What Is Bulimia? Signs and Symptoms

Bulimia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterised by, bingeing, eating large quantities of food in a short period of time, and then purging, engaging in over compensatory behaviours in order to counter-balance the effect on weight from the over eating.

Purging includes a range of behaviours including: periods of fasting, or severe calorie restriction; self-induced vomiting; laxative abuse and over exercising. All of these behaviours have the goal of purging the body of the unwanted food and calories to avoid weight gain. A sufferer does no need to engage in all of the purging behaviours in order to be suffering from Bulimia.

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How Bulimia Affects The Body

There are also a range of psychological characteristics that define the illness, such as a pre-occupation with food, weight and body image. There are also a number of traits, signs and symptoms that are common traits of Bulimia including: psychological, physiological and behavioural aspects.

Behavioural:  

  • Eating large quantities of food that exceed what would be normally expected in a short period of time – usually considered to be within a 2 hour period.
  • Eating beyond fullness signals.
  • Purging behaviours: self-induced vomiting, over-exercising, laxative abuse, insulin abuse, ipecac syrup, enema abuse and/or severe calorie restriction following a bingeing episode.
  • Being secretive and lying about eating habits.
  • Hiding and/or storing food in secret places.
  • Secret eating.
  • Using diet pills.
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom after meals and eating in order to vomit.
  • Frequent trips to a secluded area after meals and eating in order to vomit.
  • Keeping a diary/food diary of behaviours, weight monitoring and good/bad food lists.
  • Being overly pre-occupied with eating disorder and weight loss related media i.e. books, documentaries, films.
  • Altered libido.
  • Change in sleeping habits.
  • Taking up smoking all of a sudden.

Psychological:

  • Feeling emotional and feelings of depression.
  • Mood swings.
  • Feeling out of control.
  • Obsessed with dieting, food and body weight.
  • Low self-esteem
  • High expectations and pressure placed on self

Physical: 

  • Russell’s Sign: calloused knuckles from self-induced vomiting.
  • Sore throat
  • Irregular periods
  • Puffy face from swollen salivary glands.
  • Bad skin.
  • Constipation and other digestive difficulties.
  • Fainting.
  • Kidney and bowel problems.
  • Dehydration.
  • Weight fluctuations, not necessarily underweight.
  • Blood shot eyes, or signs of bleeding within the eye.

Sources: Women’s Health, World Health Organisation, Something Fishy, B-eat and Clinical Psychology, An Introduction by Alan Carr.

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