Treatment may take time, but you can recover from bulimia.
Treatment for bulimia is slightly different for adults and those under 18 years old.
Treatment for adults
You will probably be offered a guided self-help programme as a first step in treating your bulimia. This often involves working through a self-help book or online programme combined with sessions with a healthcare professional, such as a therapist.
Joining a self-help support group, like one of the Beat online support groups for people with bulimia, may be helpful to you.
If self-help treatment alone is not enough or has not helped you after 4 weeks, you may be offered cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or another type of therapy, as well as a medicine.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
If you are offered CBT, it will usually involve up to 20 sessions across 20 weeks.
CBT involves talking to a therapist, who will help you explore emotions and thoughts that could be contributing to your eating disorder, and how you feel about your weight and body shape.
They will help you to adopt regular eating habits and show you how to stick to them. They should also show you ways to manage difficult feelings and situations to stop you from relapsing once your therapy ends.
Treatment for children and young people
Children and young people will usually be offered family therapy. This involves you and your family talking to a therapist, exploring how bulimia has affected you and how your family can support you to get better.
If family therapy is not suitable, you may be offered CBT, which will be similar to the CBT offered to adults.
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. In order to minimise this damage you should:
- avoid brushing your teeth immediately after vomiting so you do not wear away the enamel
- rinse your mouth with a non-acidic mouthwash
- make sure you see your dentist regularly
- do not drink or eat acidic foods, such as fruit juice, during a binge and after purging
- do not smoke
Vomiting can also lead to risk of dehydration. You can be treated for this if needed.
Antidepressants should not be offered as the only treatment for bulimia. But you may be offered an antidepressant, such as fluoxetine (Prozac), in combination with therapy or self-help treatment, to help you manage other conditions, such as:
Antidepressants are rarely prescribed for children or young people under 18.
Where treatment will happen
Most people with bulimia will be able to stay at home during their treatment. You'll usually have appointments at your clinic and then be able to go home.
However, you may be admitted to hospital if you have serious health complications, including:
- being very underweight
- being very ill and your life being at risk
- being under 18 and your doctors believing you do not have enough support at home
- doctors being worried that you might harm yourself or are at risk of suicide
Your doctors will keep a very careful eye on your weight and health if you're being cared for in hospital. They will help you to reach a healthy weight gradually, and either start or continue any therapy you're having.
Once they are happy with your weight, as well as your physical and mental health, you should be able to return home.
Further support for bulimia
There are many organisations that support people with bulimia and their families, including: