Bulimia, which includes the act of bingeing and purging, takes a considerable toll on the body, and the disorder comes with complications that are not just are medical but also psychological and social. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, around 1.5% of American women will suffer from bulimia in their lifetime, and more than half will meet the criteria for a co-occurring anxiety disorder. Physical healing and self-care practices are critical in the recovery process.

Psychological Complications of Bulimia

Those who suffer from bulimia tend to overemphasize the value of their external appearance and have a low view of their own self-worth. They may have poor coping skills which lead them to binge and purge in order to release emotional tension while trying to maintain a slim figure. Bulimic individuals tend to have a high rate of mood disorders (nearly 50%), such as depression or bipolar disorder. Individuals often attempt to self-medicate through bulimic behaviors but may end up worsening their mental health symptoms. 

Those experiencing co-occurring mental health or substance use disorders tend to be at greater risk for medical issues and relapse. It’s important to treat each condition appropriately — balancing therapies, support, and assistive medications, and making comprehensive plans for continued healing once inpatient treatment has been completed. 

depressed teenage girl

Medical Complications of Bulimia

It’s not surprising that cycles of bingeing and purging would take a toll on the body. Medical complications of bulimia are common, with the disorder having a detrimental effect on soft tissues, regulatory function, and electrolyte levels. Bulimic individuals may compel themselves to vomit or abuse laxatives in order to purge. This activity can cause sustained damage to the body’s organs. According to The American Journal of Medicine, these are some of the medical issues that those suffering from bulimia may experience:

  • Persistent acid reflux
  • Erosion of dentin and enamel on teeth
  • Hoarse voice (damage to vocal cords)
  • Cardiac arrhythmia
  • Adverse gastrointestinal effects
  • Risk of cathartic colon syndrome (from laxative abuse)

Bulimia may also cause damage to the esophagus, stomach, intestines, kidneys, and heart. One University of Waterloo study shows that bulimic individuals have a higher risk of hospitalization for cardiovascular disease and an increased risk of mortality from their condition.

Because bulimia has such a strong dysregulating effect on the body, especially the endocrine system, the physiological need to binge and purge may become stronger the more an individual participates in these behaviors. 

Social Complications of Bulimia

Bulimic individuals may suffer from impaired social functioning and strained relationships with family and friends. Like anorexic individuals, they are sensitive to the cultural ideals of beauty, obsessing on maintaining a certain weight and having a perfect figure. Up to 80% of the risk of developing these conditions is genetic. Other factors, such as environment and personality traits, are also implicated in the progression of anorexia and bulimia.

Unlike those with anorexia, those with bulimia turn to food for comfort and release (bingeing) and then use vomiting or laxatives to avoid weight gain (purging). Both conditions involve a need for control and high sensitivity to self-image.

Due to co-occurring mood or anxiety disorders, bulimic individuals may behave erratically and have a tendency toward forming unhealthy attachments. Like binge eaters, they may suffer from guilt and self-isolate in order to hide their eating patterns. Other bulimic individuals may be very adept at seemingly normal social functioning, which is why it’s important for family members and friends to be aware of the warning signs of an eating disorder

The Meadows Ranch Fast Facts:

  • We take patients from11 years old to 88, but 16-33 is the average patient age.
  • Our campus offers separate treatment for women and girls.
  • We offer inpatient, residential, and partial-hospitalization levels of care.
  • Length of stay varies for each patient according to their unique needs, but most average between 45-60 days.
  • While the majority of our patients are diagnosed with either anorexia or bulimia, at any given time, approximately 20% of our population are dealing with binge eating disorder.
  • We can take patients who are at 70% of their ideal body weight, which is fairly low (equating to a BMI of a 15 or 16).
Bedroom at Meadows Ranch

Talk to Us About Bulimia Treatment

At The Meadows Ranch, we’re dedicated to equipping individuals and their families with the resources needed to heal from bulimia. With our wealth of expertise, we address bulimia and any co-occurring conditions in the same setting for the best possible chance of long-term recovery. Our focus is on treating the whole person — physically, mentally, and emotionally. If you or a loved is suffering from bulimia, get in touch with us today. Our compassionate staff is standing by to answer your questions and help you begin the journey to recovery.

Call 866-390-5100