Bulimia Nervosa, often called bulimia, is an eating disorder characterized by consuming or binging a large amount of food quickly, followed by purging. The purging may be done through self-induced vomiting, diuretics, diet pills, laxatives, or other medications. People with bulimia may also eat little or sometimes not at all, and some exercise excessively or hide food to binge and purge when they’re alone.
Bulimia tends to develop during adolescence. About 626,000 people have bulimia. People with bulimia often have a negative self-image and distorted view of their body shape and weight, even if their weight is healthy. Bulimia can be difficult to notice in others as they may binge and purge privately. All eating disorders can harm you or your loved one’s health and well-being. They can even result in death, making it vital to get help for bulimia through a bulimia treatment program.
Signs and Symptoms of Bulimia
People with bulimia may frequently use the restroom, be worried about their body image, and continually watch their weight to be sure they aren’t gaining. They may feel out of control or experience other mental health concerns like depression or anxiety. Many feel guilty or ashamed of eating and hiding their eating habits, and some withdraw socially from friends and family.
Physical symptoms of bulimia may include:
- Muscle weakness
- Occasional fainting
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Bloodshot eyes
- Gastrointestinal issues like acid reflux and constipation
- Dental problems like teeth discoloration and enamel erosion or the start of tooth decay
“The symptoms of bulimia may differ slightly for every person, but it’s essential to seek help from a trained mental health professional if you notice food behaviors that result in physical concerns,” said Mackenzie Reeser, MPH, RDN, LDN, Director of Nutrition Services at Integrative Life Center.
Causes of Bulimia
Eating disorders, including bulimia, are mental health conditions that can be life-threatening. There is no one cause for eating disorders, but research shows genetics and family history increase the chances of developing an eating disorder. People with family members with eating disorders are also more likely to develop unhealthy food-related ideas and behaviors.
Other factors, including societal standards and popular culture, may contribute to developing an eating disorder. The stress and pressure, perceived or actual, to look a certain way can negatively impact self-esteem and body image. That stress, combined with other life stressors and not feeling in control, can lead to eating disorders like bulimia.
There also is a clear link between trauma and eating disorders. People who experience emotional trauma may use control over their body and food as a way to exert some control in their lives when they feel they don’t have any.
“The relationship between trauma and eating disorders is so prevalent that it’s important to seek care from professionals who understand trauma and how it impacts people’s physical and mental health,” Mackenzie said. “Getting to the root cause of the eating disorder will help a person truly heal from it.”
Types of Bulimia Treatment Programs
Eating disorders treatment is necessary for long-term healing and recovery, and many people have co-occurring conditions that mental health professionals can treat simultaneously. Bulimia treatment programs use various therapies, nutritional support, counseling, holistic treatment options, and aftercare to ensure long-term success.
One form of treatment for bulimia is through outpatient programs. With these programs, the therapy selected for recovery is done regularly, but the client remains in their home with their regular work or school schedule.
Outpatient programs are not for everyone, especially when beginning the treatment program, but may work as part of an aftercare or step-down program.
Outpatient programs may not be a good fit for people who need around-the-clock care or for those who don’t have a stable home environment.
Inpatient or residential programs provide full-time accommodations that allow 24-hour monitoring of medical conditions while treating the client with valuable therapies. The break from the outside world may also benefit some, providing a safe space in a medically supervised facility to focus on healing and ending the cycle.
Therapeutic Approaches in Bulimia Treatment Programs
The approach to treating bulimia depends on the individual and their needs. Most bulimia treatment programs include individual, group, and experiential therapies. A bulimia treatment program also may include work with a nutritionist and even hands-on cooking of healthy meals. Here is a look at some of the therapies bulimia treatment may entail.
“Every person is different, so a therapist should consider a client’s unique needs and the therapies that will most benefit them,” Mackenzie stated. “An individualized treatment program provides the best chance for healing and recovery because it considers the person and their needs, instead of being a one-size-fits all.”
