Bulimia: 5 Behavioral Patterns To Watch Out For


An emotional eating disorder where sufferers feel an inexplicable need to binge eat, and purge themselves immediately after. Different from anorexia, where sufferers don’t feel like eating.

We all know about this eating disorder, or have heard about it in movies and jokes. The reality is that bulimia nervosa (its scientific name) is pretty dangerous, and very commonplace. 10 million new cases in India each year, in fact.

However, victims of bulimia are often careful to cover their tracks, and might look normal or slightly overweight. Here are 5 signs that often point to a case of bulimia, so you can tell if a loved one is suffering from this eating disorder.

Sign #1: A Tendency To Overeat, Then Guilt/Overcompensation

People with bulimia exhibit a worrying lack of control over their eating, but this doesn’t qualify as a bulimia symptom by itself.

Bulimic people will then try some compensatory behaviour. This includes clear red flags like self-induced vomiting and using laxatives. However, also watch out for seemingly innocent behaviour like extreme dieting or exercise to “undo” the calories gained.


Sign #2: An Obsession With Exercise

Exercise isn’t the first thing you’d look for in a ‘symptoms’ list, but such is the case with bulimia.

Victims of this disorder will be heavily fixated on their workout schedules. They feel a pressing ‘need’ to exercise. They may even get upset when something like rain gets in the way of their routine.


Sign #3: Inexplicable Tiredness/Thirst

Dehydration is one of the uglier signs of Bulimia nervosa. With frequent vomiting and other self-initiated purges, running out of fluids is the inevitable result. Pay close attention if someone is constantly tired, light-headed, or recently got weaker for no apparent reason.


Sign #4: A Dread Of Weight Gain

Everybody hates gaining weight, but someone with bulimia will often take it to another level. If you see someone you love getting unhealthily obsessed with weight loss, calorie counting, and their body type, bulimia might just be the explanation.


Sign #5: Dental Damage

Frequent vomiting wreaks havoc on your dental health. It causes an acid buildup, which can lead to tooth decay. Over time, teeth can get discolored, and even get eroded. Sufferers may even end up losing teeth.

If you see sudden signs of dental damage in a loved one, get them checked for bulimia.


Sign #6: Food Disappears

Bulimic people, embarrassed about others seeing their food addiction, may resort to eating food from the kitchen when no one is around. Sufferers have admitted to even stealing from friends.

Mock up of a man stealing food.  Photograph by Colin Mearns 8 October 2012

Sign #7: Bathroom Smells

It’s not always the smell of someone throwing up. Sufferers may attempt to cover up the smell of vomit by overcompensating with soap, shampoo or room freshener sprays.

Young woman vomiting into the toilet bowl in the early stages of pregnancy or after a night of partying and drinking.

With bulimia, a full recovery is possible. Counselling often helps, but it’s important that the sufferer realizes that they have a disorder. Doctors may recommend antidepressants to combat symptoms like depression.

See any of these signs? Get medical assistance as soon as possible.