Santa Clara University

Wellness Center

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a secretive cycle of binging and purging.


Bulimia Nervosa has three primary symptoms:

  • Eating large quantities of food in short periods of time, often secretly, without regard to feelings of "hunger" or "fullness," and to the point of feeling "out of control" while eating.
  • Following these "binges" with some form of purging or compensatory behavior to make up for the excessive calories taken in: self-induced vomiting, laxative or diuretic abuse, fasting, and/or obsessive or compulsive exercise.
  • Extreme concern with body weight and shape.

The chances for recovery increase the earlier bulimia nervosa is detected. Therefore, it is important to be aware of some of the warning signs of bulimia nervosa.


Warning Signs of Bulimia Nervosa:

  • Evidence of binge-eating, including disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time or the existence of wrappers and containers indicating the consumption of large amounts of food.
  • Evidence of purging behaviors, including frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, signs and/or smells of vomiting, presence of wrappers or packages of laxatives or diuretics.
  • Excessive, rigid exercise regimen--despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury, the need to "burn off" calories taken in.
  • Unusual swelling of the cheeks or jaw area.
  • Calluses on the back of the hands and knuckles from self-induced vomiting.
  • Discoloration or staining of the teeth.
  • Creation of complex lifestyle schedules or rituals to make time for binge-and-purge sessions.
  • Withdrawal from usual friends and activities.

In general, behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting, and control of food are becoming primary concerns.   Bulimia nervosa can be extremely harmful to the body. The recurrent binge-and-purge cycles can impact the entire digestive system and can lead to electrolyte and chemical imbalances in the body that affect the heart and other major organ function.


Health Consequences of Bulimia Nervosa:

  • Electrolyte imbalances that can lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure and death. Electrolyte imbalance is caused by dehydration and loss of potassium and sodium from the body as a result of purging behaviors.
  • Potential for gastric rupture during periods of bingeing. Inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus from frequent vomiting.
  • Tooth decay and staining from stomach acids released during frequent vomiting.
  • Chronic irregular bowel movements and constipation as a result of laxative abuse.
  • Peptic ulcers and pancreatitis.

About Bulimia Nervosa:

  • Bulimia nervosa affects 1-3% of middle and high school girls and 1-4% of college age women.
  • Approximately 80% of bulimia nervosa patients are female (Gidwani, 1997).
  • People struggling with bulimia nervosa will often appear to be of average body weight.
  • Often, people struggling with bulimia nervosa will develop complex schedules or rituals to provide opportunities for binge-and-purge sessions.

Help is available and full recovery is possible!  You don't have to live alone with this any longer. Please seek help for yourself.


Santa Clara University Resources include:
12 Step Eating Disorder Support Group
Cowell Student Health Center **lab work, medical check-up, consultation
Counseling Center **ongoing professional counseling and referrals
Wellness Center    **educational support, resources, consultation


National Eating Disorders Association

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