Pop-star and ex-bulimic Paula Abdul has called the condition, "a violent punishment you put on yourself." So how do people recover from bulimia? Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by cycles of binging and purging. The most common form of purging is defensive vomiting, but the use of laxatives, enemas, diuretics, and over exercising are also regularly used methods. During a binge, a sufferer will feel out of control and consume vast quantities of food in a short time. Later, feelings of guilt and shame set in, causing a purge to begin. People with bulimia usually purge by forcing themselves to throw up, by misusing over-the-counter laxatives and diuretics, or by over-exercising following the binge. Despite their unhealthy relationship with food, bulimics often fall within their normal weight range. But this is never enough for sufferers, who tend to have very low self-esteem and body image and who want desperately to lose weight. The longer bulimia nervosa is permitted to continue, the worse the complications of the disease can be. The physical outcomes of the condition include: dry skin, tooth decay, muscle fatigue, and dizziness. The condition also leads to intestinal distress, including: irregular bowel movements, constipation, and a dependence on laxatives to have bowel movements. Even more severe, untreated bulimia can cause stomach problems, including ulcers, or even an intestinal rupture; as well as heart problems, ranging from irregular heart beat to heart failure. Without treatment, it's speculated that 10-percent of bulimics will die from complications of their disorder. That's PARTICULARLY devastating, considering that only 10-percent of people with eating disorders DO seek help. When treatment IS sought, it generally starts by addressing any major medical issues related to bulimia nervosa. These may include dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, or esophageal tears. After the BODY is returned to a stable condition, doctors focus on treating the MIND with psychological counseling. Generally, this takes place on an outpatient basis, but for some people-like Abdul-admittance to an eating disorder clinic is necessary. Regardless of where it happens, the preferred method of counseling for bulimia is called cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT. During CBT, bulimics learn to replace negative THOUGHTS about their bodies with positive ones. They come to understand and reduce the personal triggers that set off the cycle of binging and purging. They also learn new BEHAVIORS, like eating three square meals and two snacks daily and developing a plan of action to prevent future relapses. As part of this therapeutic process, nutritional counseling with a dietician may be helpful. Often, therapy for bulimia is supplemented with prescription medication. The antidepressant fluoxetine, which is branded as Prozac, is the only FDA-approved treatment for this eating disorder. Fluoxetine has been shown to help sufferers improve their attitudes about food and body image as well as to help prevent relapses. Generally, this two-fold treatment approach is very effective, and many sufferers (Paula Abdul among them!) go on to make full recoveries. In some cases, though, treatment continues on and off for years, or even a lifetime. If you believe that you or someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder like bulimia nervosa, don't keep it to yourself. Instead, seek potentially-lifesaving treatment with a medical health professional IMMEDIATELY.
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Last Updated:December 20, 2012