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Treatment for Bulimia


While many medications may be prescribed for symptoms related to bulimia, only Fluoxetine (brand name: Prozac) has approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of bulimia nervosa. This medication has been found to decrease the number of episodes of binging, as well the desire to vomit, in people with moderate to severe bulimia.

As of now, Medications such as Fluoxetine (Prozac), Sertraline (Zoloft), Paroxetine (Paxil) — which are approved for depression and obsessive compulsive disorder — may help the person with bulimia have less depressed feelings, as well as be less obsessed with food and their weight.

At appropriate doses (similar to those used for OCD treatment), antidepressants have been found to decrease the strength of urges to binge for some individuals. Individuals with a positive response to these medications have reported a lessening of their carbohydrate cravings, which appears to help prevent binging. Others have experienced a less dramatic relief or pleasure associated with their binge/purge behaviors. This response makes the binge/purge cycle less enticing as a means of stress release.

Naltrexone, which works on the opiate system in the pleasure center of the brain, has yielded some initial positive research results in some people with bulimia as well.

Residential Treatment Facilities for Bulimia

Residential treatment facilities offer a complete array of treatment services in one place.

One place where all of the above treatment options are available is called a residential treatment center. Such treatment centers are located throughout the United States and in many other countries as well, and focus on the treatment of all the different types of eating disorders (including bulimia). Such facilities usually include a wide range of specialists — psychologists, medical doctors, nutritionists, meditation and relaxation professionals, and fitness experts. They help a person learn all of the skills necessary (through the cognitive-behavioral techniques outlined above), and put them into daily practice in a safe, relaxed setting.

Often these kinds of treatments may be paid for by an individual’s private health insurance, for up to a certain period of time (often 30 days). Check with your health insurance provide to see if such coverage is available for you.

Hospitalization for Bulimia

In cases where a person with bulimia is severely ill or the individual has other serious medical problems, inpatient hospitalization may be necessary. Underweight or overweight individuals often suffer from medical complications, especially if the person is using laxatives or vomiting as a method of controlling their over-eating behaviors. Hospitalization may be necessary in order to immediately address the most pressing medical problems. Group and individual therapy supplement dietary and medical therapies.

At one time inpatient treatment lasted many weeks, if not months, but in today’s climate the goals of hospitalization are weight gain and medical stabilization. The person with bulimia is moved to outpatient therapy when it is considered safe to do so.

Self-Help for Bulimia

There are a variety of self-help methods available for eating disorders, including bulimia. Self-help support groups are a great way of getting emotional support while trying to make changes in one’s life to support a healthier self-image and eating behaviors. Self-help books on bulimia can be a great place to start to gain some insights and tips on changing one’s self-image and disordered eating.

Since many people with bulimia use food as a coping skill for dealing with negative emotions, finding other, healthier coping skills may be a good place to start.

Our positive self-image and eating issues blog Weightless is a great place to find more tips on improving your coping skills and self-image. However, you can also start with these tips about how to improve your body image from the Something Fishy website:

  • Wear clothes you feel comfortable in – Dress to express yourself, not to impress others. You should feel good in what you wear.
  • Stay away from the scale – If your weight needs to be monitored, leave that up to the doctors. How much you weigh should never affect your self-esteem.
  • Stay away from fashion magazines – Unless you can look through these magazines knowing they are purely fantasy, it’s just better to stay away from them.
  • Do nice things for your body – Get a massage, a manicure, or a facial. Pamper yourself with a candlelight bath, scented lotion, or a new perfume.
  • Stay active – Movement therapy helps improve your sense of wellbeing. Take up Yoga or Tai’ Chi, play volleyball with the kids, or bike ride with friends. Make angels in the snow or sandcastles at the beach. Be active and enjoy life!

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder, Editor-in-Chief & CEO of Psych Central. He is an author, researcher and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues -- as well as the intersection of technology and human behavior -- since 1992. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member and treasurer of the Society for Participatory Medicine. He writes regularly and extensively on mental health concerns, the intersection of technology and psychology, and advocating for greater acceptance of the importance and value of mental health in today's society. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Treatment for Bulimia. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 23, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 24 Oct 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 24 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.