Bulimia nervosa is a complex illness that affects a lot of people. Despite that, it is surrounded by a ton of myths that can lead to misinformation and stigma. Here are just some of those myths and the reality behind each.
Bulimia Nervosa Only Affects Women
It’s a common misconception that only women suffer from bulimia. However, the underlying issues that drive eating disorders – low self-esteem and negative body image – can affect anyone, male or female. In fact, the lifetime prevalence of bulimia nervosa is about 1.5% for women and 0.5% for men, equating to 4.7 million women and 1.5 million men who are diagnosed with bulimia. It is important to screen for eating disorders in both men and women.
Bulimia Nervosa is About Food
Like other eating disorders, bulimia nervosa is not about food. It is a serious psychological disorder that is highly linked to depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, and loss of control. People who suffer from bulimia nervosa can come to feel like they can’t be trusted around food, as food can make them feel nervous, shameful, or out of control.
Bulimia Nervosa is Always Associated with Vomiting
Bulimia nervosa involves a process of binging and purging. Vomiting is only one of the methods of purging. People with bulimia nervosa may also use laxatives, diuretics, and excessive exercise to attempt reducing their caloric intake.
Bulimia Nervosa is Easy to Spot
Outward appearances can be deceiving. It is just not possible to tell if someone has bulimia nervosa just by looking at them and judging their weight. Unlike with anorexia, people with bulimia nervosa can be of normal weight or even overweight.
Individuals suffering from bulimia nervosa may also attempt to hide their binge eating and purging episodes out of embarrassment or shame. It may take family and friends a long time to recognize any signs that their loved one is struggling with this eating disorder.
Bulimia Nervosa is Not Life Threatening
During the binging and purging process, the body of a person with bulimia nervosa loses essential nutrients and electrolytes. Deficiencies in nutrients and electrolyte imbalances can lead to heart problems, severe tooth decay, and digestive issues. Bulimia nervosa can also cause stomach ulcers.
Sometimes, bulimia nervosa can become comorbid with other mental disorders such as depression. The guilt and shame regarding their caloric intake may even make some people suicidal. It is vital that people who are suffering from this eating disorder follow an appropriate treatment plan for bulimia nervosa that can help them heal.
Bulimia Nervosa is a Choice
Bulimia nervosa is not a lifestyle choice. Like all eating disorders, it is a serious illness with both mental and physical consequences. It is even formally recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). In many instances, this eating disorder will become the primary way a person can cope with intense emotions and challenging life events.
Recovery from an eating disorder is difficult, but it is possible. Being informed of the truth about bulimia nervosa can reduce the stigma surrounding it and hopefully lead to more people taking this disorder seriously.