Bulimia can be a particularly difficult to recognize, due to its highly secretive nature and manageable physical effects. Unlike anorexia, bulimia doesn’t lead to excessive weight loss, although there are signs.
Physical Symptoms of Bulimia
Individually, the physical symptoms of bulimia may not be a cause for concern. However, individuals who demonstrate many of the following signs may be hiding the eating disorder:
- Broken blood vessels in the eyes
- Chapped lips
- Constant sore throat and scratchy voice
- Cuts and calluses on the backs of hands and knuckles
- Discolored teeth
- Mouth and lip sores
- Puffy face, particularly the cheeks
- Swollen fingers.
Behavioral Symptoms of Bulimia
Behavioral symptoms, combined with physical signs, can be extremely telling. The types of behavior to watch for include:
- Avoidance of eating around other people
- Constant teeth brushing and excessive use of gum and mints to mask bad breath
- Defensive during discussions about food, diet, weight or exercise
- Drinking large amounts of fluids with food
- Frequent trips to the bathroom immediately after eating
- Long, intense exercise sessions, particularly right after eating
- Secret stashes of food, particularly junk food.
How to Help
Unfortunately, eating disorders have no easy fix and require the active participation of the patient for a full recovery.
If you believe that a loved has an eating disorder, reach out to him. Be supportive and understanding. Choose your words carefully to avoid coming across as condemning or judgmental. The disorder is typically already the result of feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem, so don’t make these feelings worse by patronizing, shaming or insulting.
Individuals with bulimia will likely be defensive and angry when confronted. You may decide that the first conversation is simply to show your love and support, and in a few days, you can talk again about seeking treatment. Recovery is a slow process and will be more difficult–even impossible–without the individual’s commitment to recovery.
Whether you’re dealing with a minor or an adult, male or female, keep in mind that eating disorders are very personal struggles. Publicly humiliating an individual to help may make things worse, strengthening her resistance to treatment.
If you have a child with an eating disorder, you can get doctors and therapists involved to begin the treatment process, such as beginning therapy and looking into medications prescribed to treat bulimia.