The warning signs of bulimia are not easy to spot. My wife Ali hid her eating disorder from me for 3 years. I know they say love is blind but we spent all day, every day together and I had absolutely no idea she was suffering from an eating disorder.
The point is, people with bulimia are highly skilled in the art of hiding their eating disorder. If you don’t know what you are supposed to be looking out for then it can be very easy to miss.
Firstly, let’s expel a few myths.
Being underweight isn’t usually a sign of bulimia
People with bulimia are not necessarily underweight. In fact, most people with bulimia are usually around their normal weight range. So just because someone isn’t stick thin, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t suffering from a serious eating disorder. The truth is for many people bulimia causes weight gain.
“Bulimics – Tend to be normal to slightly overweight. They develop rapid weight fluctuations. In some cases, a bulimic client may be underweight if they are restricting caloric intake.”
With that in mind, let’s cover 21 signs that someone has bulimia nervosa.
The Physical Signs of Bulimia Nervosa
1. Puffy Face
Undeniably one of the most apparent physical signs that can indicate someone is suffering from bulimia is a swollen or “puffy” face. This is usually a result of swelling of the parotid glands which lie between the ear and jawline and it occurs as a result of frequent episodes of purging.
2. Scars or red marks on the fingers or knuckles
This is a sign of self-induced vomiting and is caused by teeth rubbing against the hands. Although not all people with bulimia need to stimulate their gag reflex in this way to vomit.
3. Tooth Damage
Bulimia causes extensive damage to teeth. This can be difficult to detect at first but eventually, teeth will appear to be “graying” or “ragging”, especially at the front.
4. Redness around and in the eyes
Self induced vomiting can cause the blood vessels in and around the eyes to burst leaving scatters of tiny red dots or lines. Many people with Bulimia will wear a lot of makeup in an attempt to conceal some of this.
5. A constantly sore throat and a compromised immune system
Many people with bulimia have frequently sore throats. In addition to this poor nutrition can lead to frequent colds, chapped lips, run down feelings and cold sores.
6. Rapid weight fluctuations
People with Bulimia often experience very rapid weight fluctuations.
7. Puffy dry skin
Some develop dry, blotchy puffy skin.
8. Short finger nails.
So as to not scratch the roof of their throat whenever they purge.
As one member of Binge Code stated
When I had bulimia I was a jittery mess. I would fidget constantly to burn excess calories. I would wear a pedometer and had Ziploc baggies inside my purse for emergency purge.”
These are any actions that a person takes or behaviors that they exhibit that could indicate they have bulimia.
8. Frequent visits to the bathroom after eating
Many people with bulimia try to disguise the noise of vomiting by playing load music, running taps or flushing the toilet a few times. Some may organize their bath or shower time to run “coincidently” after meal times.
9. You may detect a smell of vomit lingering in the bathroom.
However many people with bulimia will be sure to spray the toilet with plenty of fragrance or perfume after purging (another telltale sign).
10. Vomit may be left around the inside of the toilet bowl or spilled around the sides.
Although those with bulimia are normally overly cautious about leaving signs, so this can be difficult to detect
11. You may notice food disappearing in large quantities.
You may also notice the person buys a lot of food in bulk or eats a rather large amount of food without gaining a lot of weight.
12. You might find empty food wrappers hidden around the house.
Not a great clue, however if the person does not eat chocolate or sweets in front of you or others then this could perhaps be an indication of secret bingeing.
13. Look out for unexpected walks or drives at night
As well as staying up after everyone else has gone to bed. Someone with bulimia may try hard to get others to leave the house or ask leave them alone frequently so that they are able to purge.
14. Social withdrawal.
A person with bulimia will often turn down social invites, start to distance themselves from family and friends and lose interest in previously engaging hobbies and activities.
15. An increase in irritability and mood swings.
It is very common for people with bulimia to be at war with their feelings and emotions. Combine that with a lack of nutrition and actual changes to their brain chemistry and it’s easy to see why someone with bulimia can often experience dramatic and frequent irritability and mood swings.
16. Low self esteem.
While people with bulimia will often try very hard to hide their problem their low self esteem can still be very apparent to others. Someone with bulimia may put her/himself down a lot, comment on their body weight frequently or share worries about not being good enough or not feeling able to cope with life.
17. Laxative tablets being over used.
Laxatives can be used as a form of purging. If you see lots of laxatives around that could be a sign.
18. Hidden cups
If you find cups under the bed or cups around the place. That could be a sign. People with bulimia may use cups to purge into.
People with bulimia are regularly tired, listless, sleepy. Especially after a purging episode.
20. Food talk
A side effect of bulimia is food obsession. This includes lots of talk about food. In fact many people with eating disorders have a job that is directly related to food.
21. Over Exercise.
Exercise is good for you, but too much exercise can do serious damage. A person may be suffering from an eating disorder if they regularly spend hours at a time at the gym, or go exercise more than 4 times a week.
Some quotes from our members:
My therapist can tell if I’ve had a bad week based on the swelling of my face. The knuckle scars are a huge sign though, especially ones that resemble teeth marks and have built up calluses.”
Binge code Member
The b/p cycle is really quite violent for soft tissue if you think about it. We are pummeling our throats and faces with a hand, flushing extremely strong acid through our sinuses and salivary glands (not to mention tooth enamel), and who knows how swollen and inflamed our insides are – including the muscles around the stomach that do so much work. No wonder we feel weak, sore, swollen, puffy, sneezy and depleted afterwards. It’s like being in a fight or repeatedly falling off a building. Thinking like this has helped me to want to stop, or at least take measures to be more gentle in my method until I can stop.
Binge Code Member