Bulimia in Teenagers: Signs and Symptoms

Understanding Bulimia in Troubled Teens

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Bulimia nervosa is a type of eating disorder characterized by repeated episodes of binge eating followed by behavior to compensate for the excessive amount of food consumed. This can include purging, fasting, over-exercising or the abuse of laxatives and diuretics to prevent gaining weight. The cycle of overeating and then purging can become compulsive, in some ways similar to an addiction to drugs.

Incidence of Bulimia in Teens

The prevalence of bulimia cases in the US is 12 cases per 100,000 population per year, however, a European study shows that number to be as much as 12% of females over a lifetime. Most bulimics are female. But this is an eating disorder that males tend to have as they use the excessive exercise to lose weight and build muscle. This eating disorder can be triggered by stress, ineffective dieting, or as an attempt to deal with painful emotions or impaired body image. Purging behaviors make bulimia very harmful to the body. If you have any concerns your teen may be suffering from bulimia seek a professional evaluation from a physician or mental health professional.

Signs of Bulimia in Teens

Early intervention improves the chances for a teens' successful recovery from an eating disorder. It may be hard to face the signs of bulimia in your teen, but it's important to be vigilant in ensuring your child's eating patterns are normal.

However, there is cause for concern if you witness one or more of the following symptoms of bulimia:

  • Eating a significantly larger amount of food in a limited period of time than most people would typically eat, known as bingeing.
  • Feeling unable to control or stop eating once a binge starts.
  • Continuing to eat even if feeling uncomfortably full.
  • Expressing frequent concerns about body weight or shape.
  • Experiencing feelings of guilt, shame or anxiety after eating.
  • Purging food from the body after overeating to avoid gaining weight and as an attempt to regain a sense of control.
  • Skipping meals or going on extreme diets to 'make up' for bingeing behaviors.
  • Extreme fear of gaining weight.
  • Using breath mints to cover up after vomiting.
  • Unreasonably discontent with body size or shape.
  • Abnormal or abusive use of diet pills or diuretics over time for weight control.
  • Spending lots of time in the bathroom, usually throwing up.
  • Excessive exercise, at inappropriate times or settings, or even when sick or injured.

The Impact of Bulimia on Troubled Teens

Bulimia can have a devastating impact on teens. It's important to educate yourself and your teen about the harmful effects of bulimia on the body, mind, and soul. While a full recovery from the physical effects of bulimia can be had, the mental and emotional effects can last a lifetime. Here are the major health consequences of bulimia:

  • Mineral or electrolyte imbalances
  • Abnormal bowel function
  • Destruction of tooth enamel
  • Broken blood vessels in the eyes
  • Anemia
  • Becoming moody or depressed
  • Substance abuse
  • Hormone problems
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Rupturing in the esophageal wall due to vomiting
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Death

Sources

Michaela Nagl,Corinna Jacobi,Martin Paul, Katja Beesdo-Baum, Michael Höfler, Roselind Lieb, Hans-Ulrich Wittchen. Prevalence, incidence, and natural course of anorexia and bulimia nervosa among adolescents and young adults. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 2016 Jan 11. pp 1-16

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