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.

The physical effects of anorexia

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When the body is starved of nutrients it seeks to conserve what reserves of energy it has in order to protect vital tissues. This is why as you continue to restrict your eating the amount of weight you lose will lessen over time. Basically the boy adapts to “famine conditions”, seeking ways to burn calories at a slower rate and so to preserve your health. As your metabolism rate slows, as does your growth rate. In pre-pubescent women, for example, with anorexia puberty is delayed.

The state of starvation causes feelings of fatigue and weakness as your body seeks to make you reduce physical activity and therefore conserve energy. In many cases, however, the psychological urge to increase activity and thus speed up weight loss will over-ride these physical feelings. As you seek to lose more and more weight your body is actually pitching against you: hence that feeling common in anorexia of being at war with your body. Ultimately is starvation continues the regulatory mechanisms of the body will be over-ridden. Epileptic fits are not uncommon amongst people with anorexia, usually occurring in the context of  disrupted internal environment.

The skin

The skin may become dry and crusted due to starvation. Also a fine layer of hair, called lanugo, may grow all over the body a bit like the “fuzz” on the skin of a peach. The skin may also develop an orange tinge, particularly on the pales of hands and soles of feet, this is caused by high levels of carotene in the blood due to the liver becoming unable to break it down.

Myopathy (muscle wasting and weakness)

When in a state of starvation the body turns to reserves within itself for energy, this included metabolising muscle. In extreme cases this includes heart muscle! This muscle wastage results in a drawn and haggard appearance.

The less muscle you have the slower you will burn calories. Also, as the muscles are not getting all the nutrients they need they work even less well than would be predicted from wastage alone. Signs of severe myopathy include difficultly climbing stairs, a flat footed method of walking an even an inability to stand from a squatting position without help.

Lower back pain

This can be caused due to bone thinning (osteoporosis) or, more usually, by the spinal column not having enough muscle support.

The brain

In advanced stages of starvation, shrinkage of the brain may occur.

The heart

In cases of severe starvation, the heart weakens and its efficiency at pumping blood is greatly reduced. Blood pressure becomes lower, which results in dizziness and fainting. In extreme cases cardiomyopathy can develop: this is characterised by the failure of the heart muscle to function efficiently, and can result in chest pains and palpitations.

The kidneys

These can be effected by the low blood pressure, making them less efficient and causing slow damage. Also dehydration and low levels of potassium can cause serious damage.

The immune system

This is greatly impaired by starvation.

The reproductive system

Starvation impairs fertility by causing the uterus and ovaries to shrink. Amenorrhea (cessation of menstruation) is an inevitable consequence.


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Why is it that we always get the “controversial” disorders? Lol

6 years ago I was anorexic, I “recovered” but still had the diagnosis of “EDNOS”, my doctor said it was Orothexia, but as this isn’t a “real” disorder EDNOS was the official diagnosis. During this period though my focus shifted, it was no longer and weight, calories, size, etc… Now it was about trying to be clear, pure, and uncontaminated. At first I just avoided E-numbers, then preservatives, then additives… over time the list got longer and longer… if we ever went out to eat or ate at someone else’s house so I didn’t know 100% what was inside the food then I had to “cleanse” myself… this would involve either purging or binge drinking pints upon pints of water and if I was not able to do either of these then I would need to “bleed out the contamination” later on that night by “blood letting”

Sometimes it would happen at home too… I never knew if I could or couldn’t eat something until I’d tried it… and the list of what I couldn’t eat seemed to be getting bigger and bigger…

By the end I was avoiding so much that I was barely eating, it had gotten to the point where my food intake wasn’t much more than it had been during my anorexic period, at one point it go down to my living off apples, oranges and vitamin supliments…. As well as this my purging and water binging had begun to mess up my electrolyte balance.

16 months ago I ended up admitted to hospital for a suspected heart attack!!! It ended up that I was having multiple tachycardic episodes… after several tests it ended up that my heart muscle had being damaged from the electrolyte issues… even now my heart has not recovered, apparently if my old diet had continued for much longer I would have died…

Though to be honest my eating still isn’t great, the list of things I avoid is still high and I still cannot eat anything pre-packaged, anything from a take-away, anything cooked by anyone other than myself, andthing where I cannot source all the ingredients, etc… but at least I’m no longer risking death

Slip-ups are part of ED recovery

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Hi, I’m Rachel (hense the green lol – we all colour coded ourselves here

Anyway, I wanted to take part, to help. We have been thinking a lot on eating disorders recsntly, in part as Sarah is struggling with ED thoughts at the moment which is effecting all of us in a negative light what it comes to food.

We had a slight ED slip-up last week, but these ARE part of recovery, and I wish to explain why this is and how it’s all a case of  HOW you think or percieve it.

Instead of thinking about it as, “There goes all my hard work, screw it then, might as well eat and purge forever now!” think about it as what it was – A bump on the road to recovery.I mean noone said that the path to recovery was easy nor smooth

The all-or-nothing thinking of eating disorders can sabotage us in recovery, because it tells us that one slip-up immediately means we have failed. In reality, recovery is a process – a marathon and not a sprint.

So, you ate well for a week? So… 7 days, 3 meals a day. That means that you had 21 opportunities to fail, right? 21 chances to eat, then puke. …But you? You succeeded 20 of those times. 20 outta 21 ain’t bad.

In fact: *does math on calculator*… You’ve scored 95.3% on recovery!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That is nowhere near bad, nowhere near failing, nowhere near ground zero. Just get up where you fell down. No need to backtrack.


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