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Bulimia - The Destruction of Self
Bulimia nervosa, more commonly known simply as bulimia or binge and purge disorder, is an eating disorder that affects 1 in 4 college-aged women in America, or 1 in 10,000 Americans. The most common misconception concerning bulimia is that it is simply a physical or mental problem. Many people do not understand that bulimia is a disease that affects both the mind and the body, and in its course can destroy both aspects of the diseased individual.
Bulimia affects a variety of different people, but generally the victims will fall tend to fall into certain categories. Those at highest vulnerability to this disease are young adult females, ages 12 to 18. The disease, however, can start as early as elementary school, or much later in life. Others (such as athletes competing in sports such as ballet, gymnastics, ice-skating, diving, etc.) may also be pressured into starting bulimic habits. Males who perform in athletics such as wrestling and dance are at high risk for developing the disease as well. Victims of bulimia can often be linked to being victims of verbal, physical, and/or sexual abuse, though not all are. Bulimia may also contain ties to diseases such as clinical or manic depression. Bulimics often start out with anorexa (starvation and excessive exercising), or may turn to anorexia after being bulimic.
Bulimia is marked by significant cycles in eating habits. Bulimics will often starve themselves (calorie/food/fat intake restriction -- sometimes with the help of diet pills or supplements) for extended periods of time prior to a massive binge, during which they consume abnormal amounts of food in a short period of time. These binges are followed by purging, which generally is constituted by self-induced vomiting. Other methods of purging the body include the use of diuretics, laxatives, and excessive exercising. Bulimics are generally within what is considered to be a "normal" weight range, but see themselves as being overly fat, or suffer from an intense fear of gaining weight. They often do realize that they have a problem, but by that point the cycle has become an obsession. Bulimics usually weigh themselves frequently, even several times daily.
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Bulimia is a disease that affects the entire body, as well. The first marks are often seen on the fingers and hands of the diseased individual. They will usually have small cuts, calluses, or blisters where the teeth rub against the skin while inducing vomiting. The face will generally get swollen, particularly around the jawline and where the glands in the neck begin. Capillaries in the cheek soften rupture due to frequent vomiting. Ulcers form in the esophagus and stomach, which can eventually lead to a complete rupture of the organ. The perpetual contact with stomach acid can lead to esophageal cancer. Often, in the rush to remove the food from their bodies, bulimics will scratch and tear the back of the throat, causing minor or major bleeding. The exposure to stomach acids causes a decalcification of the teeth, which will eventually (if continued) lead to the receeding of the gumline and the actual falling out of teeth. Bulimics also tend to lose the use of their gag reflexes after a certain point, but will usually have developed reflex vomiting by that point in the course of the disease. Female bulimics can develop amennorhea, the loss of the menstrual cycle, which can lead to forms of ovarian and uterine cancer, as well as infertility. The body often does not receive enough nutrients and electrolyte imbalances occur and disrupt the bodily functions on an ionic level. After a few months of the continual cycle, the individual's hair and skin will become dry, and the hair may start to fall out. Their nails will become brittle and break easily. They suffer from nausea, fatigue, dizziness, and often have more injuries than a non-bulimic individual (such as stress fractures). The stress of the forcing of food out from the stomach puts strain on the individual's heart, and can cause palpitations and even cardiac arrest. Their bones eventually weaken, and they are at risk of an early onset of osteoporosis. The bulimic's kidneys eventually shut down because the body is not receiving enough water. After an extended period of time, all organs of the body not necessary for day-to-day survival will shut down. The intestines shut down too, due either to an automatic shutdown for the sake of survival, or due to obstruction. In short, it really does affect the body in its entirety.
The aids to bulimia also have various hazardous side effects on the body. Diuretics are pills taken to reduce the weight due to water, and therefore cause dehydration. They can also deplete the body of necessary potassium and sodium levels, as well as cause heart irregularities. Laxatives are pills taken to speed up the digestive process, and can cause stomachaches and cramps. They can also cause heartburn, heart problems, and permanent damage to all parts of the digestive tract. The self-induced vomiting (aside from the listed damages) can cause defecation problems such as constipation an diarrhea. Diet pills, also considered a form of speed, are addictive and cause heart palpitations. They are habit-forming which can lead to lethal overdoses. Diet supplements are the most deceptive of the aids to bulimia. Most often they contain a drug called ma huang, which can cause high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, and even death.
The major methods of treatment for bulimia will usually begin with hospitalization, if necessary. During the stay in the hospital, the patient will receive proper nutrients while their eating habits are scrupulously monitored. They will endure many blood tests and the like, and will eventually be released once they achieve proper nutritional levels and weight. The patient may then be retained on outpatient status, and receive psychotherapy between weekly visits to the doctor for weighing and testing. Some patients suffer from the disorder so severely that they must be institutionalized, for their own good. In the institutions, they go through various individual and group therapy sessions, and medical treatments. Anti-depressants are often prescribed to fight off the emotional cycle. Patients may eventually be removed from the medications, and then eventually have the number of hospital visits and therapy sessions reduced until they are deemed psychologically sound and capable of maintaining normal eating habits. They still must be watched closely at home, and go for specified weighing sessions and psychological evaluations, as people with eating disorders are never truly "cured," per se. Eating disorders are a lifelong battle, just like alcoholism or other addictions.
Bulimia is a disease that can be stopped, if the warning signs are caught early enough. Bulimics face a long, hard road to recovery, frequently plagued by relapses, but in the long run usually discover that it was all worth it. More importantly, though, bulimia and other eating disorders can be prevented. Once society comes to terms with natural body shapes, and once humans learn more about being more kind to one another, it is certain that the rates of incidence would drop drastically. It is imperative to the health of humanity that people overcome the media-fed images of beauty and perfection. Only then will we, and the victims of disordered eating, see our true worth.