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Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is a serious eating disorder that causes sufferers to experience an overwhelming need to restrict their food intake. This results in periods of excessive eating (known as ‘binge eating’), with sufferers often eating up to three or four times the usual amount of food, after which they make themselves vomit, exercise excessively or take laxatives (known as ‘purging’) in order to rid their body of the calories that they have consumed. These binge-purge cycles are often triggered by hunger, stress or emotional anxiety, and can mean that there is no significant change in a person’s weight, as the cycles can balance this out.

What is bulimia nervosa?

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that causes those affected to restrict food, and engage in cycles of bingeing and purging. Binge eating is characterised by episodes of excessive eating, during which sufferers eat far beyond the point of feeling full. This excessive eating may cause you to feel some short-term emotional relief, but the negative feelings and distress often return. Therefore, this prompts sufferers to engage in purging, which is the process by which they attempt to rid their bodies of the calories that they have consumed during their over-intake of food. As well as causing individuals to experience guilt, depression, shame, and low self-esteem, the process of bingeing and purging is highly disruptive and can cause a whole host of physical health problems including chronic gastric reflux, ulcers, tooth decay, kidney damage, chest pain, infertility, cardiac arrhythmia, and even death.

Bulimia is known to be a very secretive disorder, and sufferers will often go to extreme lengths to conceal their binge-purge cycles, and the behaviours that are associated with them.  In addition, those who struggle with bulimia may fear seeking help and think that receiving treatment will mean putting on weight, which further increases the negative emotions surrounding their condition. This, combined with the fact that bulimia sufferers may not have drastic fluctuations in weight, makes the condition very hard to identify.

Bulimia nervosa is more common amongst girls and women between the ages of 15 and 25, but it is important to recognise that this serious eating disorder can affect anyone of any age, gender and background, and is becoming increasingly prevalent in males. For more information on the prevalence and statistics that are associated with bulimia nervosa, you can visit our eating disorder statistics page.

At Priory, we understand that seeking help for bulimia is a crucial, but often difficult step to take. However, without expert support, bulimia can result in a wide array of long-term psychological and physical complications.

It is important to recognise that if you think that you, or someone that you know, is struggling with bulimia, comprehensive bulimia treatment can empower you to make a full and lasting recovery from your bulimia. Our bulimia treatment teams consist of specialist psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and other highly skilled eating disorder professionals, who are dedicated to delivering evidence-based bulimia treatment at our specialist hospitals and wellbeing centres. The aim of the bulimia treatment that we offer at Priory is to empower you to identify the causes and underlying triggers for your destructive eating habits, address dysfunctional thought patterns and behaviours, develop a healthy relationship with food, and enable you to return to a positive and fulfilling way of life.

Treatment for bulimia nervosa at Priory

All of the treatment that we provide at Priory is bespoke to your unique needs, requirements and circumstances. In the context of bulimia nervosa treatment, our personalised approach empowers you to address the underlying causes for your unhealthy bingeing and purging behaviours, recognise triggers, acquire effective coping mechanisms, and take steps towards a happy, healthy and more fulfilling life.

The type and length of the bulimia treatment that you will receive at Priory, depends upon the nature and severity of your condition, as well as your personal needs. We are able to deliver high quality bulimia treatment in an outpatient, day care or inpatient (residential) capacity, which will be recommended based upon the intensity of the bulimia help and support that you require. You can read more about these different treatment options on our approach to eating disorder treatment page.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for bulimia

CBT is used worldwide in the treatment of a broad range of mental health conditions and eating disorders, including bulimia nervosa. CBT for eating disorders is underpinned by the premise that eating disorders, such as bulimia, arise and are intensified as a result of a series of changes in eating patterns, in conjunction with negative, deeply ingrained thought processes, which can prevent you from making healthy choices about food, diet, and eating habits, and cause you to lack self-belief in your ability to overcome your eating disorder. At Priory, we use CBT to challenge and change these dysfunctional thought patterns in order to alter the associated negative behaviours. Our CBT experts will work with you in a collaborative way to help you to identify your irrational beliefs regarding food, diet and body image, develop an understanding of why these irrational beliefs developed in the first place, before encouraging you to replace them with healthier and more rational alternatives.

Outpatient therapy package for bulimia

We are also able to offer a tailored outpatient therapy package at our wellbeing centres, that has been specifically designed to tackle bulimia nervosa. In order to allow peace of mind, our therapy package offers a set amount of one-to-one therapy sessions, a personalised treatment plan, discounted rates, and certainty of price for initial treatment. A further discount is also available for any additional therapy sessions that you may require following your initial bulimia treatment package.

Priory’s outpatient therapy package for bulimia nervosa consists of 10 one-to-one therapy sessions with one of our eating disorders experts, which is the number of sessions that are recommended according to national guidelines. More information on the treatment and package price can be found by accessing our bulimia nervosa outpatient therapy package brochure.

Our dedicated treatment environments are highly compassionate, supportive and non-judgemental, and provide you with the ideal setting in which to receive expert therapy, address your challenges, and take steps towards a positive future. In addition, Priory’s extensive national network of specialist hospitals and wellbeing centres mean that we are able to offer you the support that you need in a way that can be flexible around your existing commitments, and in a location that is convenient for you.

This page was clinically reviewed by Dr Pippa Hugo (MBChB, MRCPsych) in July 2018, and is scheduled to be reviewed again in July 2020. To view all Priory bulimia specialists, please click here.

What causes bulimia nervosa?
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Highly qualified bulimia nervosa treatment specialists
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Specialist eating disorder interventions
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Young people and bulimia nervosa
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For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding eating disorder treatment, please call 0800 840 3219 or click here to submit an enquiry form. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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