Support from family and friends can benefit someone with bulimia, which is a serious eating disorder. There are multiple ways to help a friend living with bulimia, such as listening, encouraging them to seek help, and more.

Someone with bulimia, which is also called bulimia nervosa, eats a lot of food at once and then tries to get rid of it through actions such as vomiting, using laxatives, and more. These eating behaviors are dangerous and can cause fatal complications.

In addition to treatment from a healthcare team, a strong social support network can help someone in their recovery from bulimia. Concerned friends can help by showing their support, including them in social plans, approaching conversations in a certain way, and taking other actions.

This article will discuss ways to help a friend with bulimia. It will also explore what bulimia is, causes and treatment, and support groups.

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Support can play a big role in helping someone with bulimia seek treatment and recover. There are several ways someone may help a friend with bulimia.


A person can actively listen to them and be receptive when they bring up mental health difficulties or eating disorders.

They need to ensure they feel comfortable and safe when having those conversations. Avoid giving oversimplified advice, such as telling the person to stop certain behaviors.

Include them

A person can invite them to join in on social plans and outings. Social activities can involve food, and eating meals with others is part of recovery.

Even if they reject some or all invitations, keep inviting them without forcing them into saying yes.

Build up their self-esteem

People with bulimia may have issues with low self-esteem. A person can build up an individual’s self-esteem with positive, supportive comments, such as how important their friendship is.

Do not criticize

A person needs to be supportive, but they should not ignore concerns about someone. When discussing concerns, they can calmly stick to the facts and slow down if the individual becomes upset. Remind the person with bulimia that they should not feel ashamed for living with an eating disorder.

Visiting them in hospital

Treatment centers have different visitor policies, and sometimes, the person or family involved may not want visitors during treatment. It is important to respect these policies or wishes.

If visitors are welcome, a person can reach out and ask permission before visiting. If visitors are not welcome, they can try sending the person a message expressing support.

Do not try to force treatment

A person with bulimia may resist treatment.

Individuals can encourage them to seek help and remind them why they want to recover. They can also ask them if they want help finding the right healthcare professional or offer to go with them to an appointment.

A person needs to contact the emergency services in the case of an emergency, such as threats of suicide or serious medical complications.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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Bulimia, or bulimia nervosa, is an eating disorder. When someone has bulimia, they eat large amounts of food, known as binge eating, and then try to get rid of the food to stop weight gain, which is purging.

Purging could involve:

  • forcing oneself to vomit
  • taking laxatives
  • taking pills to urinate
  • exercising excessively
  • fasting
  • a combination of these behaviors

Like other eating disorders, bulimia can cause extreme behaviors and fatal complications.

Bulimia affects more females than males, and females in their teens and early twenties are most at risk. It can be difficult to tell if someone has bulimia because bingeing and purging typically occur in private. Additionally, someone with bulimia could have underweight, overweight, or moderate weight.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Learn more about bulimia.

While experts do not know the exact causes of bulimia, multiple factors could be responsible. These factors could be:

  • genetic
  • behavioral
  • biological
  • psychological
  • social

Research into the causes of bulimia is ongoing and includes examining genes and brain activity. People with bulimia can also have issues with anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions.

Learn more about the effects of bulimia on the body.

A healthcare team consisting of therapists, doctors, and registered dietitians can play a role in treating bulimia.

Eating disorder treatment can involve a variety of strategies, including:

In combination with other treatment strategies, support groups may be helpful for someone with bulimia.

Support groups allow people living with eating disorders, and sometimes their families, to share their experiences and offer encouragement to one another. These groups can help those with eating disorders to feel empowered, understood, and like they are not alone.

Virtual and in-person support groups are available for those with eating disorders and their caregivers or families.

Some support groups for eating disorders include:

Bulimia is a serious eating disorder where someone engages in bingeing and purging behavior. A strong support network can benefit someone with bulimia.

Some ways to help a friend with bulimia include actively listening, inviting them to be part of social plans and outings, building their self-esteem, and discussing concerns without criticizing them. Someone can also visit a struggling friend in the hospital with permission or encourage a friend to seek treatment without being forceful.