Bulimia nervosa is one of several eating disorders common in teenage girls. Adolescence is a time of learning about oneself, but it’s also a time of great self-doubt. For teenage girls with bulimia nervosa, normal self-exploration and doubt can take on a destructive dimension. If you’re concerned about your teenage daughter’s image of herself, read on to learn more about this life-threatening disorder.
What is Bulimia Nervosa?
Bulimia primarily consists of uncontrolled episodes of overeating, known as binging, followed by self-induced vomiting, known as purging. Those who suffer from this condition may also misuse laxatives, enemas or diuretic medications that reduce their weight by inducing urination. They may fast or use excessive exercise to control their weight. In formally diagnosed cases of bulimia, binging occurs at least twice a week for three months, but it can occur as often as several times a day in severe cases.
What Causes Bulimia
Although the cause of bulimia is not technically known, teens with bulimia have an unhealthy body image, to an obsessive level. They see themselves as overweight, disgusting and out of control even when they are not. Teens tend to be sensitive to criticism from peers, and if a teen has been taunted about her weight, this can drive her to extreme behavior in order to conform to what she believes is normal.
Who is Affected by Bulimia?
Most people who suffer from bulimia are adolescent girls, usually from high socioeconomic groups. This commonality is seen in many different countries and cultures around the globe. Teens who develop bulimia are more likely to come from families with a history of eating disorders, physical illness or other mental health issues such as mood disorders or substance abuse. It is not uncommon for teens with bulimia to also suffer from anxiety or mood disorders or other mental health problems.
Types of Bulimia
Bulimia manifests itself in one of two main types: purging and non-purging. Teens with the purging type regularly engage in self-induced vomiting or misuse of medications to increase the clearing of their intestines. The non-purging type engages in other inappropriate behaviors like fasting or excessive exercise. They tend to not regularly binge and purge, but engage in other behaviors in order to reduce their caloric intake or the absorption of calories in the body.
Symptoms of Bulimia
Every teen is different, but some of the most common symptoms of bulimia include a child who views herself as overweight when she is of normal or low body weight, secretive binging episodes coupled with a fear of not being able to stop eating, secretive self-induced vomiting, excessive exercising, fasting, peculiar eating habits or rituals involving food, use of laxatives, anxiety and absence of menstruation. These girls also often are depressed and seem discouraged about themselves and their appearance, have a preoccupation with food, weight and body shape and overachieving behaviors. The first noticeable physical symptoms may be a decline in oral health and scarring on the tips of their fingers from the acids produced by self-induced vomiting.
How Eating Disorders are Diagnosed
Mental health professionals are adept at diagnosing bulimia. A mental health professional can take a detailed behavioral history from the teen’s friends and family and make observations of the child herself. Eating disorders, even in the early stages, can permanently affect your child’s health. Left unchecked, death is a tangible risk.
If you notice symptoms of bulimia in your child or teen, early evaluation and treatment is the key to preventing future problems. Havenwood Academy offers residential treatment programs designed to help girls overcome eating disorders. Contact Havenwood Academy today if you suspect that your daughter or another young woman in your care may be suffering from bulimia nervosa.