Signs of Bulimia

Some of the more common signs of bulimia nervosa are:

Behavioural signs

  • A person may either frequent checking of body shape or weight OR avoiding 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.