The Complete Guide to Recovering From Bulimia

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"Woman Vomiting" by Jade Jackson is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Are you tired of bulimia controlling your life? It is possible to stop the endless cycle of bulimia and move on with your life. Whether you have struggled with bulimia for years or only a few months, it is a difficult behavior to break. However, it can be done.

The following guide will take you through the process of recovering from bulimia step by step.

Taking the First Step

When you decided to read this article, you were taking the first step. You are admitting that you know you have an unhealthy relationship with food. Whether you take large amounts of laxatives or diuretics (“water pills”), throw up after meals, exercise until you can barely stand up, or do a combination of the three, you know that this is not normal.

For many people, the first step is the hardest. Take a second and congratulate yourself for deciding to take back control of your life.

Tell Someone

Yes, it is a terrifying thought because bulimics are often very secretive.

Find someone who you trust and know will support you. Sit down and get everything off your chest. Whether it is a parent, friend, sibling, counselor, or anyone else you know will not judge you, put everything out there including:

  • When you started
  • What triggered your bulimia, if you can remember
  • How often you do it
  • How it makes you feel
  • Your fears

Share Your Story

This is best done somewhere private and quiet to allow you to say everything you need to. If you need to, ask the person to set aside a period of time to talk with you to avoid interruptions. They may or may not be surprised. Even the “best” bulimics have a hard time hiding every sign of their condition. Be ready to answer their questions, such as:

  • How can they offer support?
  • Why did you decide to stop now?
  • Do you need them to monitor your behavior?
  • Do you want them to ask you how recovery is going on a regular basis or would you prefer to tell them?

Get a Complete Medical Checkup

Bulimia can cause huge health problems, even if you do not have any symptoms. Request an appointment with your primary care physician for a full medical evaluation. This will include a physical exam and blood work to look for potential electrolyte imbalances. If any health problems are revealed, follow through with the treatment your doctor prescribes.

Get Professional Help

Although it is possible to recover from bulimia without professional help, it is very hard. Finding an eating disorder specialist will improve your chances of recovery. They may be a psychiatrist or licensed therapist. There are several ways to find a specialist in your area, including:

  • Requesting a referral from your primary care physician
  • Contact the National Eating Disorders Association at 1-800-931-2237 for specialists in your area
  • Check with local hospitals and mental health clinics
  • Ask your school nurse or counselor for suggestion

The Possibility of Inpatient Treatment


After meeting with the specialist for the first time, he or she may recommend inpatient treatment. Possible reasons for inpatient care include:

  • Serious damage to your physical health that requires monitoring
  • Health complications, such as diabetes, that may be hard to control in the beginning
  • How long you have been suffering from bulimia
  • How frequently you binge and purge
  • Whether you have a psychiatric disorder, such as bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, or depression

Inpatient treatment allows for 24 hour a day monitoring and offers routine/ structure that are not available with outpatient treatment. This can help you create a routine for healthier living. The length of stay may vary from less than a week to several months.

When you are released, you may step down to an intensive outpatient or partial hospitalization program (PHP). In PHP, you return to the treatment center during the day and go home at night. You may also be discharged to outpatient care, which will include counseling.

Following Through With Treatment is Crucial for Success

Therapy is one of the most important parts of the treatment process. This may be provided by the specialist you are seeing or they may refer you to a therapist. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is most often used to treat bulimia. CBT focuses on helping you understand, identify, and change your habits through specific behavioral interventions.

There are several parts of therapy, including:

  • Addressing unhealthy eating behaviors and the negative thoughts that cause them
  • Identifying how and why you are using food to deal with emotions
  • Education about nutrition and healthy ways to manage your weight
  • Developing a healthy attitude about your body and food
  • Identifying what triggers a binge and learning how to deal them
  • Learning relaxation techniques and ways to cope with self doubt and depression

Different Types of Therapy

The therapy discussed above is done individually. However, your specialist may suggest other forms of therapy including:

  • Family therapy to create a healthy home environment that contributes to recovery
  • Group therapy with others recovering from bulimia to help you build a network of support
  • Therapy with a counselor to help you cope with the challenges of daily life and build your self esteem

Even if you feel nervous or embarrassed about attending these therapy sessions, it is important to do it anyway. It may be very hard, but it will be worth it. How long you remain in therapy will be a decision you make with your therapist. If you are a teen, your parents are almost certain to be included in this decision.

Frequency of Therapy

How often your appointments with your eating disorder specialist or therapist will be based on how severe your condition is and how well you are progressing. Usually, you will have frequent appointments when you start. (You may even have daily appointments.) As you progress, your appointments will be decreased. It is important to attend all your appointments.

