Bulimia Signs

It is important to recognize bulimia signs so that a person can get treatment promptly. Early treatment for the signs of bulimia is crucial, because the condition can be deadly if not treated. In fact, as many as 20% of people with eating disorders who do not receive treatment die from their condition.

Signs of Bulimia

There are a number of bulimia signs that can often be spotted if you know what to look for.

Signs of binging include:

  • Eating an unusually large quantity of food within a short period of time (usually eating 3000 to 5000 calories in the space of an hour or less).
  • Eating to the point of physical discomfort or becoming ill.
  • Alternating between over-eating and fasting.
  • Eating in secrecy, and avoiding eating in public.
  • Hiding junk food around the house.
  • Disappearance of food. Lots of wrappers or empty food containers in the trash.

Signs of purging include:

  • Going to the bathroom while eating or immediately after eating. May run the water to cover the sounds of vomiting.
  • The smell of vomit. May try to cover the smell with air fresheners, breath spray, gum, mints, etc.
  • Regular use of laxatives enemas, and/or diuretics.
  • Exercising obsessively, particularly right after meals.

Physical signs of bulimia to watch for include:

  • Calluses on the knuckles, caused by sticking the fingers down the throat to induce vomiting.
  • Puffy “chipmunk cheeks” due to excessive vomiting.
  • Sores in the mouth caused by excessive vomiting.
  • Dental problems caused by excessive vomiting. The teeth may appear clear.
  • Broken blood vessels on face.
  • Fluctuations in weight. Most people with bulimia have near-normal body weights, but their weight may go up and down.
  • May experience bloating.

Emotional signs of bulimia include:

  • Obsession with food and calories.
  • Extreme self-consciousness about weight and appearance.
  • A negative body image and poor self-esteem.
  • Withdrawing from friends and family. Becoming more and more isolated and withdrawn.

A person with bulimia may also suffer from anxiety and/or depression.

Helping Someone with Signs of Bulimia

If you notice bulimia signs in someone you know, the best thing you can do is talk to them about what you’ve observed. Many people will deny the fact that they binge and purge, but others will be relieved to have it out in the open and will appreciate the opportunity to open up about it.

Someone with bulimia signs needs to be assessed by a professional to get an accurate diagnosis. They should be assessed by a doctor or mental health professional that is trained and experienced in dealing with eating disorders. Not all doctors have the necessary training and experience, so one way you can help is by helping to locate a treatment provider.

A person with bulimia will need expert treatment in order to recover from the disorder. Both medical and psychological treatment is necessary. In addition, nutritional counseling and education is needed. A team of treatment professionals, including a medical doctor, a mental health care provider, and a dietician, is needed. Inpatient care may be required for a time. You can help a friend or family member with bulimia signs find the care they need.

To find a treatment center or provider, a good place to start is in our listings of treatment centers. You can check with the person’s health insurance to see what providers they cover. You can also look online. Remember, you need treatment providers with specialized training and experience, so make sure to ask about that when you call.


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