Bulimia Symptoms & Signs

Carolina House provides leading bulimia treatment to ensure long-lasting recovery for a healthier and more satisfying life.

Understanding Bulimia

Learn about bulimia treatment

Bulimia nervosa is a type of eating disorder that is characterized by excessive overeating, which is more commonly known as binge-eating, followed by purging behaviors to clear the afflicted individual’s body of the food they have consumed. People who struggle with bulimia nervosa may feel that they are unable to control themselves when it comes to the amount of food they consume during their episodes of binge-eating, which causes them to consume more than most individuals do during one sitting. After these episodes occur, those with bulimia will either make themselves vomit or abuse enemas, diuretics, or laxatives in an attempt to stop themselves from gaining weight. This disorder is marked by an extreme preoccupation with food and hyper focus on body shape and weight. The risks linked to bulimia nervosa can be life-threatening, however with the appropriate treatment, those who struggle with this mental health issue can obtain the skills needed to live happy, healthy lives that do not revolve around an eating disorder.


Bulimia statistics

Mental health experts approximate that nearly 24 million people battle with eating disorders like bulimia nervosa. Studies have shown that 1% to 2% of young females meet criteria to be diagnosed with bulimia nervosa. This mental health condition is said to impact individuals in older adolescence and young adulthood, and it is more common in females than in males. More research needs to be conducted to help determine the prevalence of bulimia nervosa in males, however, estimates suggest that the ratio of this eating disorder is ten females to one male.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for bulimia

Experts in the field of eating disorders believe that the causes and risk factors for bulimia nervosa come from genetics and specific environmental influences. When trying to obtain a firm grasp on why an individual has developed bulimia nervosa, the following can be very helpful:

Genetic: Researchers have found that when an individual has a family background of bulimia nervosa or other eating disorders, their chances of developing similar issues are much more likely that those who do not have this genetic link. In addition, a family history of depression and anxiety increase ones vulnerability in developing bulimia nervosa.

Environmental: Studies have shown that there are some environmental factors that play into one’s development of bulimia nervosa. For example, being the victim of a sexual abuse during childhood can bring on bulimic symptoms. In addition, exposure to violence or being the victim of physical abuse can also increase one’s odds of developing this disorder. Exposure to environments where being thin is valued can also play a role in one’s development of this disorder.

Risk Factors:

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

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of bulimia

Depending on the period of time that an individual has been bulimic, the signs and symptoms of this disorder will vary. Apart from other eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, where one is likely to suffer significant weight loss, those who are bulimic can be of average weight and even overweight. At first sight, they might not appear to be battling with an eating disorder, however if one shows any of the following symptoms, they might be suffering from bulimia nervosa:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Inability to fulfill roles / responsibilities
  • Rigid dieting / fasting
  • Fainting spells
  • 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
  • Tooth discoloration / decay
  • Mouth sores
  • Internal bleeding
  • Fluctuations in weight
  • Constipation due to laxative abuse
  • Dehydration
  • Low potassium levels
  • Calluses or scars on hands or knuckles
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Imbalanced fluids and/or electrolytes
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Abdominal pain
  • Menstrual irregularity or amenorrhea (females only)
  • Irregular bowel movements

Cognitive symptoms:

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

Psychosocial symptoms:

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


Effects of bulimia

Bulimia nervosa, which is a serious type of eating disorder, is a mental health condition that can cause an individual to suffer many life-threatening consequences if the behaviors linked to this illness are continued. The effects listed below are likely to occur if an individual does not obtain the correct treatment to start recovering from this disorder:

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

Co-Occurring Disorders

Bulimia and co-occurring disorders

Those who battle with bulimia often find themselves struggling with other co-occurring mental health conditions, including, however not limited to, the following:

  • Personality disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders

I've been bulimic throughout my teens and most of my adult life. Thankfully, coming to Carolina House completely changed the way I think and feel about myself. I’m so grateful for this program’s help in getting me my health, my happiness, and my life back.

– a former patient
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