How Do I Help Someone With Bulimia?

Reviewed Nov 23, 2016

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Summary

  • Confront the person in a loving but firm manner.
  • Help the person to get professional help.
  • Learn all you can about the disorder.

A person with bulimia feels out of control about food. This is mainly true during times of binge eating. Later, the person feels guilty and will purge the food to prevent weight gain. This is often done through forced vomiting or the over use of laxatives, enemas or diet pills. It may also be done through over exercising. Purging helps the person to feel more in control.

Warning signs of bulimia

Unlike anorexia, most people with bulimia are aware something is wrong. They may even realize they are in danger. They are often too ashamed to seek help, and will try to hide their actions instead. This secrecy makes it hard to spot someone who may have the illness. One more drawback is that the person may be normal weight or even slightly heavy. This makes the disorder much harder to detect than anorexia which leaves the person very thin.

Some of the signs to look for include:

  • Constant trips to the bathroom after eating
  • Smells of vomit
  • Swelling of jaw or cheeks
  • Staining of teeth
  • Scrapes on knuckles from induced vomiting
  • Being obsessed with exercise
  • Finding empty food wrappers
  • Finding containers of diet pills or laxatives
  • Noticing large amounts of food missing
  • Withdrawal, anxiety, or depression

How to help

If you think someone you know may have bulimia, express your concerns right away. Early detection offers the best chance for healing. Confront the person in a loving but firm manner.

Make sure your friend or loved one knows you are there to support her. Take time to talk with her and more importantly to listen. Do not judge her or say things to make her feel guilty. Do not tell her to just quit binge eating and throwing up. Instead, encourage her to seek professional help. Offer to help her make an appointment with a doctor. If she resists, do not try to force her. Let her know that you will be there for her whenever she is ready.

A further way of helping is to learn all you can about bulimia. This will allow you to better realize what the person is going through. It will also show him that you care and are committed to helping him.

Treatment

Bulimia can be a deadly illness. The sooner the disorder is noticed and treated, the better. Talk therapy is the main form of treatment. This includes one-on-one as well as group therapy. A special form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) designed for bulimia can also be used. It can help change the way the person thinks and acts regarding food.
 
Drug treatment may be used as well. Fluoxetine (Prozac®) is currently the only U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drug for treating bulimia. It can help with any existing anxiety or depression. It may also help to decrease the cycle of binge eating and purging.

A strong family support system is needed, as well as guidance on healthy eating. Both can help the person overcome feelings of guilt and shame. They can also address the person’s skewed body image and poor self-esteem. Any substance use issues will need to be treated separately.

With proper treatment and support, a person with bulimia can expect to recover. Over time, she will learn to feel better about herself and more in control of her life.
 
Resources

National Eating Disorders Association
What Should I Say?
How to Help a Friend with Eating and Body Image Issues
NEDA Toolkits

Office on Women’s Health
Bulimia Fact Sheet

By Kevin Rizzo
Source: Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/bulimia-nervosa.html; National Eating Disorders Association, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/bulimia-nervosa, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/what-should-i-say, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/how-help-friend-eating-and-body-image-issues; National Alliance on Mental Illness, www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Eating-Disorders; National Institute of Mental Health, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml
Reviewed by Maria F Rodowski-Stanco, MD, Associate Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Confront the person in a loving but firm manner.
  • Help the person to get professional help.
  • Learn all you can about the disorder.

A person with bulimia feels out of control about food. This is mainly true during times of binge eating. Later, the person feels guilty and will purge the food to prevent weight gain. This is often done through forced vomiting or the over use of laxatives, enemas or diet pills. It may also be done through over exercising. Purging helps the person to feel more in control.

Warning signs of bulimia

Unlike anorexia, most people with bulimia are aware something is wrong. They may even realize they are in danger. They are often too ashamed to seek help, and will try to hide their actions instead. This secrecy makes it hard to spot someone who may have the illness. One more drawback is that the person may be normal weight or even slightly heavy. This makes the disorder much harder to detect than anorexia which leaves the person very thin.

Some of the signs to look for include:

  • Constant trips to the bathroom after eating
  • Smells of vomit
  • Swelling of jaw or cheeks
  • Staining of teeth
  • Scrapes on knuckles from induced vomiting
  • Being obsessed with exercise
  • Finding empty food wrappers
  • Finding containers of diet pills or laxatives
  • Noticing large amounts of food missing
  • Withdrawal, anxiety, or depression

How to help

If you think someone you know may have bulimia, express your concerns right away. Early detection offers the best chance for healing. Confront the person in a loving but firm manner.

Make sure your friend or loved one knows you are there to support her. Take time to talk with her and more importantly to listen. Do not judge her or say things to make her feel guilty. Do not tell her to just quit binge eating and throwing up. Instead, encourage her to seek professional help. Offer to help her make an appointment with a doctor. If she resists, do not try to force her. Let her know that you will be there for her whenever she is ready.

