Getting Help for a Bulimic

What is it?
Bulimia is an eating disorder that is usually found among women and adolescent girls, but has been known to appear in the male population. People suffering from eating disorders often exhibit behavior patterns that include secrecy, withdrawal, and the taking of unnecessary health risks due to a feeling that they are not worthy of good care. The symptoms of bulimia do not necessarily have to include vomiting, although vomiting after an eating binge is a common sign of bulimia. A person with bulimia will sometimes deal with their guilt over bingeing by exercising obsessively to "burn" off the calories. Or they may fast or take laxatives for days after eating. Many people suffering from bulimia also suffer from anorexia and will starve themselves between binges. They might obsessively talk about food, frequently diet, exercise compulsively and/or eat secretly.

Bulimia-Induced Health Concerns
Often, women with bulimia suffer from low self-esteem and are quite ashamed of their bingeing and purging patterns. As a result, denial of the behavior and the disease is common. Bulimic women often hide the disease remarkably well, and may go 10 - 15 years without revealing that they have a problem. Typically, bulimics do not seek medical advice for bulimia itself, but rather for the damage to their bodies, including electrolyte imbalances in the blood, ulcers, and tears in the esophagus. Bulimia, as well as anorexia and compulsive overeating, can lead to death.

How to Help
It is difficult to help a person who is suffering from an eating disorder without their willingness to be helped. However, given the seriousness of the consequences of being bulimic, it is very important to try to get help for bulimics. If the bulimic is willing to help herself, they should seek the help of a doctor that they can feel comfortable with. It is equally as important that they find a support group or some other form of long-term support to help them maintain their efforts.

What if she is not trying to help herself? Confronting a person who is thought to have an eating disorder can be a difficult but life-saving move. It is a good idea to present the person with some literature about treatment options and hot lines in your area. This literature can be obtained from your doctor, county health department, or school nurse. Community hotlines, support groups, and mental health clinics are also good resources to be aware of. Recruit other family members in your efforts. This is essential if you are not yet an adult yourself. Get an older, responsible family member involved.

Presenting her with the information you have gathered about support groups and treatment will let her know that you have taken the time to do some research on what she is struggling with, and it will allow her to look over the materials during a less frightening or confrontational moment. It is important that you express your concern for her well being and your willingness to listen, rather than a judgement of her behavior as sick or abnormal. This can make her feel that she is able to come to you in the future when and if she is ready, rather than feeling threatened.

Anyone who confronts someone with an eating disorder should be prepared for that person's denial and resistance. Eating disorders are frequently based in a person's need to control and avoid their stress and emotional needs. For this reason someone who wishes to help may be met with complete dismissal. Unfortunately the person with the eating disorder must in the end make the decision for him or herself, but knowing that she has support and encouragement can be of enormous help.

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