Many people presume that bulimia causes weight loss and it’s not hard to understand why.
After all if you’re purging everything you eat then surely you should expect to experience weight loss due to your bulimia?
Well that’s what your “bulimic logic” will try to convince you, but it’s just not that simple.
While you can experience weight loss from throwing up when you first develop bulimia, it’s so important to realise that this is almost always impossible to sustain.
The idea that bulimia helps with long term weight loss is just another misconception that we desperately need to raise awareness of.
When you develop bulimia, after not much time at all your body realises that food is being restricted (purging has a similar impact on your body as restricting) and does everything it can to compensate for this.
Even if you purge straight after eating, research has proven that your body goes on to absorb 40% - 75% of the calories consumed.
In a study conducted at the Pittsburgh Human Feeding Laboratory, 18 bulimic participants were asked to binge and purge as they normally would, while the calories they consumed were carefully monitored.
After vomiting, researchers discovered that while the average binge consisted of 2131 calories, the participants only managed to purge an average of 979 calories by vomiting.
So the chances are the number of calories absorbed from a binge even after vomiting is greater than the number that would have been absorbed on a binge-free day.
This may come as a shock, but the facts remain - Purging fails to help with weight loss and over time bulimia can cause weight gain!
A new study conducted by researchers at Drexel University and published in the International journal of Eating Disorders in May 2012 found that the majority of people with bulimia reach their HIGHEST EVER BODY WEIGHT after developing their eating disorder and regardless of the presence of purging behaviours.
In fact weight gain caused by bulimia can be "so dramatic" that lead researcher Dr Shaw suggests people with bulimia have a much better chance of maintaining a healthy weight by learning how to normalize their eating behaviours and by developing healthy weight control skills.
It is likely that you’ll experience some weight fluctuations during recovery and it’s important to be prepared for this.
Now I know what you’re thinking.
If this really was true for most people then why is it so common to see questions like, “Why have I gained so much weight in bulimia recovery?” To answer this, let's take a look at some of the most common reasons why people gain weight when recovering from bulimia:
1. Mistaking water retention and initial bloating for weight gain - Most people experience “the recovery bloat” at the start of recovery. It can last anywhere from 2-6 weeks while your body rehydrates and adapts to digesting food properly.
2. Being underweight at the start of recovery - Most bulimics are not underweight, but those who are will have to accept some “needed” weight gain.
3. Still being in the earlier stages of recovery - It can take around 6 months for weight fluctuations to stop, so for a time it may look like you’re gaining weight, but this will even out. Weight fluctuations can happen whether you are underweight, at a healthy weight, or overweight, so it is important to be prepared for this.
4. Struggling with residual binges - People find it harder to stop bingeing may experience greater weight fluctuations at first, but again this is only temporary. Unneeded weight gained in this way will be lost gradually once binges begin to subside.
5. Continuing to restrict food in recovery - Continued restriction means that your metabolism cannot start working properly, that you'll be more prone to binge eating and that your body will continue to store anything you do eat as fat, rather than burning it as energy.
Take a look at some of the answers our members gave when asked the question, "what happened to your weight when you recovered from bulimia?"
After 2 weeks without b/p after 11 years of struggling with this, I am surprised to find out that I am actually losing weight."
Whenever I stop throwing up (and at the beginning I always eat huge portions), I start losing weight."
Because I binged so frequently I developed a lot of belly fat from bulimia but when I started to recover and the binges lessened my body and proportions changed, recovery put me in the best physical shape of my life."
I have not gained weight over the last 8 months of recovery."
When I realized eating normally was not making me gain weight my mind was blown!"
So quitting bulimia without gaining weight may seem like a fairytale, but in truth it is the reality for most people. It's such a challenge to get through those initial fluctuations but once you do, recovery will enable you to maintain your healthy weight for life!
If you are worried you may be suffering from bulimia nervosa we recommend you sign up to our Free Bulimia Recovery Ecourse. The sooner you start recovery the easier it is to recover.
Our selection of helpful recovery tools will help support your recovery.
To explore these helpful resources click here.
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The information provided in this website is for information purposes only. The information on this website is NOT a substitute for proper diagnosis, treatment or the provision of advice by an appropriate health professional. Please refer to the full disclaimer and copyright. If you do think you might suffer from an eating disorder, it is important that you talk to your General Practitioner, as there are many physical complications that can arise from being at an unhealthily low weight or from losing weight very quickly, or from purging. We advise you to seek professional help with working on an eating disorder.
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