Side Effects of Bulimia Nervosa: Menstrual Cycle, Fertility, Pregnancy Complications
It is my mission to share as much accurate information about the effects of bulimia on women's health as possible. After living with bulimia for 20 years and finally reaching full recovery, I encourage women to seek the recovery that they, too, deserve. I try to make people aware of the sort of healing that I was fortunate enough to experience after overcoming this disease.
Now, 6 years after recovery, I want to share my story about the many pernicious effects of bulimia on the body and the mind, so that women realize what their eating disorder is doing to them, before it is too late. Not only are women more prone to bulimia, women’s bodies are also more likely to suffer long-term damage from this disease.
Irregular Periods (Amenorrhea)
If the body is not getting enough nourishment, the body shuts down the systems and functions it deems to be less necessary. This is so that nutrition is available for the more vital functions of the body. For this reason, one of the common consequences of the body not getting enough nutrients is the onset of an irregular menstrual cycle, or the lack of menstruation altogether.
The menstrual bleeding may be perceived by the body as a waste of precious resources that are already stretched, so bulimics may experience very light periods, unpredictable and irregular periods, or no periods at all.
One of the effects of bulimia could be infertility, particularly among very low-weight bulimics. This means that bulimic women who want to get pregnant may find it difficult or impossible to do so. Infertility is more common in women with anorexia due to the higher occurrence of low weight among anorexics than bulimics.
However, infertility may be a risky assumption to make if you’re counting on it as a means of birth control. The fact is, not all bulimics are infertile. Far from it! Sometimes bulimics may have normal fertility, or they may be sub-fertile. Even if they have irregular periods, they could experience accidental or unwanted pregnancies.
But remember, recovery from bulimia means that your fertility can be fully restored if you quit while you’re young enough to still have children. Bulimics often return to their full fertility with the return of their first menstrual cycle during recovery. Research is very limited in this area of bulimia and anorexia, so it’s better to err on the safe side.
Miscarriages and Other Pregnancy Complications
One study I came across mentioned a fertility clinic that identified more than 50 percent of its patients with irregular or absent periods had an eating disorder (often untreated). It is generally not a good idea to try to get pregnant using fertility treatments if you have an eating disorder. Even if your eating disorder is not very severe, this could lead to negative consequences during pregnancy. The chances of miscarriage, preterm delivery, cesarean section, and low birth weight are higher. Bulimia could have negative consequences on your unborn child including retarded growth, premature birth, and newborns who are small for their gestational age, have smaller head circumferences, low birth weights, and/or low Apgar scores.
You can’t know in advance how pregnancy will impact your eating disorder—symptoms could get better or they could get worse during those 9 months.
Another risk is that of post-partum depression after delivery. In fact, post-partum depression is much higher (30%) among women with eating disorders. It seems new moms with eating disorders are also less likely to breastfeed their babies.
Low Sex Drive
Need I say more? This could be one of the unspoken effects of bulimia. Women with eating disorders have a lot to deal with already, and a lack of sex and intimacy are just another painful consequence of this destructive addiction.