Bulimia (or bulimia nervosa) is an eating disorder characterized by binge eating and purging the excess food by vomiting to try to prevent weight gain. Some people with bulimia may also try to compensate for overeating by taking laxatives, fasting, or overexercising. Eating disorders are common among adolescent and reproductive-age women, so you’re not alone.

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Impact of bulimia on fertility

A common effect of bulimia is weight gain, because the average bulimic takes in thousands of calories which get absorbed before purging. As a result, many bulimics are overweight, which disrupts cycle hormones LH and FSH and interferes with ovulation. Even in bulimic women who have a normal body weight, amenorrhea (missed periods) is common, affecting up to 40% of people.

Bulimia is also associated with other hormonal imbalances including low estrogen, excess androgens (hyperandrogenemia), and polycystic ovary syndrome, all of which reduce fertility. Beyond that, nutritional deficiencies due to bulimia can affect egg quality and make it more difficult to conceive.

Having bulimia during pregnancy is linked to miscarriage, preterm delivery, and postpartum depression.

Potential causes of bulimia

Bulimia and other eating disorders occur as a way to cope with painful emotions. Bulimia specifically is closely linked with past trauma, and research finds that around 1/3rd of people with bulimia have a lifetime history of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Stressful life changes like going through a breakup or changing jobs, in addition to genetics, hormones, and social pressure from your environment can all play a role in the development of bulimia.

Oftentimes, someone becomes bulimic after going through a period of dieting, and up to 30% of people with bulimia have a prior history of anorexia.

Symptoms of bulimia

Bulimia can cause the following physical problems:

  • Amenorrhea
  • Irregular cycles
  • Sore throat that doesn’t go away
  • Swollen neck and jaw
  • Tooth decay and discoloration
  • Acid reflux and stomach problems
  • Dehydration
  • Vitamin deficiencies (e.g. Vitamin B12 deficiencies)

Frequent purging can cause imbalances of important electrolytes like potassium which can lead to lethargy, cloudy thinking, irregular heartbeat, kidney problems, and even death.

Treatment of bulimia to improve fertility

Research shows that treating bulimia and related nutritional deficiencies can make the menstrual cycle return to normal, thereby greatly improving fertility.

In order to recover from your eating disorder and develop a healthy relationship with food, it’s vital to first find out what triggered the onset of bulimia and treat the underlying psychological cause. To do this, it’s best to seek help from a mental health professional who specializes in eating disorders.

At LEVY Health, we offer personalized nutritional counseling. Our coaches will support you with knowledge on healthy eating habits and create meal plans to ensure you’re getting all of the nutrients you need to support overall health and fertility.

Pregnancy takes a toll on a woman’s body and so it’s more important than ever to nourish your body with nutritious foods. Weight gain during pregnancy may trigger a relapse of eating disorders, so stay aware of the signs of bulimia and seek treatment if necessary to help you have a successful pregnancy.

This article has been verified by a medical professional

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