Physical effects of bulimia

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Weight fluctuations

One of the most obvious, and often upsetting, physical effects of bulimia is that of widely fluctuating weight. There may be fluctuations of almost a stone in a matter of days, and sometimes an increase of several pounds between morning and evening. Clothing that used to fit comfortable are suddenly unbearably tight, or so loose that they are falling off the body. Despair and hope will follow this rise and fall in weight, respectively.

The chaotic treatment, to which a sufferer of bulimia subjects their body, overloading it with nourishment at one time and depriving it at another, is reflected in such changes. The smaller swings in weight, which can happen at an unbelievable speed, are due to alterations in the bodies emergency water and glycogen reserve. This emergency supply contains an amount of water with readily available nutrients which is triggered by any sudden alteration in the bodies food supply, which is a common occurrence in sufferers of bulimia.


The complexion of a person suffering from bulimia will often be a mess, no matter what age the person may be. It is sometimes blotchy, sometimes a muddy-white with dark purple shadows under both eyes. Occasionally it is hot and red, and covered in dry patches. Also, acne is particularly common in sufferers of bulimia.

Parotid glands

These lie over the angle of the jaw on each side of the head, and are what swell when a person has the mumps. They produce the saliva that is needed to begin the digestion of sweet and starchy foods – the kinds often eaten during a binge. To cope with these binges the parotids need to work overtime and end up enlarging; this is then aggravated by purging (in this case vomiting) as the vomit can get into the ducts causing irritation. The end result of this is chronic inflammation.


I am sure everyone has heard of the whole “acid erosion” thing on the toothpaste adverts… Well vomit is a very strong acid. When this comes into contact with the teeth it attacks and dissolves the enamel leaving them dull, brown, and painful. Some people’s teeth end up beyond any form of repair from capping, the result of which meaning that they lose their teeth entirely and require false teeth.


Hair naturally goes through a cycle of resting, falling out, and growing. However, in many cases bulimia can disrupt this cycle; hair may rest for too long so looking dull and lifeless, or it may fall out too quickly resulting in thinning of the hair.


Bulimia can have some serious effects on the hormonal systems of the body. The thyroid gland will start switching on and off in such a way that during a binge you may feel hot and sweaty only to feel freezing cold moments later. The sex hormones go haywire; your sexual feelings may turn up to unbearable strengths or, more commonly, may turn theirselves off entirely. For women periods become irregular, and may vary from painful and heavy to their barely being a bleed at all. For men erections may become difficult to achieve or maintain, or they may get the opposite problem, of erections being triggered at random and often unsuitable occasions.

The stomach

I guess it is fairly obvious that this would be effected isn’t it? The most common effect here is pain, an awful pain on the left of the body in the chest area.

There are other potential effects though. During a phase of restriction the stomach will shrink to accommodate the small meals, making it incapable to handle a “normal” sized meal, let alone a binge. A stomach in this state needs to be stretched slowly over several weeks, but the bulimic cycle doesn’t really allow for this, so instead a shrunken stomach has to attempt to deal with an amount of food far greater in size than what it is capable of. This is a painful and potentially dangerous process, the whole abdomen may become swollen and hard due to it, and sometimes the entire digestive system can become paralysed. The worst case scenario is that the stomach actually splits due to the stress, though reported cases of this are rare.

Bowel issues

Constipation alternating with diarrhoea is sort of understandable due to the fluctuations in nutritional intake of a person. This can be exacerbated by the use of laxatives as a chemical purge.

Atonic colon

This is a side-effect of long-term laxative abuse where basically the colon becomes unable to empty itself no matter what the stimulus. Sometimes the colon can recover from this, but other times it becomes a permanent condition needed bi-weekly hospital visits in order to manage.

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