We have updated our Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions. By using this website, you consent to our Terms and Conditions.


Three Lesser-Known Behaviors Associated with Bulimia Nervosa

Some may assume bulimia nervosa does not affect a lot of people, but the statistics may be surprising. It is estimated approximately 4.7 million females and 1.5 million males live with this condition every day, which translates to approximately 1.5 percent of women and 0.5 percent of men in this country alone. While it is a common misconception that someone who needs bulimia nervosa treatment would be easy to point out, this is not always the case. Some of those who do end up getting help from a bulimia treatment center have shown no obvious symptoms to their loved ones that there is anything wrong at all.

If a loved one is showing signs of a bulimia eating disorder, it is critical family members do what they can to encourage the individual to get treatment. Education is the key to understanding how different symptoms and behaviors can be indications an eating disorder is present. Take a look at some of the lesser-known behaviors associated with bulimia nervosa.

1. Suddenly claiming they have a dietary restriction such as veganism/vegetarianism/unable to eat gluten.

People who have bulimia eating disorder do not always binge on food; they may also restrict their food intake much like someone who is suffering from anorexia nervosa. Therefore, some of the common behaviors may be present in both conditions. Dietary restrictions are common with both disorders, but sometimes, these restrictions will be done in a way that it is not obvious.

There are multiple ways to enact these restrictions. Many people make the lifestyle choice to go vegan and avoid all animal-related foods. Others may state they will no longer eat meat and are vegetarian. Some people have legitimate reasons to avoid foods that contain gluten, while others use it as a method to manipulate their food intake. As legitimate as these lifestyle choices can be, they can also be used as excuses to modify one’s eating habits by someone who has bulimia eating disorder and needs bulimia nervosa treatment.

Some individuals who have bulimia nervosa often avoid eating in social settings, but they will struggle to explain why it is they do not want to eat when others are expecting them to. Making claims they are vegetarian, vegan, or must avoid certain foods because of ill effects is an easy way to make others believe there is a logical reason why the person is not eating.

Many people do suffer from food allergies, such as allergies to wheat gluten, and these allergies can mean a more restricted diet. And, it is not impossible for someone who has bulimia nervosa to also have a food allergy. Those who enter a bulimia treatment center that claim to have these allergies are tested by a physician to validate those claims to avoid any unnecessary dietary restrictions.

Of course, if these excuses are used in explanation to family members who are familiar with typical eating patterns, the situation can be a little more obvious. Therefore, if a loved one starts making claims they are making drastic changes in what they eat or their usual diet, it is best to pay attention and be alert to other signs that bulimia nervosa treatment is needed.

2. Commonly acting on impulse instead of rational thought. 

There are some direct links between bulimia nervosa and impulsive behaviors. Many professionals view impulsive behavior and the eating disorder as something that can be treated concurrently; through bulimia treatment, the impulsive behavior may often cease as well. Someone who acts on impulse will seem to completely disregard what would normally be rational thought. For example, the individual may:

  • Consume far more food than what would be deemed as normal
  • Grab or snatch food and eat it suddenly without reservation
  • Exercise for several hours instead of committing to work, school or other priorities
  • Lash out for seemingly small things
  • Make choices about their life that seem brash and sudden

Bulimia nervosa is an impulsive condition, and many of the behaviors associated with the disorder are not planned out. This is a fact many patients do not realize until they have entered bulimia nervosa treatment. Instead, the behaviors are often triggered by emotional upset or distress. For example, an individual may be under a lot of stress in their relationship, so they binge on food, take in a lot of calories and then purge to eliminate the food from their system.

3. Constantly being obsessed with new diet and weight loss methods. 

A report released by The Centers for Disease Control between 2013 and 2016 stated 49.1% of Americans are trying to lose weight or had tried to lose weight within the prior calendar year. This statistic is enough to show how many people there are who are interested in losing weight. Therefore, if a loved one is frequently concerned about the latest diet trends and fads to emerge to help people lose weight, it may be easy to assume this is normal behavior.

