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Bulimia: Treatment

Treatment takes time but you can recover from bulimia.

Your treatment plan is individual to you. It should take into account any other support you might need, such as for depression or anxiety.

Treatment for adults

Cognitive behavioural therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps you manage problems by thinking more positively. It frees you from unhelpful patterns of behaviour.

They will find out how you think and feel about your weight and body shape. They will also try to understand what led you to think and feel this way. They will help you to adopt regular eating habits and show you how to stick to them.

They will show you ways to manage difficult feelings and situations. This will stop you from relapsing once your therapy ends. They will also help you develop a relapse-prevention plan for when therapy ends.

Treatment for children and young people

Family therapy

You and your family will talk to a therapist. You will explore how bulimia has affected you and how your family can support you to get better.

You may also be offered CBT-E. This is a specific form of CBT for people with eating disorders.

Looking after yourself

It's important to look after your health while recovering from bulimia.

If you are vomiting regularly, the acid in your vomit can damage your teeth over time.

To minimise the damage, you should:

  • avoid brushing your teeth immediately after vomiting so you don't wear away the enamel
  • rinse your mouth with a non-acidic mouthwash
  • make sure you see your dentist regularly
  • don't drink or eat acidic foods, such as fruit juice, during a binge and after purging
  • don't smoke

Vomiting can also lead to a risk of dehydration. To avoid this, make sure you drink plenty of fluids to replace what you have vomited.

Medication

Treatment for bulimia can include an antidepressant, such as fluoxetine (Prozac).

Antidepressant can work with therapy or self-help treatment, to help you manage other conditions, such as:

  • anxiety or depression
  • social phobia
  • obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

Antidepressants are very rarely prescribed for children or young people under 18.

Related topics

Antidepressants

Where treatment will happen

Most people with bulimia will be able to stay at home during their treatment. You will usually have appointments at your clinic and then be able to go home.

You may be admitted to hospital if you have serious health complications.

These include:

  • being very underweight
  • problems with your heart
  • being very ill and your life is at risk
  • being under 18 and your doctors believing you don't have enough support at home
  • doctors being concerned that you might harm yourself or are at risk of suicide

Your doctors will keep a very careful eye on your weight and health in hospital. They will help you to reach a healthy weight over time and either start or continue any therapy you are having.

Once they are happy with your weight, as well as your physical and mental health, you should be able to return home.

Page last reviewed: 23/09/2018
Next review due: 23/09/2021

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