Bulimia Signs & Symptoms

When someone participates in a pattern of overeating, which is known as binge-eating, and then takes extreme measures to clear her body of the food that she has eaten, this is known as bulimia nervosa.

Understanding Bulimia

Learn about bulimia

Those who struggle with this mental health condition tend to have an inability to control the amount of food they consume during periods of binge-eating, often ingesting more that most individuals do in one sitting. After these periods of binge-eating, those who suffer from bulimia will abuse laxatives, induce vomiting, or use diuretics or enemas to stop themselves from gaining weight. A fixation on food and a steady focus on body weight and shape define this disorder, and episodes of binging and purging tend to occur at least once a week for no less than three months. The health risks linked to bulimia nervosa can be deadly, however with the appropriate care, those who have this mental illness can learn how to live happy and healthy lives that are free from disordered eating behaviors.


Bulimia statistics

Mental health professionals approximate that roughly 24 million people of all ages struggle with eating disorders like bulimia nervosa. Research has shown that one to two percent of young females meet the criteria needed to be diagnosed with this type of eating disorder. Bulimia nervosa is said to impact individuals in older adolescence and young adulthood, and is said to be not as common in males. Extended research needs to be carried out to determine the prevalence of bulimia nervosa in males. However, it is estimated that bulimia nervosa impacts ten females to every one male.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for bulimia

Experts on eating disorders believe that the causes and risk factors connected to bulimia nervosa are set in one’s genetic makeup and environmental influences, as well as other risk factors. When attempting to understand one’s development of this mental health condition, consider the following:

Genetic: Researchers have found that when an individual has a family history of eating disorders, he or she is more likely to develop similar behaviors that can lead to the development of bulimia nervosa or other eating disorders at some point in their lives. In addition, when there is a family history of other mental health conditions like anxiety or depression, the likelihood of one becoming bulimic increases.

Environmental: Professionals in the field of mental health have found a number of key environmental factors that can lend themselves to the development of bulimia nervosa. For example, being a victim of sexual abuse as a child, being exposed to violence, being the victim of physical abuse, or being exposed to environments where thinness is valued can all increase one’s chances of developing an eating disorder like bulimia.

Risk Factors:

  • Being the victim of sexual or physical abuse
  • Exposure to environments in which thinness is revered
  • Personal history of mental health conditions
  • Family history of bulimia nervosa or other mental health conditions
  • Being female

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of bulimia

Depending on the length of time that an individual has struggled with bulimia, the signs and symptoms of this mental health condition can vary. Different from other eating disorders that cause severe weight loss, such as anorexia nervosa, those who suffer from bulimia can be of average weight, or possibly overweight. At first, it might not seem like they are battling with an eating disorder, but if any of the symptoms below become noticeable, you, your friend, or your loved one might be struggling with this particular eating disorder:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Inability to fulfill roles / responsibilities
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Fainting spells
  • Rigid dieting / fasting
  • Excessive exercising
  • Engaging in ritualistic eating behaviors
  • Binge-eating followed by self-induced vomiting
  • Abuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas

Physical symptoms:

  • Ulcers
  • Swollen cheeks
  • Swollen glands
  • Acid reflux
  • Menstrual irregularity or amenorrhea
  • Irregular bowel movements
  • Calluses or scars on hands or knuckles
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Fluctuations in weight
  • Tooth discoloration / decay
  • Mouth sores
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Constipation due to laxative abuse
  • Dehydration
  • Internal bleeding
  • Imbalanced fluids and/or electrolytes
  • Low potassium levels

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor impulse control
  • Fatigue
  • Obsessions / compulsions / preoccupations with food, weight, or body shape
  • Dizziness
  • Desire to control situations and environment

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Feelings of ineffectiveness
  • Overwhelming fear of gaining weight
  • Elevated anxiety levels
  • Low self-esteem / self-worth
  • Drastic shifts in mood
  • Depressed mood
  • Irritability
  • Agitation


Effects of bulimia

Bulimia nervosa is a very serious mental illness and can cause individuals to experience a variety of life-threatening effects if their behaviors connected to this disorder continue. The effects listed below are most likely to occur if an individual does not obtain the appropriate treatment to start recovering from the disorder:

  • Ruptured esophagus
  • Self-harm
  • Development of another mental health condition
  • Inability to maintain employment
  • Financial strife
  • Rectal prolapse
  • Kidney failure
  • Ruptured stomach
  • Skeletal myopathy
  • Decline in quality and quantity of interpersonal relationships
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Academic failure
  • Infertility
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide attempts
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Bulimia and co-occurring disorders

The following disorders are among the most common disorders that can occur alongside bulimia nervosa:

  • Personality disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Bipolar disorder

We thought my sister had tried all her options in her battle against bulimia, but Montecatini made all the difference. She is healthy now and loves her life.

– Family of a Former Client
A Dynamic and Vibrant Healing Community
Located in scenic Carlsbad, California, three miles from the Pacific Coast.