What Does It Mean to Recover from Bulimia Nervosa?

We’ve all heard the term “recovery,” often in the context of addiction or mental health treatment. But what does it really mean?

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Simply put, it means receiving treatment and putting those lessons into place. Treatment for eating disorders in teens can be an involved, complex process that includes methods as varied as cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, group therapy and any number of experiential therapies.

Recovery is a big commitment, for both the client and their loved ones. In addition to the methodologies mentioned above, bulimia nervosa recovery relies on ongoing support from the client’s family, close friends and professionals, once they reenter a “normal” lifestyle.

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The Symptoms and Other Signs of Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is a behavioral disorder listed on the DSM-5 as one of the most prominent eating disorders.  It’s defined by a distorted body image in which sufferers believe they are overweight, and take compensatory action to lose that (often imaginary) weight.  There is typically a binge-and-purge cycle in which the individual eats a large amount of food in a short time, then vomits, uses laxatives, or excessively exercises to purge those calories.

This flawed perception of their body weight can often lead to extreme dieting, which ultimately contributes to binge-eating episodes. This cycle of binging and purging usually comes complete with overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame, which act as triggers for further episodes.

People with bulimia nervosa have obsessive thoughts about what they think is an “ideal” body shape and weight, which is often influenced my media representations of those qualities. These “perfect” ideals of weight and beauty drive more and more obsession and the compensatory behaviors that come with it. Mood intolerance (an inability to cope with adverse states of mind and emotion) promote participation in bulimia nervosa behaviors as well as sustained depression and generalized anxiety.

The health consequences resulting from bulimia nervosa involve health problems that may require hospitalization in severe cases and medical care in almost all cases. These symptoms include:

  • Tooth decay due to repeated vomiting after a binge-eating episode. The stomach acids erode both the teeth and gums and can require extensive dental care
  • Swelling of glands in the throat
  • Constant sore throat
  • Hoarse voice or losing the voice
  • Dehydration
  • Anemia
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Intestinal issues and indigestion
  • Electrolyte imbalance (lack of potassium, chloride, and sodium in the body) could cause heart arrhythmias and/or heart failure)

Bulimia nervosa is also an indicator risk for co-occurring mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and substance abuse. Consequently, bulimia nervosa recovery demands specialized residential-type treatment with experienced eating disorder therapists who fully understand the challenging issues clients must cope with to achieve recovery.

How to Make Recovery Happen

Regaining your life from the clutches of bulimia nervosa begins with a diagnosis. Therapists and doctors both normally have to the tools to make an initial diagnosis, even if they aren’t experts in the field. They can make recommendations about professionals who can provide the counseling, insight, and support necessary for clients to understand that bulimia nervosa recovery is attainable in all situations.

During recovery, bulimia nervosa clients will begin to learn how to manage distorted and negative emotions and thoughts in a less self-destructive, healthier way. Equipped with healthy coping strategies following the completion of their treatment program, they’ll be able to avoid stressors and the negative actions that follow more easily.

Some of the core facets of a successful bulimia nervosa recovery include:

  • Valuing the concept of HAES (Healthy At Every Size)
  • Restoring a positive relationship with food and eating
  • Learning to accept yourself and your weight
  • Setting boundaries and limits with other people
  • Discovering a purpose in life outside of food and dieting
  • Improving emotional stability
  • Renewing relationships with family members
  • Creating a rewarding and beneficial social life

Recovery is possible. It might be a long a difficult journey, from the first conversation with your loved one, through a diagnosis and attendance at an eating disorder treatment facility, through aftercare, and onto a recovered life.

Although it may seem like an insurmountable challenge, it’s the difference between life and death.  Reach out today and get the help you deserve.

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