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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.