How To Help Someone With Bulimia
It can be difficult to watch someone you’re close to suffering with bulimia. You may struggle to understand why they’re behaving the way they are and may not know what to do for the best.
However, there are a number of things you can do to help. Here, we outline the steps you can take to help someone with bulimia, as well as the expert bulimia treatment we can provide at Life Works.
What is bulimia?
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder which causes people to binge eat, where they eat lots of food in one sitting, followed by purging, where they try to remove food and calories from the body using unhealthy methods such as making themselves sick or abusing laxatives.
Bulimia is a very secretive eating disorder and people who are struggling with it will often go to extreme lengths to hide their behaviours. Also, because the binge-purge cycles don’t tend to cause obvious weight changes, bulimia can be a very difficult eating disorder to spot.
How to help someone with bulimia
If you’re worried that someone you care about may be showing signs of bulimia, it’s important to know that there are a number of simple things you can do to help them.
Learn the symptoms of bulimia
The first step is to learn as much as you can about the symptoms of bulimia. The more you know and understand about this eating disorder, the more likely you’ll be able to spot your loved one’s negative behaviours. The most common symptoms of bulimia to look out for include:
- Eating lots of food in one sitting
- Going to the toilet straight after meals – this may be so they can make themselves sick or take laxatives
- Exercising excessively
- Wanting to eat in private
- Having an obsession with food and calories
- Having an extremely negative body image
- Repeatedly weighing themselves
- Panic attacks
- Mood swings and angry outbursts
- Tooth decay, bad breath and scars on their knuckles as a result of making themselves sick
Bulimia is a very secretive eating disorder, but by taking the time to learn some of the subtle signs and symptoms, you’re putting yourself in a much better position to be able to help the person you care about. If you notice the symptoms of bulimia, you’ll be able to spot when they are going through a particularly tough time and be able to support them. You’ll also be able to develop an understanding of why they’re behaving the way they are around food and notice whether there are any patterns in their behaviour. For example, do they tend to binge and purge more when they are stressed or anxious?
Speak to the person about your worries
If you’re worried that someone you care about is showing signs of bulimia, it’s really important that you have an open and honest conversation with them about your concerns. Try to choose a time and a place when you are both unlikely to be disturbed. You could suggest going for a walk together or having a cup of tea at home when no-one else is around. By making sure you’re having the conversation at a time and place when the person feels relaxed, this makes it more likely that they’ll open up to you.
When you’re having the conversation, it’s a good idea for you to put the focus on yourself instead of them, so they don’t feel as though they’re being attacked or criticised. For example, you could start with “I’m worried about you” or “I’ve noticed that your eating habits have changed”. By using the word “I” instead of “you”, you’re placing the onus on you, which makes it more likely they’ll respond to you in a positive way and want to talk about what they’re going through.
It’s important to remind the person that you love them and you want to help them. By making it clear you’re there to support them, this will hopefully make them feel comfortable enough to come and talk to you about what they’re going through instead of bottling things up. This way, you can take proactive steps to navigate their negative thoughts and behaviours together, and understand each other better.
Helping someone with bulimia get access to the right help and support
While the above tips can go some of the way towards helping someone with bulimia, eating disorders are serious conditions that often need expert help. That’s why it’s also important that you suggest that they get the specialist support they need to overcome their bulimia and take steps towards a full and lasting recovery.
As a first step, you could offer to call their GP for them on their behalf to make an appointment to talk through the issues they’re going through. Their GP will then be able to point them in the direction of further help for their bulimia. They may also be able to refer them for specialist treatment at a dedicated eating disorder treatment centre, such as Life Works, so they can start getting their life back on track. In addition, while we prefer people to have a GP referral, this isn’t essential and you can also contact Life Works directly to discuss needs and options for treatment.
Bulimia treatment at Life Works consists of:
- A free eating disorder assessment
- Flexible inpatient, day care and outpatient treatment options, depending on the intensity of the support the person needs
- 1:1, group and family therapy
- A range of practical dietetic techniques and therapeutic approaches
- Access to online Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous (ABA) meetings
- An expert treatment team
- A comprehensive family programme for people who stay at Life Works for 28 days or more
You can also contact Life Works directly to discuss the person’s condition and needs.
With support and therapy, from both yourself and a specialist eating disorder treatment centre, the person will be empowered to overcome their bulimia, address their destructive eating habits, and take steps towards the happy, healthy and fulfilling recovery that they deserve.