What are the symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa?


Bulimia Nervosa is a potentially deadly disease that affects approximately 4 million women and 1 million men in the United States alone. Research has shown that the sooner a patient with bulimia can find treatment, the higher their chance of recovery.

Many warning signs that can be attributed to bulimia. Even if these symptoms are not severe, the presence of these signs could mean that you or a loved one are at risk of developing a diagnosable eating disorder such as Bulimia Nervosa. Below is a list of some of the most prevalent signs of Bulimia Nervosa:


Noticeable weight fluctuations


While most people can experience weight fluctuation between 1-3 pounds daily, individuals struggling with bulimia will suffer weight fluctuations that are much more drastic. This is not always limited to a loss in weight. When someone is struggling with bulimia, their body may go through phases where it is trying to retain fluid and as many calories as possible, ultimately resulting in weight gain.


Skipping meals or eating small portions


Skipping meals is something that many individuals without a history of disordered eating experience occasionally. Some people will skip a meal if they are running late or are too busy to eat at their normally scheduled time. For individuals with bulimia, the practice of skipping meals can become commonplace and is normally due to an effort to control their weight. Be aware of frequent meal skipping or friends and family who commonly refer to a diet for their reasoning of skipping a meal. This can form unhealthy eating habits and be detrimental over time.


Stealing or hoarding food


Stealing food can become a common practice when someone suffering from bulimia is anticipating a binge at a later time. This can become habit-forming and result in a hoarding style of behavior over time.


Drinking excess amounts of water


Americans are drinking a lot more water these days to stay hydrated. However, individuals with bulimia will typically drink large amounts of water for different reasons. First, water is an easy way to curb hunger pains and not intake calories while skipping meals. Second, constant purging can quickly lead to dehydration, and their body will require a lot of water to keep running properly.


Excessive exercise


While moderate exercise is a recommended way to stay healthy, individuals with bulimia will often develop an obsessive pattern of exercise that can become problematic. Individuals with bulimia will often use exercise as a way to control weight or over-compensate after a binge eating session.


Unusual swelling in the jaw or cheeks


Swelling of the jaw or face during bulimic behaviors is often caused by the dehydration that the body is experiencing. Our bodies naturally try to retain as much water as they can during periods of extreme dehydration. Swelling in the cheeks and jaw can also be caused by irritation to the salivary glands in those areas. This is often the result of stomach acid being present in the mouth from purging.


Calluses on the back of your hands


Often referred to as Russell’s Sign, individuals with bulimia who purge frequently can develop calluses on the back of their hands and knuckles due to irritation. While these calluses could be an early indicator of bulimia, not all individuals with bulimia will show this type of scarring on their hands.


Discoloration or staining of teeth


Stained teeth can be a direct result of purging for individuals with bulimia. Purging brings stomach acid into the mouth area and can cause teeth not only to stain but become more brittle and increase the chance of cavities. Frequent purging can also cause swelling in the salivary glands over time.


Creation of complex lifestyle schedules & rituals


As the symptoms of bulimia begin to strengthen their hold on a patient, the urge to skip meals and purge often becomes stronger. Individuals with bulimia will have to alter their schedules to make room for these new habits.


Withdrawal from friends & family


Like the complex schedules mentioned above, many individuals with bulimia will have to seclude themselves from their friends and family to provide time for their disordered eating behaviors. This can include not being present at or after mealtimes, or frequently creating reasons to go work out or leave a social situation.


Behaviors and attitudes that signal a preoccupation with weight loss or dieting


Since their behaviors are often driven by a desire to lose weight, individuals with bulimia will often negatively reference their weight. This can include turning down specific types of food and entire meals because they are particularly concerned with how it will affect their weight.


Extreme mood swings


Bulimia Nervosa can be as much of an emotional battle as it is a physical battle. Many individuals with bulimia struggle with anxiety and depression as a result of their dietary habits and constant struggle to control their weight.

If you have noticed these signs in either yourself or a loved one, please reach out to our admissions team to discuss treatment options.

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