Bulimia nervosa is a type of eating disorder that involves episodes of eating excessive amounts of food and then purging. Bulimia can cause significant damage to a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It can also put their life at risk.
People who have bulimia feel a compulsion to eat large amounts of food in a single sitting. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) states that the main way to determine what is considered a large amount of food is to compare it with what most people would eat during a single meal or have as a snack. This behavior of overeating is also known as bingeing. During these episodes, people often feel like they can’t control their behavior.
In addition to purging after overeating, people who have bulimia may exercise frequently or take diuretics and laxatives in an attempt to lose weight. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), they may also try dieting and fasting as a way to compensate for overeating.
At Tower Behavioral Health, located in Reading, Pennsylvania, we dedicate ourselves to providing clinically excellent care so that people who are suffering from bulimia can receive the comprehensive treatment they need to heal.
Signs & Symptoms of Bulimia
Bulimia signs and symptoms can vary from person to person. However, the symptoms they experience can cause significant distress and may impact their ability to function on a daily basis. People who have bulimia tend to focus on their weight and often have a drastically negative opinion of how they look.
There are a number of signs that might be a warning that someone is suffering from bulimia. These signs can include:
- Frequently looking at themselves in the mirror or avoiding mirrors completely
- Not eating at normal mealtimes
- Not eating around others
- Wearing baggy clothes
- Not spending time with family and friends
- Refusing to eat at restaurants
- Spending a lot of time talking about dieting or trying new diets
- Consistently going to the bathroom after eating
- Repeatedly taking laxatives
- Exercising excessively
- Having emotional outbursts
People who have bulimia can also experience a number of physical symptoms. Examples of common physical symptoms of bulimia include:
- Frequent changes in weight
- Difficulty sleeping
- Feeling dizzy
- Stomach pains
- Hair loss
- Brittle nails
- Discolored teeth
If someone believes that their loved one may be struggling with bulimia, there are additional signs they can look out for, such as large amounts of food seeming to disappear or finding that their loved one is hoarding food in their room or other personal space.
While there are a number of statistics regarding the prevalence of bulimia nervosa, the numbers vary slightly based on the source and the age of the population being studied. The National Eating Disorders Association reports that approximately 1% of young women are suffering from bulimia nervosa at any given time. Studies have also shown that bulimia affects more females than males, with an average of 0.1% of young men meeting criteria for the disorder.
It has also been noted that people who have eating disorders like bulimia experience symptoms of co-occurring mental illnesses at an extremely high rate. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that 94.5% of people who have bulimia are suffering from one or more additional mental health concerns.
Sadly, NIMH states that less than 50% of people who are suffering from bulimia seek treatment.
Effects of Bulimia
When left untreated, the effects of bulimia can be severe. Physically, people who have bulimia may suffer from a number of concerns, including:
- Kidney failure
- Heart problems
- Stomach problems
- Inflamed esophagus
- Dental issues
The effects of untreated bulimia can also include a loss of important relationships as people begin to isolate themselves, a lowered sex drive, and drug and alcohol addiction. Additionally, the feelings of hopelessness, despair, and loss of control that can result from bulimia may cause people to experience suicidal ideation or begin engaging in self-harm.
Most tragically, if someone does not seek care at a qualified bulimia treatment center, they are at risk for losing their life.
Therapies Used at Our Bulimia Treatment Center
At our Reading, Pennsylvania, bulimia treatment center, we offer eating disorder-specific treatment for individuals age 14 and older. The team at our bulimia treatment place uses a combination of evidence-based psychological, medical, and nutritional therapies to help our patients have a well-rounded approach to care.
We believe that everyone has their own unique needs during the treatment process, so our team creates an individualized treatment plan for each patient, which may include:
- Individual therapy: Therapists and registered dietitians provide individual therapy three times a week. During these sessions, our team tries to help patients understand the things that may be causing them stress and contributing to their symptoms and behaviors. They also work together to come up with various strategies to help patients learn to cope with stressors and manage their symptoms, ultimately guiding them as they take ownership of their treatment process. Our team is also dedicated to providing the ongoing support and encouragement patients need to thrive.
- Group therapy: Therapists lead group therapy sessions at our bulimia treatment center, and patients participate in these sessions six times a day. Patients have the opportunity to discuss a wide variety of topics during group therapy, including things like assertiveness, affect modulation, anger management, conflict resolution, healthy boundaries, mindfulness, anxiety management, and body image. The goal is to provide patients with a space where they can learn more about their symptoms, develop coping skills, and share support with their peers.
- Family therapy: Family therapy sessions are led by master’s-level or doctoral-level clinicians and are available twice a week. The goal of family therapy is to help patients’ loved ones understand bulimia and the symptoms the patient is experiencing while also beginning to learn about and solve areas of conflict within the family system.
- Experiential therapy: To give patients a chance to receive treatment outside of the traditional interventions, we offer a number of experiential therapies, including art and movement therapy, occupational therapy, and recreational therapy. These experiential therapies typically take place during group therapy sessions.
- Medication management services: Patients who are taking medication may meet with a psychiatrist daily. Nurses also help with administering and monitoring the effects of medication.
- Academics: Adolescent patients who receive treatment during the school year can get on-site schooling from our certified teacher. Students meet two hours a day for school and follow the curriculum of the local school district.
Choosing the Right Bulimia Treatment Center
Finding the right bulimia treatment center can seem challenging, but the team at Tower Behavioral Health wants to help make that process as easy as possible.
To determine the best place for you or your loved one to get treatment, you should ask questions about the programming, the staff, the amenities, the approach they take when delivering treatment, and what services they offer once a person’s time in treatment has come to an end. The team at Tower Behavioral Health is here to answer those and any other questions you may have.
If you are considering getting bulimia treatment, we encourage you to contact us. It is our hope that we can help provide you with the information you need to make the best decision for yourself or a loved one.
This content was written on behalf of and reviewed by the clinical staff at Tower Behavioral Health.