MENTAL HEALTH A-Z: B is for Bulimia Nervosa
More people than ever before are aware of eating disorders. Not a day seems to go by without seeing Instagram posts about recovery, watching young people discussing illness on the news, or hearing statistics of sufferers around the UK. However, as mental health issues become more of a discussable agenda, so do the misconceptions that creep alongside them, like those unavoidable raindrops which somehow fall down the back of your neck, despite your umbrella. Hmmf.
I felt the need to voice my opinion about the many misunderstandings of Bulimia Nervosa. And since you can never go wrong with a bit of mathematics (sarcasm intended), some good old-fashioned numbering seemed appropriate.
1) It’s not all about food.
Yes, binges occur. (And no, over-eating to cure this morning’s hangover or consuming excessive amounts of popcorn at a sleepover doesn’t mean you suffer from irregular eating patterns.)
But attitudes towards food are not the be-all and end-all of Bulimia. It’s often closely linked with depressive behaviours such as self-harming, deliberate isolation and increased anxiety, not just around the dinner table but also in social situations. Imagine walking into a crowded room and being absolutely convinced that everyone is judging your weight, your outfit, even your hair. Not the nicest of feelings.
2) It doesn’t always derive from wanting to lose weight.
Although the societal praising of the dainty ‘thigh-gap’ body type is a common trigger for many sufferers, this is not the only factor. The illness often develops from stress factors such as increased sports training or studying, which lead to a loss of control.
Now we’ve all been there, sobbing into a packet of chocolate digestives at 2am, with revision notes as our only company. But bulimic tendencies are much more severe, frequently using food as an ineffective coping mechanism to stop panicky feelings of failure. Weight gain and weight loss can simply be a side effect of the restrict-binge cycle.
3) Purging is not always a factor.
Expecting every bulimic to purge (deliberately make themselves sick) is perhaps the most dangerous misconception of them all. There are in fact two types of Bulimia Nervosa, in its broadest sense, which are the Purge type and Non-purge type. Believing that purging is a requirement for sufferers can mislead bulimics into thinking that they don’t actually have this illness, or aren’t “ill enough” to consider seeking help. The Non-purge type can also be mistaken for other EDs such as Anorexia Nervosa, which can be a difficult and confusing process for those recovering.
4) Symptoms of others are not always obvious.
To take the extremely over-used phrase, “coming out” about an eating disorder to family and friends is, in my experience, an agonisingly slow and upsetting process. A lot of people struggling with eating habits hide thoughts from those closest to them, using alibis such as wanting to ‘get healthier’ or just ‘not liking’ particular meals anymore. This is not an action of mistrust; it is simply that voicing emotions would make it all much too real. It feels as though you are trapping a tiger within a cage, with its trembling claws upon the bars forcing you to resist from letting it free.
So, to summarise: although everyday folks are more aware of Bulimia Nervosa, the illness is still misunderstood. But even with better facts, it is still essential to respect the privacy of others. Seeing as you are not, unfortunately, in a real-life game of Cluedo, it’s not your job to search for symptoms. A quiet word or simply lending a shoulder to lean on would be an appropriate way forward. However, to go against the romantic vision of our dear Chris Martin, do not expect to be able to ‘fix’anyone else’s mind-set, for this is a complex process and the NHS have a range of recovery options out there.
As we reach the end of this ramble, let us wave goodbye to these misconceptions, breaking the Bulimia taboo with a dash of sensitivity. And may we continue to do so until those trapped tigers become birds, spreading both wings and melodies as they are released into the big, wide world.