It’s hard enough living with bulimia without having to think about all of the nasty potential side effects and health complications that it can cause.
However, while you can’t simply scare yourself into recovery, it is important to become informed on the possible dangers and life changing conditions that bulimia can cause.
Medical evidence into the effects of bulimia shows us that over time, bulimia has the potential to inflict irreparable damage on every single system of your body.
How does bulimia affect your body?
The physical symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa
Common physical symptoms of Bulimia include:
- Sore throat, large mouth ulcers and infections
- Swollen face (puffy cheeks)
- Stomach pains (and other general aches and pains)
- Irregular periods (for women)
- Irregular bowel movements and constipation
- Tooth decay and staining from stomach acids released during frequent vomiting.
- Weight fluctuations (You can experience initial weigh loss, but this is very temporary. Weight gain is more likely as the disorder progresses. (find out why)
More serious and life-threatening physical side effects of bulimia include: Gastric Rupture, Irregular Heart Beats, Electrolyte imbalance and Major Organ Damage or Failure (particularly relating to your Kidneys, Pancreas and Heart).
SIGNS OF ELECTROLYTE IMBALANCE INCLUDE: Feelings of fatigue, muscle weakness, muscle cramps, nausea, dizziness, confusion, fainting, restlessness and seizure. If you have any of these symptoms you should visit your doctor as soon as possible. Even if you’re not ready to recover, your doctor can monitor your electrolyte levels more closely.
How does bulimia affect your brain?
The psychological symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa
A growing body of scientific research indicates that nutritional deficiencies, which occur as a result of bulimia, may be responsible for the majority of the psychological symptoms associated with bulimia. The most common psychological symptoms and side effects include:
- Anxiety (especially social anxiety)
- Depression (and suicidal feelings)
- Mood swings and general feeling of emotional instability (feeling out of control)
- Inability to focus and episodes of “zoning out”
- Sleep disturbances
- Low self-esteem and distorted body image
Struggling with suicidal thoughts? If you find yourself experiencing suicidal thoughts, please do reach out for emotional support. Visit www.befrienders.org to find a confidential helpline in your area.
How does bulimia affect your behavior?
The behavioral symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa
Here, we’re really talking about all of those actions and behaviors that, as a bulimic, you feel compelled to do. Some of the most common behavioral symptoms of bulimia are:
- Uncontrollable episodes of binge eating when faced with certain “trigger” foods.
- Withdrawal from social situations/spending more time alone.
- Reluctance to eat with others or in public settings.
- Hoarding large quantities of food in case there is a “need” to binge.
- Being very secretive and telling lies.
- Being short-tempered or hurtful towards loved ones (saying or doing things you don’t really mean in the heat of the moment)
- Increase in impulsivity (taking more risks/ engaging in promiscuous behavior/abusing alcohol/abusing drugs/shoplifting)
“How long will it be before I experience the side effects of bulimia?”
The amount of damage caused, the time it takes for more serious conditions associated with bulimia to develop and the particular side effects that bulimia can inflict will totally vary from person to person. There is just no way to know for sure.
“I’m terrified of bulimia side effects but I can’t stop – Help!”
Rest assured that it is possible to fully recover from bulimia, no matter how long you have suffered with it for.
How Bulimia leads to Vitamin Deficiency Symptoms
When you have bulimia you often have an inadequate dietary intake of vitamins either because you experience episodes of food restriction and don’t eat enough nutrient rich foods or because purging means your body is not able to absorb the vitamins and minerals that it needs in order to function properly.
When your body is deprived of a specific vitamin (or many vitamins) you can experience a lot of nasty side effects as a result.
Below you will find a list of essential vitamins together with sings that indicate deficiencies…
You may or may not have heard of a lot of these vitamins before, but making sure you get enough of them is essential to recovery and well-being.
To ensure your body is receiving the essential nutrients it needs during recovery vitamin and mineral supplements can be taken, but please consult your doctor before doing so.
As the ultimate aim will always be to get the nutrients you need from the food you eat we’ve put together some useful information on foods that contain each of the essential vitamins.
If you have more questions relating to the types of foods you should be eating in recovery then why not sign up for support from our nutritionist who can help to advise you on your structured eating plan.
Vitamin A (beta carotene)
Deficiency Symptoms: If you lack Vitamin A you may have some teeth damage due to bulimia. is essential for bones and teeth and it also protects against colds and flu. Common deficiency symptoms include acne, allergies, loss of appetite, blindness, cancer susceptibility, colds, decreased immune system function, dry hair, eye sties, fatigue, insomnia, impaired growth, itching and burning eyes, loss of smell, night blindness, dry skin and sinus trouble.
Main Body Parts Affected: Bones, eyes, hair, immune system, skin, soft tissues and teeth.
Foods that contain Vitamin A
Fish, liver, green and yellow fruits and vegetables, apricots, asparagus, beets, broccoli, butter, cantaloupe, carrots, cheese, garlic, green olives, milk products, fresh mustard, papaya, parsley, peaches, prunes, red peppers, sweet potatoes, spinach, pumpkin, watercress.
