Does bulimia help you lose weight?

Catherine Liberty's picture

Many people presume that bulimia causes weight loss and it’s not hard to understand why.

After all if you’re purging everything you eat then surely you should expect to experience weight loss due to your bulimia?

Well that’s what your “bulimic logic” will try to convince you, but it’s just not that simple.  

While you can experience weight loss from throwing up when you first develop bulimia,  it’s so important to realise that this is almost always impossible to sustain.

The idea that bulimia helps with long term weight loss is just another misconception that we desperately need to raise awareness of. 

Why bulimia won’t help you to lose weight...

When you develop bulimia, after not much time at all your body realises that food is being restricted (purging has a similar impact on your body as restricting) and does everything it can to compensate for this.

  • Your metabolism slows 
  • Your binge urges skyrocket, and
  • You find yourself consuming more food than ever before!

Even if you purge straight after eating, research has proven that your body goes on to absorb 40% - 75% of the calories consumed.

Research proves purging is ineffective...

In a study conducted at the Pittsburgh Human Feeding Laboratory, 18 bulimic participants were asked to binge and purge as they normally would, while the calories they consumed were carefully monitored.

After vomiting, researchers discovered that while the average binge consisted of 2131 calories, the participants only managed to purge an average of 979 calories by vomiting. 

So the chances are the number of calories absorbed from a binge even after vomiting is greater than the number that would have been absorbed on a binge-free day.

This may come as a shock, but the facts remain - Purging fails to help with weight loss and over time bulimia can cause weight gain! 

Over time bulimia leads to weight gain...

A new study conducted by researchers at Drexel University and published in the International journal of Eating Disorders in May 2012 found that the majority of people with bulimia reach their HIGHEST EVER BODY WEIGHT after developing their eating disorder and regardless of the presence of purging behaviours. 

In fact weight gain caused by bulimia can be "so dramatic" that lead researcher Dr Shaw suggests people with bulimia have a much better chance of maintaining a healthy weight by learning how to normalize their eating behaviours and by developing healthy weight control skills. 

"What happens to your weight during bulimia recovery?"

It is likely that you’ll experience some weight fluctuations during recovery and it’s important to be prepared for this. 

  • During the first 2-6 weeks of recovery you can expect to experience bloating as your body rehydrates and gets used to digesting food properly again.  This bloating can cause the number on the scale to increase but it is important to know this is not a sign you're gaining fat. 
  • After this, weight fluctuations can continue for around 6 months (sometimes a little longer if you're still experiencing relapses at that stage). So your weight can be changeable for a while until your body finds its natural healthy set point weight. 
  • If you're underweight at the start of recovery you need to be prepared to gain some "needed" weight.
  • If you're overweight at the start of recovery you'll likely lose some weight during recovery, although weight loss tends to be very gradual and you may still experience those fluctuations to begin with. 
  • If you're within the "normal" weight range for your height and build then the chances are that you will end up at a very similar weight once you are recovered, but again you'll likely experience some weight fluctuations at first. 
  • Research shows that bulimics who are in the healthy weight range before recovery and who then go on to adopt regular eating patterns end up within 1kg of where they started, with some even losing weight.
  • Recovery will NOT cause very rapid and un-needed weight gain.
  • Recovery will enable you to maintain your healthy weight for life, without even trying!

Now I know what you’re thinking. 

If this really was true for most people then why is it so common to see questions like, “Why have I gained so much weight in bulimia recovery?” To answer this, let's take a look at some of the most common reasons why people gain weight when recovering from bulimia:

5 common reasons for weight gain in bulimia recovery:

1. Mistaking water retention and initial bloating for weight gain - Most people experience “the recovery bloat” at the start of recovery. It can last anywhere from 2-6 weeks while your body rehydrates and adapts to digesting food properly.

2. Being underweight at the start of recovery - Most bulimics are not underweight, but those who are will have to accept some “needed” weight gain.

3. Still being in the earlier stages of recovery - It can take around 6 months for weight fluctuations to stop, so for a time it may look like you’re gaining weight, but this will even out. Weight fluctuations can happen whether you are underweight, at a healthy weight, or overweight, so it is important to be prepared for this. 

4. Struggling with residual binges - People find it harder to stop bingeing may experience greater weight fluctuations at first, but again this is only temporary. Unneeded weight gained in this way will be lost gradually once binges begin to subside. 

And one of the biggest reasons...

5. Continuing to restrict food in recovery - Continued restriction means that your metabolism cannot start working properly, that you'll be more prone to binge eating and that your body will continue to store anything you do eat as fat, rather than burning it as energy. 

As long as you're committed to recovery there is nothing to fear!

Take a look at some of the answers our members gave when asked the question, "what happened to your weight when you recovered from bulimia?"

After 2 weeks without b/p after 11 years of struggling with this, I am surprised to find out that I am actually losing weight."


Whenever I stop throwing up (and at the beginning I always eat huge portions), I start losing weight."


Because I binged so frequently I developed a lot of belly fat from bulimia but when I started to recover and the binges lessened my body and proportions changed, recovery put me in the best physical shape of my life."


 I have not gained weight over the last 8 months of recovery."


When I realized eating normally was not making me gain weight my mind was blown!"



So quitting bulimia without gaining weight may seem like a fairytale, but in truth it is the reality for most people. It's such a challenge to get through those initial fluctuations but once you do, recovery will enable you to maintain your healthy weight for life!

If you are worried you may be suffering from bulimia nervosa we recommend you sign up to our Free Bulimia Recovery Ecourse. The sooner you start recovery the easier it is to recover.




Be-Healthy's picture
I am so happy to have just

I am so happy to have just read this - I joined this site 2 days ago and have been b&p free since - I feel almost human and now have energy to exercise gently again as before I was really not well and binging and purging hard - 6 or more times a day for the last 4 weeks I felt like my head was going to explode or I would have a heart attack if i did anything strenuous!...

