The Face of Bulimia: What it Does to Your Body

With the growth of technology comes greater interconnectivity among people. Communication has become significantly easier – with friends and family becoming a click away. We also become more aware of social issues that others go through. One of which are mental health problems.

Lately, people have become more open to discussing mental health. It has become less of a stigma as more and more people reveal their own stories and struggles. Hence, people may know about the emotional baggage that comes with these issues.

Most in the eating disorder professional community agree that to some extent, nature, and indeed nurture and environment are significant contributors and all together they provide a more well rounded opportunity to figuring out causation. — Judy Scheel Ph.D., L.C.S.W., CEDS

However, they may forget that mental health problems also come with physical symptoms and side effects. Read on to discover what Bulimia Nervosa does to a person’s body.

Digestive System

As some are familiar, Bulimia is characterized by periods of binging food and purging. The most common way of purging is by induced vomiting. Other methods include excessive use of laxatives or exercise.

As vomit typically contains high acid content, this takes a toll on one’s digestive system. This includes causing irritation and tearing in one’s esophagus. In turn, this causes sore throat and hoarse voice.


Also, this can lead to bleeding and scarring. Chronic vomiting causes acid reflux and heartburn (see explanation here), which is a burning sensation in the chest.  The acid content will eventually damage the teeth, causing tooth sensitivity, enamel decay or erosion, and gum disease. Likewise, people with Bulimia commonly develop yellow teeth.

While not part of the digestive system, one’s knuckles may develop cuts and scars. This is due to the person inducing purging through putting a finger down their throat. This is referred to as Russell’s sign.

As people abuse laxatives in order to purge more often, their digestive system may become dependent on these. This can eventually lead to long-term damage of the kidneys and liver.

In the case of bingeing, food bills go up, food is often hidden, empty wrappers are found in unlikely places, and food keeps disappearing from the pantry. Lisa Ferentz LCSW-C, DAPA

Reproductive System


Because constant purging causes nutritional deficiencies, even the reproductive system can be affected. The body may suffer from a hormonal imbalance. For women, they may experience an irregular menstrual cycle. Some may even experience a stop from it for several months.

For pregnant women, Bulimia also negatively affects the unborn child. As the mother does not receive the proper nutrients, neither does the baby. This may lead to abnormalities, a premature birth or even a miscarriage. Bulimia may also lead to postpartum depression.

Circulatory System

Chronic purging typically leads to dehydration. This can lead to an imbalance in the body’s amount of electrolytes, causing potential stress and damage to the heart. Side effects may include irregular heartbeat, a weakened heart muscle and potentially even heart failure. This makes the person susceptible to other heart diseases.

Purging may also cause low blood pressure, a weak pulse, and a low red blood cell count or low levels of hemoglobin (anemia). Likewise, violent vomiting may lead to rupturing of small blood vessels.


Integumentary System

The integumentary system consists of one’s nails, hair, and skin. In addition to Russell’s sign, the skin may become dry, pale and rough due to dehydration. The person may also suffer from hair damage and hair loss. The nails will also reportedly turn brittle, easily breaking or chipping off.

It’s important to keep an eye out for these effects because they are often indicators that someone is suffering from Bulimia Nervosa. The sooner one can spot these symptoms, the sooner they can get help from those who suffer from it. 

The truth is: weight is a lousy indication of health. Alexis Conason Psy.D.