Vitamin B Complex
Deficiency Symptoms: A deficiency in vitamin B complex can contribute to electrolyte imbalances and emotional problems such as depression, anxiety and erratic mood swings. Experts believing these specific deficiencies can contribute to the onset of bulimia. Other symptoms include Acne, anemia, appetite loss (or increase in binge urges in people with bulimia), bad breath, constipation, dark tongue color, digestive disturbances, fatigue, dry hair and hair loss, high cholesterol, hypertension, immune system problems, insomnia, tender or painful leg muscles, memory loss, nervousness, nervous system disorders, dry or rough skin, poor circulation and problems with muscle tone in the gastrointestinal tract and the liver.
Main Body Parts Affected: All cells, eyes, gastrointestinal tract, hair, liver, mouth, nervous system and the skin.
Foods that contain Vitamin B Complex
Cheese, eggs, milk, all meat and poultry, nuts, broccoli, beans, brown rice, cabbage, cauliflower, fish, oatmeal, raisins, spinach, asparagus, peanut butter, brussel sprouts, whole grains, yogurt.
Deficiency Symptoms: Many people with bulimia suffer from a vitamin B12 deficiency due to lack of nutrient absorption. Symptoms include appetite loss, reduced reflex responses, fatigue, hallucinations, irritability, memory impairment, memory loss, mental depression and confusion, nervousness, pernicious anemia, unpleasant body odor, walking and speaking difficulties, weakness in arms and legs and various complications with digestion and absorption of food.
Main Body Parts Affected: Liver, nerves, red blood cells and the gastrointestinal tract.
Foods that contain Vitamin B12
Beef, cheese, clams, crab, fish, eggs, herring, kidney, liver, mackerel, milk, other milk products, pork, seafood, tofu. Please note that vitamin B12 is NOT found in vegetables, only in animal sources.
Deficiency Symptoms: Vitamin C helps to prevent infection, improves immunity and can even help to prevent cancer. Symptoms of deficiency include anemia, bleeding gums, bruising easily, dental cavities, low immunity, muscle deterioration , nosebleeds, poor digestion, shortness of breath, stress, weakened cartilages, blood clots and slow healing wounds.
Main Body Parts Affected: Adrenal glands, blood, bones, capillary walls, cells, connective tissue (including skin, ligaments, bones and gums), heart, mucous membranes, nervous system and teeth.
Foods that contain Vitamin C
Green vegetables, berries, kiwi fruit, grapefruit, lemons, oranges, asparagus, broccoli, beef liver, brussel sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, mangos, peppers, pineapple, radishes, spinach, strawberries, and tomatoes. You can find vitamin C in just about all fresh fruits and vegetables.
Deficiency Symptoms: One of the main roles of vitamin D is to improve levels of immunity, if you are deficient in it then symptoms can include brittle and fragile bones, burning in mouth and throat, diarrhoea, insomnia, irregular heartbeat, low blood calcium, myopia, nervousness, pale skin, poor metabolism, rickets, sensitivity to pain, soft bones and teeth, osteoporosis , osteopenia and hypocalcemia.
Main Body Parts Affected: Bones, heart, kidneys, nervous system, skin, teeth and the thyroid gland.
Foods that contain Vitamin D
There are very few food sources of Vitamin D – most vitamin D is synthesized by sunlight on the skin. Foods that contain some Vitamin D are salmon, sardines, tuna, eggs, oatmeal, sweet potato and any dairy or other products that are fortified with vitamin D such as butter, and milk.
Deficiency Symptoms: Vitamin E helps to prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease, cataracts and can help reduce the amount of scaring that wounds leave on the skin. Symptoms of deficiency can include enlarged prostate gland (in men), gastrointestinal disease, dry hair, hair loss, impotency, miscarriages, muscular wasting, muscle weakness, decreased circulation, slow tissue healing and leg cramps.
Main Body Parts Affected: Arteries, blood vessels, heart, lungs, nerves, pituitary glands and skin.
Foods that contain Vitamin E
Vegetable oils, whole grains, dark leafy green vegetables, almonds, peanuts, seeds, spinach, herring, kale, brown rice, cornmeal, eggs, milk, oatmeal, organ meats, sweet potatoes, soy beans, unrefined cereal and wheat germ.
Deficiency Symptoms: Vitamin K plays an essential role in blood clotting and bone formation and is also essential for converting blood glucose into glycogen that is then stored in the liver. If you have a vitamin K deficiency you may experience brittle or fragile bones, poor blood clotting and high glucose in blood.
Main Body Parts Affected: Blood, bones, metabolism and liver function.
Foods that contain Vitamin K
Alfalfa, broccoli, soybeans, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, egg yolks, liver, oatmeal, rye, wheat and any other dark green leafy vegetables.
Deficiency Symptoms: Folic acid is needed for energy production, protein metabolism, the production of red blood cells and is vital for normal growth and development. A deficiency in folic acid can contribute t depression, anxiety, B12 deficiencies, birth defects (in pregnant women), and excessive fatigue.
Main Body Parts Affected: Metabolism, red blood cells, overall growth and development and nerves.
Foods that contain Folic Acid
Beans, beef, bran, barley, brown rice, cheese, chicken, dates, green leafy vegetables, lamb, lentils, liver, milk, oranges, organ meats, split peas, pork, root vegetables, salmon, tuna, whole grains, whole wheat and yeast.