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What are the most common signs of bulimia nervosa?

Bulimia nervosa is a serious illness characterised by eating large amounts of food in a short amount of time, followed by inappropriate compensatory behaviours such as vomiting, using laxatives, restricting food and exercising to avoid gaining weight.

Statistics show that bulimia affects twice as many people as anorexia[1], and can affect up to 8% of the population over the course of their lives. The most common age for experiencing bulimia nervosa is between 16 and 44 years of age, with twice as many women being affected than men.

What are the common feelings associated with ‘binging’?

Similar to anorexia nervosa, people suffering from bulimia place great significance on their body shape and weight. This focus can negatively impact their self-worth and prompt them to engage in binging behaviours in an effort to manage their uncomfortable emotions.

During a binge episode, a person will usually feel a loss of control. They are often unaware of what, and how much, they are eating and feel unable to stop. Intense feelings of shame and guilt typically follow, which causes the person to engage in behaviours in an attempt to get rid of the food or stop them from gaining weight.

By using binging and purging as a coping strategy for negative feelings, people become trapped in a vicious cycle that is difficult to stop without professional support.

How to spot the signs of bulimia nervosa

Common signs of bulimia nervosa include:

  • Frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food, often in a short period of time
  • Lack of control over eating and secrecy surrounding eating
  • Alternating between overeating and restricting food intake
  • Frequent fluctuations in weight
  • Going to the bathroom after meals (to induce vomiting)
  • Using laxatives or exercising after eating
  • Tooth decay and bad breath, calluses or scars on the knuckles or hands caused by excessive vomiting
  • Depressed mood and irritability, withdrawal from social interactions
  • Irregular menstrual cycles

It is important to remember that people suffering from bulimia nervosa will often feel embarrassed or ashamed of their behaviours. They will often try to hide their binging and purging episodes from those around them.

Unfortunately, bulimia is yet another dangerous condition that, if left untreated, can lead to severe health consequences, such as damaging teeth, mouth and the digestive tract, and in severe cases, electrolyte imbalances that can lead to heart failure. If you are worried about someone, it is important to talk to them.

How to speak to a loved one who is showing signs of bulimia nervosa?

We understand that talking to a loved one showing signs of bulimia can be difficult.

Promote an open discussion, where the person feels comfortable talking to you and discussing their worries or insecurities. During the conversation, speak calmly without getting angry, frustrated or emotional. Try to maintain a non-judgemental and friendly attitude. Most importantly, don’t give up, and try to encourage the person to seek help.

What treatment is available for Bulimia Nervosa

In line with best practice guidelines, the Priory Wellbeing Centre Dubai utilises evidence-based treatment to support people suffering from bulimia nervosa. The first-line recommended treatment for bulimia nervosa is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Eating Disorders, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy and Integrative Cognitive-Affective Therapy.

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT):

Cognitive behaviour therapy, more popularly known as CBT, focuses on recognising how your thoughts and attitudes shape the way you behaviour. Our goal in using this line of treatment is to provide you with the healthy tools and coping mechanisms to help you adapt your way of thinking and behaviour, in order to live a healthier and happier life. Our treatment programmes are adapted to each person’s specific needs; however in general, you would meet your counsellor on a weekly basis for approximately 6-20 sessions.

  • Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT):

Dialectical Behavioural Therapy is comprised on both group based and individual therapy. This particular therapy type focuses on you as the individual and equips you with the training and skills to teach you how to understand yourself better and accept yourself for the person you are. You will benefit from peer support, plenty of encouragement from your counsellor and learns skills designed to help you live a more positive life.

  • Integrative Cognitive-Affective Therapy (ICAT)

Integrative Cognitive Affective Therapy for Bulimia Nervosa (ICAT-BN) has recently been established as a new evidence-based treatment for bulimia nervosa. ICAT-BN has been established to assist those suffering from bulimia in order to enhance their awareness of momentary emotional factors that contribute to their psychopathology, as well as learning to identify the processes in their lives that generate periods of emotion dysregulation, which in turn maintains their bulimia nervosa.

How to seek help for yourself or a loved one?

At Priory Wellbeing Centre Dubai we provide treatment for eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder and EDNOS. If you would like more information please call us on: (+971) 4 245 3800 or send a message through our enquiry form.

[1] https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders

Nadia Brooker is a New Zealand trained and registered Counselling Psychologist, who holds a Masters of Health Science in Psychology. She has previously worked at the Regional Eating Disorders Service, as well as in the private tertiary setting at AUT University in Auckland, New Zealand.

Nadia is able to assist patients with personal, social and vocational functioning by using psychological assessments and interventions, as well as preventative approaches. Nadia’s approach to working with patients is holistic and client centred. She uses a variety of models, however primarily works using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) for both adolescents and adults. Nadia has also trained in Eating Disorder specific treatment modalities.