Bulimia Face Changes

Catherine Liberty's picture

This week I wanted focus on a very popular recovery topic - bulimia and face swelling.

Why does bulimia cause face swelling? What can you do about it? and more importantly how long will it take for your “bulimia face” to get back to normal once you start recovery?

Why does bulimia cause a “puffy face?”

Let’s get the technical bit over with first…

Swelling in the face (specifically of the parotid glands) happens as a natural reaction to self induced vomiting. As your body loses water and becomes dehydrated from purging it fights back and tries to hold on to as much water as it can.

So most of that swelling you can see around your jaw line and at the sides of your face is water retention in your glands - a result of the glands themselves working to over compensate the loss of fluid elsewhere in the body.

The appearance of this bulimia face swelling can also be increased when glad tissues become damaged due to the constant attack from stomach acid during episodes of purging.

There is no denying that the face changes bulimia causes can be very upsetting and confusing.

Bulimic Face pictures...

The pictures below show face changes that you would expect to see in someone with bulimia. Can you see the similarities? You may recognise some of these faces from our bulimic celebs article.

bulimia face, bulimic face

I always say face swelling is the number 1 sign of bulimia.

What can you do to reduce face swelling when you have bulimia?

Drinking more water, sipping on herbal teas and massaging the area may sometimes help to reduce the swelling in your face, but if you’re anything like me then you will probably find that there are just no quick fixes for getting rid of those bulimia chipmunk cheeks.

Until you are able to completely break the cycle of bingeing and purging and dedicate yourself to recovery you will almost certainly continue to struggle with face swelling in this way.

The great news is that recovery really does help you to get rid of that puffy looking bulimia face forever!

How long will it take for your face swelling to get back to normal once you start recovery?

Personally I found that it took about 6 months for my face swelling to settle down. When it did, well the change was VERY dramatic.

The truth is I hadn’t even realised how much bulimia had affected the shape of my face...

I was so used to seeing it that way I presumed that was how I was supposed to look.

Of course here I go again with my favourite line -  “it can be different for everyone”. You must be sick of hearing that by now, but I have to keep saying it because I will never mislead you when it comes to the reality of recovery.

Let’s take a look at two very different experiences from our members:

I still suffer with occasional swelling of the face after being recovered for over two years (Bulimia Help Member, 2010)


I’ve been in recover for a month and I’m happy to report that all of my facial swelling has gone!”(Bulimia Help Member, 2010)


So it really will be an individual experience, there is no way to guess how long it will take.

In order to overcome your face swelling you will need a lot of time and patience, especially in those earlier days when swelling could seem even worse than usual.

Wait, recovery makes the swelling worse?

Sometimes when you first start recovery you can find that the swelling in your face actually gets worse for a short time.

Just the idea of this can put a lot of people off recovery, but please try to not be disheartened!

Many people say that purging can actually improve the appearance of their face swelling so they become even more afraid to recover...

Every time I try to recover my face swells a whole lot. It gets to me so much that I end up purging just to make it go down again” (Bulimia Help Member, 2010)


Reading about experiences like this or finding similar patterns in your own face swelling can not only cause you to become unmotivated with recovery but it can also cause confusion because recovery is supposed to make the swelling go down – right?

Well that is right, however purging makes you to lose some of the water from the glands in your face so it can actually initially give the impression of reduced swelling - but it is important to remember that this is very temporary.

It is still the cycle of purging that is causing the real problem!

Eventually, as a direct result of purging the swelling comes back again and until you are able to stop it always will.

When you have bulimia your face swells all of the time anyway, so is a few days or weeks of increased swelling at the start of recovery really that big of a deal?

At the time of course it can seem like the end of the world but really try and use your “bigger picture thinking” on this one.

