Signs and Symptoms of Bulimia in Teenagers

Bulimia nervosa is a type of eating disorder characterized by repeated episodes of binge eating followed by behavior to compensate for the excessive amount of food consumed. This can include purging, fasting, over-exercising or the abuse of laxatives and diuretics to prevent gaining weight. The cycle of overeating and then purging can become compulsive, in some ways similar to an addiction to drugs.

Symptoms of Bulimia
Illustration by JR Bee, Verywell 

Incidence of Bulimia in Teens

The prevalence of bulimia cases in young females is estimated to be around 1 percent to 1.5 percent. However, a European study found the expression of the core symptoms of anorexia and bulimia to be present in up to 12 percent of females over the course of their lifetimes.

Most people who have bulimia are female, but males can certainly struggle with this disorder. In fact, there is likely an underreporting of the condition, especially in males.

This eating disorder can be triggered by stress, ineffective dieting, or as an attempt to deal with painful emotions or impaired body image. Purging behaviors make bulimia very harmful to the body. If you have any concerns your teen may be suffering from bulimia seek a professional evaluation from a physician or mental health professional.

Signs and Seeking Help

Early intervention improves the chances for a teens' successful recovery from an eating disorder. It may be hard to face the signs of bulimia in your teen, but it's important to be vigilant in ensuring your child's eating patterns are normal. It may be helpful for you and your teen to talk with your teen's primary care physician about eating disorders, the signs you may be noticing, and potential ways to help.

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There is cause for concern if you witness one or more of the following symptoms of bulimia:

  • Eating a significantly larger amount of food in a limited period of time than most people would typically eat, known as bingeing.
  • Feeling unable to control or stop eating once a binge starts.
  • Continuing to eat even if feeling uncomfortably full.
  • Expressing frequent concerns about body weight or shape.
  • Experiencing feelings of guilt, shame or anxiety after eating.
  • Purging food from the body after overeating to avoid gaining weight and as an attempt to regain a sense of control.
  • Skipping meals or going on extreme diets to 'make up' for bingeing behaviors.
  • Extreme fear of gaining weight.
  • Using breath mints to cover up after vomiting.
  • Unreasonably discontent with body size or shape.
  • Abnormal or abusive use of diet pills or diuretics over time for weight control.
  • Spending lots of time in the bathroom, usually throwing up.
  • Excessive exercise, at inappropriate times or settings, or even when sick or injured.

The Impact of Bulimia on Troubled Teens

Bulimia can have a devastating impact on teens. It's important to educate yourself and your teen about the harmful effects of bulimia on the body, mind, and soul. While a full recovery from the physical effects of bulimia can be had, the mental and emotional effects can last a lifetime. Here are the major health consequences of bulimia:

  • Mineral or electrolyte imbalances
  • Abnormal bowel function
  • Destruction of tooth enamel
  • Broken blood vessels in the eyes
  • Anemia
  • Becoming moody or depressed
  • Substance abuse
  • Hormone problems
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Rupturing in the esophageal wall due to vomiting
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Death
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Article Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Michaela Nagl,Corinna Jacobi,Martin Paul, Katja Beesdo-Baum, Michael Höfler, Roselind Lieb, Hans-Ulrich Wittchen. Prevalence, incidence, and natural course of anorexia and bulimia nervosa among adolescents and young adults. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 2016 Jan 11. pp 1-16