CBT for Bulimia Nervosa

CBT for Bulimia NervosaBulimia nervosa (BN) involves binge eating accompanied by compensating behaviors such as the following:

  • Vomiting
  • Laxative abuse
  • Periods of fasting or food restriction
  • Excessive exercise
  • Stimulant abuse

Binges are typically done in secret and in reaction to negative moods. The American Psychiatric Association reports that up to 3% of individuals experience BN, and 90% of these individuals are female. If not treated, BN is a chronic disorder that is closely related to suicide ideation and attempts; In Treatment Plans and Interventions for Bulimia and Binge-Eating Disorder (2011), Rene Zweig reports that up to 40% of individuals with BN may attempt suicide. BN commonly co-occurs with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, and Zweig shares that 20-30% of individuals with BN also have a substance use disorder. BN treatment needs to address this harmful and potentially fatal disorder, and it needs to take into accounts co-occurring mental health and addiction issues as it does so.

Treating Bulimia Nervosa with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

The National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists defines Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as, “a form of psychotherapy that emphasizes the important role of thinking in how we feel and what we do.” CBT recognizes that thoughts lead to behaviors and de-emphasizes the importance of external people and environments. CBT offers relatively rapid results, as a course of CBT treatment for bulimia typically involves 20 outpatient meetings over a period of 6 months. Co-occurring mental health or addiction issues will lengthen the treatment process or require the addition of inpatient care or other recovery resources, but formal CBT therapy usually comes with an end date, as the process is structured and direct.

While some medications can decrease the symptoms of bulimia, these do not treat the underlying causes of BN-related behaviors. BN involves cyclical thoughts and actions, and CBT works to disrupt these. Negative thought patterns contribute to binges and purges, and CBT helps patients see these patterns and come to recognize their causes and how they can be addressed. Vanderbilt University’s Psychology Department shares that CBT helps a patient, “examine his/her thoughts, beliefs, and values which maintain the eating problem” and establish healthy eating patterns that can be maintained once formal treatment has ended.

Finding Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

If you or a loved one struggles with eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa, CBT may help. Call our toll-free helpline to gain access to recovery resources that will address BN and co-occurring mental health and substance use issues. Our admissions coordinators are here 24 hours a day and all phone services are free, so please don’t hesitate to call and learn about your options.