Did Marley from Glee have an eating disorder? (+7 associated complications)

In this blog post, we shall answer the question “did Marley from Glee have an eating disorder?” and look at who Marley was, her onset and her struggle with an eating disorder in the show. We shall use Marley’s case to discuss what bulimia nervosa is, its symptoms, risk factors and treatment.

Did Marley from Glee have an eating disorder?

Yes, Marley from Glee had an eating disorder. She was diagnosed with bulimia nervosa and this not only affected her but also those around her including her teammates. The show describes the risk factors, symptoms and effects of bulimia by following the story of Marley.

She is seen severally refusing to eat with others, having low self-esteem and body image and purging by vomiting and using laxatives. Before we look into detail about Marley’s illness let us look at what Glee is about and who Marley is.

Glee and the character Marley

Glee is an American musical comedy-drama television series that aired on the Fox network in the United States from May 2009 to March 20 2015. It centres on a glee club called the New Directions at William McKinley high school and which competes in a show choir as the members are still dealing with social issues.

The social issues depicted in the series include bullying, sexuality, race, relationships, teamwork and family. Apart from the millions of views, the music in Glee has been a commercial success with over 36 million digital single sales and eleven million album sales worldwide in October 2011. The series merchandise included Blu-ray releases, DVD, an iPad application and karaoke games for the Wii home video game console.

Marley Rose is a major character in the show’s fourth and fifth seasons. She was a member of the McKinley High School Glee Club. her mother, who works at the school as a lunch lady is poverty-stricken and overweight and this, together with Marley’s low self-esteem makes her vulnerable and a target of bullying in the school.

Marley and her struggle with bulimia

In the series, Marley faces episodes of bulimia and is also ridiculed for her weight by other students, especially Kitty. Her mother is overweight and at one point she is worried that she will inherit her mother’s genes. When her skirt refuses to fit, she is mortified and embarrassed and this worsens her self-image.

Kitty and her friends worsen the situation by continuously mocking her for her weight. One time, they brought pizza and doughnuts and when Marley refuse to eat, Kitty took her to the bathrooms and taught her how to purge by vomiting so as to maintain her model figure.

She is a bit hesitant but after a while, she confirms that she does it regularly at one point Kitty mentions that her throat sounds scratchy. Kitty also introduces her to laxatives to help her purge. Despite the encouragement from her mother, who offered to diet with her, she still felt she did not lose enough weight and always hid her stomach when walking.

Another episode shows Marley inducing vomiting before they perform and her boyfriend encourages her and uplifts her mood so that she can perform. She however passes out during the performance and her teammates say that she has not been eating. 

Her mother gets angry at her and promises to find all means possible to find her help and therapy. From the show, the symptoms of bulimia are well represented and also the risk factors i.e. genetics, low self-esteem and body image. Let us now look at what bulimia is and its symptoms.

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia is a psychological eating disorder characterized by episodes of binge eating and afterwards, you try to lose weight inappropriately. Binge eating episodes are characterized by consuming large amounts of food uncontrollably in one sitting. Marley is experiencing the same thing and is using methods of purging to lose weight.

People with bulimia try methods of losing weight after binge eating and they include:

  • Use of laxatives and diuretics. Laxatives are medications used to loosen up stool passage and decrease constipation. They are also used for weight loss. Diuretics are used to reduce fluids from the body which can lead to weight loss.
  • Fasting
  • Enemas
  • Compulsive exercising
  • vomiting

Signs and symptoms of bulimia nervosa

Marley presented with some signs and symptoms of bulimia and they include:

Physical symptoms

The physical symptoms of bulimia include:

  • Food aversion
  • Dehydration
  • Fatigue
  • Water-electrolyte imbalance
  • Bad breath
  • Dental cavities
  • Constipation
  • Heartburn
  • Inflamed oesophagus
  • Weight loss
  • Using laxatives and diuretics
  • Irregular or absence of menstruation
  • Sore throat

Behavioural symptoms

The behavioural symptoms of bulimia include;

  • Self-harm
  • Vomiting after over-eating
  • Impulsivity
  • Compulsive behaviour
  • Lack of restraint
  • Mood swings

Psychological symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • General discontent
  • Guilt
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Fear of gaining weight

Some symptoms of bulimia that Marley had, are not apparent. The red flag to determine if your loved one is suffering from bulimia nervosa include:

  • Having a negative/distorted body image
  • Constantly worrying and complaining that they are fat
  • Not wanting to eat in public
  • Eating an unusual large serving of food in one sitting
  • Strict dieting and fasting after binge eating
  • Exercising too much
  • Frequent bathroom visits during and after meals for long periods
  • Having calluses, sores or scars on the knuckles
  • Damaged teeth and gums
  • Swelling hands and feet
  • Extreme body weight changes
  • Facial and cheek enlarging from swelling glands

Bulimia nervosa tends to start in early adulthood or late childhood. Most cases are realized when the illness is already full-blown as they hide and feel ashamed of their disordered eating and purging methods. Many also feel ashamed when they binge and feel relieved after purging.

