Treatment for eating disorders in teens and young adults is a complex, challenging process involving cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, individual counseling, and group therapy. In addition, bulimia nervosa recovery relies on ongoing support from the client’s family, close friends and counselors providing outpatient services at eating disorder treatment centers. Before starting the recovery process, eating disorder therapists develop a personal, comprehensive treatment plan based on the unique life experiences of clients that are designed to address all mental and physical health needs.

Recognizing Signs of Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is the product of a person’s inability to self-evaluate correctly. Self-evaluation among people with bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa focuses solely on the superficial appearance of the body–size, shape, and weight. The physical and psychological experience of depriving the self of food through extreme dieting ultimately contributes to binge-eating episodes. After eating an enormous amount of food, the individual becomes panic-stricken with fear of gaining weight combined with deep shame and guilt over losing control during a binge-eating episode.

Adolescents and young adults with bulimia nervosa obsess over achieving what they think is an “ideal” body shape and weight. Perfectionism of this magnitude leads to a negative and distorted self-evaluation process that responds to a failure to meet unattainable high standards. Mood intolerance (an inability to cope with adverse states of mind and emotion) promotes participation in bulimia nervosa behaviors as well as sustained depression and generalized anxiety.

Bulimia nervosa side effects involve health problems that may require extensive medical treatment or hospitalization. They include:

  • Tooth decay due to repeated vomiting after a binge-eating episode. Over time, stomach acid erodes tooth enamel and may cause tooth loss and gum disease
  • Visible swelling of salivary glands
  • Chronic sore throat
  • Hoarse voice (stomach acid damages the lining of the esophagus. Accumulation of scar tissue may also make it difficult to swallow)
  • Dehydration
  • Anemia
  • Electrolyte imbalance (lack of potassium, chloride, and sodium in the body could cause heart arrhythmias and/or heart failure)

Other bulimia nervosa side effects involve worsening of depression, anxiety, panic and obsessive-compulsive habits that propagate most eating disorders. Consequently, a bulimia nervosa recovery demands intensive, preferably residential-type treatment with experienced eating disorder therapists who fully understand the challenging issues clients must cope with to achieve recovery.

How Do People Recover from Bulimia Nervosa?

Gaining control of signs of bulimia nervosa begins with clients developing a feeling of genuine optimism about their ability to overcome their eating disorder. Therapists provide the counseling, insight, and support necessary for clients to understand that bulimia nervosa recovery is attainable in all situations.

Recovering from bulimia nervosa or any eating disorder is an ongoing, subjective process uniquely perceived by the client. Eating disorder therapists show clients how to identify with being a “healthy” individual who does not depend on an eating disorder to define their core identity. During recovery, bulimia nervosa clients also learn to manage unpleasant or intrusive emotions and thoughts without resorting to binge-eating and purging. Equipped with healthy coping strategies following the completion of their treatment program, individuals with bulimia nervosa are better able to solve problems critically and rationally while keeping control of negative emotions.

Principles of a successful bulimia nervosa recovery include:

  • Valuing the body as functional, healthy and strong rather than how it “looks”
  • Restoring a compassionate relationship with the body
  • Learning to focus thoughts on more important, meaningful things instead of food
  • Treating the self with more kindness and flexibility
  • Setting boundaries and limits with other people
  • Discovering a purpose in one’s life
  • Constantly improving emotional stability
  • Renewing relationships with family members
  • Creating a rewarding and beneficial social life

It is also vital for bulimia nervosa clients to follow their physician’s orders and take medication as prescribed if they suffer from bulimia nervosa side effects impacting their physical health. A healthy body is essential for treating psychological disorders underlying the development of an eating disorder.