Eating healthy, staying fit, fighting cravings … Food and habits around it have pride of place in our consciousness today. While weight concerns and guilty food indulgences haunt most of us for a while, an eating disorder like bulimia nervosa takes this to another level. Bulimics grapple with a complex and damaging relationship with food, one that tends to wreak havoc on their health and well-being.
People with bulimia often have an abnormal fear of being fat because of which they try to restrict their food intake. This leads to loss of control and episodes of binging where they consume large amounts of food. After a binging episode, they try to compensate for their loss of control by purging the food through vomiting or by using laxatives or enemas. Some people also exercise excessively.
A cycle of binging and purging can be brought on by stress or hunger or may be a way of dealing with emotional distress. And like other eating disorders, bulimia can be related to low self-esteem, depression, self-harm, and alcohol misuse. Many people with this condition also have anorexia nervosa, which is an eating disorder characterized by extreme weight loss. Left untreated, bulimia can cause a number of physical complications which impact the health of your heart, skin, and hair. It can also lead to chemical imbalances, bowel problems, and irregular periods.1
Bulimia Is Treatable
People suffering from bulimia often feel guilty and ashamed about their behavior and may tend to deny that they have an illness. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that bulimia is neither an uncommon condition nor untreatable. In fact, estimates suggest that around 8% of women have experienced bulimia at some point in their life.2 3 And while patience and persistence are required, it is possible to recover from this condition.
Here’s a look at how bulimia can be treated.
Mainstream Treatment For Bulimia
The treatment for bulimia aims to establish healthy attitudes toward food and healthy eating behaviors. Underlying emotional issues that play a part in this eating disorder also need to be addressed.
Treatment can include medication like antidepressants. However, it typically doesn’t work well by itself and is usually combined with psychotherapy. Also, do keep in mind that some people do not respond well to antidepressant and will need careful monitoring by your doctor. It also takes a few weeks before the effects of the medication are felt.4
Natural options such as psychotherapy and counseling are typically considered as the first line of treatment for this condition.
Natural Treatments For Bulimia
1. Nutritional Counseling
Nutritional counseling helps you develop a meal plan so that you can pace and structure your meals and make sure that your calorie intake is sufficient to maintain a healthy weight. You can also learn to identify cues that lead to binge eating and purging and resist those urges.5
Several modes of psychological therapy can be helpful in treating bulimia. The most effective practice is considered to be cognitive behavioral therapy but your doctor may advise the addition of other types of psychotherapy as you improve.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a kind of talk therapy that aims to identify unhelpful thought and behavioral patterns and change them. It involves looking at your emotions and changing the way you think about feelings and food.
Simple practices like keeping a food diary to identify situations that trigger your binging sessions can help identify distorted thoughts about food or yourself. Alongside your therapist, you can then work on ways to modify obsessive thoughts, deal with emotions and stresses, improve your body image, change compulsive behaviors, and adopt healthy food habits. A course of cognitive behavioral therapy generally involves about 20 sessions spread out over 5 months.6
Interpersonal therapy is also a talk therapy. But the focus here is more on your personal relationships and the aim is to help develop supportive relationships so that your focus is drawn away from food. This kind of therapy may be more helpful for you if the food disorder has been triggered by some traumatic event such as the recent loss of a loved one or by a significant change in your life.7
As the name indicates, family therapy involves your family members in the therapeutic process. You will explore difficult emotions and thoughts during this therapy with a view to making changes in your relationships.8 Family therapy might be most suited for younger patients. Some research indicates that adolescents with less severe eating disorders are most likely to respond to this treatment.9
3. Self-Help Measures You Can Take
Here are some other measures that can help you deal with bulimia.
