Tips on How to Tell If Someone is Bulimic

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Identifying Bulimia

You may be confused about how to tell if someone is bulimic, and with good reason. After all, bulimics try to hide their condition as much as possible. You may never see them binging, and you may not realize that they are practicing purging either. If you think you know someone who has bulimia, however, there are signs you can look for.

Red Flags

Although it can be difficult to find out definitively whether a person is bulimic, there are certain red flags. Perhaps the most obvious is if you see that the person rushes to the bathroom immediately after a meal, which may mean that they are forcing themselves to vomit the food that has just been eaten. The same would be true if you see someone buying huge piles of high-calorie food that then mysteriously disappears. This may allude to a binging problem, which should be solved.

Although often overlooked, the symptom of bulimia that is usually easiest to discover is the consumption of pills or liquids in order to purge the body of unwanted food. For example, you may find the packaging for laxatives (that induce bowel movements), enemas, diet pills, diuretics (that induce urination and reduce fluids), or emetics (that induce vomiting) in the bathroom garbage. Alternatively, you may find a stash of any of these, unopened, in the person’s room. All of these are red flags that should encourage you to get help immediately and investigate further.

Some bulimics do abuse drugs or alcohol in order to deal with their depression, and this or other aspects of their condition can lead to mood swings or an anti-social attitude.

Physical Symptoms

In addition to these obvious red flags for bulimia, there are also some physical symptoms that you should watch out for. For example, a bulimic who vomits may have bloodshot eyes due to the strain of purging. Look at the corners of the person’s mouth to see whether they look more bloated than usual, as this may indicate that the person’s salivary glands are swollen. You may also see cuts or calluses on the bulimic’s fingertips, since the fingertips are often used to induce vomiting. At a dental examination, the dentist may find additional cavities or infections of the gum, as well as enamel erosion, due to the acidity of the vomit that has traveled past the teeth. Dry mouth is also a symptom of bulimia.

Which are Not Bulimia Symptoms?

So now you know how to tell if someone is bulimic. But there are some misconceptions about bulimia that can trip you up. For example, some people think that people with eating disorders, including bulimia, are horrendously underweight. In fact, bulimics are often a normal weight, although they may have a distorted body image and feel that they are overweight.

You may also think that bulimics focus on food all day. While this is true of some bulimics, others have an extremely active lifestyle.

NB: The content of this article is for information purposes and is not intended to replace sound medical advice and opinion.


This post is part of the series: What is Bulimia?

What is bulimia? The articles in this series will help you answer all of your questions about this eating disorder, as well as why people become bulimics.

  1. Am I Bulimic? A Checklist About Binging and Purging
  2. How to Tell If Someone is Bulimic
  3. Top Advice for Bulimics: Five Lessons to Take to Heart