As stated emphatically by the National Institute of Mental Health, individuals who suffer from bulimia nervosa often have a normal, healthy body weight. They might be slightly overweight or underweight, like any other American, but their eating disorder doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with that. Because of this fact, bulimia is an eating disorder that is often more difficult to spot.
Bulimia is an eating disorder that causes an individual to binge on excessively large amounts of food in a short period of time, followed by a purging episode to rid the body of the food. This purging can be accomplished in many forms, including vomiting, exercise, fasting, or through the use of laxatives and diuretics. Each of these purging routines carries its own inherent risks, regardless of how harmless or innocuous they might seem.
Vomiting, for instance, can cause problems ranging from an inflamed and sore throat that won’t go away to a life-threatening rupture of the esophageal lining which can cause severe blood loss and death, as outlined in the Complications of Bulimia health guide from the New York Times. Other destructive side effects include poor dental health, serious stomach issues, and weakening of the rectal walls.
Regaining Physical Health
Someone who suffers from bulimia is not healthy, regardless of whether they are currently at a healthy weight. By not eating the right foods in the right amounts and disrupting the natural digestive cycle repeatedly, the individual may suffer from kidney problems, reflux or dehydration. Therefore, the first stage of treatment is to help them regain their physical health and strength. Once this has been achieved, more intensive psychotherapy can begin in earnest.
Treatment for Bulimia Nervosa
Eating disorders are often accompanied by other behaviors and disorders that must be addressed in order regain one’s health. Every person who suffers from a disorder, whether it is bulimia nervosa, drug addiction or diabetes, is unique. They have their own histories and health issues to deal with and their own personalities.
Finding the right treatment options is important in order to get to the core problems and allow true healing to take place.
There are several evidence-based methods that have proven to be effective in the course of treating bulimia, according to the National Institute of Health. One such form of evidence-based therapy includes cognitive behavioral therapy. This type of therapy addresses thought patterns and self-image as well as the resulting behaviors. By aiding an individual in recognizing destructive thoughts as well as teaching them better coping skills and behaviors, a therapist can help the person learn how to deal with stress and anxiety in a healthier way. According to a study published by the US Library of Medicine, individuals who received cognitive behavioral therapy in the course of treatment reported higher levels of improvement over those who did not receive CBT in many areas, including:
- Binge eating
- Improved eating habits
- Better self-image for body shape and weight
- Social adjustment
Treating Someone Who Is Reluctant or Unwilling to Accept Help
It is possible to successfully treat someone who suffers from bulimia or another eating disorder. The recovery rates, according to some scientific researchers and doctors, can be as high as 90 percent, according to the online publication of the American Journal of Psychiatry. In order to achieve healthy and successful treatment, however, the person afflicted by the disorder must seek help.
This doesn’t mean they have to 100 percent cooperative, particularly since researchers have found in a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, bulimia is often accompanied by co-occurring disorders like borderline personality disorder or bipolar II disorder which can create an oppositional attitude.
If you are concerned about a friend, family member or loved one who may be suffering from bulimia, it is important that you handle the situation with compassion, first and foremost. Try to refrain from judging them or accusing them of wrong-doing. Approach them with kind and loving words and you’re more likely to be heard.
Once you’ve had a conversation with them about your concerns, they may agree to seek help right away. In this case, it is imperative that you call for help immediately, before they can change their mind. If they do not agree, and you are in a position of authority, such as their parent or guardian, you may wish to make an appointment with your doctor as quickly as possible.
Through physical examination, a doctor or other medical professional can made a qualified determination whether a problem does, in fact, exist. One technique is to examine the teeth to determine if excess stomach acid from frequent, induced vomiting has worn away the enamel or caused other dental problems. Another sign of bulimia may be scarring or sores on the knuckles caused from scraping the knuckles on the front teeth during the purging process. Finally, your doctor may be able to have a private conversation with your child during which he or she may feel more comfortable about revealing their true feelings.
If you make the determination that your child needs to be admitted to a recovery center, like ours here at Futures in Palm Beach, a professional, trained staff can work with you and your child to create a customized recovery plan.
Therapies to Treat Bulimia
One aspect of that plan might include dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). This is a specialized form of cognitive behavioral therapy that directs more attention to how individuals react to certain emotional situations. According to the National Institute of Health’s information concerning borderline personality disorder (the disorder for which DBT was originally developed), this therapy teaches certain skills to help the individual control intense emotions and behaviors that are self-destructive.
Both cognitive behavior therapy and dialectical behavior therapy are conducted on a one-on-one basis with complementary group therapy sessions. During private sessions, the partners in the therapy will discuss the treatment plans or any issues that an individual is not comfortable sharing in a group. During group therapy, the patient will have the opportunity to receive help from others who are experiencing the same or similar issues with eating disorders, self-image or past trauma, as well the chance to provide help and support to others in the group setting.
Additional forms of therapy might include:
- Medication in the form of antidepressants or anti-anxiety prescriptions, depending upon whether a co-occurring substance use disorder is present
- Family therapy with members of the immediate or extended family as warranted
- Nutritional counseling for healthy eating habits after release from the hospital or residential treatment facility
- Follow-up psychological care, medical care and monitoring
The Difference Between Inpatient and Outpatient Bulimia Treatment
Outpatient treatment for bulimia is generally conducted in a clinic setting and the individual will continue to reside at home. This works well for mild to moderate cases where the individual seeking help needs to remain at home due to work or family obligations. Outpatient services are often less expensive, although the needs of the individual’s health and wellness should be the primary concern.
Inpatient treatment for bulimia and other eating disorders offers a more secure and monitored environment. When someone suffering from bulimia resides in a residential facility, they will have all of the comforts of home as well as a structured schedule and around-the-clock nursing care to help them maintain and build healthy habits concerning their relationship with food. They will also have a more relaxed environment to explore their own healing with help from a staff of professionals who dedicate themselves to the needs of the residents each and every day.
If you suffer from bulimia, or you have reason to suspect someone in your life might be struggling with it, please contact us here Futures right away. We can help you determine the best course of action for you and your family.