Bulimia nervosa is more than a simple binge/purge series of behaviors; it’s a complex mental health disorder that requires a mixture of psychotherapy, psychiatric help, and behavioral modification during recovery. Bulimia nervosa recovery also depends on continued support from the individual’s family, close friends, and aftercare groups of both peers and counselors, even after leaving an eating disorder treatment center. Even before starting treatment in earnest, eating disorder therapists develop a personalized, individual treatment plan that’s unique to each client.
What Are the Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa?
Before engaging in a treatment program, you’ll need to know what the signs of the disorder are in the first place. Bulimia nervosa is normally the product of a flawed self-image, where individuals believe they are overweight or otherwise flawed and unattractive. This flawed self-image among people with bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa focuses on the superficial appearance of the body size, shape, and weight.
People with bulimia nervosa will often engage in extreme dieting to counteract their disordered thoughts of being overweight. This can lead to binge eating episodes, which are performed in secret and bring with them feelings of guilt and shame. After eating an enormous amount of food, individuals then attempt to avoid gaining weight by purging the food, most often via self-induced vomiting, but sometimes including laxative abuse, enema abuse, or excessive exercising.
A common indicator of a developing bulimia nervosa disorder is an obsession over achieving an “ideal” body shape and weight, no matter how unattainable it may be. Perfectionism of this kind leads to a negative and distorted self-evaluation process that feeds into the continuation of disordered behaviors. The behavior becomes compulsive and creates further depression and anxiety that further promote participation in bulimia nervosa behaviors.
Bulimia nervosa side effects involve health problems that may require extensive medical treatment or hospitalization, such as:
- Tooth decay and gum issues resulting from repeated exposure to stomach acid, which erodes tooth enamel
- Noticeable swelling of salivary glands
- Persistent sore throat and esophagus issues
- Hoarse voice and difficulty swallowing
- Electrolyte imbalance (lack of potassium, chloride, and sodium in the body could cause heart arrhythmias or heart failure)
These are simply the physical symptoms of bulimia nervosa. There are usually extensive psychological complications as well, such as chronic depression, and both generalized and acute anxiety disorders. Consequently, a bulimia nervosa recovery demands intensive treatment with experienced eating disorder therapists who have vast experience in dealing with the challenging issues clients must cope with to achieve recovery.
What’s Involved in Getting Better?
Identifying and eliminating the disordered behaviors associated with bulimia nervosa begins with understanding the nature of the disease and developing a sense of optimism that it can be defeated. Therapists provide the counseling, insight, and support necessary for clients to understand that bulimia nervosa recovery is attainable for anyone who wants it.
Eating disorder therapists show clients how to identify with being a “healthy” individual whose identity is more than their disorder. Too often, bulimia nervosa cases center around an obsessively poor self-image, and the individuals take these extreme measures to “fix” the perceived problem. During recovery, bulimia nervosa clients also learn to manage unpleasant or intrusive emotions and thoughts without resorting to disordered actions like binging 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.
Commonly employed principles found in bulimia nervosa recovery include:
- Healthy At Every Size (HAES), the idea that weight and health are not necessarily the same
- Restoring a positive relationship with the body
- Learning to focus thoughts on more important, meaningful things instead of food
- Self-care, or taking the time to love one’s self unconditionally
- Setting boundaries and limits with other people
- Restoring comfort in regular eating situations
- Renewing relationships with family members
It is also essential for individuals with bulimia nervosa to follow their doctor’s and psychiatrist’s orders and take medication if it is prescribed for either mental or physical symptoms resulting from bulimia nervosa. A healthy body is essential for treating psychological disorders underlying the development of an eating disorder.
If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: CARRIE HUNNICUTT
With 20 years of behavioral health business development experience, Carrie combines world-class marketing, media, public relations, outreach and business development with a deep understanding of client care and treatment. Her contributions to the world of behavioral health business development – and particularly eating disorder treatment – go beyond simple marketing; she has actively developed leaders for her organizations and for the industry at large.
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
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