AVOIDING YOUR TRIGGERS

During therapy, you will discuss avoiding triggers. This is a crucial part of therapy that will be hard. Your therapist will help you identify triggers. You can also keep a Craving Diary. In a Craving Diary, you write down:

  • The situation that triggers a craving, including the time, who you are with, where you are, and what you are doing
  • Thoughts that went through your mind just before you experienced a craving
  • What you are feeling, such as anger, sadness, boredom
  • How intense the craving was on a scale of 1 to 10
  • How you responded and what you could have done differently

Use the following tips along with what you learn in therapy.

1. Stay away from your trigger foods.

This is often easier said than done, especially if you live with someone else. If possible, keep trigger foods out of your house. It is much easier to fight the urge to binge if you would have to leave your home to get the foods you want. If you live with others, explain the situation and ask that they try to limit them. You can also ask them to store these foods away from everything else. Out of sight, out of mind!

2. Do not restrict yourself to a strict diet. Establish a regular eating plan.

Many people do not realize that dieting is often a trigger. Stick to three meals a day and healthy snacks. If possible, create a menu plan with the help of a nutritionist. Choose healthy foods instead of convenience foods and drink six to eight glasses of water a day. If there is a food you cannot resist, eat a small portion. Trying to avoid it altogether can trigger an episode of binging.

3. Stay active to prevent boredom.

If you notice your binges tend to occur when you are bored, find something to do. From calling friends to taking your dog for a walk, going somewhere, joining a yoga class, or taking a relaxing bath, there is always something you can do.

4. Stop weighing yourself.

Get rid of your scale. Rely on your doctors or therapist to monitor your weight. If numbers are a big trigger, face backwards when you are weighed. Do not turn around until the scale has been cleared.

5. If seeing famous people on TV or in magazines is a trigger, stay away from them.

This does not mean that you can never again watch TV or check out your favorite fashion magazine. You may only need to do this in the beginning stages of recovery until you have worked through some of your self esteem and body image issues with your therapist.

6. Distance yourself from friends who are always dieting and friends you may have met on“pro-mia” websites.

Stay away from friends who are on strict diets or constantly talk about their (and your) need to lose weight. The same applies to anyone you have met in a chatroom that encourages your behavior.

PUTTING AN END TO NEGATIVE THOUGHTS

This can also be very hard, but it is another essential part of the recovery process. You may find the following tips helpful.

1. Make a list of your positive qualities.

There are plenty of things to like about yourself. Are you creative, caring, smart, or loyal to friends? Look at your achievements, skills, and talents. Feel free to ask friends and family for their input.

2. Concentrate on what you like about your body.

Do not use the mirror to focus on what you believe are your flaws. Focus on things you like. For example, do you have long, shiny hair that others would kill for? Are your teeth perfectly straight and bright white? If you start to notice what you think are flaws, remind yourself that no one has a perfect body. Even supermodels are often Photoshopped to the max in ads.

3. Challenge your negative thoughts.

Ask yourself if your thoughts are facts or opinions. Is IT a fact that you have the biggest thighs in the world? No! Ask yourself if you are unfairly comparing yourself to others. Is it fair to compare your body to one in a magazine? No! Refer back to your list of positive qualities if you need a quick pick me up.

GETTING THROUGH RECOVERY

It is important to remember that you did not develop an eating disorder overnight. Your behaviors and thoughts about food and your body will not disappear overnight either. During recovery, you will learn:

  • More about who you are as a person
  • How to love and accept yourself for you are
  • How to let go of bulimia and the starring role it played in your life
  • How to enjoy life again

Making the Most of Your Treatment

  • Give yourself permission to fully experience and accept your emotions.
  • Do not avoid feelings that make you uncomfortable, especially in the beginning. It is time to put everything out on the table and work through your feelings.
  • Do not be afraid to open about your feelings with others. Allow others to offer support and comfort. A good support system can make a big difference in your success.
  • Do not allow others to make you feel shame for your feelings.

IN THE EVENT OF A RELAPSE

While statistics indicate that as much as 80 percent of bulimics who receive treatment achieve remission within 3 months, relapsing is not unusual. (1) If you relapse, it is not the end of the world. Relapse does not mean you are a failure. It is simply a setback. If you relapse:

  • Tell someone who knows about your condition immediately.
  • Schedule an appointment with your therapist or eating disorder specialist ASAP.
  • Do not be hard on yourself. Give yourself time to recover and work through what has happened.
  • Remember, you have done this before and you can and will do it again.

It is impossible to deny that recovering from bulimia is a long and difficult process. You may have to face emotions you have been burying deep inside for years. You may have to change some of your daily activities. You may have to find new friends. You will have to learn to accept yourself and things you cannot change about yourself.

However, one of the most important parts of recovery is staying positive. YOU CAN AND WILL DO THIS!

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