How can I help my bulimic daughter?

How can I help my bulimic daughter?

Parents can help their bulimic daughter recover from her eating disorder by following these steps:

  1. Accept your child’s diagnosis
  2. Understand that this is a serious problem that needs to be addressed thoroughly
  3. Recognize that bulimia requires specialized treatment and recovery
  4. Respect your child’s process and body throughout recovery
  5. Get help for yourself so that you can manage the stress of having a bulimic daughter

How to help your bulimic daughter

Managing an eating disorder diagnosis isn’t easy. But parents can help by accepting and supporting their child. Your love and acceptance can make a huge impact on her ability to recover. Here are the five things you can do to help your bulimic daughter:

1. Accept your child’s diagnosis

It’s very common for parents to resist an eating disorder diagnosis. It’s scary to hear that your daughter has a problem. Hardly anyone talks about eating disorders, especially bulimia. In fact, bulimia is often considered gross and disgusting.

At the same time, it’s very likely that your daughter will assure you she is fine and doesn’t need treatment. It’s very likely that she will tell you she doesn’t need help. But if she has bulimia, she does need help, and a few weeks of therapy is not enough. Accepting your daughter’s bulimia is key to helping her recover.

2. Understand that this is a serious problem that needs to be addressed thoroughly

Bulimia is extremely complex and persistent. It is a powerful comping mechanism that provides your daughter with soothing endorphins. She is reliant on her bulimia to feel OK in her life. This means that treatment is deep and intense.

Letting go of her bulimia in exchange for healthy coping skills will take time and patience. But the consequences of a lifetime of bulimia are far more serious. There are serious health impacts as well as mental and emotional limitations. Living with bulimia doesn’t have to be your daughter’s fate. It will take time and energy to recover.

3. Recognize that bulimia requires specialized treatment and recovery

Eating disorders are poorly understood and under-treated. Of all the eating disorders, anorexia has received the most attention and funding for treatment. This means that finding help for your bulimic daughter can be a challenge. But you need specialized care from someone who is qualified to treat bulimia. We have a directory of providers to help you get started.

4. Respect your child’s process and body throughout recovery

Recovery is hard for everyone. Bulimia provides a protective numbing layer that your child relies on. Recovery requires her to remove her numbing layer and show her parents, loved ones, and friends her true self. Recovery empowers her to recognize her unique wants and desires. It also empowers her to say “no” to things she doesn’t want.

This can be incredibly hard for parents to tolerate. At the same time, your daughter may gain weight during recovery. This is normal and not to be mentioned or discussed negatively. Parents who respect their daughter’s full recovery process make a huge impact on the strength of recovery.

5. Get help for yourself so that you can manage the stress of having a bulimic daughter

Your daughter’s bulimia is going to be hard on you. This is not parenting 101. It’s advanced parenting and requires you to learn new things and stretch yourself. Remember that your child must change to recover. It would be great if you could accommodate her as she changes, grows, and expands.

The most successful parents find support for themselves. Ideally, it would be great if you could get some therapy to understand your complex feelings about your daughter. Therapy also provides you with an outlet for your frustration during the process. The therapists listed in our directory are able to work with parents on these issues.

Understanding bulimia

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that involves restriction, binge eating and purging. In this way, it combines the behavioral aspects of anorexia and binge eating disorder, while adding a third behavior: purging.

Many people misunderstand bulimia and focus only on the purge behaviors. But it’s important to recognize that purging takes place most often after a period of food restriction. The restriction is followed by binge eating. It is typically only after these two conditions are met that the purge behavior occurs.

A person who has bulimia often begins with food restriction, or anorexic behaviors. While a small population of people will continue with anorexia and become medically underweight, the majority of people do not. The most common response to restriction is binge eating. Most people find themselves driven to eat large quantities of food to make up for the deficit created by restriction. This is just biology.

For the person who is obsessed with maintaining a low weight, binge eating is scary and unacceptable. They believe they are broken and “addicted to food.” Binge eating episodes are followed by tremendous shame. Some people will deal with this shame by purging. These are the people who, with repetition, develop bulimia nervosa.

Why your daughter has bulimia

There is no single reason why a person develops an eating disorder. There is a complex interaction between inborn temperament, life experience, and the society in which we live. Here are some of the factors that appear to contribute to the development of bulimia nervosa:

  • Highly sensitive temperament
  • Highly conscientious, with a tendency towards perfectionism
  • Conditions including anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder, and autism
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
  • Family fatphobia and focus on body weight
  • Family history of food restriction and dieting
  • History of dieting and weight cycling
  • History of food insecurity
  • Poor body image
  • History of self-harm, antisocial behavior, and suicidality
  • Living in a society that believes thinness equals health, beauty, morality, and wellness
  • Being female in a patriarchal society

These conditions combine to create an environment that supports eating disorder development. Not every person who develops an eating disorder has all of these conditions, but most have several.

Treatment for bulimia

Bulimia is typically treated by working on the underlying conditions that fostered the disorder. This means that treatment almost always includes psychotherapy and possibly group therapy.

The eating disorder has become a powerful coping mechanism for your daughter. It is how she survives in her life right now. In treatment, she needs to gradually learn to replace her eating disorder behaviors with adaptive coping tools.

Remember that bulimia is not just purging. It is also restricting and binge eating, which require treatment all on their own. Stopping the purging behavior may seem like the most important first step. But treatment is much more complex and nuanced.

While your daughter is in treatment for bulimia, she may still engage in purge behaviors. Most parents find this very frustrating. However, your child’s provider is trying to create the conditions for recovery rather than attacking the eating disorder head-on. Head-on attacks can create resistance and rebellion. They can be counterproductive in bulimia recovery.

Since bulimia is multi-layered and complex, the treatment is, too.

Can she recover from bulimia?

Yes. Your daughter can absolutely, without a doubt, recover from bulimia. Many people recover from bulimia and go on to live healthy, fulfilling lives. The recovery process for bulimia involves learning self-care and emotional management.

Many people who recover from bulimia are often better off than they were before. The process of recovery gives them an advantage over people who never went through an eating disorder and its recovery. Recovered people are typically more self-aware and better equipped to handle life’s ups and downs than most people.

This is why there’s no need to rush the recovery process. Someone who is fully recovered from bulimia has taken the time to establish amazing tools and can achieve a fabulous life.


Ginny Jones is the editor of More-Love.org. She writes about parenting, body image, disordered eating, and eating disorders.

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