Mari-Louise Speirs
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Bulimia: The Shame, The Guilt, and the Life-Threatening Damage

Bulimia is a mental illness that affects both men and women of all ages and from all backgrounds.

Bulimia: A Lonely Mental Illness That Affects Millions of People

Bulimia is not proud! It doesn’t care how rich you are, how old you are, or where you live; it doesn’t even care whether you’re married or single, a Uni student, stay-at-home Mum, or in charge of a huge corporation.

Bulimia is just one eating disorder that can affect anyone of any age, and it’s important to note that bulimia often goes hand-in-hand with anorexia nervosa and binge eating. It’s a nasty, nasty, life-altering mental illness, and more people than we know have been afflicted, or are still suffering from bulimia to this very day. It may have affected, or still be affecting, a relative, close friend, work colleague, or movie star we admire. Sadly, many people who suffer from bulimia also suffer from substance abuse and often experience deep anxiety, impulse control, and mood disorders. Not a pretty picture, and not a pretty life for sufferers!

What is Bulimia?

Bulimia is an ugly illness: people suffering from Bulimia Nervosa eat a large amount of food, then do whatever it takes to get rid of what they’ve just consumed. Basically, they binge-eat, which means they eat a copious amount of food within a small amount of time—certainly more than the average person would consume in the same amount of time, and they typically can’t stop eating until all the food is gone. Then, very quickly the guilt sets in, and now there’s an urgent need to get rid of all the food they’ve just consumed. This is typically done by forced vomiting, while some bulimics use enemas, diuretics, laxatives, and other medications in addition to vomiting. Some bulimics will fast for many days following an excessive binge eating session, but either way the goal remains the same: to ensure that none of the calories consumed remain in the body.

Bulimia is a humiliating mental disease.

Sufferers of bulimia will do everything in their power to conceal their symptoms because they’re ashamed of their behaviour. Both the binge eating and purging behaviour are extremely secretive, so it’s not surprising that a bulimics partner, parent, friend, or work colleague will typically have no idea whatsoever of the bulimics behaviour. Even the bulimics body weight is not a telling sign because their weight usually hovers around a certain range; although some bulimic’s do show significant weight fluctuations.

Another sad fact is that bulimics often believe they’re ugly and that they’re carrying more weight than they actually are. The shame of their illness creates a food obsession, and most of their waking energy is spent thinking about food, what they will eat, and how and when they’ll be able to get rid of it. Purging typically occurs immediately after a meal, either in the same restaurant where the bulimic has dined, or in the home bathroom. Always dieting in one form or another, bulimics typically suffer from very low self-esteem.

Bulimia can be extremely dangerous to your health.

The National Association of ANAD (Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders) states that, in the United States, bulimia and other eating disorders are the most fatal mental conditions. Many bulimics also suffer from depression, due largely to their shame and guilt of not being able to control their eating habits.

Eating disorders often lead to long term health problems and, sadly, all too often lead to suicide. It’s so very important that you seek help if you’re suffering from an eating disorder because the damage to your health can be very severe. Another shocking side-effect of bulimia is that it can inhibit healthy reproduction, the consequences of which can include stillbirth, miscarriage, gestational diabetes, breech baby, high blood pressure, and birth defects. Further side-effects of bulimia include ulcers, irregular heart rate, low blood pressure, dry skin, dehydration, decreased electrolyte levels, gastrointestinal problems, esophageal ruptures from excessive vomiting, and kidney failure—not to mention the terrible damage to your teeth from the constant purging.

Professional Help for Bulimics

A bulimic sufferer will almost always require professional help to recover from this devastating illness; however, the first step is for the bulimic to admit they have a problem. This is a huge step for a bulimic person due to the shame and guilt that surrounds this illness. A psychotherapist will be able to help a bulimic develop a healthy relationship with food and gain an improved, realistic self-image. Other professionals believe that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is most effective treatment for Bulimia Nervosa, but either way the general consensus is that bulimia cannot be cured without professional help.

Those who don’t suffer from bulimia will not understand this illness because it really doesn’t make any common sense; however, when you understand that bulimia nervosa is a mental illness, the perspective changes.

Treating bulimia can be very challenging because the underlying mental health and emotional issues creating the disease must be addressed. These issues will typically date right back to childhood, at which time the bulimic’s self-image and self-confidence were adversely affected.

Famous People Who’ve Been Affected by Bulimia

Our beautiful Princess Diana struggled with bulimia for many years, from 1981 (shortly after her marriage to Prince Charles) until many years later when she finally sought treatment.

Jane Fonda suffered from perfectionism from the age of 12, which finally led to Bulimia Nervosa. She was well into her 40s before she finally confronted her addiction and sought help.

Karen Carpenter was a very popular singer in the 1970s, and sadly it was anorexia nervosa that brought about her untimely death. Unfortunately, Karen was in denial, but her shocking and tragic death did raise awareness about anorexia and other eating disorders.

And it’s not only women who are affected by eating disorders. The brilliant musician-singer-songwriter Elton John suffered from bulimia for 16 years before finally seeking treatment. He too was in denial, thinking he’d be able to fix it on his own, and Elton admits that it was when he finally said those magic words “I need help” that he started on the long road to recovery.

Celebrities With Eating Disorders

Other celebrities who have suffered from eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia include Sally Field, Paula Abdul, Margaux Hemingway, Lady Gaga, Frank Bruni, Susan Dey, Calista Flockhart, Dennis Quaid, Katie Couric, Demi Lovato, Alanis Morissette, Russell Brand, Jordan Younger, Kesha, Candace Cameron Bure, Jade Thirlwall, Kate Winslet, Zoë Kravitz, Zosia Mamet, Nicole Scherzinger, Troian Bellisario, Katharine McPhee, Christina Ricci, Alexa Penavega, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Alba, Victoria Beckham, Mary-Kate Olsen, Amanda Bynes, Kelly Clarkson, Portia De Rossi, Thandie Newton, Sharon Osborne, Oprah Winfrey, Janet Jackson, Tara Reid, Diane Keaton, Geri Halliwell, Felicity Huffman, Joan Rivers, and of course, there are many, many more we don’t even know about. Even gorgeous Audrey Hepburn struggled with anorexia and bulimia in an effort to maintain her low weight.

You’re not alone!

So, you can see from this rather impressive list of celebrities that you’re not alone if you suffer from bulimia and/or anorexia. Yes, these are embarrassing and humiliating illnesses, but they’re also very common illnesses and there is help available. The celebrities listed above have all admitted they reached a point where they needed help, so I do urge you to seek help immediately. There is life after an eating disorder and you’ll be so relieved you’ve finally admitted you have a problem. Just admitting you suffer from an eating disorder is the first giant step forward to healing.

In the meantime, plan all your meals well ahead of time and ensure they’re healthy and filling (tuna and salad, protein and vegetables, etc); and, if you have a sweet tooth don’t deprive yourself of an after-dinner sweet treat: pre-prepare a platter of fresh in-season fruit or choose an alternative low-fat treat like yogurt or sorbet. If you must eat alone, make sure you eat with awareness—not while watching television or reading—and concentrate on enjoying every single bite of food. While you may never be entirely cured of bulimia and/or anorexia, eating healthy is a great start to overcoming these deadly diseases.

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