Bulimia Nervosa, Explained

The physical and long term effects Bulimia Nervosa has on the body.

As all eating disorders are, Bulimia Nervosa is a seriously harmful illness that keeps those who suffer from it in a perpetual state of anxiety, fear, tension, and upset. If left untreated, Bulimia can cause long lasting health impacts, even life threatening, leaving the individual with not only physical wounds but emotional ones as well. All eating disorders are detrimental to one’s body, mind, and soul. What is encouraging however is that with a willingness to be vulnerable and an ability to practice resilience, recovery is entirely possible. Eating disorders are treatable and a brighter, happier, and freer future is a possibility waiting for whomever wants it to be theirs. 

What is Bulimia Nervosa?

Bulimia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a recurring and incessant binge-purge cycle. A binge is considered an episode of overeating, consuming a large amount of food in an inappropriately small window of time. What constitutes a binge as opposed to simply over consuming is intense feelings of being out of control around food, as if it is simply impossible to stop, the urge to consume is too strong. After the binge has subsided, the individual then engages in purging behaviour. Most commonly self-induced vomiting or the use of laxatives, diuretics, and over exercising to compensate for the binge. It is common that as the purging has then also subsided, the individual heavily restricts consumption as an extended compensatory activity. However, the restriction inevitably leads to another binge and the cycle continues. 

What are the physical effects of Bulimia Nervosa?

There are various physical effects of Bulimia Nervosa that can develop into complications leading to critical medical intervention, falling outside of treating the eating disorder itself. Subjecting the body to a constant state of upheaval with overconsumption followed by extreme purging activities does not allow the body to rest in a state of homeostasis, its desired and preferred way of being. The physical impacts of Bulimia Nervosa are as follows, however not limited to:

  Tooth decay and tooth enamel wearing

  Throat swelling

  Facial swelling

  Cardiovascular irregularities

  Russell’s sign

  • Calloused and bruised hands, in particular knuckles
  • Small lacerations on the back of the hand

  Digestive problems, constipation, diarrhea


  Vitamin and mineral deficiencies

  Thinning hair

  Irregular sleep

  Irritated esophagus, possible abrasions, rupture at its most serious

What are the immediate physical signs of Bulimia Nervosa?

Purging, in particular vomiting, can be incredibly jarring to a body. It is sometimes quite apparent or obvious if someone has been throwing up. Along with the above signs of Bulimia Nervosa, the most immediate signs someone has this eating disorder is Russell’s sign, a swollen face, sore throat, dehydration, and tooth decay. Russell’s sign is when the back of an individual’s hand is lacerated, swollen, cut, and bruised because of purging. 

What are treatment options for Bulimia Nervosa?

The treatment options are plentiful and easily adjusted to suit the unique needs of the individual in need. Therapy, however, is a critical and necessary step to achieve a state of recovery from an eating disorder. Eating disorders, after all, are mental diseases that impact the entire body. It is therefore essential to start at the root and begin untangling and work through what has been sneakily feeding the Bulimia Nervosa. 

Related Article: Purging Disorder Vs Bulimia Nervosa


Q: How does bulimia affect you mentally?

A: Bulimia, like all eating disorders, can leave lasting mental impacts on the individual. While in the thick of Bulimia, an individual often feels out of control, at the mercy of their eating disorder; unable to self-regulate or self-monitor. A binge is a way to emotionally sooth and regain some semblance of control. However, post binge, feelings of shame, guilt, and embarrassment are common and recurring. 

Q: What mental illness does Bulimia fall into?

A: Bulimia Nervosa is its own independent mental illness, as it is in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders. The DSM – 5 is a manual for assessment and diagnosis of mental disorders. Bulimia can be a part of a co-occurring disorder wherein the individual is diagnosed with two mental health or substance disorders. Some examples are:



  Substance/Alcohol abuse

  Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

–  Borderline Personality Disorder

Q: What are emotional signs of Bulimia Nervosa?

A: Emotional signs of Bulimia Nervosa can be like those of other eating disorders. Intense anxiety associated with body image, a distorted perception of one’s image, incessant thoughts about food and binging, denial, social withdrawal, reclusive behaviour, fixation on meals, etc. 

Q: Is Bulimia a psychiatric disorder?

A: Bulimia is not considered a psychiatric disorder. However, it is possible that someone with a psychiatric disorder can also be diagnosed as having Bulimia.

Dr. Natalie Mulligan graduated from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM). She completed her clinical internship at the Robert Schad Naturopathic Clinic with a focused interest in mental health. Prior to attending CCNM, she completed a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Waterloo.