The thoughts of food can consume every aspect, minute, and ounce of energy of the day for someone with an eating disorder (ED). That fixation on food, weight and shape can be a way to avoid focusing on the other anxieties of life. It becomes a way to cope. Eventually fixation can become an uncontrollable eating disorder such a bulimia.
Bulimia is the cycle of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors to prevent weight gain such as vomiting, compulsive exercise, restriction, and misuse of laxatives, diuretics, enemas, or other medications.
While bulimia may feel uncontrollable, there are ways to end the cycle of bulimia and gain back a normal relationship with food and body size and shape. Psychotherapy is the most common treatment for bulimia and is greatly supported by research. It looks at mental health in a holistic lens, beyond the eating disorder alone. The goal is to reach the underlying issues contributing to the eating disorder which targets a multitude of aspects in one’s life. Most commonly, eating disorders are symptoms of underlying anxiety, depression, trauma, and other broad-spectrum diagnoses. The common forms of psychotherapy include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), family therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and interpersonal psychotherapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a structured form of therapy that explores how thinking impacts behaviors. It is the most widely used eating disorders treatment and most well-researched and validated. The process includes identifying and adjusting dysfunctional thoughts and beliefs that impact negative behaviors associated with the eating disorder. Through CBT one can understand and change their thoughts while creating new healthy behaviors through interventions.
Family therapy focuses on how family roles can impact and maintain behaviors. The family is involved throughout the entire process, so they may also build and form roles within the family system that will benefit the person diagnosed with bulimia. While most of the research on family-based therapy as an eating disorders treatment involves children and adolescents, there is good evidence this is highly effective with adults as well.
Interpersonal psychotherapy focuses on personal relationships and how it impacts our mental health. It aims to create a bridge between personal history and how it impacts interpersonal situations. Traditionally developed to treat depression, some therapists use this as a tool to help with eating disorders treatment for bulimia.
In combination with psychotherapy, medication can be a useful asset in treating bulimia. The Food and Drug Administration has approved Fluoxetine (brand name Prozac) as a treatment of bulimia nervosa. It has been shown to reduce the desire and number of episodes of bingeing and purging. In addition, there are other medications that are geared towards co-occurring disorders that may be impacting eating disorders such as depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The most effective of bulimia treatment is a combination of therapy, medication, determination, and support. There are a variety of treatment centers that can cater to an individual’s needs based on the severity of the eating disorder. Those include outpatient, inpatient, day programs, and residential programs. These centers can help provide a safe place to receive treatment with the help of a multidisciplinary team.
The most crucial component of the road to recovery is self-determination and support. If you or a loved one is suffering from bulimia, it is important to remember recovery is possible with comprehensive eating disorders treatment. Trusting eating disorder professionals and loved ones, a person is able to gain back control from ED and improve their life.