Effects of Bulimia Nervosa on the Digestive System

Updated on July 25, 2017
PollyMertens profile image

Polly is an addiction recovery coach and writer who teaches women about personal transformation in the realm of eating disorders.

The sooner you overcome bulimia, the more likely your body will heal itself and not show long term effects of this eating disorder.
The sooner you overcome bulimia, the more likely your body will heal itself and not show long term effects of this eating disorder.

After reading this, you may think that I am exaggerating about what can happen. I’ve seen the results in my own body and have read many devastating stories of how this disorder affected other women. Fortunately, the death rate among bulimics is low, but the damage the disease can do to the body is widespread.

I lived with bulimia for 20 years and I dealt with the emotional and physical problems that my eating disorder caused. It’s pretty obvious that bulimia is not good for your body. Just one of the impacts it can have, as it did me, is digestive problems.

The Effects of Bulimia on the Digestive System

Indigestion – Food is meant to be eaten, digested, and then absorbed into the blood stream. The blood stream then transports nutrients to the organs and the other parts of your body. When you binge, you overwhelm the digestive system and then when you vomit you cause further upset and disruption. Indigestion and bloating are inevitable.

Constipation, Diarrhea, Bloody Stool – The effects of bulimia can occur in both extremes – difficulties passing a bowel movement as well as loose stool. When you induce vomiting after bingeing, you lose a lot of water along with the undigested food that you purge. This causes constipation because the body doesn’t have enough water to process the food that was absorbed.

Alternatively, if a bulimic uses purgatives, laxatives, or diuretics this can cause diarrhea. In long-term abuse cases much greater damage can occur to the colon and lower intestine.

With excessive laxative abuse, there is damage to the gastrointestinal tract causing bloody stools. With repeated binging and purging, dehydration, electrolyte depletion and many other systems can be disrupted.

Acid Reflux – This is when the bile of the stomach rises up to sear your gullet (heartburn) and you can practically taste it in your mouth. Acid reflux can be really severe and can cause inflammation of the food pipe and throat. In my case, I developed an ulcer in my esophagus from the acids in my stomach eating away at the lining. Luckily it was a short-term problem and the lining of my throat healed itself.

Abdominal Pain, Gas and Bloating – As the digestive disturbances increase and there is more damage to your insides, gas builds up, bloating, pain and distension of your abdomen could occur. Laxative abuse can irritate your intestine’s nerve endings, causing them to become weak and inhibit them from triggering contractions. Abuse of laxatives or enemas depletes the mucus from the intestinal lining and can cause bowel infections. If the lower bowel loses muscle tone, it becomes limp and isn’t able to produce contractions.

If you are starting to notice the impacts of bulimia in your own body, listen to the warning signals your body is sending you. I want to offer a realistic caution here – the digestive disturbances that are the side effects of bulimia may well continue for a period even after you achieve normal eating patterns. This occurs as your digestive system takes the time to adjust to healthier eating patterns.

My ulcer and digestion problems were relatively mild and went away when I was no longer a bulimic. Yet, I suspect as I grow older I will pay continue to pay the price for what I did to my body for those 20 years. The sooner you overcome bulimia, the more likely your body will heal itself and not show long term effects of this eating disorder.

© 2011 PollyMertens


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      james 3 months ago

      thank this currently helped me on my school poject

    • profile image

      Rory 4 months ago

      Thanks for your help this really helped me on a school project t

    • profile image

      Krissy 15 months ago

      I have been this way for 6 years now, maybe it's cause I feel as though its the only thing in my life I can control! I'm not happy with my appearance and I feel so down! Mentally I feel as though I'm a shell of my former self!

    • profile image

      Alexandra 2 years ago

      I'm currently suffering from bulimia, and i've been binging and purging non stop for about a week or so now, and my stomach has gotten really hard, and bloated... Thank you for this article. Are there any ways you helped soothe your upset stomach after purging?

    • profile image

      Rogerio 4 years ago

      So any articles on how to heal your body from all this?

    • profile image

      aa72 5 years ago


      I have suffered silently with bulimia for over 12 years. It is something that is seasonal with me, Christmas etc or when I get down. My latest bout has left me with a feeling of when i eat the food doesn't pass to my stomach easily, as if there is a blockage on the way down...any ideas?

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I abused laxatives for 30 years and now am paying the price. My kidneys have been so badly damaged that I may soon have to go on dialysis. I am so anemic that I had to be hospitalized and receive blood transfusions. I have GERD (reflux) so anything I eat, I choke and cough and spit up bile, I constantly taste metal, my throat is soar and I have been very hoarse for 3 months. I would love to have my voice back again, but I have no idea when or if that will ever happen. PLEASE PLEASE if you are doing the laxatives, STOP. IT's not worth it. I've had countless medical tests done, and now have to be checked every month by my doctor. I was a strong healthy woman who, through this abuse, have ended up as a shadow of my former self and without a voice. Do not ruin your life like I have.

    • profile image

      Sarah 5 years ago

      Ive been suffering bulimia for a little while know and recently when I've been being sick I'm not actually throwing up properly so ive started sticking my finger up my bowel to make me poo and that gives you diarrhoea for several days. It's not just few more poo's I've about 4 a day which is entire liquid and I've completely lost control of myself can't even go out without knowing there is a toilet where I'm going cause I need to pop every 2 hours know and my stomach is always churning! Hate having diarrhoea these days but can't stop not even Imodium works on me anymore

      Sorry for the detail hope it helps people

    • profile image

      Onto recovery 5 years ago

      Thanks so much for this article! I'm trying to recover from bulima my stomach is so bloated after I puke it's hard to suck it in or even breathe. I feel so gross and disgusting. I hope I can stop..

    • PollyMertens profile image

      PollyMertens 6 years ago from California

      Hi Vicki,

      Thanks so much for the feedback. Trying to spread the word so people really understand the consequences of this eating disorder. There's a lot that people suffering with this addiction suffer from - physical as well as mental and emotional effects.

      Thanks again,


    • vicki goodwin profile image

      Sojourner McConnell 6 years ago from Winchester Kentucky

      That is more about a condition that is not spoken about as often as Anorexia. Thanks for putting that hub together for those that might be struggling with this condition.