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Physiological impact of bulimia nervosa on athletic performance

Lisa Franseen, Ph.D., clinical sport psychologist writes about the physiological effects of bulimia and other eating disorders on athletic performance. http://www.usasynchro.org/athletes/health/eating2.htm. Overall, the impact of an eating disorder is related to the severity and duration of the condition, individual health status and body stature and genetics. Franseen lists the follow common symptoms to watch out for. These symptoms can occur because of malnutrition, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and osteoporosis. Please see the full article for more details.


  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • loss in endurance
  • loss in coordination
  • loss in muscular strength
  • loss in speed
  • muscle cramps
  • Overheating
The list below describes medical problems that can arise from specific eating disorders.

Bulimia nervosa

  • Erosion of tooth enamel from the acid produced by vomiting
  • Inflammation of the esophagus (the tube in the throat through which food passes to the stomach)
  • Enlarged glands near the cheeks (giving the appearance of swollen cheeks).
  • Damage to the stomach from frequent vomiting.
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Heart failure
  • Electrolyte imbalances (loss of important minerals like potassium) that can lead to sudden death Peptic ulcers
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas, which is a large gland that aids digestion)
  • Long-term constipation
Binge-eating disorder - Binge-eating disorder can cause high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. Other effects of binge-eating disorder include fatigue, joint pain, Type II diabetes, gallbladder disease, and heart disease.
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Type II diabetes
  • Diseased arteries
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Joint pain
Anorexia nervosa
  • Heart failure. This can be caused by slow heart rate and low blood pressure. Those who use drugs to stimulate vomiting, bowel movements, or urination are also at high risk for heart failure. Starvation can also lead to heart failure, as well as damage the brain.
  • Brittle hair and nails; dry skin. Skin may dry out become yellow and the affected person can develop a covering of soft hair called lanugo.
  • Mild anemia
  • Swollen joints
  • Reduced muscle mass
  • Osteoporosis

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Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder in which a person engages in binge eating (eating a lot of food in a short time) followed by some type of behavior to prevent weight gain from the food that was eaten. This behavior can take two forms: self-induced vomiting, misuse of enemas, laxatives, diet pills (called purging) and excessive exercise, fasting, or diabetic omission of insulin (called non-purging). Some people with bulimia nervosa may also starve themselves for periods of time before binge eating again. Bulimia nervosa has important mental, emotional, and physical aspects that require consideration during treatment.

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