A further way of helping is to learn all you can about bulimia. This will allow you to better realize what the person is going through. It will also show him that you care and are committed to helping him.

Treatment

Bulimia can be a deadly illness. The sooner the disorder is noticed and treated, the better. Talk therapy is the main form of treatment. This includes one-on-one as well as group therapy. A special form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) designed for bulimia can also be used. It can help change the way the person thinks and acts regarding food.
 
Drug treatment may be used as well. Fluoxetine (Prozac®) is currently the only U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drug for treating bulimia. It can help with any existing anxiety or depression. It may also help to decrease the cycle of binge eating and purging.

A strong family support system is needed, as well as guidance on healthy eating. Both can help the person overcome feelings of guilt and shame. They can also address the person’s skewed body image and poor self-esteem. Any substance use issues will need to be treated separately.

With proper treatment and support, a person with bulimia can expect to recover. Over time, she will learn to feel better about herself and more in control of her life.
 
Resources

National Eating Disorders Association
What Should I Say?
How to Help a Friend with Eating and Body Image Issues
NEDA Toolkits

Office on Women’s Health
Bulimia Fact Sheet

By Kevin Rizzo
Source: Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/bulimia-nervosa.html; National Eating Disorders Association, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/bulimia-nervosa, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/what-should-i-say, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/how-help-friend-eating-and-body-image-issues; National Alliance on Mental Illness, www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Eating-Disorders; National Institute of Mental Health, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml
Reviewed by Maria F Rodowski-Stanco, MD, Associate Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Confront the person in a loving but firm manner.
  • Help the person to get professional help.
  • Learn all you can about the disorder.

A person with bulimia feels out of control about food. This is mainly true during times of binge eating. Later, the person feels guilty and will purge the food to prevent weight gain. This is often done through forced vomiting or the over use of laxatives, enemas or diet pills. It may also be done through over exercising. Purging helps the person to feel more in control.

Warning signs of bulimia

Unlike anorexia, most people with bulimia are aware something is wrong. They may even realize they are in danger. They are often too ashamed to seek help, and will try to hide their actions instead. This secrecy makes it hard to spot someone who may have the illness. One more drawback is that the person may be normal weight or even slightly heavy. This makes the disorder much harder to detect than anorexia which leaves the person very thin.

Some of the signs to look for include:

  • Constant trips to the bathroom after eating
  • Smells of vomit
  • Swelling of jaw or cheeks
  • Staining of teeth
  • Scrapes on knuckles from induced vomiting
  • Being obsessed with exercise
  • Finding empty food wrappers
  • Finding containers of diet pills or laxatives
  • Noticing large amounts of food missing
  • Withdrawal, anxiety, or depression

How to help

If you think someone you know may have bulimia, express your concerns right away. Early detection offers the best chance for healing. Confront the person in a loving but firm manner.

Make sure your friend or loved one knows you are there to support her. Take time to talk with her and more importantly to listen. Do not judge her or say things to make her feel guilty. Do not tell her to just quit binge eating and throwing up. Instead, encourage her to seek professional help. Offer to help her make an appointment with a doctor. If she resists, do not try to force her. Let her know that you will be there for her whenever she is ready.

A further way of helping is to learn all you can about bulimia. This will allow you to better realize what the person is going through. It will also show him that you care and are committed to helping him.

Treatment

Bulimia can be a deadly illness. The sooner the disorder is noticed and treated, the better. Talk therapy is the main form of treatment. This includes one-on-one as well as group therapy. A special form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) designed for bulimia can also be used. It can help change the way the person thinks and acts regarding food.
 
Drug treatment may be used as well. Fluoxetine (Prozac®) is currently the only U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drug for treating bulimia. It can help with any existing anxiety or depression. It may also help to decrease the cycle of binge eating and purging.

A strong family support system is needed, as well as guidance on healthy eating. Both can help the person overcome feelings of guilt and shame. They can also address the person’s skewed body image and poor self-esteem. Any substance use issues will need to be treated separately.

With proper treatment and support, a person with bulimia can expect to recover. Over time, she will learn to feel better about herself and more in control of her life.
 
Resources

National Eating Disorders Association
What Should I Say?
How to Help a Friend with Eating and Body Image Issues
NEDA Toolkits

Office on Women’s Health
Bulimia Fact Sheet

By Kevin Rizzo
Source: Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/bulimia-nervosa.html; National Eating Disorders Association, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/bulimia-nervosa, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/what-should-i-say, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/how-help-friend-eating-and-body-image-issues; National Alliance on Mental Illness, www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Eating-Disorders; National Institute of Mental Health, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml
Reviewed by Maria F Rodowski-Stanco, MD, Associate Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical or health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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