Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa: Bulimia Signs Everyone Should Know

Trusted info on symptoms of bulimia nervosa. Includes early warning signs of bulimia, physical bulimia symptoms as well as behavioral bulimia signs.

It is extremely difficult for someone to admit to being bulimic as bulimics tend to feel a great deal of shame about their disorder . Bulimics are also good at hiding their bulimia symptoms, so it's important for those around them to know the signs of bulimia to catch this potentially deadly disease as soon as possible for the best chance at bulimia recovery.

Early Signs of Bulimia Nervosa

The best time to stop bulimia or any eating disorder is before it starts and knowledge of environmental risks and early warning signs of bulimia can help.

Psychological Signs of Bulimia Induced By Environment

Adolescents often become preoccupied with looks, thinness and fitting in, and while this is normal behavior, this can also be the perfect breeding ground for an eating disorder. Flipping through fashion or health magazines might seem harmless but if the person has internalized psychological issues such as low self-esteem, these images can serve to create a need for the person to strive for unattainable physical perfection.

Psychological risk factors for developing bulimia include:1

  • Low self-esteem
  • Perfectionism
  • Substance abuse
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Obsession with body image and looks

The behavior of one's family, social circle and personal challenges are also risk factors for bulimia:

  • Dieting of other family members, specifically the mother
  • Family history of eating disorders
  • Participating in activities where weight is emphasized such as ballet, gymnastics, weight lifting, figure skating or swimming
  • Being overweight
  • Dieting (dangers of dieting)
  • Being praised for losing weight
  • Personal trauma such as physical or sexual abuse

Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa

If an eating disorder has already taken hold, the symptoms of bulimia can initially be subtle but can be picked up on by family and friends who recognize the signs of bulimia. Because bulimia typically stems from a psychological disorder or dissatisfaction, that can often be the first sign. Bulimics often put unrealistic pressures on themselves to be perfect in aspects of their lives outside of their looks. This pressure comes from a desire to control the bulimic's life, just as they control their food intake and weight.

Psychological symptoms of bulimia include:

  • An unrealistic view of the bulimic's body, including possible body dysmorphic disorder
  • An overwhelming desire to be perfect and upset at any perception of imperfection
  • Anxiety or depression

Physical Signs and Symptoms of Bulimia

Unlike anorexia, where a dramatic drop in weight is an obvious sign of the eating disorder, signs of bulimia can be easier to miss. Often bulimia symptoms are seen as "normal" from the outside because those around the bulimic don't immediately see their severity. (read: Effects of Bulimia) Even once symptoms of bulimia are noticed, the bulimic typically denies having an eating disorder making it difficult to even address the problem. Anyone with multiple signs of bulimia should be screened for an eating disorder. (Take bulimia test.)

Different Signs of Bulimia for Different Types

While all types of bulimia involve the intake of calories and the suppression of the intake of calories, this can manifest in different ways. The two types of bulimia are purging and non-purging bulimia, chiefly differentiated by the way the bulimic rids themselves of calories.

  • Purging bulimia - Regular self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics or enemas to compensate for binges (overeating)
  • Non-purging bulimia - Other methods are used to rid calories and prevent weight gain, such as fasting or overexercising

In should be noted that while most bulimics purge after an excessive intake of calories (binge eating), some bulimics purge after even small amounts of food intake.

General physical symptoms of bulimia include:

  • Fluctuations in body weight
  • Loss of subcutaneous fat
  • Low blood pressure
  • Feeling cold
  • Erosion of teeth, cavities
  • Abdominal pain
  • Swallowing or esophagus problems
  • Bruises, calluses, scarring and abrasions on the hands
  • Broken blood vessels in the eyes (from the strain of vomiting)
  • Pouch-like appearance to the corners of the mouth due to swollen salivary glands
  • Rashes and pimples
  • Dry mouth

Behavioral Signs

In addition to the above physical bulimia symptoms, there are behavioral signs of bulimia too. These symptoms are the commonly seen behaviors in bulimics. Behavioral symptoms of bulimia include:

  • Constant complaints of being ugly or fat
  • Not wanting to eat in front of others
  • Becoming vegetarian, vegan or restricting types of food eaten for other reasons
  • Smoking, as it is believed to prevent weight gain
  • Impulsive behaviors such as self-cutting or sexual promiscuity
  • Going to the bathroom during or right after meals
  • Diabetics may withhold insulin
  • Secretive eating

article references

next: Bulimia Test: Am I Bulimic?
~ all bulimia nervosa articles
~ all articles on eating disorders

Last Updated: 14 May 2016

Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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