Bulimia Nervosa: Myths vs Facts

Bringing healing by standing up to misleading narratives

Photo by christopher lemercier on Unsplash

This article was written by Sara Sonnenblick.

Myth

Caucasian females are most likely to develop bulimia.

Fact

Due to American pop-culture continually depicting eating disorders, specifically bulimia nervosa, as occurring mostly amongst young, caucasian females, the public has been misguided to think that other social or ethnic groups are not as likely to develop this type of disorder.

However, this is false as Latin and African Americans are, in fact, more likely to develop bulimia as compared non-Latino whites. Likewise, Native Americans were reported to have the highest prevalence of extreme dieting strategies amongst youths.

Additionally, men also suffer from bulimia nervosa, despite the common misconception that eating disorders strictly manifest in women. In actuality, 5% of males struggle with bulimia nervosa at some point in their lives.

Myth

Since people with bulimia eat, bulimia nervosa cannot be dangerous.

Fact

Wrong! Bulimia nervosa death rates stand at 3.9%.

Bulimia nervosa can result in a long list of physical complications as a result of people with bulimia’s tendency to purge away the calories they have taken in an extremely unhealthy manner.

These health complications may include:

  • Digestive complications
  • Absent or irregular menstrual cycles (for females)
  • Heart complications
  • Tooth decay
  • Gum disease
  • Dehydration (which can lead to kidney failure)

Myth

If someone does not throw up after they eat, they do not suffer from bulimia nervosa.

Fact

Bulimia nervosa is defined as a cycle of binging and purging. Many automatically assume that purging equates to strictly throwing up. However, purging means attempting to rid oneself of the food consumed, specifically after a binge. Purging can occur through the use of laxatives, enemas, or diuretics.

Similarly, fasting, excessive exercise, or crash dieting after binging may also indicate that one has or is developing bulimia nervosa.

This misconception is dangerous because a loved one might ignore the less stigmatized warning signs of bulimia nervosa, such as someone frequently using laxatives or trying new, extreme diets, leading to someone’s prolonged wait for care and treatment.

Myth

It would be obvious if a loved one was struggling with bulimia nervosa.

Fact

The warning signs of Bulimia nervosa may be very hard to notice as they are easier to hide in comparison to other eating disorders. For example, if someone saw a loved one eating in public, they might have automatically assumed that they had a healthy relationship with food since they were not patently restricting their intake. However, a person can still be abusing laxatives, diet pills, exercise, or even the act of throwing up without showing any outward signs. Also, practices of purging are usually done in privacy–whether in someone’s room, bathroom or late at night while their loved ones are asleep.

What is more, the cycle of binging and purging does not always result in weight loss. People often correspond dramatic weight loss or weight gain with eating disorders. Yet, this is not always the case, especially with bulimia nervosa, for it is common to even gain weight when suffering from bulimia nervosa.

Ultimately, we have the power to alter people’s worldviews and fix these misconceptions by standing up to false narratives and correcting our fellow humans when they err in their perception.

Above all, we ought to make sure that we pay attention to our loved ones. You never know how someone might be feeling or behaving behind closed doors.

More generally, it is important to understand that these words may not, necessarily only relate to those struggling with bulimia nervosa, as there are a number of eating disorders that manifest in a myriad of ways. Likewise, if someone is struggling with bulimia and does not relate to some of the points made here, that is completely valid. It is important we listen to each other and do not dismiss our struggles, in whichever shape or form they might come.

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