Like anorexia, bulimia tends to develop during adolescence and early adulthood and appears to be less common among men than women. People with bulimia frequently eat unusually large amounts of food in a specific period of time. Each binge eating episode usually continues until the person becomes painfully full. During a binge, the person usually feels that they cannot stop eating or control how much they are eating.
Binges can happen with any type of food but most commonly occur with foods the individual would normally avoid. Individuals with bulimia then attempt to purge to compensate for the calories consumed and relieve gut discomfort. Common purging behaviors include forced vomiting, fasting, laxatives, diuretics, enemas, and excessive exercise. Symptoms may appear very similar to those of the binge eating or purging subtypes of anorexia nervosa. However, individuals with bulimia usually maintain a relatively normal weight, rather than becoming underweight.
Common symptoms of bulimia nervosa include:
recurrent episodes of binge eating with a feeling of lack of control
recurrent episodes of inappropriate purging behaviors to prevent weight gain
self-esteem overly influenced by body shape and weight
a fear of gaining weight, despite having a normal weight
Side effects of bulimia may include an inflamed and sore throat, swollen salivary glands, worn tooth enamel, tooth decay, acid reflux, irritation of the gut, severe dehydration, and hormonal disturbances. In severe cases, bulimia can also create an imbalance in levels of electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and calcium. This can cause a stroke or heart attack. People with bulimia nervosa eat large amounts of food in short periods of time, then purge. They fear gaining weight despite being at a normal weight.