Unfortunately, people who have bulimia eating disorder may also be constantly preoccupied with the latest diet and weight-loss trends. They may try every new diet that comes along and spend a lot of time talking specifically about ways to shed pounds. Many people who have bulimia will be obsessive about ways to combat calories they are consuming as a means to prevent weight gain or lose pounds. A few things the individual may do include:

  • Taking new diet pills on a regular basis
  • Watching television programs associated with diets and exercise regimens
  • Researching fad diets on a regular basis
  • Trying new diets every few days
  • Spending a lot of money on new workout equipment or diet supplies, such as supplements

These kinds of behaviors are easy to dismiss over the short term. When someone is interested in getting healthy, they may spend a fair amount of time trying different diet or workout plans or methods. However, if this kind of behavior is an ongoing occurrence or seems too extreme, it is important that loved ones step in and talk to the individual about a potential need for bulimia recovery.

More Common Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa

Each of the lesser-known behaviors alone may not be enough to diagnose someone with bulimia eating disorder. Therefore, it is important to understand the typical behaviors and symptoms that can be associated with the disease. To better determine if someone is in need of bulimia nervosa treatment, take a look at some of the typical behaviors someone with the condition may portray.

Obsessiveness Over Their Weight or Appearance 

A constant obsessiveness over their weight, body image or appearance can be trademark signs of bulimia nervosa. An individual may spend hours stressing over how their clothing fits, how much they weigh or how they look in the mirror. Even though some people may portray these qualities at certain times or at different stages in their life, someone with an eating disorder will be far more obsessive. For example, they may analyze the way their body looks in the mirror for several hours or check their weight multiple times on a scale throughout the day.

Repetitive Binging/Purging Behaviors 

Binging and purging are perhaps the most noteworthy and well-known behaviors associated with bulimia. This behavior involves binging on an excessive amount of food and then purging by either inducing vomiting, taking diuretics and diet pills or exercising on an extreme level to burn as many calories as possible. Even though this behavior is common for someone with bulimia nervosa, it is also an issue that is commonly hidden. For instance, the individual may binge on foods while alone and hide the fact they are exercising by staying up and doing it through the night.

Eating In Secret 

For someone who needs bulimia recovery, it is common for them to treat the act of eating as secretive and shameful. There may be a lot of guilt and shame associated with binging and purging. Therefore, the individual may only eat meals when they are alone and avoid eating when they are with family, friends or coworkers. In some cases, this is done in an effort to prevent loved ones from seeing there is a problem.

The media has skewed the public’s view of bulimia nervosa by only showing what people with this disorder look like when they are at their most extreme state. This, unfortunately, misrepresents bulimia as an eating disorder and gives the impression that people who have this condition all look the same. It is important to remember that even though people who need bulimia recovery may have similar issues at play, each individual is different. Therefore, symptoms and behaviors are not always as simple to point out as what might be expected.

Finding Help for Bulimia Nervosa Eating Disorders

Those who are struggling and truly need bulimia recovery through a bulimia treatment center do not always get the help they need on their own. Therefore, it is important that loved ones step in and encourage the individual to get treatment. In order to do that, loved ones must arm themselves with knowledge, which includes getting familiar with the lesser-known behaviors that are involved with this eating disorder.

If a loved one is suspected of having an eating disorder, it is best to take steps to get them the help they need. These kinds of problems can be difficult to approach in the right way without making the individual with the problem feel guilt or shame about the situation. Some of the things to do may include:

  • Be mindful of the symptoms and behaviors associated with the disorder
  • Research the different treatment options available
  • Avoid being negative, condescending or judgmental about the problem
  • Approach the individual gently about the situation and possibly getting help
  • Reach out to a qualified treatment center for information

Monte Nido, founded by Carolyn Costin, is a renowned eating disorder treatment facility that treats individuals with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa to binge eating disorder. Our facilities provide compassionate care in a comfortable environment where patients can build a healthier relationship with food, themselves and others. Through various forms of treatment, including nutritional counseling and behavioral therapy, we assist individuals and their families to begin on the road to recovery. Reach out to one of our friendly representatives to find out more about our bulimia treatment center.


Melissa Orshan Spann, PhD, LMHC, RTY 200, is Chief Clinical Officer at Monte Nido, overseeing the clinical operations and programming for over 50 programs across the U.S. Dr. Spann is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and clinical supervisor as well as an accomplished presenter and passionate clinician who has spent her career working in the eating disorder field in higher levels of care. She is a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals where she serves on the national certification committee, supervision faculty, and is on the board of her local chapter. She received her doctoral degree from Drexel University, master’s degree from the University of Miami, and bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.