

Social Issues

You can expect to suffer many social issues as a result of bulimia – you may be able to eat in public for instance, and you might find that you smell of vomit after throwing up. All of this can be further isolating and contribute to existing psychological issues.

Body Dysmorphia

Body dysmorphia is a condition where individuals do not see themselves as they really are. In other words a bulimic patient will often start off trying to lose a little weight, but then not know when to stop and even when they are a size 0 they’ll still believe themselves to be drastically overweight. This is partly what makes bulimia so addictive and so dangerous – and even though they are buying tiny clothes this won’t be enough to convince them that they are slim. This in turn causes other emotional and psychological issues.

Low Esteem

For instance the fact that you believe yourself to be overweight, and further believe yourself to be unable to lose that weight, will of course negatively affect your self esteem. This can then leave you feeling insecure about your appearance and in general and combined with the effects that bulimia has on mood and immune system this can then be enough to cause general depression.

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Susan Knowlton

8 comments

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  • Many (most?) bulimics do not keep getting thinner and end up a size zero. This article is misleading and incomplete.

  • Idk what this Helen person is talking about, but I have a friend, best friend actually, who is severely bulimic and I for one find it quite frightening. I think this article is completely accurate; I have noticed these symptoms before I even read about bulimia. Yes, we all have learned about eating disorders in school and what not however you don't really learn until you read more and more information on them. They are very scary, even for the people that have to sit there and watch it. Knowing, that my friend would get very upset and angry, probably hurting herself in the process, I have not gotten as far as talking to her about help. I am planning on helping her as much as I can, but you can only help so much before they have to do it on their own. She has been bulimic for almost 2 years now, and it's very terrible. Her teeth are falling out of her mouth, her hair isn't even close to her shoulders because its falling out, she ends over just to pick something up and she throws up in her mouth because the acid has burnt up everything that's suppose to stop this, my toilets mold because she throws up so much in them and doesn't clean them, she binge eats every chance she gets, even with other people's food, she weighs almost 95lbs when she is 5'8" and USED to weigh 140lbs in high school. She is only 20yrs old, and is this bad already. I am scared, not only for her but just like the article said, she hasn't had her cycle in 8mths. when you're suppose to have it every month. She has no future in having a family, nor does she have any desire to get better. You know it's gotten bad when someone says, she doesn't have a problem until she throws up blood. It shouldn't have to even get close to that far. It's a disgusting, scary, tragic, and unfortunate disease. That no one should have to experience. Do I know what it's like? No, but I am living through it and watching it every single day with my best friend of almost 7yrs. If anyone knows of a place that will help me and my friend, please let me know asap. I need help, helping her. Thank you!

  • This was very helpful; I have struggled with THIS DISORDER FOR EIGHTEEN YEARS NOW, AND IT'S VERY HARD TO DEAL WITH ALL OF THE SIDE EFFECTS, AND THE DAMAGE CAUSED… IT'S HORRIBLE! For the last few years I have had voice problems, throat problems etc… In the last few weeks it seems my throat has progressed to hardly being able to swallow at all. I also have had a lot of sleep issues that have now brought understanding after reading this… Thank you!

  • Dental damage seems to be much more severe among bulimics. Heart arrhythmias, electrolyte imbalances, the possibility of slowing down your metabolism, addiction component, control hypothesis, triggers and its use as coping mechanism, the fact that bulimics can be overweight and underweight… Shall I go on? Besides you can compensate all the side effects to some degree and never suffer from or overcome body dysmorphia… not have fear foods ever again. You may like your body as it is, but still get caught in the pattern during relapses triggered by stressors. So how do you account for that? Just your good ole coping mechanism… So people… even if you never fully recover and have some relapses every few years like me… yeah it takes a toll on you, but you can live a normal life. — I work in mental health, btw.

  • As a sufferer of bulimia myself, I find this to be wholly inaccurate in several parts. Maybe the most major side effect is missing, sudden death due to cardiac arrest that can occur at any time due to electrolyte imbalance. Most people with bulimia do not lose weight and instead often gain it as the huge volume of food consumed in binges (again, not mentioned and is one of the main "symptoms" along side the purging/vomiting) is more than the amount of food able to be brought back up with most people. Those who do lose a lot of weight and purge simply after eating normally, not a binge will most likely either fall into an anorexia purge or binge/purge diagnosis or an ednos diagnosis (eating disorder not otherwise specified).

  • Very helpful, I myself do not suffer from this but after eating presumably bad food (eggs which I could not smell that were bad) I had no choice but to force myself to throw up, and this gave me a very good insight as to what could've happened, even if only minor in my case. Thanks!

Susan Knowlton

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