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Learn More About Renfrew’s 2024 Eating Disorders Awareness Week Campaign: In My Empowerment Era

Bulimia Nervosa

If you or a loved one is dealing with bulimia, we want to help. This page will provide guidance on symptoms, treatment paths and information on what to do next. Note: Bulimia Nervosa is the formal medical term, though it is commonly referred to as bulimia in everyday language.

What Is Bulimia Nervosa?

Bulimia is the repeated cycle of out-of-control eating followed by some form of purging. The purging associated with bulimia may take many forms: self-induced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, or obsessive exercising. People with bulimia often feel out of control in many areas of their lives. Affecting all races and genders, individuals with bulimia commonly experience co-occurring psychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and substance use.

Bulimia Warning Signs

Bulimia can have serious medical consequences including dental and esophageal problems, kidney damage, chemical imbalance, and an overall loss of energy and vitality. It is a serious eating disorder and can be fatal.

Key signs you or someone you know may be struggling with bulimia include:

  • Engaging in binge eating and cannot voluntarily stop
  • Feelings of guilt or shame regarding eating
  • Frequent use of the bathroom after meals
  • Feelings of guilt or shame regarding eating
  • Feeling out of control
  • Reacting to emotional stress by overeating or purging
  • Negative body image

Is it Really an Eating Disorder?

We live in a culture with rigid ideals about food, weight and size, so it can be difficult to recognize when your thoughts and behaviors have become dangerous. Take a quiz and find out.

Bulimia Treatment & Levels of Care

Long-term recovery from bulimia requires more than simply stopping binge eating and purging cycles. Treatment focuses on identifying the emotional patterns, thoughts and behaviors buried beneath the disorder – and building emotional tolerance to help the individual remove their dependence on the eating disorder to cope. 

This starts with finding the treatment approach that best matches your or your loved ones’ needs. Here are the most common treatment options for Bulimia Nervosa.

Residential Treatment
Continuous in-person treatment. Often the most structured and intensive level of care.

Day Treatment
Comprehensive and consistent outpatient care with daily, in-person meetings.

Intensive Outpatient (IOP)
Intensive structure and treatment plans with consistent meetings several days per week.

Outpatient Services
Weekly structure and steady support, but provided at a slower pace than IOP.

Virtual Treatment
The same structured, intensive care of in-person, delivered virtually.

How to Help Someone with Bulimia

Individuals struggling with bulimia deserve a caring and professional approach to evaluation, diagnosis and treatment. Parents, family or friends—working closely with a mental health team—can play a critical role in starting the recovery journey and restoring healthy eating. Explore our library of dedicated resources, podcast episodes, and blogs on eating disorder topics. Reach out to a Renfrew Program Information Specialist to schedule a FREE assessment or to learn more about our services.

Reach out to a Renfrew Program Information Specialist to schedule a FREE assessment or to learn more about our services.

Thinking About Treatment?

What is bulimia nervosa?

Bulimia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by binge eating and compensatory behavior to prevent weight gain. Binge episodes are followed by one or more of the following compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, diuretic use, extreme physical activity and/or restriction.

How common is bulimia?

The prevalence rate of bulimia nervosa is 0.1%-1.3% in males and 0.5%-2% among females. Bulimia occurs worldwide in people of all ages, genders, sexualities, races, and ethnicities regardless of body size or socioeconomic status. Although BIPOC and marginalized communities continue to be underrepresented in eating disorder research, there is evidence that African American adolescents and women are most likely to experience bulimia nervosa.

What causes bulimia?

Bulimia is a complex mental health condition with no one identifiable cause. Instead, it seems to be triggered by an interaction between genetics and various environmental risk factors, including cultural, nutritional, biological, social, and psychological factors.

What are the most common signs for bulimia?

Eating large amounts of foods in a discrete period of time, feeling out of control around food, restricting, compensatory behaviors, intense fear of weight gain, body dissatisfaction, and overvaluation of body shape as a measure of worth.

How do I know if I need treatment for bulimia?

Ideally, bulimia is both detected and treated as early as possible. Treatment for bulimia is needed when it interferes with your quality of life. Bulimia can seriously impact your life across various domains, including your medical and mental health, your relationships, as well as your work and school performance.  If any of these areas of your life are impacted, seek support.  

What should I do if I’m curious about treatment?

Research your options. Review websites and social media accounts of treatment centers to get a feel for the treatment approach to make sure it is a good fit. Discuss with your support system including your outpatient providers if you have them. Submit inquiries to treatment centers you would like to connect with and schedule an assessment. Our Program Information Specialists offer confidential phone calls to provide education about our services, answer your questions and address your concerns: Call 1-800-RENFREW (736-3739).

What forms of treatment are most effective for bulimia?

Bulimia is a complex psychiatric disorder that rarely travels alone. An effective treatment approach will ideally include a multidisciplinary team that works together to target multiple factors, including the eating disorder symptoms, nutritional deficiencies, medical complications, and any co-occurring mental health diagnoses.  A comprehensive eating disorder assessment is recommended to identify your needs and choose the appropriate level of care.

What is Renfrew’s Treatment Approach for bulimia nervosa?

The Renfrew Center provides treatment for bulimia nervosa through a multidisciplinary team of therapists, dietitians, medical providers, and psychiatrists. The Renfrew Center Unified Treatment Model for Eating Disorders is the transdiagnostic, evidenced based treatment approach used to treat bulimia by harnessing the healing power of relational connection and targeting the core mechanisms that maintain eating disorders and co-occurring emotional disorders.

What is the role of a treatment team in bulimia recovery?

The treatment team supports and collaborates with each client, assesses the severity of the eating disorder symptoms, and monitors progress in the recovery process. They make recommendations and provide individualized treatment interventions to meet their client’s psychological, medical, and nutritional needs. Support systems and outpatient providers might also be part of the treatment team to promote sustainable change outside of the treatment setting.

What is the long-term outlook for someone with bulimia?

Early intervention and the appropriate level of care can make a significant difference in the long-term recovery of those with bulimia. Due to the complex nature of the disorder, it will not likely resolve on its own or with time. Seeking out the appropriate level of care as soon as possible is recommended for best outcomes.

What can I do to support someone struggling?

We recommend that loved ones educate themselves on eating disorders and seek guidance from professionals when possible. It is important to note that eating disorders are not ‘fads’ or ‘phases’ and should not be ignored or dismissed. Family and friends should approach their loved one with compassion and concern and take steps to involve professionals, including a physician as soon as possible.

Reach Out to Us

Call 1-800-RENFREW (736-3739)

Talk with a Program Information Specialist at the number above to learn more about our
services and to schedule an assessment. Or, fill out the information below and we will contact you.

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