Signs and Symptoms of Bulimia in Teenagers

Symptoms of Bulimia

Verywell / JR Bee

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 by means of self-induced vomiting, 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.

Incidence of Bulimia in Teens

The worldwide prevalence of bulimia cases in young females is estimated to be around 1% to 3% (depending on the country). However, a European study found the expression of the core symptoms of anorexia and bulimia to be present in up to 12% of women over the course of their lifetimes.

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

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

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

  • Eating a significantly larger amount of food in a limited period of time than most people would typically eat, known as binge eating.
  • 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 related to eating, body images, or weight.
  • 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 eating or overeating.
  • Extreme fear of gaining weight.
  • Using breath mints to cover up after vomiting.
  • Unreasonably discontent with body size or shape.
  • Use of diet pills or diuretics 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.

Bulimia Discussion Guide

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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.

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
  • Hormone problems
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Rupturing in the esophageal wall due to vomiting
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Death

A Word From Verywell

Bulimia is a serious health condition that can have significant health consequences. Early intervention can help prevent many of these negative outcomes and increases the chances of recovery.

If you notice symptoms of bulimia in your teen, talk to your doctor about your next steps and treatment options. Online resources are also available that can offer advice and resources, including the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Eating disorders: about more than food.

  2. Nagl M, Jacobi C, Paul M, et al. Prevalence, incidence, and natural course of anorexia and bulimia nervosa among adolescents and young adults. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2016;25(8):903-918. doi:10.1007/s00787-015-0808-z

  3. Vo M, Lau J, Rubinstein M. Eating disorders in adolescent and young adult males: presenting characteristics. J Adolesc Health. 2016;59(4):397-400. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2016.04.005

  4. Nemours TeensHealth. Eating disorders.

  5. National Eating Disorders Association. Bulimia Nervosa.

  6. Dalley SE, Bron GG, Hagl IFA, Heseding F, Hoppe S, Wit L. Bulimic symptoms in a sample of college women: disentangling the roles of body size, body shame and negative urgency. Eat Weight Disord. 2019. doi:10.1007/s40519-019-00771-z

  7. Hail L, Le Grange D. Bulimia nervosa in adolescents: prevalence and treatment challengesAdolesc Health Med Ther. 2018;9:11–16. doi:10.2147/AHMT.S135326

By Kathryn Rudlin, LCSW
Kathyrn Rudlin, LCSW, a writer and therapist in California specializes in counseling and education for teenagers with mothers who are emotionally disconnected.