Not every person with an eating disorder will act the same way, and it can often be difficult for a person or their loved ones to notice a problem until it has reached an advanced level.
This is particularly true for bulimia nervosa, which, unlike anorexia, pica, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder or other types of eating disorders may not necessarily have easily apparent symptoms or side effects.
There is help available, either through a bulimia clinic or a one-to-one treatment path, and those who find the strength to make that first step in looking for treatment will make a full recovery, although this may not take place overnight.
The earlier you spot the signs, the earlier you or someone you care about can start the road to recovery, as bulimia can have major physical and psychological effects over time.
Here are subtle signs that can be difficult to spot that may indicate someone is dealing with bulimia.
Exercise provides several physical and mental benefits, but as any athlete will note, the rests in-between are as important as the exercise themselves.
If someone regularly has very lengthy gym sessions or exercises without taking enough rest days in a week, this could be a sign of a negative behaviour pattern.
Some of the most common symptoms of purging behaviour are marks on the knuckles, a puffy face, and redness around the eyes, all the result of the purging process. Red eyes are caused by blood vessels bursting as a result of the exertion of purging.
Being sick causes stomach acid to enter the mouth, which can cause serious dental health issues. If a person’s teeth appear to be turning grey, this could be a sign of regular, long-term purging, especially if they also complain about dental pain.
A dentist can often detect these signs as well, due to the way in which acid attacks the teeth.
Sick has a very strong smell, but a lot of people with bulimia will attempt to cover it up and clean away as much of the evidence of purging as they can, so rather than looking for that specific smell, look for fragrant smells that smell like they are covering up something.
A combination of physical and psychological symptoms that can create a negative feedback loop is fatigue and low self-esteem. Regular tiredness and sleepiness can be a result of physical exertion and this can contribute to a low mood and low sense of self.
Listen carefully to how they describe themselves, particularly if they are trying to hide their pain through self-deprecating humour.
Bulimia is often connected with body dysmorphia, anxiety and depression, so symptoms such as withdrawing from social activities, hobbies and interests can also be a potential sign of an eating disorder.
One of the central parts of bulimia, alongside many other eating disorders, is that food becomes the centre of a person’s life, and as a result, someone who has bulimia may talk extensively about food either positively or negatively.
Published: 12 October 2022
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