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  • Writer's pictureKatherine Chivers

Can you please remind me how damaging bulimia is because I WANT to stay in recovery

I'm glad you are in the course of recovery and I'm glad that you want to stay there!

I'm happy to remind you of all of the consequences that bulimia has on our minds and our bodies - there's a lot of them! Some of these consequences can happen pretty quickly, and for others they can happen over a long time. Sometimes you might just get lucky - or unlucky unfortunately!

So there are problems like dehydration - that can happen because you're purging so much that you're losing a lot of the water that you're actually taking in. I remember I used to always be really, really thirsty after purging, so I would drink a lot and rehydrate myself, but if you're not doing that, then you'll be at the risk of dehydration which can cause things like electrolyte imbalances, it also influences your blood and can alter your heart rate. You can get anaemia, which is due to low iron, this can also lead to fatigue and you can lose our period! All the purging can impact your intestines and lead to things like constipation, diarrhoea, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Not to mention the damage to your teeth. you're at increased risk of cavities, enamel erosion swollen salivary glands (aka chipmunk face). You can lose hair because of the lack of nutrients, and then there's that awful acid reflux from all that stomach acid coming back up through the oesophagus. You can also get sleep problems that can be more to do with the stress and anxiety than anything else. And I'm sure you've experienced Russell's sign, which is those scars on your knuckles which come from the knuckles rubbing against the back of your teeth. I remember I used to get that but I don't have any scars anymore.

One thing I suffered from also is burst blood vessels on my face, I used to have quite a few but I actually got them lasered out - thank you modern medicine! And a really scary thing which I got quite a fright from - TWICE - is retinal detachment. Now, this is something that really freaked me out! The first time I got this flashing in my eyes and it was super weird so I went to the emergency eye hospital and they did all these tests and didn't find anything. But years later I was still purging and I ended up in the emergency eye hospital a SECOND TIME. This next time I'd had a very intense purging episode. It was very violent. It was horrible. I experienced this shadow in my left eye, so I could see fine but I could also see that there was a dark cloudy looking thing. I was super scared because I started reading about it and I realized that you could actually detach your retina from the violence of the purging! So I went to the emergency eye hospital AGAIN. They took lots of photos of my eyes and they could actually see where the shadow was but didn't know what the problem was, so they sent me to another specialist and he did all these checks and couldn't find a problem and couldn't work out why I had this shadow. So then I had to (embarrassingly) let him know that I'd been purging. Then he got me to do a bunch of other tests, including an MRI ... and he saw that everything looked fine, thankfully, and eventually the shadow went away on its own. So the body does heal, but is it really worth taking the risk????

The good news is that if you treat the bulimia in a timely manner, many of the short term consequences will diminish or completely disappear - unless they're irreversible. So once you get medical help and you recover, then a lot of these short term consequences will disappear and everything will begin to function as normal. For me, it's been four years now since I stopped. And I'm honestly in perfect health now with no long term consequences, although I do have a little bit of enamel erosion but it's not too noticeable. Not bad for 15 years of abusing my body!

But that's not to say that everyone will get away scar free. And if untreated for long enough, the short term consequences can lead to serious, longer term health issues that might persist even after you stop the binging and the purging.

So there's tooth sensitivity, usually called by enamel erosion, and there's decay, I know many people that have lost teeth due to bulimia! There are the different bone issues from the nutrient deficiencies - such as brittle bones and osteoporosis. There's heart and blood problems, the worst being coronary heart disease, cardiomyopathy (weakened heart walls) and cardiac arrest. You can get ulcers in the lining of your intestines, bowel problems like obstruction or a torn bowel, you might even need a colon resection or to use a colostomy bag in the future. For your throat, you could tear the oesophagus, get inflammation of the oesophagus or even oesophogal cancer! You might develop chronic acid reflux, which is acid reflux that's persistent and doesn't go away. You could also end up with diabetes, high cholesterol and chronic fatigue.

These consequences are very, very real, they're not a scare tactic, although I hope I've scared you! So don't underestimate them. I've even read about a woman dying because her stomach exploded from the binging. Purging wasn't enough to stop that from happening!

Now these are just the physical problems, you've also got the emotional problems. Many of these likely already existed prior to bulimia, things like depression, anxiety, irrational fears of weight gain, body dysmorphia, excessive worry and stress. So although they may have already existed, they have probably been exacerbated by bulimia.

Bottom line is that it's time to stop this right now, these risks are NOT WORTH IT.

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