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Learn more about the results we get at Within

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Bulimia self-help recovery

Like other eating disorders, bulimia nervosa (BN) has the power to significantly affect a person’s life and health. Bulimia self-help techniques, when used alongside or after professional treatment, can be a helpful tool for addressing symptoms, and promoting healing from the eating disorder.

Last updated on 
October 31, 2023
Bulimia self-help
In this article

What is bulimia self-help? 

Self-help is the process of the individual taking an active role in their recovery by finding useful tools to improve their everyday life. People can use self-help techniques (also known as self-care), to help navigate a variety of mental or medical issues.1

Bulimia self-help may involve learning and using interventions to manage symptoms of the eating disorder. Bulimia self-help may include methods like exploring ways to eliminate binge eating and the compensatory purging behaviors that follow.2

Bulimia self-help can take many forms. Talking to other people, exploring resources online, and a variety of activities related to the condition may be considered a part of self-care. 

Some common forms of bulimia self-help include:
  • Bulimia self-help books
  • Bulimia self-help workshops
  • Bulimia self-help support groups
  • Bulimia self-help online or interactive guides

Self-help methods usually do not include the direct guidance of a mental health clinician, but can occur alongside professional care. For example, someone may attend a treatment program during a part of the day, and then will have to apply self-help techniques once they are at home for the night, outside of the guidance of professional providers.

Many self-help measures complement professional services. People who have successfully completed eating disorder treatment programs may lean on self-help techniques and things they learned from treatment when they are at home in recovery. 

How effective is bulimia nervosa self help?

Research is showing that bulimia nervosa self-help can be an effective way to address symptoms and reduce their impact.3,4 It is important to note, though, that self-help alone may not be enough support for some people. Those with severe symptoms of BN should primarily focus on getting professional help. Self-help is not a substitute for qualified treatment.

A study comparing traditional family therapy with guided self-care plans based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) saw both groups experience a reduction in their symptoms, but the self-care group had fewer symptoms than the family therapy group over six, eight, and ten-month follow-ups.3 This seems to point to self-help being a viable supplemental recovery option to help people with aftercare support. 

Additional studies found great results from an internet-based intervention for eating disorders and a guided self-help form of CBT specifically aimed at reducing symptoms associated with eating disorders like bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder (BED).4,5

Although self-help methods for BN can be quite healing, people must remember that each self-help tool could be very different from the others. Just because a specific book, or a support group, or an internet guide, or another option is effective for you, does not mean that all self-help tools are equally helpful for all people. The individual’s needs must always be considered.

Bulimia self-help guide

People exploring self-help options should consider starting with some simple tips that can help relieve some symptoms and conditions. Some self-help strategies for bulimia include:1

  • Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water
  • Improving sleep hygiene and leaving enough time for restful sleep
  • Setting realistic goals relating to your health and well-being
  • Finding ways to stay positive, optimistic, and hopeful
  • Maintaining old and building new relationships 
  • Making relaxation and stress reduction part of your day
  • Following through with the energy consumption and activity level recommendations of trusted professionals
Bulimia self-help guide

When to seek out professional treatment for bulimia nervosa 

For most people, self-help options for bulimia nervosa are not a substitute for professional eating disorder treatment. Anyone experiencing any of the symptoms or signs of bulimia should consider first getting an evaluation for the eating disorder and following through with the recommended treatment options from the professional.

Virtual options for treating eating disorders

At Within, you'll be cared for by a team of dedicated treatment professionals and be able to complete your program 100% remotely. You'll complete therapy sessions (including cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, family therapy, etc.) with a mental health professional, have regular contact with a nutritionist, and even submit information about your physical health remotely.

Whether you need bulimia treatment or help for another type of eating disorder, we are here to help.

Get help today

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.

Resources

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Caring for your mental health. National Institute of Mental Health. 
  2. Hail, L., & Le Grange, D. (2018). Bulimia nervosa in adolescents: Prevalence and treatment challenges. Adolescent Health, Medicine and Therapeutics, 9, 11–16. 
  3. Schmidt, U., Lee, S., Beecham, J., Perkins, S., Treasure, J., Yi, I., Winn, S., Robinson, P., Murphy, R., Keville, S., Johnson-Sabine, E., Jenkins, M., Frost, S., Dodge, L., Berelowitz, M., & Eisler, I. (2007). A randomized controlled trial of family therapy and cognitive behavior therapy guided self-care for adolescents with bulimia nervosa and related disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry, 164(4), 591–598. 
  4. Aardoom, J. J., Dingemans, A. E., Spinhoven, P., van Ginkel, J. R., de Rooij, M., & van Furth, E. F. (2016). Web-based fully automated self-help with different levels of therapist support for individuals with eating disorder symptoms: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 18(6). 
  5. Beintner, I., Jacobi, C., & Schmidt, U. H. (2014). Participation and outcome in manualized self-help for bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder — a systematic review and metaregression analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 34(2), 158–176.

FAQs

How long does bulimia recovery take?

Bulimia nervosa recovery is an individualized process that has different timelines based on the duration, intensity, and frequency of a person's disordered eating behaviors. One study showed rapid declines in binge-eating and purging behaviors in the first two months of treatment, with maximum benefit being achieved at eight months.3

Where can I get help for bulimia nervosa?

Help for bulimia nervosa is available through a number of traditional and online service providers. You can find options that include inpatient, outpatient, or virtual treatment programs. If you are in need of treatment for bulimia nervosa, reach out to our team at Within to learn more.

What are some bulimia recovery tips?

One of the best bulimia recovery tips is to be honest with yourself and your loved ones about the condition. Rather than being secretive and minimizing your symptoms, let others know about your struggles and seek assistance and support. No one needs to battle bulimia alone, and help is available now.

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