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Bulimia nervosa

 

The average onset of bulimia nervosa occurs at 18-19 years old, the age of most first year university students.

 

Over the past twenty years, the number of people suffering from eating disorders in the UK has risen rapidly.

Although there has been a fair amount of focus on anorexia nervosa in the media, less is known about bulimia nervosa, the eating disorder that Princess Diana suffered from.

Bulimia is characterised by periods of excessive eating followed by ‘purging’ (vomiting, taking laxatives, or periods of not eating anything) to ensure that no weight gain occurs. These ‘binge-purge’ cycles often occur as a way to cope with stress and emotional problems, and soon become an obsession that is hard to break free from.

Many people with bulimia suffer from other mental health disorders. A recent study in the US showed that around half of all patients diagnosed with binge eating disorders such as bulimia have a history of depression. Also, suffering from bulimia may cause depression and other mental disorders to manifest. Low self esteem, stress and social pressures to be slim may also cause the onset of bulimia.

Bulimia is a mental health disorder but it causes physical health problems too. These may include teeth and gum problems, osteoporosis, chemical imbalances, bowel problems (due to excessive use of laxatives), an abnormal heartbeat and tearing of the oesophagus. Left untreated, these problems can become serious and even life threatening.

Although the risk of death of bulimia sufferers is lower than that of anorexia suffers, people with bulimia may still die from complications linked to the disease. It is mainly women who suffer from bulimia, although the number of cases seen in men has steadily risen over the years.

The onset of bulimia is usually triggered by stressful life events or transitions, like going through a bad breakup or leaving for university, and it becomes a negative coping mechanism.

Interestingly, the average onset of bulimia nervosa occurs at 18-19 years old – the age of most first year students. Statistics show that 1 in 20 female university students in the UK suffers from bulimia. This is perhaps not surprising, given how stressful university life can be, but is a worryingly high percentage, and means that there are a lot of university students who need help.

If you are suffering from bulimia nervosa (or know someone who is), it’s important to get help as soon as possible. Admitting that you have a problem is the first step. Talking to someone, a trusted friend perhaps, about your problem is also a good idea – they can support you in getting help. It is also imperative that you seek professional help to regain healthy attitudes to food and eating.

Although a lot of progress has been made in understanding bulimia nervosa in recent years, there is still much that needs to be understood. The fact that 5 out of 10 sufferers of bulimia are still not completely healthy 10 years after diagnosis means that work needs to be done to formulate more effective treatment plans for this eating disorder.

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