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Bulimia Nervosa: Causes and Cures

Bulimia Nervosa:
Causes and Cures



If I have bulimia, can I get better?
What is the treatment for bulimia?


No one knows for sure what causes bulimia. A girl's desire to be thinner than her natural body build is thought to be one cause. The images we see in magazines, on television, and in the movies make it seem as if the only way to be beautiful and happy is to be as thin as a model. Some girls may believe that message. They think (incorrectly, of course) that losing weight or starving themselves will finally make them feel beautiful and happy. At the same time, many people use food for emotional comfort.

Of course, starving yourself has consequences. If you haven't been eating for a few days, your body desperately needs food, and that makes you feel hungry and deprived—which can then lead to bingeing.

Bulimia usually happens during puberty, when a girl's body begins to change. During this time, she may gain some weight (which is natural) and will start to develop breasts and wider hips. Some researchers think these changes are scary for some girls because they worry they will be seen as sexy or need to act more sexual. Some girls think that having normal-size arms and legs means they are fat. So they may try to lose weight, or get rid of the food they eat, as a way of stopping those scary changes.

Bulimia may also be related to family problems. A girl may feel that she can get more control over her life by bingeing and purging. These rituals, as uncomfortable as they sound, may help her feel better, especially if her family life is troubled. Sometimes bulimia can be a sign of a mood disorder or an identity crisis. It can also be triggered by a traumatic life event, such as an accident or abuse. back to top

If I have bulimia, can I get better?
Yes, you can get better. But to do so, you need help. It is important to remember that bulimia will not go away by itself. The first thing you should do is talk to your regular health care provider. Ask him or her to recommend a psychiatrist or other mental health professional who treats young people with eating disorders. This would also be a good time to visit a registered dietitian. He or she can teach you about the nutritional value of different foods and help you develop healthier eating habits.

On your first visit, your mental health professional will want to find out your medical history, your current symptoms, and something about your family life. He or she will also ask you many questions to find out if you have any other emotional or psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. He or she can then figure out the best treatment for you. back to top

What is the treatment for bulimia?
Bulimia can be a difficult disorder to treat. But helping someone with bulimia learn how to control her urges to binge and purge seems to be the best approach. Remember that even though bulimia is about eating, it is also about emotional well-being, so any treatment must treat both the mind and the body. If you have bulimia, you should see both a medical health care provider and a mental health professional.
  • Psychotherapy. Talking with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or clinical social worker in individual psychotherapy is probably the best way to recover from bulimia. A good therapist can help you explore the thoughts and feelings that led to your bulimia, and can work with you to change your behavior.
  • Talking therapies. A few other talking therapies are especially helpful. One is called cognitive-behavioral therapy, which focuses on getting rid of negative ideas in your mind and focusing on more positive, healthy thoughts. Group therapy, which gives you a chance to talk with other girls who have eating disorders, can be helpful. So can family therapy, which allows you, your parents, and your siblings to talk about how family conflicts might have contributed to your bulimia-and how to support each other better in the future.
  • Medication. A few studies have shown that antidepressants such as Prozac may help some people with bulimia when they are combined with psychotherapy, but they may only help for a short time. If you do take medication, remember that it will not make you feel better immediately. It is also important to keep taking your medication as your health care provider prescribed, even if you feel fine.
  • Physical and medical care. You will need to visit your health care provider fairly regularly so that he or she can check your heart rate, perform blood tests, and make sure your stomach and intestines are not seriously damaged. Be sure to visit the dentist, too, to make sure that your teeth are OK (frequent vomiting can cause cavities). back to top
Last Modified Date: 3/30/2001
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