Bulimia nervosa is a serious eating disorder that’s potentially life-threatening. According to Anorexia Nervosa & Related Eating Disorders, research shows that around four percent of college-aged women have bulimia, and around 50 percent of people who suffer from anorexia nervosa develop bulimia symptoms. Because people with bulimia often keep their bulimia symptoms a secret, it’s difficult to know how many older people have this disorder.
Bulimia Symptoms Used to Diagnose Bulimia
While bulimia is most prevalent among women, men also develop this dangerous eating disorder. Bulimia symptoms used for diagnostic purposes include:
- Recurring episodes of binge eating, which is characterized by eating a larger amount of food in a short period of time than most people would. During a binge-eating episode, bulimia symptoms include feeling a sense that you have no control over how much or what you eat.
- Recurring compensatory behaviors to prevent weight gain. These include vomiting, misusing laxatives, diuretics or other medications, fasting or excessive exercise.
To be diagnosed, these bulimia symptoms must occur at least once a week for a period of at least three months.
Other Common Bulimia Symptoms and Signs
A number of warning signs and bulimia symptoms can help you decide whether you or someone you love suffers from bulimia. Emotional and behavioral bulimia symptoms include:
- Behaviors and attitudes that indicate that dieting, weight loss and control over food is a major concern.
- Evidence of bingeing, including the disappearance of large amounts of food or hiding food wrappers or containers.
- Discomfort with eating around others.
- Engaging in food rituals, such as only eating a particular food or chewing food excessively.
- Stealing or hoarding food.
- Drinking excessive amounts of water or calorie-free drinks.
- Wearing baggy clothes to hide your body.
- Changes in lifestyle or schedule to allow time for bingeing and purging.
- Withdrawing from friends or neglecting activities once enjoyed.
- Looking in the mirror frequently and finding flaws in appearance.
- Extreme mood swings.
Bulimia symptoms and signs that indicate self-induced vomiting include:
- Disappearing shortly after eating, usually to the bathroom.
- Using mouthwash, mints or gum excessively.
- Unusual swelling of the jaws or cheeks.
- Calluses on the back of the knuckles and hands.
- Stained, discolored teeth.
Physical bulimia symptoms include:
- Obvious fluctuations in weight.
- Stomach cramps or other gastrointestinal problems, including acid reflux or constipation.
- Problems with concentration.
- Dizziness or fainting.
- Problems with sleeping.
- Feeling cold most of the time.
- Dry skin, hair and nails.
- Muscle weakness.
- Irregular menstrual cycle.
Not everyone with bulimia will experience all of the possible bulimia symptoms.
Bulimia Treatment Works
Left untreated, bulimia can damage the entire digestive system and lead to dangerous chemical imbalances in the body that can lead to heart problems and interfere with the function of other organs. Electrolyte imbalances are also common and can lead to death.
Bulimia is a treatable eating disorder, according to Harvard University, which cites a combination of nutritional counseling and psychotherapy as the best course of treatment. Because no single treatment is appropriate for every person with bulimia symptoms, a high quality treatment program will offer personalized treatment plans to address the unique needs and issues of the individual.
During treatment, a variety of therapies will help you address the complex issues that underlie the disorder. You’ll learn to engage in healthy eating behaviors and address issues surrounding self-esteem, body image and self-perception.
Treatment can help you end dysfunctional eating behaviors while improving your self-esteem, body image and sense of well-being for a happier, healthier you.