After tip toeing down the hall to the bathroom, 20-year-old Danielle lightly shuts the door, turns the sink water on full blast, lifts up the toilet seat, crouches down on her knees, holds her hair back and does what she promised herself she’d never do again. She flushes the toilet twice and heads back to her bedroom where her third diet pill of the day is waiting for her. This is the disease that Danielle describes in great detail.
Bulimia nervosa, often called bulimia, is a type of eating disorder where a person eats a lot of food in a short amount of time, called binging and then tries to prevent weight gain by getting rid of the food, called purging. Not all bulimics use binging as a technique, only 3.5 percent, according to studies by Harvard University.
“At first it was private,” Danielle said. “Then when the summer came around some girls I worked with were doing the same thing, so we were doing it together. It was like a support group for the disease.” Danielle is a Cabrini College Alumni and asked that her last name not be used. She described the scene with which this article opens.
Certain situations and events are associated with an increased risk of developing bulimia, including dieting, sports and activities, transitions and media and society.
Ninety percent of the people who are bulimic are women, according to womenshealth.gov. But bulimia affects people from all walks of life, including males, women of color and even older women.
“I was always happy with my body but then I just started working out and losing weight and people would tell me how good I was looking, so I just became obsessed with it,” Danielle said.
A person with bulimia may also exercise a lot, eat very little or not at all, or take pills to pass urine to prevent weight gain.
“I started losing a lot of weight and limited my food intake. Losing 5 pounds a week was my goal. Overall I lost 75 pounds,” sophomore English and communication major Jane said. “It wasn’t enough to only limit what I ate, I always wanted to push my limits further.” Jane asked that her last name not be used.
Unlike people with anorexia nervosa, you cannot easily identify people with bulimia based on their weight and public eating behavior. Often body weights hover around the average range, though some may see significant weight fluctuations, according to helpguide.org.
“Feeling hunger pains made me happy,” Jane said.
People dealing with bulimia have an extreme emphasis on body weight and shape in their self-evaluation. Often these factors are the most important ones for them in determining self-esteem.
“I would wake up and weigh myself, always looking in the mirror. All my clothes were too big.” Jane said. “Seeing people’s reactions would fuel me; I thought what I was doing was a positive. It really boosted my confidence.”
Complications with this disease may include cardiovascular problems, tooth and gum problems, throat and mouth problems, low potassium levels, digestive problems and abuse of medications or drugs.
“I still haven’t overcome the disease. I live with it everyday,” Danielle said. “I just want to say be happy with who you are on the inside because if you’re not happy on the inside then you wont be happy with yourself altogether.”
Common treatments for people dealing with bulimia are psychotherapy, medical treatment, nutritional counseling, and medication and inpatient centers. To recover, they must begin and continue treatment, make the necessary lifestyle changes, and resolve the underlying psychological and emotional issues that led to bulimia.
“It made me stronger by overcoming it on my own. It was a big learning experience for me. It still crosses my mind at certain times, but you have to take family and friends into consideration,” Jane said.