Let's discuss bulimia – a mental illness which can go undetected as the sufferer doesn’t always lose or gain a significant amount of weight.
Let’s start with the basics. What is bulimia? According to the eating disorders charity Beat: “Bulimia is a serious mental illness where people feel that they have lost control over their eating and evaluate themselves according to their body shape and weight. People with bulimia are caught in a cycle of eating large quantities of food (called ‘bingeing’), and then vomiting, taking laxatives or diuretics (called purging), in order to prevent gaining weight.”
Bulimia is a very difficult thing to understand if you’ve never had the misfortune of falling prey to it, especially when you consider how much of an uncomfortable sensation it is to vomit.
Here are the things you’ll only know if you’ve ever been bulimic, written by someone who suffered with bulimia for around six years.
1. You will spend a lot of money
Bingeing cycles tend to be costly as you try to buy as much food as possible, so you can then eat as much as possible to effectively make the binge “worthwhile”. I used to spend my weekly wages solely on food, and had I had to spend money on rent at the time I probably would have dipped into rent money to feed the habit too – that’s how consuming the mental illness is.
2. Your face will swell
Common results of bulimia are swollen eyes and cheeks, caused by pressure as you lean over to make yourself sick.
3. Discoloured teeth
It’s common for a bulimic to develop yellowed teeth, as frequent vomiting can erode your tooth enamel and can also make your teeth sensitive to temperature. Vomiting may also cause your salivary glands to swell and the tissues of your mouth and tongue to become dry, red and sore.
4. You’ll feel a weird sense of pride
Sometimes, when you’ve had a particularly successful purge – basically you’ve thrown up all the food you’ve consumed during your binge till you can taste the stomach bile – you might feel a weird sense of pride in this. Not all people can make themselves sick, so surely that’s a talent in itself, you might think.
5. Scars on your knuckles and around your mouth
Constant rubbing against the teeth and mouth can cause abrasions and scars over time.
6. You’ll feel like a failure
People with bulimia often don’t lose very much weight despite their efforts. I actually gained about a stone, and for someone whose mental illness was resulting from a desire to lose weight, this was difficult to stomach.
7. You’ll centre your day around bulimia
“I can’t go to the cinema tonight because how will I have the time to both binge and purge before? How will I be able to fit in throwing up the popcorn afterwards?” is what you’re thinking but can’t say.
8. You’ve probably used a variety of utensils
Toothbrushes, sticks, cutlery, fingers, mop buckets. There are probably a lot of things found around your house that have been used as implements to help you to vomit.
9. Losing your job or dropping out of university
I had to drop out of university (twice!) as my bulimia was so bad I was unable to leave my room and go to lectures/enjoy my life. It’s only recently that I’ve been able to acknowledge and accept that I was suffering from a mental illness, and not just lacking in motivation.
10. You might lose your friends/partner
Spending all your spare time bent over a toilet seat is one sure way of terminating any sort of romantic relationship you might be clinging onto.
People with bulimia tend not to seek help or support very readily and can experience swings in their mood as well as feeling anxious and tense, which can be very difficult for someone else to put up with.
11. Public toilets
You’ve probably tried to make yourself sick in a public place after “slipping up” and eating something “forbidden” whilst on the go. Ever tried to make yourself sick inconspicuously in London’s Euston station? It’s very difficult to concentrate…
12. You’re probably an expert at cleaning
Cleaning up after you’ve made yourself sick, disguising the smell and doing it all in a short enough space of time so that no one suspects anything, is something you become very good at over time; not that that’s any sort of aspiration anyone should have.
13. Bloodshot eyes
I used to get bloodshot eyes and burst blood capillaries on my face all the time after making myself sick. Not a great look.
14. You may have previously suffered from anorexia
I began my spell with eating disorders with anorexia during my teens but once I discovered I could make myself vomit, I graduated to bulimia.
15. You’re an expert in nutrition
People with eating disorders tend to be highly intelligent and very clued into the science behind food. That’s why a lot of people in recovery for eating disorders go on to study nutrition at a higher level.
The C word. Vomiting messes up your digestive system and causes you to feel bloated and have toilet trouble.
17. You’ll have no energy
Making yourself sick depletes your body of all those nutrients in the food you’ve just thrown into the toilet, which are vital for giving you the energy to get about your day.
Making yourself sick is also a mentally and physically exhausting act in itself.
18. You might smell
Vomit smells, there’s no escaping that.
19. You’ll be dehydrated
Throwing up rids your body of a lot of water and you’ll find that people with bulimia tend to have quite bad skin as a result, especially around the mouth and jaw – I know I did.
20. Heart palpitations
Making yourself sick puts a lot of pressure on your heart, causing heart palpitations and in some cases, heart attacks and even death.
21. The embarrassment
There’s an enormous amount of shame attached to an addiction to eating uncontrollably and then making yourself sick numerous times a day. It is for this reason that I kept my illness a secret only until very recently.
22. The comfort in knowing celebrities have suffered from it too
Many celebrities like Amy Winehouse and Nicole Scherzinger suffered with bulimia too, which gives great comfort to someone suffering from such an isolating illness.
23. That anxiety and depression often come with it
People with eating disorders tend to suffer with anxiety and depression and sometimes, these are what lead to the problems with food in the first place.
Just as a little note, I’ve been in recovery from my eating disorder for about two years now and I can’t remember the last time I made myself sick, so there is hope (pause for applause). Beat’s website is a great place to start if you think you might have a problem, and it’s also probably worth confiding in your GP.