How to identify signs of bulimia in teens
According to the National Institutes of Health, bulimia is characterized by binge-purge symptoms that occur at least twice a day for three months.
Behaviors of Bulimia
To identify signs of bulimia in teens, it's important to look for the consistent presence of some or all of the following behaviors:
- Overeating. A hallmark sign of bulimia is overeating – or eating more food than normal. If your teen suddenly consumes much more food during meal times or binges on snacks, this could be a sign of an underlying eating disorder. These periods of overeating may be followed by feelings of guilt, shame or depression.
- Purging. The second part of the bulimia cycle includes purging. After a food binge, a bulimic deliberately regurgitates what he or she ate, sometimes throwing up several or dozens of times a day. Watch to see if your teen immediately goes to the bathroom after meals. Also look out for acid erosion on the teeth and receding gums, which are symptoms caused by the purging. Note that purging can also be done using laxatives, diuretics, enemas or medications.
- Weight fluctuations. Unlike anorexia, where weight loss tends to occur, bulimia usually brings about weight fluctuations. Watch carefully to see if your teen loses or gains weight over a short period of time.
- Secretive eating behavior. Bulimics are often ashamed of their eating behaviors, so meal times can trigger stress. If your teen has secretive behavior when it comes to eating, like hoarding food or eating alone, this could be an indication of a problem.
- Body image issues. Like anorexics, bulimics tend to have an unreasonable fear of becoming fat. And while body image issues are common for teens – especially girls – obsessive thoughts or a preoccupation with staying thin might suggest there is an underlying issue.
For any eating disorder, it's important to seek medical attention. Left untreated, bulimia can result in long-term physical and psychological damage.