How do you help someone with bulimia?

If you’ve recently discovered that a loved one has bulimia then you’ll undoubtedly want to do everything in your power to help them – of course helping someone with bulimia can be challenging if you don‘t know what to do.

Dealing with bulimia is never easy so the additional love, support and understanding that you can provide to your loved one could go a very long way in helping them to overcome bulimia!

But where do you start?

Trying to support a loved one who has bulimia can be very overwhelming, especially if you’ve never experienced an eating disorder first hand.

At first they may not want you to become involved so you should try to find a way of supporting them that you are both comfortable with – and that requires a lot of communication.

Not only can this be emotionally testing time but it can also be very confusing for you.

“Eating disorder talk”

We have words like “binge”, “purge” and “trigger” being thrown around everywhere – But what if you don’t really understand what all that “eating disorder talk” means?

If you’ve never struggled with disordered eating before then you may feel like you’ve been thrown into a completely new world.

The good news is that we are here to help!

In answer to the enormous demand for more bulimia support resources for loved ones of those affected by bulimia nervosa, here at Bulimia Help we came up with our very own free guide called “What to do when someone tells you they have bulimia.”

Even if you’re not a member of Bulimia Help you can download your very own copy of our guide right now by clicking on the page link.

You can also check out our article on “living with bulimia” to get a better idea of what life is really like for people who suffer from bulimia.


5 ideas on how to help a friend with bulimia

1. Educate yourself

In other words learn absolutely everything you can about bulimia and what recovery will involve. We have lots of great free bulimia articles to get you on your way.

2. Take the lead in conversations

People with bulimia find it extremely difficult to talk about their struggle so if you feel strong enough to start conversations (at appropriate times) then this can help them to open up. It can be devastating when a loved one doesn’t acknowledge our struggles because we either feel that they don’t care or haven’t taken us seriously.

3. Modify your behavior around your loved one

This does NOT mean changing “who you are” but it does mean being more mindful about talking about certain things i.e. diets and weight-loss.

4. Ask them how you can help

Your loved one may not always know the answer to this question but over time you can talk about the different ways they would like you to support them.

5. Make sure they know their treatment options

Did you know that most health authorities suggest that people try an evidence based self-help recovery program just like the Bulimia Recovery System (BRS®) as a first step in recovery? Bulimia suffers may also wish to see a therapist or even take bulimia medication. It’s all about finding what works best for them but sometimes all of those options can be a lot to process alone.

The 5 most important things to understand about bulimia

1. Bulimia is not a choice but recovery is.
2. Someone can not simply “stop” being bulimic.
3. Weight does not indicate the severity of an eating disorder – (this is especially true for bulimia)
4. Bulimia kills. (bulimia death)
5. Recovery is a gradual process that will be full of ups and downs but people can and do fully recover from bulimia.

If your loved one has not yet embarked on their recovery journey then you could suggest that they sign up for our free bulimia recovery course.

If you are a parent and want to know the best way for parents to help a bulimic child then please read our article on advice for parents of bulimics.

It’s important that you try to be as un-judgmental as possible and remember that someone can only recover from bulimia with the right support and guidance.

Advice for parents helping a teenager with bulimia

It can be very difficult for someone who has never experienced an eating disorder to understand what it’s really like living with bulimia, but if you suspect that your teenage daughter or son has bulimia then I’m sure that as a parent you are willing to do anything it takes to understand and support them. Teenage Bulimia is not something to take lightly. 

Breaking down barriers is essential…

Your teen will undoubtedly have a lot of barriers in place, before you can break through and really start to communicate it is vital that you start to understand their bulimia.

The most important first step for you to take as a parent has to be self education.

What can you do to help a bulimic teen?

Once you have established that your teen does in fact have bulimia there are lots of things you can do. If they haven’t told you they have bulimia but you suspect it anyway then take a look at some of the most common signs of bulimia. 

You can:

  • Go to your GP and ask for help.
  • Seek support from a counselor or therapist. for your teenager.
  • Contact local and national eating disorder help lines for more support and advice.
  • Get involved with your local eating disorder charities.
  • Encourage your teen to join a local eating disorder recovery support groups in your area – many of these groups cater to the parents, families and loved ones of those with eating disorders too.

How to talk to a teenager about bulimia…

A parents role in recovery should not be underestimated, but what can you do if your son or daughter refuses to admit they have a problem and refuses to get help?

At first, if you confront your teen directly and ask them if they have bulimia their instinct will be to lie.

I developed bulimia at 14 and hid it from my own mother and family for over a decade. In many ways, as much as I would have hated it at the time, part of me wishes someone would have acknowledged my suffering. (Bulimia Help Member, 2009).

Helping a bulimic teenager will never be easy, but your support will be instrumental in their recovery.

TIP: Even if your bulimic teenager reacts badly at first, keep talking, be there for them and you have the chance to really help them to turn their life around.

Understand that recovery will be gradual and your teen will not be able to “just stop” being bulimic…

Teenagers with bulimia may think they understand everything about their eating disorder, but very few truly understand the truth about bulimia recovery from bulimia.

To understand the real ways in which you can help your loved one you will need to constantly communicate with them. Just as the recovery process will be gradual so too will the process of communication.

Building a relationship where you both feel comfortable talking about bulimia and recovery may be difficult at first, but keep at it, the more your practice talking about recovery with your bulimic teen the more natural it will become for both of you.

I was devastated when my Mom found out I had bulimia. Now I couldn’t imagine her not knowing. Recovery has it’s ups and downs but she is always there for me. We’re closer than we have ever been! (Binge Code member)

Persevere, have patience and don’t be afraid of reaching out to others and getting some support for yourself too!

Here are 5 great ways you can support your bulimic teenager…

1. You can help to provide a safe environment for recovery. A non-judgmental and understanding home environment helps to nurture recovery. Ask your teen what practical home changes would make recovery easier.

2. You can free up more of your time. You can consider quitting or cut back on other obligations to concentrate on supporting your teenager.

3. You can educate yourself about the realities of bulimia. There is certainly a lot to learn, don’t feel bad if you don’t “get it” all straight away. You should try to learn as much as you can about bulimia and recovery.

4. You can consider becoming more “recovery friendly.” Maybe you excessively diet or talk a lot about weight, food and size. Perhaps you like to comfort eat on occasion or live by unhealthy food rules. If you don’t have an eating disorder yourself then you can consider changing your outlook on life in order to help support and re-affirm your teens recovery.

5. You can be a constant source of strength and friendship. This is what your bulimic teen will want more than anything. It’s impossible to always have the answers or to know what to do all of the time but never underestimate the
power of just being there.

A note for parents of bulimic teenagers …

Parents, you are probably the most important factor in your son or daughter’s recovery. How you respond to this crisis, how you educate yourself, who you choose as support, and how you organize your home life during the recovery process will be critical.

Families often call this important role “the hardest thing I have ever done.” They also, when their dearly loved child is restored and moving toward normal development and independence, report feeling well-deserved pride in themselves and their loved one for facing and succeeding in this challenge.

Parents do not cause eating disorders, but can be an important and active part of recovery.

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