To see the full benefits of recovery sometimes you have to take on the more challenging days first, but I promise you it will be worth it!


lexicondevil's picture
Tracey Anderson is a complete

Tracey Anderson is a complete irresponsible and triggering fraud, you can TELL she is bulimic despite her constant yapping about 'exercise' and 'healthy eating'. And it is really sad, sad for her that she has this horrible mental illness and perhaps sadder that she is encouraging others with her ridiculous regimes and holds such a strong influence over Hollywood fitness right now. Renee Zellwegger is another one with REALLY puffy cheeks. :(

"Behind every beautiful thing there's been some kind of pain "- Bob Dylan

Blingong's picture
i so wanna quit purging.

i so wanna quit purging.

coyote8888's picture
boy is this article timely.

boy is this article timely. my face just looks awful. I had no idea this was what the problem was---I am not purging. Also my stomach looks like I am 6 mos pregnant, a really great look, not. And I have been eating well, and only the best stuff. Okay, I am healing then. I will assume this is all good, AND HANG IN. Won't give up before the miracle. Don't YOU either, you sassy thing.

Sunshine23's picture
Thank you Catherine for

Thank you Catherine for sharing this information with us. All the best of luck for all so us. Sometimes we need articles like that to wake us up from the deep hole we are in.

Anonymous's picture
Well I don't know what's up

Well I don't know what's up with me, but I resolved to stop purging in January 2012 (the only new year's resolution I actually managed to stick to)! I have been bulimia free for about 17 months now and my face looks very much like the ladies above STILL. I start to think this is permanent damage I've done to my face, as I was purging from the age of about 15 and for the following 9 years maybe my body assumed my cheeks should be permanently enlarge in order to manage saliva production? I am quite upset with my face being this way, genetically ( looking at my mum and sister) my face should be very slim... It results in technically sharp features and a very manly jawline. Horrid! To be fair within the last 17 months there were occassions I purged but overal maybe 1-2 month on average. Is there anything I could do to aid this? I don't think this is swelling of any find, just overgrown glands?

Anonymous's picture
im quitting bulimia from

im quitting bulimia from tomorrow for good. I have horrible rounded face that it makes me look ugly and fat! Is just not me. I will be drinking from 8 to 10 glasses of water daily.
Will let you know how my swelling goes.
Thanks so much all for sharing your personal experiences.

Anonymous's picture
Hi guys, most of these

Hi guys, most of these message are old, but oddly it's nice to read them and not feel alone on these puffy faced, bloating bellies, red eyed feeling horribly depressed times!! I'm 25 and suffered with bulimia since I was 18. I've struggled for years on my own trying to battle it out towards recovery and failing every time. Excessive exercise, drugs,sex, alcohol,not eating, overeating, juicing, atkins diet, laxatives,diet pills..you name it..being TOO healthy then binging and purging again. I'm not even overweight. I'm 5,6 and weigh about 8.10. (Fluctuates between 8 and 9 stone) I'm actually 7 pounds heavier when I'm midst a lot of purging! its stupid!

It's only these last two weeks that I have finally decided to get real help and spoke to my doctor who has referred me to psychiatrist. I know what I have to do, I know all the methods for recovery it's just breaking the habit! Which is extremely difficult alone, just like any addiction. I'm tired. I'm tired of it holding me back all these years and I plead with anyone else going through this turmoil to seek help. I have never been so scared but you have to want to get better for it to work, I'm also planning to finally speak to my parents and tell them about my illness instead of running away all the time.

I'm not going to lie, I am terrified. I'm scared what damage I have done already and if it's too late. I've made a risk to intermit my time at drama school to have a year to work on recovery and focus on my health. WE CAN DO THIS!!!!!!!! WE CAN BEAT IT!! Anyone who is suffering from this wretched life controlling illness please, PLEASE speak to a doctor who can give you advice and point you in the right direction.

Good luck to you all. Think positive, think of our future and WE WILL MOW THIS MOTHER FUCKER DOWN! TOGETHER

Peace xxxx

Anonymous's picture
dumb biatches.

dumb biatches.

Anonymous's picture
Inappropriate! ^^^^^^^

Inappropriate! ^^^^^^^

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