Risk factors of bulimia nervosa

The causes of bulimia nervosa are unknown. What we have are risk factors that increase one’s chances of developing eating disorders. They include:


People with close relatives who have had or are struggling with an eating disorder are at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder. Marley’s mother was obese and this worried Marley as she knew that she was likely to inherit it. Research has shown a possible genetic link to eating disorders. Being overweight in childhood or teenage hood can act as a trigger in developing bulimia nervosa.


Many people with bulimia nervosa, started with restricting calories and dieting before it became full-blown. Many people with bulimia, restrict calories in between binge episodes which again trigger binge eating and purging.

Emotional and psychological issues

Stress, anxiety and other psychological issues can be a trigger for binge eating. Environmental stressors and trauma can make one have a negative perception of their body image, therefore, triggering bulimia nervosa.

Other warning signs of bulimia that Marley had include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • The pressure of media and culture to conform
  • Negative body image

Complications associated with eating disorders

Bulimia nervosa prevents your body from getting the necessary nutrients required by the body and this can lead to complications like:

  • Arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm)
  • Throat and stomach ulcers
  • Tooth decay and cavities
  • Oesophagus inflammation (esophagitis)
  • Heart failure
  • Increased risk of suicide
  • Stomach and intestines damage
  • Electrolyte imbalance

DSM diagnosis of bulimia nervosa

We will check whether Marley fit the diagnostic criteria for bulimia nervosa. The diagnostic criteria according to DSM-IV include the following:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating are characterized by eating an amount of food that is considered large than what most people would have in a short period of time and a lack of control over the amount and time taken to finish the amount of food which Marley had
  • Recurrent inappropriate means to compensate and prevent weight gain i.e. vomiting, using diuretics and laxatives, fasting or excessive exercising. Marley used to vomit.
  • Binge eating and compensatory methods happen at least once a week for three months. From the show, Marley’s binging habits were so frequent that she started having a scratchy throat due to vomiting
  • Self-evaluation is influenced by body weight and shape. All Marley could think of was her body weight and how to lose it
  • Binging or purging does not occur exclusively during episodes of behaviour that would be common in those with anorexia

With this, we can comfortably conclude that Marley was bulimic.

Treatment of Bulimia nervosa


Some antidepressants like Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors help in reducing episodes of binging and vomiting. They are also effective in treating depression and anxiety which are common co-occurring disorders among people with eating disorders like it is portrayed in the show Glee, by the main character Marley.


Cognitive behavioural therapy is a form of therapy which helps a person with eating disorders change their negative thinking patterns about their self-image to more positive ones. Therapy also helps them deal with the underlying causes and triggers of their eating disorders. Finally, therapists can help them develop positive coping mechanisms for their life stressors.

Marley was taken to therapy after her mother discovered that she has been purging.

Support groups

These will not only help you feel like you are not alone in the journey of recovering from bulimia but will also give you a platform for free association where you can openly discuss the struggles of the illness without being ashamed or feeling guilty. Support groups also help in encouraging each other and keep one accountable.

Nutritive counselling

This involves having sessions with a registered dietitian or counsellor on healthy eating habits to help you get back on track and avoid relapses.


In this blog post, we have looked at who Marley from Glee is and whether she had an eating disorder. We have also discussed her journey with eating disorders. We have also defined what eating disorders are, their types and the causes. We have also looked at the treatment options for eating disorders.

If you have any questions or comments, please let us know in the comment section below.

Frequently asked questions: Did Marley from Glee have an eating disorder?

What is the death rate from eating disorders?

Without treatment, 20% of those with serious eating disorders die, while with treatment, the mortality rate falls to 2-3%

What is the age that is more likely to suffer from an eating disorder?

Ages of 12-25. Eating disorders are more common in females than men.

What eating disorder did Marley have in Glee?

She is recovering from bulimia nervosa which Kitty lured her into by teaching her how to purge after eating.


Glee scenes, (June 30, 2016). Glee – Ryder tells Marley to stop puking 4×06. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awutQEjM4xg

Pretty little dead girl, (March 22, 2019). Glee – Marley Rose eating disorder clips. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hzeQU9lALQ

Glee wiki, Marley Rose. Retrieved from https://glee.fandom.com/wiki/Marley_Rose

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