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What is it?
Bulimia is an eating disorder characterised by uncontrollable bouts of over-eating followed by self-induced vomiting or laxative abuse to get rid of the food. It is a condition which totally consumes the person so that their every waking hour is spent thinking about food, food, more food and then how to get rid of it. Similar to anorexia, bulimia is rooted in low self-esteem and despite being happy to have lost weight initially, people with bulimia are avoiding tackling their unresolved anxieties by believing that their physical appearance is the cause of their problems. They believe that by controlling their weight, they will gain control of their lives.
How can you tell if you are bulimic?
Read down through the following list and tick which ones might apply to you:
- Do you repeatedly avoid meals and eat a lot on your own?
- Do you go to the bathroom after you've eaten and cause yourself to vomit?
- Do you take laxatives?
- Does your weight fluctuate a lot over a short period of time?
- Do you hide food?
- Do you spend excessive amounts on food, sweets, cakes, chocolate and biscuits?
- Do you weigh yourself often?
- Are you always thinking about food?
- Are you generally dissatisfied with the way you look and wish that you could change?
- Do you go on impromptu walks - often to buy food?
- Do you binge and, if so, do you do it secretly?
- Do you find yourself feeling lonely, isolated and disinterested in social life, work and studying?
- Do you have a generally apathetic and depressive outlook on life?
There's a fair chance that if some or all of these questions apply, then eating normally has become a problem even though you may not be aware of it. Read on to understand a little more.
What is a binge?
A binge is when a person eats large amounts of high calorie food in a short space of time and they are totally out of control. Feeling tremendously guilty for what they have just done, a person with bulimia often feels they must punish themselves by 'getting rid' of all this food and hence will often feel a great sense of relief after vomiting.
What causes bulimia?
There is no one cause of bulimia; each person is different and suffers with it for different reasons. What is known is that people with bulimia tend generally to come across as extroverted, very 'together' and confident. Behind this mask, however, is a person with many self-doubts and fears about not being able to cope, not fitting in and an overall poor level of self-esteem. What causes this could be many factors...some possible examples are family eating habits, losses (bereavement), social/peer pressure, rape, child sexual abuse, stress etc.
- Menstrual irregularities
- Dental problems
- Swollen salivary glands
- Sore throats
- Drastic weight fluctuations
- Anameia (iron deficiency)
- Swollen feet and ankles
- Low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy or worthlessness
- Fear of losing control while eating
- Social isolation
- Mood swings
- A high need to achieve in order to attain approval from others
Recovering from bulimia is hard work...but not impossible. People who have had it say that the hardest part is a) accepting that you are bulimic and b) that you want to do something about it. A major problem is that you need food to live so overcoming bulimia means that you have to find a different way of coping with our day to day living. There are fee and confidential services available on campus which will be able to help you take the first step. They are:
- The Counselling service. You can make an appointment with any of our counsellors, e-mail us or contact us at Room C120, Ground Floor of Áras de Brún.
- Meet other students in the same situation. There is nothing worse than feeling alone so if you would like to meet other people in the same situation, the counsellors will be able to give you times and venues to meet these groups.
- The Medical Centre. Nurses and doctors are available between 9am and 5pm who would be more than happy to check you out or answer any queries regarding healthy dieting etc. They can be reached on the first floor of Áras na Mac Léinn (next to Students Union).
The National University of Ireland, Galway Student Counselling Service wishes to thank the counselling service of The University of Limerick for granting permission to reproduce this fact sheet.