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) works to identify negative thought patterns and ultimately challenge them. A form of talk therapy, CBT works to curb triggers due to negative thinking and existing habits. CBT is done one-on-one with a mental health professional.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a form of talk therapy used to develop mindfulness skills related to acceptance while analyzing behaviors and finding healthy ways to cope and respond. It helps with changing negative thought patterns, learning to work with others, developing new skills, and receiving support from others. DBT also is done one-on-one with a mental health professional.
Trauma-informed therapy works to understand all facets of the trauma. Trauma-informed care means understanding trauma’s emotional, neurological, psychological, social, and biological effects while working with other therapy modalities toward long-term healing and recovery. Trauma-informed therapy can be an approach to other types of therapy or a form of talk therapy all its own. It also is done one-on-one with a mental health professional.
Adventure and experiential therapy work to strengthen the connections between the mental and physical. The physical experience allows clients to become involved and benefit from the activity, which may include guided imagery, role-playing, and other therapeutic activities that connect the mind and body.
Experiential therapies may include:
- Joyful Movement. This therapeutic approach can include gentle and playful movement modalities such as martial arts therapy, dance therapy, and/or therapeutic yoga. Joyful movement employs meditative and spiritual practices to help release trauma while helping clients learn embodiment, boundaries, and grounding.
- Art Therapy. Art therapy creates a safe and personal space to explore thoughts and feelings through art. Using the creative process to express emotions can increase self-awareness and connection with others.
- Music Therapy. Music therapy bridges emotional learning with social and spiritual growth while building self-confidence.
- Mindfulness Therapy. Mindfulness and meditation creates awareness of thoughts and feelings without judgment. Techniques like deep breathing, meditation, and guided imagery help clients learn to control their responses to other people and situations.
Group therapy can be beneficial in bulimia treatment programs. Individual therapy allows you or your loved one to work with a therapist solely on their program, following their pace and addressing their needs. But group therapy also has benefits, such as learning to work with others, building relationships, trusting others, and understanding you are not alone in your struggles. The strength of support from a community of peers can make a massive difference in the success of long-term recovery.
A treatment approach using holistic therapy looks at the whole person. Holistic therapy understands a person is more than their disorder and considers physical, emotional, spiritual, and environmental aspects that can help healing and recovery.
Nutrition therapy works with many treatment programs but is especially beneficial in bulimia treatment programs. Clients learn how to improve their diet while also learning about holistic healing through nutrition and community.
Bulimia treatment programs include nutritional therapy sessions and education with a registered dietician or nutritionist. Part of recovery for people with eating disorders includes creating a healthy relationship with food grounded in knowledge.
ILC’s bulimia treatment programs support clients needing help with grocery list-making, budgeting, and cooking skills. Trained nutrition staff facilitate weekly meal planning and grocery shopping, allowing clients to learn the skills needed to succeed long-term.
Bulimia treatment programs have medically trained staff to work with clients during meal planning to ensure nutrient deficiencies are noted, and foods to fill those needs are included.
The staff also works with each client on their nutritional needs and monitors their physical health to ensure they have the skills to be successful in their recovery.
The staff in ILC’s bulimia treatment programs monitor a client’s physical health and are present to address any physical health-related complications. The trained staff also manages the physical symptoms of co-occurring conditions while monitoring nutrient intake.
The Importance of Aftercare
The path to long-term healing does not end once the bulimia treatment program is complete. Aftercare and alumni services are crucial to continue recovery and continue a robust support system. Creating a structure for life outside of treatment can be difficult, and aftercare helps provide skills and coping mechanisms to continue recovery.
“Recovery doesn’t stop once you leave treatment,” Mackenzie said. “You have to continue the work so you don’t fall back into unhealthy habits. Aftercare and support are critical to your continued recovery.”
Recovery is Within Reach
Bulimia can lead to potentially life-threatening health concerns. If you or your loved one has bulimia or another editing disorder, professional help and support are critical to long-term recovery. Integrative Life Center’s bulimia treatment program can make a difference in a successful healing journey. Contact ILC to learn more about how you or your loved one can begin the path to recovery and healing.