Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by eating excessive amounts of food in a short period (binging) followed by guilt and shame leading to self-induced vomiting, extreme exercise, or laxative abuse (purging), and overcoming bulimia is not a simple process. Unlike anorexia nervosa, many individuals with bulimia nervosa are of normal body weight or are overweight. There are many different of causes leading to the development of bulimia nervosa including biological causes such as genetics, hormones and neurotransmitters, developmental factors such as trauma in childhood, psychological factors such as underlying mental health disorders and sociocultural factors such as peer pressure and body image distortion.

Taking a look at bulimia nervosa statistics

  • There is 1.5% lifetime prevalence of bulimia nervosa among women and 0.5% among men in the United States
  • Approximately 65% of individuals with bulimia nervosa have a normal body weight or are considered overweight
  • Approximately 50% of individuals with bulimia nervosa have an accompanying mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder
  • Approximately 50% of individuals with bulimia nervosa have an accompanying anxiety disorder
  • Approximately one in 10 individuals with bulimia nervosa have a substance abuse disorder

Are you experiencing signs and symptoms associated with bulimia nervosa?

Have you ever taken laxatives or diuretics outside of your doctor’s recommendation?

Do you often take frequent trips to the bathroom after eating to engage in self-induced purging behaviors such as vomiting?

Have you notices unusual swelling around your cheeks or jaw area?

Have you experienced muscle loss or weakness?

Have you noticed any loss of dental enamel or discolored teeth?

Do you have obsessive thoughts about food?

Do you have obsessive thought about your body shape or size?

Do you find yourself obsessing about losing weight?

Are you unhappy with your body?

Do you refuse to eat certain food such as carbohydrates?

Do you refuse to participate in group dinners or family meals?

Do you exercise excessively?

Do you count calories and fat or weigh your food?

Do you eat large amounts of food in small time periods?

Do you hide food or food wrappers?

Do you commonly skip or miss meals?

Do you appear to have dry skin or hair?

Do you eat so much food to the point you experience discomfort or pain?

Do you spend a lot of time shopping and preparing food for others but won’t eat the food you prepared?

Have you noticed patterns of social withdrawal?

Overcoming Bulimia

Bulimia nervosa is best treated under the care of an eating disorder specialist. It is essential to seek out a psychiatrist or psychologist who has a history in diagnosing and treating bulimia nervosa. When seeking a mental health professional, it is important to establish a safe environment and trusting relationship with this person in order for you to receive the greatest benefits from treatment. Most eating disorder centers are outpatient treatment centers however if you have a serious eating disorder, the initial assessment will determine if you need inpatient care. If you feel uneasy about seeking treatment on your own, ask a close friend or family member to help guide you as an untreated disorder can lead to serious complications down the road and can even be life threatening. 

Pharmacological treatment approaches for overcoming bulimia nervosa

Medications are generally not used to treat eating disorders, however selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of antidepressants, have been shown to be effective in treating bulimia nervosa. Fluoxetine (Prozac) is the only known SSRI approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder. When fluoxetine is not tolerated, other SSRIs as well as other selective serotonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) used to treat depression can be used to treat these disorders as alternative therapies.

Psychotherapy treatments for eating disorders

Psychotherapy is the mainstay treatment approach for treating all eating disorders, including bulimia nervosa and psychotherapy approaches include the following:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT)
  • Group therapy
  • Family-based therapy (FBT) 

Eating disorder online support groups

There are many community and online recourses that can supplement professional therapy. These include self-help books about eating disorders, community support groups, community organizations and online support groups for eating disorders.

Lift the Shame Support Group.  Sponsored by The National Associated of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), this online support group offers support and resources to pregnant women and moms with eating disorders. It is a free, online, confidential support group.

Eating Disorders Online. This online support group is an open and free support group for adults, adolescents, men and women who are struggling with an eating disorder or who are in recovery and are seeking extra support.