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Bulimia Tips for Recovery

Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff
The editorial staff of American Addiction Centers is made up of credentialed clinical reviewers with hands-on experience in or expert knowledge of addiction treatment.
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Content Overview

How do you fight back against Bulimia?

As you fight back against bulimia, try to:

  1. Focus on your therapy.
  2. Take medications as directed.
  3. Get enough sleep.
  4. Eat when hungry, and stop when full.
  5. Appreciate your body.
    1. Say “no” to diets.
    2. Be open and honest about your recovery.
    3. Be aware of the risk of relapse.
    4. Do things that make you happy.
    5. Plan ahead.

If you have bulimia, there are treatment programs that can help.

Every day, people just like you enroll in those treatment programs, and they learn all sorts of lessons that could help them gain control over the urge to binge and purge. You could be a success story just like this. Following a few tips could help boost your chances of success. Here are 10 ideas to get you started.

  1. Focus on your therapy.
Your bulimia treatment program will likely involve a great deal of therapy. You might be provided with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), for example, and in your sessions, you might work on identifying the thoughts that float through your head right before you binge or purge. It’s vital that you pay attention in your therapy sessions and do the work in therapy, as this has the potential to help you gain bulimia control.
In a study of the issue, highlighted by the American Psychological Association, researchers provided people with bulimia CBT sessions over a 20-week timeframe. At the end of the study, a “significant number” of people who got CBT had stopped both bingeing and purging. That remarkable result could happen to you, too, if you pay attention and do the work in therapy.
  1. Take medications, as required.

Bulimia has been tied to mental illnesses, including depression, and your treatment team might use antidepressants or other medications in order to alleviate your symptoms and help you resist the urge to binge or purge.

Even if you do not have depression, you might still be provided with antidepressants. While researchers writing for Medscape report that they are not exactly sure why antidepressants seem to help people with bulimia, the medications can help to boost specific chemicals in the brain, and that might provide you with a sense of wellbeing and a reduced need to purge.

Taking medications may not top the list of your favorite activities, but if they are prescribed, they should be used.

You should be aware that some antidepressants take weeks or months to take hold, so you may not feel better right away. Keep taking the medications, just the same.

    1. Get enough sleep.

Sleeping IssuesA sense of fatigue is a trigger for a bulimia binge, so it is best to be proactive. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult aged 18-64 needs about 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Younger people need even more sleep, while older people might need a little less rest every night.

If sleep is hard to come by, consider:

  • Using your bedroom only for sleep, not for television watching or reading
  • Ensuring that your bedroom is both dark and cool
  • Heading to bed at the same time every night, even on weekends
  • Creating a bedtime ritual that is soothing, like taking a warm bath

A quick nap might help to ease a sense of fatigue that hits in the late hours of the afternoon, but if you find that your naps keep you from falling asleep at night, consider exercise or some other activity to wake you up. The nap you skip during the day could help your sleep to come a little easier at night.

  1. Eat when hungry, and stop when full.

food addictionYour body provides you with all sorts of real-time cues about when and how much to eat. As your bulimia progressed, you may have lost touch with those signals, and as a result, you might not be sure about what messages your body is trying to tell you.

In treatment, you will be given specific therapies that can boost your sense of connection with your body. As you recover, try responding to the small signs you can feel. If you sense hunger, have a snack without checking the clock first. If you feel full, do not worry about cleaning your plate at mealtime.

If you struggle with this step, the National Eating Disorders Association recommends planning and eating 5-6 well-balanced meals per day, rather than the traditional three meals per day. You will not have so long to wait between meals, and you will have more opportunities to practice your skills.

As you eat, take time to chew each bite carefully, and pay attention to the smells, sights, and textures of your meals. All of those signals could help your brain to recognize when your body feels full, and that could give you the mastery you are looking for.

Bulimia can distort the way you both look at and treat your body. Rather than focusing on what your body can do and all the remarkable things your body has accomplished, you might be focused on what your body looks like, and you might not enjoy what you see when you look in the mirror.As the National Eating Disorders Association so rightfully points out, no one article or website can tell you how to turn your negative thoughts about your body into positive associations about your power, but there are things you can try that have worked for others. You could:
  • Keep a list of things you like about yourself, and add to it periodically.
  • Wear clothes that are comfortable and make you feel good about your appearance.
  • Try not to focus on one part of your body when you look in the mirror.
  • Surround yourself with positive people.

Developing a positive body image takes time and practice, but with these steps you could learn to overcome the negative voices in your head.

Diets and bulimia are closely associated. For example, in a study in the journal Eating Behaviors, researchers found that more than half of people enrolling in a bulimia treatment program were on a diet when they arrived. Restricting food leads to cravings, and those cravings might lead to binges. It can be a cycle.As you work on your bulimia, avoid giving in to the temptation to diet to change your shape or size. A diet could put you back on the path to bulimia and impede the recovery you are trying to achieve.
  1. Be open and honest about your recovery.

It’s likely that you did not talk a lot about your bulimia before you enrolled in treatment.

You probably hid your habits and behaviors, hoping that no one would notice what was happening and how you were feeling.

If you are still following those behaviors, consider making a shift. Find people you can trust and relate to, and tell them about your thoughts, habits, and concerns. Be open and honest with them about your victories, your slips, and your hopes. Sharing like this could help you stay in touch with a community that could step in, right when you need help.
  1. Be aware of signs of relapse.

While treatment can help you gain a great deal of control over bulimia, relapse can be a risk. In fact, in a study in European Eating Disorders Review, researchers found that about 74 percent of people with bulimia in a treatment program still had symptoms when the program was nearly complete, so they were still at risk for relapse.

It can take time to master all the lessons and skills associated with recovery. You just might not be able to get all the work done before your treatment program ends. When you head back to your real life, you could slip back into old habits.

If you notice that your thoughts are straying to bingeing/purging, or you find yourself planning for a binge/purge, stop and ask for help. Talk about the issue with your close friends or trusted family members, or reach out to a mental health specialist. Call the provider of your original therapy, or reach out to someone new for help. But be sure to do something. By being proactive like this, you could prevent a relapse before it starts.

  1. Cultivate your joy.

Look for activities that make you happy that do not have anything to do with food. Consider crafting tasks, like knitting, or try your hand at gardening. Or play with kittens at your local animal shelter as a volunteer. Finding things in which you excel, and which make you feel great about yourself and your contributions, could help you resist the urge to dip back into bulimic behaviors. You will not need to lean on food to bring you happiness. You will have another outlet.

  1. Plan ahead.

Think of people, places, and things that might spark your bulimia symptoms, recommends Mirror Mirror. Then, come up with a list of strategies or coping devices you can use in order to handle those issues without relapsing.

This proactive planning can help you take control of difficult situations, so you will not be surprised when they appear.

Getting Help

Bulimia is a serious eating disorder, but with the help of a skilled residential treatment program, you can work on the issue and gain control.

Disclaimer: Facilities in the American Addiction Centers family do not treat bulimia, but if you come to us for another issue, we can refer you to programs that can help.

Last Updated on February 25, 2022
Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff
The editorial staff of American Addiction Centers is made up of credentialed clinical reviewers with hands-on experience in or expert knowledge of addiction treatment.
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