What signs might indicate someone is bulimic? 

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kateanswers eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Bulimia nervosa is a psychological condition called an eating disorder, and is characterized by ingesting above-normal amounts of food and purging through exercise, vomiting, or laxative abuse. People who develop bulimia may experience body dysphoria (dislike for how their body looks or feels,) anxiety, and/ or a "perfectionist" desire to succeed. Eating disorders are very complex, and there is no "one size fits all" description for what an eating disorder looks like or how it is experienced, but the acts of binge-eating and purging are considered primary behaviors.

Unless you actually see someone repeatedly binge-eating and purging, it can be difficult to tell whether they have bulimia. If you think someone is purging after eating—whether through exercise, vomiting, or laxative abuse—you should try not to make them feel cornered or attacked when talking about it. I would also advise being certain before confronting the person, because accusations of an eating disorder might make someone feel you are untrustworthy or think lowly of them.

Here are some things to look for if you think someone you know has bulimia:

-Visiting the bathroom during or immediately after meals, especially if bathroom visits exceed ten minutes.

-Seeking privacy during or immediately after meals through other means, such as being alone in one's bedroom, taking a shower after eating, or leaving the home immediately after meals.

-Smell of vomit OR cleaning fluid/ air freshener after this person uses the bathroom.

-Taking laxatives often, purchasing laxatives on a regular basis, or a lot of laxative packages appearing in the trash.

-Ingesting a lot of food in a short period of time. Think of this in terms of meal sizes or serving sizes—does this person eat more than the amount of one meal or serving size in a sitting? For example, are they eating a whole pizza by themselves, or eating ten candy bars in one sitting?

-Wounds on the back of the hands and knuckles, caused by knocking the teeth and stomach acid burns from inducing vomiting.

-Swollen cheeks or jaw, caused by irritated salivary glands from vomiting.

-Excessive exercise. This may manifest as someone spending a lot of time at the gym, being inflexible with their exercise regimen, or exercising more than their dietary intake would necessitate to stay healthy.

Please note that not everyone who has bulimia has a low body-weight, and some people experience no change in their weight at all. Additionally, some of the above "signs and symptoms" may be caused by other health conditions including food intolerance, irritable bowel or Crohn's disease, and undergoing chemotherapy. It's important to pay attention to whether a person seems to experience anxiety about food, makes negative comments about his or her self-image, and seeks privacy when it comes to food and exercise.