Bulimia Nervosa


A serious eating disorder characterized by a cycle of bingeing and behaviors such as self-induced vomiting to compensate for the effects of binge eating.

About Bulimia Nervosa

  • Affects 1-2% of adolescent and young adult women and 80% of patients are female.
  • Usually appear to be of average body weight and recognize that their behaviors are unusual.
  • Frequently associated with symptoms of depression and changes in social adjustment.
  • May attach self-esteem to body image and feel out of control during binge-eating episodes.

Warning Signs 

  • Evidence of binge eating: Disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time, finding wrappers and containers.
  • Evidence of purging behaviors: Frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, signs and/or smells of vomiting, presence of laxatives or diuretics packages.
  • Excessive, rigid exercise regimen despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury; compulsive need to “burn off” calories
  • Unusual swelling of the cheeks or jaw area.
  • Calluses on the back of the hands and knuckles from self-induced vomiting.
  • Discoloration or staining of the teeth.
  • Creation of lifestyle schedules to make time for binge-and-purge sessions.
  • Withdrawal from usual friends and activities.
  • Behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting, and control of food are becoming primary concerns.

Health Consequences

Bulimia nervosa can be extremely harmful to the body.  The binge-and-purge cycles can damage the entire digestive system, the heart and other major organ functions.  Some of the health consequences include:

  • Electrolyte imbalances (caused by dehydration from purging) can lead to irregular heartbeats and heart failure.
  • Inflammation.
  • Rupture of the esophagus from frequent vomiting.
  • Tooth decay and staining from stomach acids released during vomiting.
  • Chronic irregular bowel movements and constipation from laxative abuse.
  • Gastric rupture is an uncommon but possible side effect of binge eating.

How Friends and Family Can Help

  • Set aside a time for a private meeting with your friend to discuss your concerns openly and honestly in a caring, supportive way.
  • Ask your friend to explore these concerns with a counselor, doctor, nutritionist, or other health professional.
  • Avoid placing shame, blame, or guilt on your friend regarding their actions or attitudes and avoid giving simple solutions.
  • Remind your friend that you care and want your friend to be healthy and happy and express your continued support.



Information Provided by the National Eating Disorders Association 

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