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Treatment for bulimia

Bulimia is a serious mental illness where people feel that they have lost control over their eating and evaluate themselves based on their body shape and weight. People with bulimia are caught in a cycle of eating large quantities of food (called ‘bingeing’), and then vomiting, taking laxatives or diuretics (called purging). You can read more about bulimia here.

Most treatment for bulimia will take place in outpatient services. Inpatient treatment is usually only necessary when someone is at risk of suicide or severe self-harm.

Therapy

Therapy can be recommended as part of the treatment for bulimia in order to tackle the underlying thoughts and feelings that cause the illness and encourage healthier ways of coping. Therapies recommended to help treat bulimia might include:

  • Evidence-based self-help, which will involve some of the same techniques you would learn in face-to-face therapy. Ideally this will be with support and encouragement from your healthcare team.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy – Bulimia Nervosa (CBT-BN), CBT that has been adapted to suit the needs of people with bulimia.
  • Other therapies, such as interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), as an alternative to CBT.

CBT is likely to be recommended as part of your treatment, and may have positive results over a shorter course of treatment than other forms of therapy. However, if CBT isn’t right for you, you can get good results through other therapies too.

You can read a bit more about what each therapy involves on our “Eating disorders terms” page.

Self-help and support groups

Self help and support groups where you’re able to talk to others going through similar experiences can be useful to both sufferers and their families throughout treatment and in sustaining recovery. Please search our Helpfinder database for information about what’s available in your area. Alternatively, Beat runs online support groups for people with eating disorders.

Issue date: January 2017

Review date: January 2020

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Sources used to create this information are available by contacting Beat on 0300 123 3355 or emailing info@b-eat.co.uk. We welcome your feedback on our information resources and whether you found them helpful. Email info@b-eat.co.uk with your comments.