Bulimia symptoms may include:
• Having a deep desire to feel in control of something
• Binge-eating i.e. eating large amounts of food (often high in calories) in a short space of time, and feeling unable to stop/loss of control
• Feeling guilty after binge-eating
• Vomiting after binge-eating due to intense guilt, fear of gaining weight or disliking the feeling of being ‘full’
• Fasting (going without food for long periods) to make up for the binge-eating, which may also include skipping meals
• Over-use of laxatives to empty the bowels and remove the food waste consumed
• Using diuretic medication to remove water from the body in order to feel thinner/weigh less
• Anxiety and depression
• Thinking about food all the time
• Obsession with body shape/weight and having a negative and distorted body image – believing self to be overweight or unattractive
• Exercising a lot or becoming obsessed with exercise as a way to purge calories
• Irregular or absent periods in women
• Mood and personality changes i.e. being irritable or angry
• Gut issues e.g. constipation, bloating, diarrhoea
• Loss of libido
• Teeth damage due to acidic vomit
• Bad skin
• Damage to hands from vomiting
• Puffy face, caused by dehydration
Not everyone with bulimia will show all of these bulimia symptoms. Bulimia is usually characterised by the desire to binge then purge, but the way that each person with bulimia does this may differ. If a person only binge eats, without the purge, they may have a different eating disorder called Binge-Eating Disorder. If a person only suppresses the amount that they eat, i.e. skipping meals and fasting to avoid weight gain, but does not binge-eat, they may have anorexia. Some people are given a diagnosis of ‘eating disorder not otherwise specified’ (EDNOS) which may incorporate a combination of symptoms of the various other specific eating disorders, but may not fall into a definite category. It’s important to remember that eating disorders are mental illnesses, and so the thoughts, feelings and attitudes people have towards themselves and eating, and what eating means to them, is a key factor in their bulimia symptoms and bulimia diagnosis.
Many of the bulimia symptoms listed here are difficult to spot in other people, and a person with bulimia is likely to try very hard to hide their behaviours, perhaps choosing to never discuss their thoughts with anybody else. The most common signs of bulimia that you may spot in someone else, is fast eating of large amounts of food (or evidence of this, i.e. wrappers in the bin, a stash of ‘secret’ binge foods, etc), going to the bathroom/toilet after eating, and obsessive exercising.
It is a common misconception that bulimia causes a person to be thin or underweight. Due to the nature of this condition, most people eat and consume large amounts of calories, which are still used in the body despite the purging that may occur afterwards. Some people may experience weight fluctuation as a bulimia symptom but these may not be noticeable to other people.
Another common myth is that people with bulimia always want to be thin. Whilst lots of people with bulimia may have a desire to be thin or may purge because they fear gaining weight, it is now understood that for many people, bulimia is a result of deep-routed psychological problems.
Prolonged bulimia affects the body and may cause long term damage and serious health consequences. Some people experience an imbalance of electrolytes (especially potassium depletion), heart problems or heart failure, kidney failure, chronic fatigue, and bone damage leading to osteoporosis.
To find out more about bulimia symptoms, visit the Beat website.