Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by frequent purging that occurs after binge eating, or after eating anything at all. Teen bulimia treatment is usually needed for those who binge eat and purge at least once per week for at least three months. A person may engage in purging via vomiting or with the use of certain medications, such as laxatives and diuretics; these behaviors are often conducted in secret due to shame as well as fear that the behaviors will be interrupted. While binge eating disorder is characterized by frequent binges without the presence of purging, and anorexia nervosa is characterized by voluntary starvation and malnutrition, bulimia is often recognized due to the signs of frequent vomiting without necessarily affecting weight.

Bulimia can be traced back through history to the days of ancient Rome, when nobles were known to indulge in lavish feasts and subsequently purge their food. Because bulimia is not as glamorized as anorexia, there is not as much portrayal of the disorder in the media. When a discovery is made that bingeing and purging behaviors have occurred, parents can often question why it may be happening. Today, we understand bulimia can stem from both genetic and environmental factors. These factors range from biologically inherited traits to the influence of the environment in which one lives, and the societally constructed concepts of beauty, and self-worth which one may be exposed to through peers and in the media, as well as within the family system.

Even in teens who recognize their symptoms, breaking away from the thoughts and behaviors associated with bulimia is difficult due to the addictive nature of the behaviors as well as the feeling of control and temporary relief a teen might experience through the disorder. At Visions Treatment Centers, we approach teen bulimia treatment by tackling the factors contributing to their negative self-image and low self-worth. Teens are encouraged to explore and restructure their negative self-talk while challenging fear foods and incorporating more balance and self-care into their routine. An eating disorder can often present to numb out difficult feelings which prevents teens from attacking their problems and speaking up about what is really bothering them. We work with adolescents to identify how their eating disorder serves them, and how to better meet their unique recovery needs through teen bulimia treatment.

Symptoms of Teen Bulimia Nervosa

Teens with bulimia are often very preoccupied with their diet and their appearance, particularly their body shape and their weight. They may call themselves overweight or fat, over-focus on perceived flaws, or constantly criticize themselves in front of a mirror. They may constantly ask you if they are fat, if they look ok, or if they are pretty. The reliance on external support for an inner conflict keeps them stuck in an inability to validate themselves. These severe body image issues tend to be part of why teen bulimia is so difficult to combat.

Teens become obsessed with weight loss programs, diets, and other methods of controlling their intake and body weight. This is often followed by a binge, alongside overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame, followed by purging, diuretic or laxative abuse, or the use of weight loss supplements. Teen bulimia is accompanied by a series of physical and emotional symptoms, as well as potentially severe and at times even fatal complications. Symptoms and complications of teen bulimia include:

  • Weight gain obsession
  • Repeated binge eating
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Compulsive acts of purging, often in secret
  • Food or calorie restriction, extreme diets
  • Abuse of  weight loss products
  • Yellow fingernails, marks on knuckles or hands
  • Tooth and gum decay
  • Symptoms of dehydration
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Digestive problems
  • Symptoms of anxiety and/or depression
  • Suicidality
  • Swollen “chipmunk” cheeks from enlarged salivary glands

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Bridging the Gap Between Teen Bulimia Treatment and Recovery

Body image issues are common among men and women alike, and especially in teens. Teens sometimes experience puberty as a physically “awkward” developmental stage, and many teens aspire towards unrealistic or dangerous physical goals. However, when teen eating disorders or body dysmorphia develop because of one’s self-image, there is usually more at play making it more difficult to treat these issues. Lifestyle changes alone may not always stick, and simply educating someone on body acceptance and a healthier diet may not be enough.

At Visions Treatment Centers, we heavily incorporate education and a better understanding of one’s body and nutrition into our treatment process. We combine this with therapies and treatment modalities that address the obsessive/compulsive nature of the bingeing and purging, as well as the underlying thoughts and beliefs that promote behaviors. Our teen bulimia treatment programs include:

Talk Therapy

Psychotherapy or talk therapy is the first-line treatment for bulimia and includes a variety of therapeutic techniques, including group and individual therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, and family therapy.

Medication

Fluoxetine (also known as Prozac) is a commonly prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), and a type of antidepressant. It is approved for use in the treatment of bulimia in tandem with talk therapy, and may be prescribed depending on a teen’s condition and symptoms.

Nutritional and Lifestyle Changes

Long-term care for bulimia nervosa includes a total overhaul of a teen’s understanding of health and self-acceptance. Teens will be encouraged to continue to care for their nutrition and their exercising habits, and will be taught how to do so in a supportive and not self-destructive way.

At Visions, every case of bulimia is first investigated with a thorough assessment by our staff with the help of a licensed psychiatrist. We realize that each child comes with a unique eating disorder and their treatment plan reflects this fact. The effectiveness of any given treatment plan depends on how well it matches up with the biopsychosocial factors contributing to your teen’s diagnosis, and via our assessment we can identify the most effective treatments for your loved one.

We also understand the importance of long-term care, as teens who undergo mental health programs may still struggle with thoughts and habits linked to their disorder after discharge. By cooperating with parents and local specialists, we help teens and their families find support groups, therapists, and local resources to continue their treatment after Visions.