An unhealthy attitude to eating can potentially lead to devastating consequences for those affected. In many cases, it can result in a cycle of bingeing and purging, known as bulimia nervosa, or bulimia for short. Most people have heard of bulimia, but few really understand the impact it can have on mental and physical health and wellbeing.

While treatment is available for this condition, those affected often live in denial about their condition or try to hide it from others for long periods of time. Unfortunately, bulimia is often easier to hide than other types of eating disorders such as anorexia, especially in the early days.

Family members and friends often do not see the early warning signs. Moreover, because those affected usually manage to maintain what appears to be a healthy weight, others often do not see what is happening until the illness has reached the later stages. At this point, panicked loved ones might begin searching for help and wondering ‘what is bulimia treatment like?’. They will want to do all they can to help, not realising that overcoming such an illness is a lengthy process.

Do You Have a Loved One with Bulimia?

If you are worried about someone you love, you may be wondering what bulimia treatment is like? You may also be wondering how you can know for sure if your loved one is affected, especially if he or she is pretending that nothing is amiss.

The thing about bulimia is that it is characterised by bingeing and purging. Your loved one is likely eating large quantities of food when alone and then working hard to get rid of these excess calories by vomiting, taking laxatives, or exercising excessively. But because most people with bulimia quickly learn to be secretive, you might have missed any early warning signs.

A closer look may give you more clarity though. There may be behavioural signs that your loved one is exhibiting that may give away more than he or she wants to. For example, you might have noticed that your loved one is:

  • frequently comparing his or her body with other people’s
  • constantly checking weight and body shape or avoiding it completely
  • suffering from mood swings
  • organising life around shopping for food and eating
  • hoarding food
  • self-harming
  • suffering from mood swings
  • becoming socially withdrawn
  • exercising excessively
  • taking laxatives or diuretics
  • uncomfortable eating in front of others.

Your loved one might also have a distorted view of his or her own body shape and may have an intense fear of gaining weight. You might also notice that he or she is complaining of being constantly tired and bloated. The affected individual might be disappearing to the toilet immediately after eating, and you may have heard him or her complaining of stomach pain or feeling sick.

If these signs are familiar, it may be the case that this person is struggling with bulimia and needs help.

How Can You Help?

If you are worried that your loved one has bulimia, you may be afraid to mention the subject for fear of upsetting him or her. Fear of causing offence or distress often prevents family members and friends from speaking out, but this could be a big mistake.

It is important that you do not allow your fears to stop you from expressing your concerns. It is often the case that individuals suffering from eating disorders such as bulimia are afraid to ask for help and do not know how to raise the subject. Others have such low self-confidence and low self-esteem that they do not even see themselves as worthy of help.

It is important that you explain why you are worried and try to avoid being critical or judgemental. Remember that this person may have a serious mental illness, so it is vital that you are supportive and patient. He or she may not be ready to admit that there is a problem yet, but that does not mean you should give up.

Do not blame or shame your loved one, and try to avoid giving an ultimatum. Eating disorders such as bulimia are complex illnesses and need to be handled carefully. If you issue an ultimatum, the affected individual might feel under pressure, which could cause him or her to become more secretive and ultimately making the problem worse.

What is Treatment Like

Before you approach the person, it might be best to find out more about what treatment is like. If your loved one accepts the problem, then he or she might ask ‘what is bulimia treatment like?’. This is a question that is likely to be at the forefront of their mind, and he or she will very likely need answers before committing to any type of treatment programme.

It is important to be aware that treatment is usually tailored to the individual in question and will depend on their specific symptoms and the severity of the illness. It is vital that both the physical and the psychological elements are addressed.

The affected person will need to learn how to develop a healthy attitude to eating; this can be difficult, especially if he or she has been struggling for quite some time. But before this can be tackled, any underlying medical issues will need to be dealt with. Your loved one might have some serious issues that require treatment; these may be physical or psychological. Quite often, people with bulimia will be severely depressed and may even be suicidal. Some may have health problems associated with constant purging and vomiting, for example. Once these issues have been treated and your loved one is stable, treatment for the eating disorder can begin.

Nutritional education and counselling will form a big part of his or her recovery programme. He or she will be taught how to maintain a healthy weight and will be shown how to create meal plans. By putting meal plans in place, eating habits can be regulated, which will prevent hunger and reduce the risk of binge eating.

Talking therapies are also used during treatment for bulimia. It is important to identify the cause of the eating disorder and to learn more about what triggers the behaviour. Your loved one might also learn other coping strategies that can be used as a healthier and more positive way to deal with negative feelings and emotions.

Accessing Help for Bulimia

Bulimia treatment is available through the NHS, but as with treatment for other mental health disorders, programmes tend to come with waiting times. Underfunding and budget cuts to this area have led to demands that the NHS are struggling to meet.

Fortunately, there are other options available too. Charity organisations are trying to plug the gap by offering free outpatient programmes to those in need, while you can also access inpatient programmes provided by private clinics.

If you would like to learn more about what treatment for bulimia is like or would like information about how to access an inpatient programme, you can call our helpline. Banbury Lodge is a private clinic and part of the UKAT group.

We specialise in treating complex eating disorders as well as other behavioural disorders and addictions. To learn more about what we do, please contact us today via our 24-hour helpline.