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The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) lists bulimia nervosa, also referred to as bulimia, under the Disorder Class: Feeding and Eating Disorders as a complex brain disorder.

Bulimia is one of the three most diagnosed teenage eating disorders in America. The Mayo Clinic defines bulimia as a “serious eating disorder marked by binging, followed by methods to avoid weight gain.” Hence, bulimia is essentially characterized by episodes of uncontrolled binging (extreme overeating), typically followed by purging (making oneself vomit). An adolescent struggling with bulimia may also purge via the misuse of various medications related to weight loss, such as laxatives, diuretics, enemas, and/ or excessive exercise. The episodes of binging and purging are often referred to as a binge-purge cycle. Depending on the teen, eating binges can range from occurring twice a week to several times a day. Bulimia is not solely about one’s weight but also revolves around one’s self-image.

Signs and Symptoms

An adolescent with bulimia has instilled and regularly practiced an unhealthy relationship with food as a coping mechanism for managing his or her uncomfortable thoughts, emotions, and or to cope with traumatic experiences. There are several signs and symptoms that may manifest in a young person struggling with bulimia, which can include but is not limited to any combination of the following examples, provided by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA):

  • Appears uncomfortable eating around others
  • Fear of eating in public or with others
  • Shows unusual swelling of the cheeks or jaw area
  • Discolored, stained teeth
  • Has calluses on the back of the hands and knuckles from self-induced vomiting
  • Diets frequently
  • Shows extreme concern with body weight and shape
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Non-specific gastrointestinal complaints
  • Sleeping problems
  • Muscle weakness
  • Impaired immune system

Teenagers with bulimia are typically preoccupied with the shape and weight of their bodies. The DSM-5 indicates that for a clinical diagnosis of bulimia, a teen must binge and purge an average of once a week for a minimum of three consecutive months. Adolescents with bulimia are frequently overlooked because they are often able to maintain normal body weight. The psychological nuances and physical consequences that can arise from bulimia are what make it such a complex disorder. The damage that occurs from prolonged malnutrition and the unhealthy cycle of binging and purging can lead to significant short and long-term physiological complications. While bulimia is a chronic disorder, with proper treatment a teenager can learn the tools and skills needed to develop a healthy and sustainable relationship with food.

Further Information and Support

Navigating the challenges that arise from living with mental illness, struggling with substance abuse, and/ or addiction can not only be all-consuming but are often impossible to effectively handle without proper support. If you are concerned for yourself or a loved one regarding mental illness, substance abuse, and/ or addiction we recommend reaching out for help as soon as possible. Bear in mind that you do not have to be on this journey alone. At {Upwell Advisors}, we offer unique, customized concierge therapeutic services to provide our clients with unparalleled support throughout every step of the recovery process. 

Feel free to reach to contact us anytime via email at sean@upwelladvisors.com. We look forward to supporting you on your journey.

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