Caring for Someone With Bulimia: What to Know

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It's estimated that 1.6% of American women suffer from bulimia in their lifetime. While it's more common for women to live with the disorder, men can also be diagnosed with it.

When you are a caregiver for someone with bulimia, it's important to be supportive and understanding. While it can be difficult to watch someone you love suffer from an eating disorder, there are things you can do to help.

Recognize Bulimia Symptoms in a Loved One

The first step in being a supportive caregiver is to learn the signs and symptoms of bulimia.This way, you can be on the lookout for them in your loved one.

Some common signs and symptoms of bulimia include:

  • Preoccupation with food or weight
  • Poor body image
  • Feelings of shame or guilt about eating
  • Unhealthy eating habits, such as bingeing or purging
  • Excessive exercise
  • Using laxatives or diuretics
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Secretive behavior

If you notice any of these signs and symptoms in your loved one, it's important to talk to them about it. They may be embarrassed or ashamed to tell you what is going on, but it's important to let them know that you are there for them.

How You Can Help Someone with Bulimia

Below details the ways in which you can help someone who has been diagnosed with bulimia.

Medical Care

The first step in treating bulimia is to get professional help. This typically includes therapy and, in some cases, medication. If your loved one is resistant to seek treatment, you may need to be supportive and encouraging.

Practical Care

As a caregiver, you can also provide practical care for someone with bulimia. This includes preparing healthy meals and snacks, and making sure that they are getting enough rest. You may also need to help them with household chores or other activities of daily living.

Emotional Care

Below are five ways to provide emotional support to someone with bulimia:

Providing Emotional Care

  1. Listen to them: One of the best things you can do is simply listen to your loved one. This means being there for them when they need to talk, and not judging or criticizing what they say.
  2. Be patient: It's important to be patient with someone with bulimia. Eating disorders can be difficult to overcome, and it may take time for your loved one to recover.
  3. Avoid arguments: Arguments will only make the situation worse. If you disagree with something your loved one says or does, try to approach the conversation calmly and respectfully.
  4. Offer encouragement: Words of encouragement can go a long way in helping someone in bulimia recovery. Something as simple as "I'm here for you" can make a big difference.
  5. Seek support: As a caregiver, it's important to take care of yourself, too. Make sure to find time for your own hobbies and interests, and seek out support from friends or family members if you need it.

What to Avoid As a Caregiver for Bulimia

Below are five things to avoid as a caregiver for someone with bulimia.

Criticizing Their Appearance

One of the worst things you can do is criticize your loved one's appearance. This will only make them feel worse about themselves and could further their eating disorder.

Making Comments About Their Weight

Weight is a sensitive subject for someone with bulimia. Avoid making comments about their weight, whether they are positive or negative.

Asking Them to Eat More or Less

Asking someone with bulimia to eat more or less is not helpful. This can trigger their eating disorder and make them feel like you are judging them.

Pressuring Them to Exercise

Exercise is important for everyone, but it can be a trigger for someone with bulimia. Avoid pressuring them to exercise, and let them make the decision about how much they want to do.

Bringing Up Their Eating Disorder All the Time

It's important to be supportive, but you also need to give your loved one some space. Bringing up their eating disorder all the time will only make them feel more self-conscious and could further their disorder.

How to Talk to a Loved One About Bulimia

Below are five ideas of how to talk to a loved one about bulimia.

Choose a Good Time

When you bring up the subject, make sure to choose a good time. This means picking a time when they are not feeling triggered in any way. It's best not to bring it up during meal time or around food.

Be Supportive

Be sure to let your loved one know that you are there for them and that you support their recovery.

Avoid Judgment

When you're talking to your loved one, be sure to avoid any judgment. This includes judgments about their appearance or weight.

Listen to Them

Make sure to listen to your loved one when they are talking to you. This means being respectful and not interrupting them.

Seek Help

If your loved one is feeling overwhelmed, encourage them to seek out help from a professional. This could be a therapist or counselor who specializes in eating disorders.

If you are the caregiver for someone with bulimia, it's important to be supportive and understanding. Be sure to provide emotional and practical care, and avoid anything that could trigger their eating disorder. If you need help, don't hesitate to reach out to a professional.

When to Intervene

If you think your loved one is in danger, it's important to intervene. This means calling for help if they are purging, restricting their food intake, or engaging in other harmful behaviors. If you are worried about their safety, don't hesitate to reach out to a professional for help.

Tips for Yourself as a Caregiver

Below are five tips on how to look after yourself as a caregiver.

Make Sure to Take Care of Yourself

It's important to make time for your own hobbies and interests. This will help you avoid burnout and will make you a better caregiver in the long run.

Seek Out Support

If you're feeling overwhelmed, be sure to seek out support from friends or family members. There are also support groups available for caregivers of people with eating disorders.

Take Breaks

Make sure to take breaks when you need them. This could be taking a few minutes to yourself each day or taking a weekend away.

Eat Healthy and Exercise

It's important to take care of your own physical health as a caregiver. This means eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.

Seek Professional Help

If you're struggling to cope, don't hesitate to seek professional help. This could be from a therapist or counselor with experience helping caregivers of people with eating disorders.

FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are some signs that my loved one has bulimia?

    Some signs that your loved one has bulimia include purging, restricting their food intake, excessive exercise, and comments about their weight or appearance.

  • What can I do to support my loved one with bulimia?

    To support your loved one with bulimia, be sure to provide emotional and practical care. Avoid anything that could trigger their eating disorder, and seek professional help if you're feeling overwhelmed.

  • What should I do if I'm worried about my loved one's safety?

    If you're worried about your loved one's safety, call for help immediately.

If you or a loved one are coping with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline for support at 1-800-931-2237

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Word From Verywell

If you are the caregiver for someone with bulimia, it's important to be supportive and understanding. Not everyone with bulimia will want to seek treatment, but as a caregiver, you can provide emotional and practical support. If you're feeling overwhelmed, be sure to seek out help from a professional.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. van Eeden AE, van Hoeken D, Hoek HW. Incidence, prevalence and mortality of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosaCurr Opin Psychiatry. 2021;34(6):515-524. doi:10.1097/YCO.0000000000000739

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Bulimia Nervosa.

  3. National Institute of Mental Health. Eating Disorders.

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."