Join A Support Group
Joining a support group can be helpful in easing stress. Interacting with people who’ve had similar experiences can be a supportive and heartening exercise as you realize you are not alone.10
Mindfulness meditation can be a useful tool in dealing with bulimia. It is linked to a feeling of physical relaxation and peacefulness and can bring about changes in the parts of your brain associated with the sense of self, stress, empathy, and memory.11 One study found that when women with bulimia underwent an 8-week mindfulness-based eating disorder treatment, they moved from behavioral and emotional extremes and self-loathing to an enhanced connection with the self. This resulted in greater self-awareness, less emotional distress, and better acceptance of the problem. They also reported an improvement in their ability to manage stress.12
Try Self-Help Books
There is considerable evidence which suggests that self-help books can be useful in helping deal with bulimia. This is particularly so if a family member or friend also works on it with you.13
Minimize Bodily Harm
Take steps to limit the damage to your health while you have this condition. For instance, the acid from vomit can erode dental enamel. Vomiting can also increase your risk of dehydration. So drink fluids to combat dehydration. Avoid brushing your teeth immediately after you vomit as this can exacerbate enamel erosion.14
4. Check Out Adaptogenic Herbs
Adaptogens are herbs which enhance your response to stress and fatigue and help your body resist disease.15 While they are not directly associated with bulimia treatment, they promote general well-being and health.
Do check with your doctor whether adaptogenic herbs can be helpful if you’re dealing with bulimia. Some herbs that you might want to explore include:
Known in Ayurveda as tulsi, holy basil has numerous health benefits. A variety of components including saponins, triterpenoids, flavonoids, and tannins may account for its beneficial properties. The leaf also contains an essential oil composed of eugenol and other volatile compounds. Tulsi has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and is thought to increase your resistance to disease and stress.16
The roots of ashwagandha, a herb that belongs to the same family as pepper, contains withanolides which account for its benefits. Ashwagandha can enhance your immune system and inhibit inflammation. It is reputed to promote wellness as well as counteract stress.17
Indian gooseberry is also valued for its medicinal properties in Ayurveda. It has cardioprotective, neuroprotective, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties.18
What Can You Do To Help Someone With Bulimia?
If someone close to you has an eating disorder and you don’t know how to help, here are some ways in which you can be supportive.
Encourage Them To Get Help
It’s best and even critical for someone suffering from bulimia to talk to a professional about it. Encourage them to see a doctor or therapist.
Make Them Feel Included
Your friend may no longer like going out or participating in things. But don’t let that stop you from making the effort to include them in activities. Even if they don’t participate, they’ll still like the fact that you asked. Letting them know that you appreciate having them as a friend will also help boost their self-esteem.
Try to spend time with your friend and listen to them. Refrain from criticizing or advising, though.
Remember that being there for your friend is what’s important even if you feel like you don’t know how to help. This is true even when it seems like your friend doesn’t appreciate your support.19
|↑1||Bulimia – Complications. National Health Service.|
|↑2, ↑13||Bulimia. National Health Service.|
|↑3, ↑10||Bulimia. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑4||Bulimia: Symptoms, diagnosis and treatments. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑5||Treating bulimia nervosa. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑6||Bulimia: Symptoms, diagnosis and treatments. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑7||Bulimia – Treatment. National Health Service.|
|↑8||What is family therapy? The Association for Family Therapy.|
|↑9||Treating bulimia nervosa. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑11||Eight weeks to a better brain. Harvard Gazette.|
|↑12||Proulx, Kathryn. “Experiences of women with bulimia nervosa in a mindfulness-based eating disorder treatment group.” Eating Disorders 16, no. 1 (2007): 52-72.|
|↑14||Bulimia – Treatment. National Health Service.|
|↑15||Panossian, Alexander, and Georg Wikman. “Effects of adaptogens on the central nervous system and the molecular mechanisms associated with their stress—protective activity.” Pharmaceuticals 3, no. 1 (2010): 188-224.|
|↑16||Holy Basil. University of Michigan.|
|↑17||Ashwagandha. University of Michigan.|
|↑18||Baliga, Manjeshwar Shrinath, and Jason Jerome Dsouza. “Amla (Emblica officinalis Gaertn), a wonder berry in the treatment and prevention of cancer.” European Journal of Cancer Prevention 20, no. 3 (2011): 225-239.|
|↑19||Supporting someone with an eating disorder. National Health Service.|