Physical characteristics and effects of bulimia include:
- Loss of tooth enamel
- Dental problems
- Thyroid problems
- Sore throat
- Menstrual cycle may be abnormal or absent
- Heart problems or heart failure
The good news is that if you, or someone you know, is suffering from an eating disorder, there is help available. Like all illnesses, the sooner you seek treatment, the faster your recovery will be and the fewer complications you will experience. Eating disorders are addictive, progressive, and potentially fatal, and the changes they can cause in your body are not always immediately visable.
Each person is unique, and their battle with an eating disorder requires an individualized plan to meet their specific needs. A physician should always be consulted and a routine physical exam should be conducted to detect any health-related problems.
Hospitalization or treatment at a residential facility that specializes in eating disorders may be necessary, especially if there are immediate health concerns. This type of treatment uses a team approach, integrating individual therapy, group therapy with other patients, family counseling, and medical and nutritional care.
Outpatient treatment is similar to inpatient treatment, except that the patient does not stay in the hospital overnight. An individual receives a specific plan based on her (or his) needs. There may be support groups as well as educational programs, lectures, or seminars on specific topics to help the patient cope with surviving everyday normal life.
Counseling can be extremely useful in treatment of both anorexia and bulimia. Building a trusting relationship with a therapist can help an individual suffering from an eating disorder understand why they are having difficulty around food, weight, and body image, and help them adapt their behavior to return to normalcy.
Group meeting with others who are experiencing the difficulties of an eating disorder can provide mutual support and understanding. Group therapy can help in breaking unhealthy eating patterns and identifying emotional issues that trigger symptoms.
Eating disorders not only affect the individual who is suffering from the disease, but can also disrupt the entire family. Counseling can help the family gain a better understanding of the disease and therefore provide better support.
There are numerous books and tapes available at bookstores or your local library that discuss many of the issues surrounding the complexity of eating disorders. Also, there are self-help groups and 12-step programs similar to Alcoholics Anonymous; most communities have Overeaters Anonymous, often referred to as OA, which is listed in local yellow pages.
If left untreated, eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia can have devastating consequences, both psychologically and physically. However, if an individual seeks treatment, eating disorders can be managed and a full recovery can be expected. The key is to get help.