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Bulimia nervosa is one of the most common eating disorders today. Characterized by uncontrollable episodes of overeating, binge eating episodes related to this type of eating disorder are often followed by feelings of shame and guilt. With both bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder may eat a large amount of food, more significant amounts than one would generally consume, often within a very short period of time, usually less than two hours. These binge eating episodes typically occur at least twice a week for at least three months, but may occur as often as several times a day for extended periods. In an effort to compensate for the number of calories eaten during a binging episode, individuals with bulimia nervosa typically engage in a variety of potentially dangerous behaviors including self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, intermittent fasting or excessive exercise. Because of the many risks involved with this type of eating disorder, seeking treatment in an adolescent bulimia recovery program is essential for teens.

What Are the Causes of Bulimia Nervosa and Other Common Eating Disorders in Adolescents?

While three has not been one defined root cause of eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa, researchers have found many different factors may contribute to their development in adolescents and young adults. For example, family history, trauma, cultural ideals and social attitudes toward body size may all contribute to the development of bulimia nervosa eating disorder.

Eating disorders can affect people of all ages, races, sexes, genders and cultural backgrounds. However, they are most prevalent in adolescent girls and young women. Eating disorders have also been found to disproportionately affect teens, with these specific types of mental health disorders being most prevalent in teens between the ages of 12 and 25.

Studies indicate that young girls who develop bulimia nervosa and other eating disorders often come from families with a history of eating disorders, other mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety disorder and physical illness. While adolescent boys and men also develop eating disorders, there is quite a significant disparity between the rates for girls and boys. According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), 20 million women will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime, compared to 10 million men.

Every 62 minutes, at least one person dies from complications related to eating disorders. With so many lives at risk, eating disorders are the deadliest of all reported mental health conditions. Eating disorders are also the third most common chronic illness among teen girls. With so many young girls at risk for developing severe health complications in relation to eating disorder behaviors, early intervention and bulimia treatment are essential for long-term recovery.

Why Do Young Girls Develop Bulimia Nervosa and Other Eating Disorders Disproportionately to Young Boys?

One of the contributing factors to the development of bulimia eating disorder may be a negative or distorted body image. It is no secret that Americans are under increased societal pressures to maintain a “thin” body shape, even as obesity rates continue to rise throughout the country. Some researchers have speculated that along with the onset of puberty and body changes, these societal pressures may cause young women to experience higher rates of body dissatisfaction than young men.

What Are the Most Common Bulimia Nervosa Symptoms?

Before researching bulimia treatment centers, parents and loved ones should have a clear understanding of the common symptoms associated with the condition. While each person may experience the signs related to bulimia nervosa differently, some of the most common adolescent bulimia nervosa symptoms include:

  • Fluctuations in body weight
  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating
  • Fear of being unable to stop eating during a binge eating episode
  • Shame, guilt and disgust in relation to binge eating episodes
  • Self-induced vomiting, fasting, excessive exercise and laxative or diuretic abuse
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Isolation from friends, family and social commitments
  • Eating in secret, hiding or hoarding food
  • Irregular periods or the absence of menstruation in young girls
  • A preoccupation with food, dieting, body weight and shape
  • Overachieving behaviors, perfectionism or narcissism
  • Scarring on the backs of hands and fingers due to self-induced vomiting
  • Sore throat and tooth enamel erosion
  • The development of food habits or rituals such as eating foods in a particular order, cutting out entire food groups or excessive chewing

Many of the most common bulimia nervosa symptoms can resemble other medical issues or psychiatric conditions. For this reason, it is essential parents consult with a trusted medical professional to diagnose the underlying problems and recommend the proper treatment path.

How Is Bulimia in Teenagers Diagnosed?

It may be possible for parents, coaches, teachers and other trusted adults to identify the early warning signs of adolescent bulimia nervosa before the child realizes there is an issue. However, it’s important to note that even when they do understand there is a problem, many teens will initially work to keep their illness hidden and private. Luckily, a qualified mental health professional should be able to identify and diagnose bulimia in teenage females quickly.

To make a proper diagnosis, a detailed history of the teen’s behaviors from parents and teachers may be necessary. Additionally, psychological testing may help to make a definite diagnosis and recommend the best bulimia recovery program. Parents who are able to recognize the warning signs of bulimia nervosa and other common eating disorders early on can help to prevent many long-term adverse health effects associated with these types of mental health disorders and facilitate the recovery process. For young people with bulimia nervosa, malnutrition is a significant health concern that can adversely affect almost every organ system in the body. If left untreated, teens may experience the long-term side effects of heart disease, electrolyte imbalances, osteoporosis and more.

What Can Teens Expect from Bulimia Nervosa Treatment?

