Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Bulimia

Up to five percent of the US population will battle bulimia at some point in their lives. This disorder is known medically as “bulimia nervosa,” which translated literally means “nervous ox-like hunger.” This name may describe the large food binges people suffering from the disorder engage in, but it does not address the purging behavior after the binges that an individual usually does out of guilt. The technical name also does not begin to scratch the surface of the fear of gaining weight and the unrealistic body image a person with bulimia struggles with daily.

Nonetheless, bulimia is one the most serious eating disorders impacting the lives of our friends and loved ones. Although the condition affects both genders, the predominant number of cases can be found in young women. Struggling with emotional and mental health issues that lead to this binge-and-purge behavior. In order to help those who are battling this behavioral eating disorder, it is important to know the most common bulimia signs and symptoms.

What is Bulimia?bulimia symptoms

The binging and purging of food characterize bulimia. Typically, the individual will eat a large meal and then, before the caloric content of the food has a chance to impact the body, will purge the food out of her system. This is most commonly achieved through self-induced vomiting or the use of laxatives and diuretics.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms?

The body weights of people with bulimia vary widely and depend on how often they binge, how much they consume in each binge and the effectiveness of their purging behaviors. A bulimic may purge in a variety of ways from self-induced vomiting, excess exercise, abuse of laxatives and periods of fasting.


The most noticeable warning signs of bulimia nervosa involve the purging element of the behavior. These signs and symptoms include:

  • Trips to the bathroom after the meal is complete. An individual is likely to disappear after eating so they can go to the bathroom and throw up. Often, the individual will run water to disguise the sound of the vomiting.
  • Regular use of laxatives or enemas. After eating, it is not uncommon for a bulimic individual to use these medications and devices to purge. Some may partake in potentially dangerous diet pills or spend excessive amounts of time in the sauna in order to “sweat out” their water weight.
  • Smelling of vomit. When an individual returns from the bathroom, they may carry with them the smell of vomit. Many will try to cover up this smell with the use of mouthwash, gum or mints.
  • Exercise regimens. Individuals with bulimia are also known to engage in strenuous workouts, especially after eating. Most will take part in heavy aerobic exercise in order to burn calories.

Risk Factors

Eating disorders such as bulimia are complex issues usually caused by multiple factors. Experts believe an intricate combination of an individual’s personality traits, genetics, social pressures and family dynamics all play a role in the development of bulimia. Since there are no definitive causes of bulimia, psychologists have generated a variety of risk factors for the development of the disorder. The following is a list of the major risk factors, but is by no means a complete list:

Health Risks

  • Age. Bulimia usually starts in the teen years, but can last long into adulthood without treatment.
  • Perfectionism. People with unrealistic expectations may obsess over things about themselves that they feel aren’t “perfect.”
  • Negative body image. Binging and purging can be a way to feel in control over one’s body image.
  • Psychological diagnosis. There is an association with anxiety, OCD and depression and the occurrence of eating disorders.
  • History of abuse.Eating disorders are more common among survivors of abuse than the general population.
  • Genetics. People who have family members with an eating disorder are more likely to develop one.
  • Family dynamics. A variety of dysfunctional family interactions from parental indifference to overprotection increases the risk of bulimia.
  • Certain athletic activities. Studies show wrestlers, swimmers, figure skaters, dancers and gymnasts are at a greater risk for developing an eating disorder due to the focus on weight in these sports.
  • Major life changes. Experiencing loss of a loved one, unemployment, divorce or other stressful life events may trigger the behaviors of bulimia.

Treatment for Those Who Need Help

The realization that you or someone you love needs treatment for bulimia may be scary. We are here to make the process of investigating and finding top-notch bulimia treatment easier on you and those you care about. Contact us today and let us connect you to bulimia treatment programs that are highly capable of putting those suffering with the disease back on the road to a healthy lifestyle.

Additional Resources