I am really enjoying food and am learning to enjoy the feeling of being full even though it feels uncomfortable and a little scary!!... I do feel and look very bloated but am trusting this will settle...

Be Healthy

Shel's picture
I keep rereading this for

I keep rereading this for assurance. I am two weeks into recovery. Have the bloat happening and it makes me uncomfortable enough that I need to be reassured every couple days that this is temporary. I am enjoying being able to eat my food without being consumed with the thought of getting it purged out of my body. I have led my secret life for ten years and have tried to quit many times. Even went the therapy route twice. I googled bulimia to see if I could find help and it led me here. I have outted myself to my husband of two years and he is being very supportive. The fact that I told him tells me I am more determined than ever as I had planned on keeping this to myself for life.

Anonymous's picture
Thank you for posting

Thank you for posting this!
Weight gain is quite a fear for me at the moment and it's definetely holding me back from my recovery... but reading this makes me feel reassured; I won't give up!

Anonymous's picture
I have been anorexic and

I have been anorexic and bulimic for 28 years. I started at age 11. I have been primarily bulimic. I have been in treatment multiple times. Currently have tried to get help but don't haveenough money. I decided to try on my own.
I gave gained weight through protein supplements and mild exercise. I still binge and purge because I can't control myself.
My thighs are bigger, but my face still has deep lines around the nose and mouth . I am wondering if my face will fill out. I am afraid of getting fat if I don't stop the bulimic behaior. I was 65 pounds when I started. I'm getting discouraged. Will I always look old?

Anonymous's picture
I have been bulimia free for

I have been bulimia free for 20 years now after suffering for 5 years - just to let you know it IS possible, and don't give up! I put on 28 pounds in recovery, but then, after about a year of eating freely, the extra weight gradually started to disappear. I ended up at the right weight for my height, with no dieting, and have never put weight on again since. I hope my story is encouraging - it takes a while, but is so worth it! Good luck to you all.

Anonymous's picture
So far I've only been in

So far I've only been in recovery for about a week. I only gained about 3 pounds its discouraging but I have to bare it. Every time i read this page it helps me from having a little slit. I finally have energy to go out and exercise. Since recovery i sometimes see myself in the mirror and feel more fat than i ever imagined, but hopefully thats just something temporary.

Anonymous's picture
I have been in recovery with

I have been in recovery with no purging for the past 3 weeks. I just stopped by "coming out of the closet" to my adult son-who always knew I was bulimic anyway! At any rate, my appetite has been voracious and I have just gone with it for the past few weeks since I stopped purging. Tomorrow I am going back on a plan where I eat 3 meals and some healthy snacks every three hours.Thanks so much everyone for being there.

Anonymous's picture
I'm 18 yrs old & have

I'm 18 yrs old & have suffered from bulimia since my sophomore year in highschool (about 3 years). I am lucky I got help early & I'm in my 3rd month of recovery. I have only relapsed once. I have gained about 20 pounds in the last 4-5 months & I am trying so hard to get this weight off. I am eating healthy, watching calories, and going to the gym everyday. I'm seeing change in my body but not on the scale & that really frustrates me so I try only once every two weeks to get on it. Only seeing the littlest bit of progress, barely none at all is so aggravating and makes me wants to go back to my old ways bc I know I'll slim down but I know I can't! I have so much motivation to be tone and fit & doing it the healthy. I just want to know when this extra weight I put on will come back off... :/

Anonymous's picture
i am 5.5 weeks into not

i am 5.5 weeks into not purging and have had about 3 huge binges. Last night i gained 4 pounds... and feeling so crappy today. still full. i haven't tried to use any food plan - i was hoping that i could just moderate and eat whatever i wanted. that doesn't sound like it could possibly be successful, as i say it now. i suppose that will go down 2 lbs. if i get off the binge but i am so disappointed in myself.

i have gained 10 lbs. since june 11, my first b/p-free day.

i am 50 years old. i have been throwing up since i was 15. i am so excited at the thought of not having to do this anymore - but i can't just keep blowing up. i also feel like i can't be happy, respected, wanted, or loved if i'm not thin - and i have had things in my life that told me this specifically. i feel ashamed of my "visible addiction" that i feel that everyone judges me for.

ugh. i want this - but i'm so afraid. i may have to "go the distance" with counseling, restrictive eating, etc., etc. thank you all for being so open, it helps me so much to tell you what's really going on here.

Anonymous's picture
I have been bulimic since for

I have been bulimic since for two years, started getting help 6 months ago when my sister found out, but it's gotten worse. The binge/purge cycles started recently which i found has caused me to start gaining weight. It's been a week since I went last and I've gained about 5 pounds, and 2 inches on my waist. It's terrifying, and I've been happy skinny. The thought of gaining all the weight back makes it difficult to want to recover, but I have more energy to go on my runs again. I'm hoping this will subside and I will normal out. The biggest thing for me is that I still have this huge urge to binge, so I'm eating more than I'd like. Because I always purge my dinners, and now I don't, those extra 500-800 calories are really takings it's toll. I know that restricting won't help either, so I'm hoping I can get into some kind of routine!!!

Anonymous's picture
Hello everyone, I stopped

Hello everyone,

I stopped purging for almost a week now. Been bulimic for almost 5 years and now I just want to be healthy for my future husband. I want to have a baby after 4-5 years so I must be free from this mess. I gained 3 lbs in just 1 week. I'm so scared I will gain more. This site gave me more courage to keep it up. I am tempted to purge again but Id rather not eat then purge. My fiance said that food is grace so we must not waste it. I don't know how will I go along with this Journey but I will update everyone with any update.

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