Specific details related to bulimia treatment will be outlined by an individual’s health care provider based on:

  • Age, medical history and overall health (physical and mental status)
  • The extent of symptoms
  • A teen’s tolerance for specific therapies and medications
  • Expectations for the course of the condition
  • Parental opinion or preference

For adolescents, bulimia nervosa treatment typically includes a combination of individual and family therapy, nutritional rehabilitation and behavior modification. A treatment plan should always be based on a comprehensive physical and mental health evaluation of the affected teen and their family.

And while medication (typically antianxiety or antidepressant medications) can be helpful for teens with co-occurring disorders like bulimia nervosa and depression — they aren’t necessary for everyone. Just as medical doctors, psychiatrists, counselors, and nutritionists play a vital role in the recovery process, family involvement can also help to facilitate the recovery process. In fact, many bulimia treatment centers require family therapy sessions as part of the recovery program for adolescent clients.

Levels of Care: Finding the Right Bulimia Recovery Program

Eating disorders like bulimia nervosa can be treated in a variety of settings. But understanding the different levels of care available for teenage girls can be extremely helpful when choosing a provider. Additionally, it’s good for parents to understand the different types of treatment regarding insurance benefits as well.

  • Intensive Outpatient

    This level of care is suitable for teens who are both medically and psychiatrically stable. They typically have most of their symptoms under control and are able to function in regular school and social settings.

  • Partial Hospital

    These types of care facilities are best utilized by adolescent clients who are medically stable but can still benefit from daily assessment of their mental and physiologic status. They should also be psychiatrically stable but may still be working through issues surrounding binge eating, purging and negative weight control techniques.

  • Residential

    Teens can best benefit from residential treatment when they are deemed to be medically stable but still psychiatrically impaired. They may have been unable to respond well previously in a partial hospital or outpatient bulimia recovery program.

  • Inpatient

    This is typically the best level of care for adolescent girls who are deemed to be both medically and psychiatrically unstable. For example, they may be experiencing unstable vital signs, complications due to coexisting medical issues, rapidly deteriorating mental status or suicidal thoughts.

Can Bulimia Nervosa Be Prevented?

There are no clear preventative measures available at this time that have been found to reduce the chances that one may develop eating disorders like bulimia nervosa. However, one of the best ways that parents and loved ones can help young people stay safe and care for their overall wellness is with early detection and intervention. By catching mental health disorders like bulimia nervosa early on, teens may be able to reduce their symptoms, improve their quality of life and enhance the average growth and developmental process. Early intervention is also helpful in reducing the risk of developing other severe health complications related to bulimia nervosa including electrolyte imbalances, irregular periods in young girls, heart complications, osteoporosis, and even the development of certain cancers.

Long-term Bulimia Nervosa Recovery is Possible

Puberty is an especially difficult time for any teen. With so many different physical and psychological changes to navigate, as well as peer pressure and school commitments — it makes sense that so many young girls develop eating disorders as a way to cope with these changes. While young people in the US, especially young girls, must deal with societal pressures to achieve an ideal body type — with the help of a reliable support system at home and proper education, they can obtain a positive body image.

Although only about a third of people with eating disorders actually receive professional treatment for their conditions, eating disorders like bulimia nervosa can be adequately treated and long-term recovery is possible. If you or a loved one has experienced any of the common symptoms related to bulimia nervosa, it’s essential to speak with a trusted health care provider as soon as possible to discuss treatment options. Don’t let a fear of the unknown prevent you or your loved one from seeking the help you need to begin the recovery process.

Learn More About Bulimia Nervosa Treatment at Clementine 

At Clementine adolescent recovery programs, we are proud to provide comprehensive eating disorder treatment for young girls in a safe, luxurious and home-like setting. With many years of combined experience in the field, we are able to offer our clients and their families access to a variety of tools designed to support the recovery process both during and after treatment. Interested in learning more about our adolescent bulimia recovery programs? Please give us a call today at 1.855.900.2221 for more detailed information or to speak with one of our compassionate admissions specialists.

Areas We Serve:

Houston, TX | South Miami, FL | Malibu Lake, CA | Naperville, IL | Portland, OR | Briarcliff Manor, NY | Twin Lakes, VA



Melissa Spann, PhD, LMHC, CEDS-S

Melissa Orshan Spann, PhD, LMHC, RTY 200, is Chief Clinical Officer at Monte Nido & Affiliates, overseeing the clinical operations and programming for over 50 programs across the U.S. Dr. Spann is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and clinical supervisor as well as an accomplished presenter and passionate clinician who has spent her career working in the eating disorder field in higher levels of care. She is a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals where she serves on the national certification committee, supervision faculty, and is on the board of her local chapter. She received her doctoral degree from Drexel University, master’s degree from the University of Miami, and bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.