Signs of Bulimia

Beat are assisting Opiant and MAC with their research into the effects of intranasal naloxone on eating behaviours in bulimia nervosa. Find out more here.

Some of the more common signs of bulimia nervosa are:

Behavioural signs

  • A person may either frequently check their body shape or weight OR avoid looking at their body or checking their weight.
  • They may compare their body with that of others
  • Eating large amounts of food (bingeing)
  • Purging after bingeing by vomiting, over-exercising, using laxatives or diuretics, fasting
  • Organising life around shopping, eating and purging behaviour
  • Secrecy, especially about eating
  • Hoarding food
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Social withdrawal
  • Misuse of laxatives and diuretics 
  • Misuse of alcohol
  • Self-harm
  • Compromise of education and employment plans
  • Disappearing during or soon after eating (in order to purge)
  • Excessive exercising 

Psychological signs

  • Spending a lot or most of their time thinking about food
  • Feeling anxious and tense, especially around meal times or when eating in front of others
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low confidence and self-esteem
  • Worries about weight and shape
  • Fear of gaining weight
  • Distorted perception of body shape or weight
  • Feeling of loss of control over eating
  • Feelings of guilt and shame after bingeing and purging 
  • Other mental illnesses, such as depression or anxiety

Physical signs

  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Tiredness
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Stomach pain
  • Swelling of the hands and feet
  • Poor skin condition
  • Damage to teeth
  • Irregular or stopped periods
  • Enlarged salivary glands
  • Calluses on the backs of the hand if fingers are used to cause vomiting 
  • Imbalance in electrolytes – essential substances found in the blood
  • Stomach problems 
  • Regular changes in weight, which may go up or down, though often remains “normal”
  • Lack of sexual interest

Possible long-term physical effects of bulimia

If left untreated, bulimia nervosa can cause long-term harm to the body. However, most complications are reversible with early and effective treatment. Long-term effects of bulimia include:

  • Permanent damage to teeth
  • Damage to the vocal chords and throat
  • Damage to the intestines and stomach
  • Increased risk of heart problems
  • Kidney damage

Issue date: September 2017  Review date: September 2020 Version 2.0 Sources used to create this information are available by contacting Beat. We welcome your feedback on our information resources.