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How to Help Someone with Bulimia Eating Disorder

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Bulimia is a behavioral disease, and supporting a child or a loved one can mean the difference between a successful treatment and a disappointing failure. There are several recommendations you can follow to provide that critical support.

View the disorder as a medical condition

Start by making the subject as non-controversial and unemotional as possible. Bulimics realize their eating behavior isn’t normal. It’s easy to slip into shame or embarrassment, especially if they view it as a character flaw. By treating the disorder as a medical condition, much of the emotional connections can be removed – to good advantage.

Framing the disorder in this context can make it a problem to be solved, and one with a clear path for treatment and recovery. This leads to the next step: learning as much as possible about the disorder.

Learn about the disorder

Avoid websites that encourage purging or other behaviors – these give a toxic “second opinion” that is not only wrong, but can work directly against a treatment plan. Get the facts and stick with materials from trusted sources. When you have questions, ask your treatment professional.

Educating yourself will help avoid some of the “game playing” and “con jobs” which can arise when someone is trying to conceal their condition. It also gives you a way to respond and offer real suggestions. Encourage the bulimic to learn about the condition as well -- it is a solvable problem.

Listen in a non-judgmental way

Listening in a non-judgmental way is important, even when hearing what the bulimic has to say is difficult. Avoid directing the conversation and offering solutions when what they really want is a friendly ear. The trust built with non-judgmental listening will pay off when you do want to be heard.

Help them stick to their treatment plan

Help them with their treatment plan without becoming a nag. Diets are an important part of treatment, along with a food diary. Depending on the provider, treatment will also include various written exercises and will certainly have regular appointments. Make sure they don’t miss appointments. It’s easy, especially after some success, to let life interfere with a treatment schedule – don’t let this happen. The importance is measured, in part, by how important you make doctor visits and meet benchmarks.

>Schedule regular mealtimes

Part of the treatment will be regular, planned meals – these reduce the urges to binge and purge. You can also plan “together time” after a meal, giving the bulimic less change of purging – but this should be with participation and willingness on their part. Even something as simple as taking a walk after dinner, with a pleasant chat can help remove the temptation to purge.

Offer to help in any way you can

Direct offers of help are appropriate, especially if you’ve established good communication. Are there foods around the house that trigger their urges? What pressures are they feeling that give them the urge to binge/purge? The focus shouldn’t always be on the disorder, but you shouldn’t shy away from the subject either.

Be open and honest about how you feel

Finally, don’t be afraid to express your own feelings. You will have concerns about them, their disorder and your role. The important thing is to avoid placing blame – that only elevates their stress level.