The eating disorder bulimia nervosa typically involves cycles of overeating and purging. Several ways may help someone stop the purging and binging cycle, including learning personal triggers, seeking professional help, and engaging in mindful eating.

Bulimia can affect people of all sexes and most ages. However, it is more common in people assigned female at birth. The average age of onset is 12.4 years.

Individuals with bulimia often experience a cycle of overeating and then purging. Often, purging has links to self-induced vomiting. However, purging can also involve:

  • misusing laxatives
  • using diuretics
  • excessive exercise
  • fasting

This article lists and explains some tips to help a person stop the purging cycle.

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The first step for someone to stop the cycle of purging relating to bulimia is to seek professional help. A person with bulimia can speak with a healthcare professional who can help in various ways. These include:

  • Nutrition therapy: This is an important part of bulimia treatment. Purging can lead to dangerous electrolyte imbalances that require medical treatment. Some people may need treatment in the hospital if they develop serious kidney or heart issues.
  • Nutritional counseling: A dietitian can help a person to learn healthier ways of eating.
  • Psychotherapy: Mental health professionals can help someone change their harmful thoughts and behaviors. They can do this by engaging in talk therapy, which may focus on a person talking about their feelings and how they affect actions and behaviors. A mental health care professional may encourage them to talk about how stress can trigger a cycle of overeating and purging. Therapy can take place either one-on-one or in a group.
  • Medication: Fluoxetine (Prozac) is a medication that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved for treating bulimia. It can help reduce the purging cycle and improve a person’s thoughts about eating. It can also help individuals who experience depression or anxiety along with bulimia.

Many people are able to recover from bulimia with professional medical attention. They can eat and exercise in healthier ways after getting help. However, some may continue to experience symptoms, even with treatment.

Learn more about bulimia.

Restriction is a major part of many eating disorders, including bulimia. It can take various forms, such as:

  • eating minimal amounts of food
  • having no food intake
  • eating only specific foods in specific amounts
  • fasting during large parts of the day

In bulimia, this food restriction comes in the form of overeating and then purging.

Learning to view food differently and how to avoid periods of overeating can help someone break this cycle. If they do not have times of overeating, they generally will not feel the need to purge.

Triggers are anything that causes the desire or craving to act on an overeating and purging cycle. They are personal to each individual. A person learning and recognizing what their triggers are can help them recover from bulimia.

Research from 2022 found that emotional symptoms, such as those of depression and anxiety, were strong triggers for many with bulimia.

Older research from 2014 found the following as common triggers:

  • stress
  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • tiredness
  • sadness
  • feeling under pressure

An individual can become aware of their triggers by paying attention to what leads to overeating and purging throughout the week and making a list. Next to each item on this list, they can write the thoughts and feelings they experienced. Being aware of triggers is often the first step in recovering from an eating disorder.

Help is available

Eating disorders can severely affect the quality of life of people living with these conditions and those close to them. Early intervention and treatment greatly improve the likelihood of recovery.

Anyone who suspects they or a loved one may have an eating disorder can contact the National Alliance for Eating Disorders, which offers a daytime helpline staffed by licensed therapists and an online search tool for treatment options.

For general mental health support at any time, people can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 24 hours a day at 1-800-662-4357 (or 1-800-487-4889 for TTY).

Many other resources are also available, including:

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Overeating or loss of control over eating (LOCE) is one of the core issues of bulimia. Researchers have identified mindful or intuitive eating as an adaptive behavior that may help counteract LOCE.

Mindful eating focuses on a person’s eating experience, including thoughts and feelings about food, without judgment and with a heightened awareness. It also includes body-related sensations that come with eating certain foods. The goal of mindful eating is to create a more enjoyable eating experience and understanding of someone’s eating environment.

Being aware of one’s thoughts and feelings without judgment is an important part of mindful eating for those with bulimia and other eating disorders.

Read about intuitive eating.

A support system can be an important part of a person’s recovery from bulimia. Having trusted friends or family members can help when an individual feels they may return to their eating disorder behaviors.

A support system can also include a mental health care professional and a healthcare professional. It may also include support groups, such as:

A mental health care professional can also recommend local support groups and recovery programs.

It is not uncommon for a person with an eating disorder, such as bulimia, to also experience co-occurring mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, or substance misuse.

It is important for them also to seek treatment for these conditions and learn techniques to manage anxiety or other conditions. Symptoms of these conditions can act as triggers for bulimia. This means that treating co-occurring conditions can help recovery from bulimia.

Learn more about how to manage anxiety.

There are various ways someone can stop the cycle of overeating and purging that characterizes bulimia. These may include seeking professional help, practicing mindful eating, learning personal triggers, and managing co-occurring conditions.

Seeking treatment from healthcare and mental health professionals is an important part of a person’s recovery from an eating disorder. Seeking support from trusted friends and family members or support groups can also be a helpful part of recovery.