A person with bulimia nervosa engages in recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by purging. Although bulimia usually begins in adolescence or young adulthood, it has recently begun to emerge at increasingly younger (11-12 years) and older (40-60 years) ages. Research suggests that about 1% of college-age women have bulimia.
A bulimic person may rapidly consume thousands of calories during a binge. This is followed by an attempt to get rid of the food by purging, usually by vomiting or using laxatives or diuretics. During a binge, bulimics feel as though they have lost control and cannot stop or limit how much they eat. Some binge and purge only occasionally; others do so many times every day. Binges may be triggered by a major life change or other stressful event. Binge eating and purging may become a way of dealing with difficult feelings such as anger and disappointment.
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The binge-purge cycle of bulimia places a tremendous strain on the body and can have serious health effects, including tooth decay, esophageal damage and chronic hoarseness, menstrual irregularities, depression, liver and kidney damage, and cardiac arrhythmia. Bulimia is often difficult to recognize because bulimics conceal their eating habits and usually maintain a normal weight, although they may experience fluctuations of 10-15 pounds.
Binge-eating disorder affects about 3% of American adults. It is characterized by uncontrollable eating without any compensatory purging behaviors. Common eating patterns are eating more rapidly than normal, eating until uncomfortably full, eating when not hungry, and preferring to eat alone. Uncontrolled eating is usually followed by weight gain and feelings of guilt, shame, and depression. Many
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