It is a common problem for many to turn to food when they feel negative emotions. Some of us call it comfort food and many of us are guilty of reaching for it whenever we feel sad, depressed, bored, or anxious. But there is a huge difference between reaching for a bag of chips on one of those excessively stressful days and someone who has developed an eating disorder like bulimia. For those people, eating is more of a compulsion rather than a way to feel good about themselves.

While neither condition is good for you, those who are bulimic have a battery of problems and complications that they have to sort through.

Understanding Bulimia:

The simplest way to explain what is bulimia is that it is a serious eating disorder characterized by binge eating and then purging in an attempt to avoid weight gain. In severe bulimics, the binge-purge cycle is repeated over and over again leading to a number of major health problems that can compromise health even further.

Signs and Symptoms of Bulimia:

Bulimics often lead a life of secrecy. Their binge-purge habits are often done at times when they are alone so it is not always easy to identify the signs and symptoms of the disorder. Still, there are a few signs that can help those who are close to them to determine that there is a problem.

Patients may have a lack of control when it comes to eating and will only stop when they've reached a point of physical discomfort or pain. They may have late night visits to the kitchen after everyone else has gone to bed. You may also notice food disappearing from open storage areas or find hidden stashes of it around the house.

Signs of purging can also help you understand what is bulimia. For example, there may be calluses or scars on the back of the hands, discolored teeth, and notice constant fluctuations in weight.

Psychological factors could be an abnormal obsession with body image, low self-esteem, and stressful life changes like a breakup, starting a new job, or leaving home.

Many bulimics also have a history of abuse in their lives. This could be from a sexual assault, child abuse or neglect, and troubled relationships in their past.

The Road to Recovery:

It is not easy to help a bulimic on your own. For many, professional help is the only way to bring the patients back to a more balanced lifestyle. Since much of their activity are done in secret it may even be difficult to get them to admit that there is a problem.

It helps to understand that bulimia is not just a problem with eating. There are many underlying causes that may have to be brought up through many layers of emotions. Aside from a low self-esteem, there is often shame and guilt tied in with it. Because of this, once you've understood what is bulimia, the next step is to get the patients the help that is needed and address those underlying disorders. The sooner you get them the professional help they need, the sooner you can help them back on the road to recovery.