Bulimia, fertility and pregnancy

Bulimia nervosa, usually abbreviated to bulimia, is an eating disorder in which food obsession becomes the primary coping mechanism during stress situations. Individuals who suffer from bulimia often feel like their entire life is dictated by the need to either eat huge amounts of food in a frenzied manner or to physically get rid of their excessive food intake in an attempt to overcome the effects of their binge.

You think you might have bulimia? Try answering the following questions:

Do you go to the toilet after meals to vomit the food you have eaten?
Do you often feel unable to control what and how much you eat?
Do you eat even when not hungry and at a very fast pace?
Do you regularly hide yourself to eat in a solitary place?
Do you hide or stockpile food to eat later, in secret?
Do you feel guilty or embarrassed by what you eat?
Do you have an intense fear of gaining weight?
Does thinking of food stress you out?

If you can identify to any of the above questions, please book an appointment with your GP to discuss a probable underlying eating disorder. Remember, if left untreated bulimia may be fatal.

I don’t have bulimia: I may binge but I don’t force myself to vomit. So, I don’t fit the pattern! I’m fine!

Many people wrongly believe that bulimia equals the classical pattern of bingeing then throwing up. However, bulimia is a complex eating disorder, which may present itself as one of two major types.
But, first, let’s see what bingeing and purging mean.

Bingeing is an episode of eating an abnormally large amount of food in an exceptionally short period of time, accompanied by the sense of complete lack of control over what and how much is being eaten.

Purging is usually used as a ‘safety-net’ as an attempt to avoid weight gain. It involves trying to get rid of the food ingested during the binge, typically by three main types of inappropriate compensating behaviours:

Purging is often followed by severe food restriction over an extended period of time which may then lead to the next bingeing episode.

Note: Purging is INEFFECTIVE as an attempt to expel all the calories from a binge since about 1200calories will be absorbed by the body.

Now, let’s talk about the two main types of bulimia:

Bingeing-purging bulimia: This accounts for the majority of bulimia cases in which the individual with bulimia may have recurring bingeing cycles followed by purging episodes.

Non-purging bulimia: Those who suffer from this type of bulimia do not engage in self-vomiting practices, misuse of laxatives/enemas/diuretics but will compensate for their bingeing episode by:

Bulimia (BOTH types) can KILL you!

How does bingeing harm me?

Usually, food eaten would be high-fat/sugar/calories (cakes, chocolate, ice-cream, pizza etc), which can lead to:

What are the effects of bingeing-purging on my health?

The picture below shows how bulimia can affect your body.

How can bulimia affect fertility?

Most women suffering from bulimia experience menstrual irregularities or no menses at all, even though they may have a normal body weight. Irregular periods may make trying to conceive very challenging.

Studies show that reduced calorie intake (during periods of extreme fasting), excessive exercise, purging and/or psychological stress may cause disturbances in the level of hormones that are needed to maintain normal oestrogen levels. Abnormal levels of oestrogen may disrupt your ovulation pattern: you may stop ovulating completely and develop infertility.

Moreover, obesity in young women can result in high levels of androgens, male hormones. Androgen imbalance can cause abnormal menstrual cycles and block ovulation, which results in infertility.

Does this mean I can never have a baby?

If you want to become a mother and give the best start in life to your baby, please seek help and FIGHT bulimia now! Since bulimia during pregnancy can greatly endanger your life and that of your baby, it is highly recommended that you recover from bulimia before you try to conceive. Recovery will also help improve your chances of getting pregnant: a healthy diet may normalise your menstrual cycle.

How does bulimia affect pregnancy?

Bulimia during pregnancy can cause the following problems:

How can bulimia harm my baby?

How can bulimia worsen my health if I’m pregnant?

Your baby is totally dependent on YOU for his/her supply of nutrients essential for growth and development. So, if you are purging, exercising too much or restricting your food intake, you may be at risk of the following:

What challenges will I have to face during pregnancy if my bulimia is active?

ALL challenges have obstacles - and this is no different. BUT you CAN overcome these obstacles!

I'm pregnant and I have bulimia, what can I do?

Learn to love your body... let your bump be your source of motivation and inspiration.

If you are pregnant and suffer from bulimia, this could be a golden chance for you to recover. Befriend your body, focus on how great a mum your CAN and WILL be. Be kind to yourself and swap your focus from your weight to your health.

Look at any weight gain as 'recovery weight' and a sign that your baby will be healthy.

Take one step at a time, and savour this special moment in your life to the fullest...

You might also like:

Eating disorders linked to higher risks of reproductive health issues

Eating disorders are more widespread during pregnancy than previously thought

Anorexia, Infertility and Pregnancy

Diet for a healthy conception


Your New Pregnancy Bible

The experts' guide to pregnancy and early parenthood - by Dr Anne Deans


Your guide to second trimester nutrition

Your guide to third trimester nutrition

Bulimia, fertility and pregnancy

Caffeine in pregnancy: How much is too much?

“Pass the sick bag”: Eating your way through Hyperemesis Gravidarum

The role of probiotics in breastfeeding

Digestive problems during pregnancy

Calcium during pregnancy – what you need to know

Your guide to first trimester nutrition

Trying to Conceive? Foods you should avoid

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