How to Break the Binge-Purge Cycle of Bulimia Nervosa

Woman by the lake with Bulimia Nervosa

When a person is struggling with the cycle of binging and purging it can be difficult to break. Often some tools will work for a bit, and then the individual will return to the same behaviors.

Knowing How to Break the Binge-Purge Cycle of Bulimia Nervosa can help someone struggling with an eating disorder get to recovery.

Seeking Treatment

Being able to find treatment is the first step in ending the binge-purge cycle.  Getting established with a therapist, dietician, medical doctor, and psychiatrist can provide an active and therapeutic support system.

When working with a dietician, a person will learn how to help re-regulate their body through proper nutrition and intuitive eating. Learning how to train your body to eat is one step in learning how to break the binge-purge cycle.

Setting up a meal plan with your nutritionist is also an important step. This guide helps you to know when and what sort of foods to eat. It can also contribute to keeping your body fueled throughout the day, keeping urges to binge at bay.

A therapist can provide excellent feedback on being able to notice, change, and reframe negative thinking patterns, triggering behaviors, and unhealthy patterns.

Working with a clinician can also provide a safe place where a person can talk through issues, concerns, positive changes with a trained professional.

Working with someone on a set of agreed-upon goals can help give your recovery journey focus and concrete steps on which to work.

A medical doctor is another important person in the recovery process with bulimia nervosa.  Working with someone who specializes in eating disorders, they will understand the specific medical concerns and signs for which to look.

A physician can look for any mineral and nutrient deficiencies, any internal organ damage, as well as be a part of your support system. Keeping regular appointments can help keep you on track.

A psychiatrist is sometimes needed for mental health care. They can work with you on finding a medicine that will reduce the symptoms of underlying mental health concerns, such as depression or anxiety.


Some medications are being used to help with the binge-purge cycle of bulimia nervosa, and you can ask your psychiatrist if it is the right treatment for you. Often including a psychiatrist for the medicine needs is important because many primary physicians are not as knowledgeable about mental health medications.

Some individuals may have to have higher level care than outpatient treatment. Often, to break the binge-purge cycle, people will enter into Intensive Outpatient Therapy (IOP) or residential care.

Woman in wheat field

In IOP a person will attend group therapy for three hours per day up to seven days a week. Typically with IOP, a person will attend at least three days a week.

The participant is usually asked to bring their meal as part of their therapy. Different programs will offer either day or evening IOP programs to accommodate various age populations.

Insurance does cover IOP, but you need to check with the facility you are considering as well as your insurance company to check what out-of-pocket costs there may be.

Residential care is the highest level of care that a person can attend. In a residential program, a person will stay at the facility and have 24-hour support.

During residential eating disorder treatment, a person will meet with their therapist three times per week, and dietician and psychiatrist 1-2 times per week depending upon severity.

In residential, an individual can get away from their physical environment and truly break the eating disorder symptoms.

Ways to Break the Cycle

Breaking the binge-purge cycle can be difficult but not impossible. Working daily to push off urges, and delay purging can help a person slowly reduce the number of episodes per day or week and eventually leading to cessation of the cycle [1].

First, it can be helpful to keep a daily diary of foods eaten, any binges that occur, and how many purges. After a few days of recording, a person can track trends in when the most troublesome part of the day is.

Often for most individuals, it is evening and night. Many people report that they tend to binge on high carbohydrate, high fat, and comfort foods when binging [2]. Purging is typically engaged in directly after a binge.

Most often both the binge and purges are done in secret. Also meeting with your dietician and sharing the food and symptoms diary with them can be extremely helpful in creating coping skills.

Secondly, working on reducing stress in your life can have an immediate impact on your symptom occurrence. Taking a local yoga class, engage in gentle walking, or if medically cleared, a more cardio based exercise.

Typically, most meditation type exercises are extremely helpful in balancing the body and mind and allowing a person to be able to connect with himself while in the moment.

Often binge-purge cycles are about pushing down emotions and disconnecting. In order to break the binge-purge cycle, it is important to be mindful and aware of yourself before, during, after eating.

Third, get out and connect with others. Maintain social outlets is also important for a person to recover from their eating disorder [2].

Woman in hatReconnecting with or meeting up with encouraging, healthy influences is essential to being in situations where the conversations are not all about food, diets, or weight loss/maintenance.

Learning how to be yourself without your eating disorder is a part of the recovery process for those struggling with bulimia nervosa.

In conclusion, working with a treatment team, reducing stress, maintaining positive support systems, as well as keeping track of your meal plan and struggles are all ways to reduce the binge-purge cycle. With these tools and your clinical treatment team, recovery is possible.

Image of Libby Lyons and familyAbout the Author: Libby Lyons is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS). Libby has been practicing in the field of eating disorders, addictions, depression, anxiety and other comorbid issues in various agencies. Libby has previously worked as a contractor for the United States Air Force Domestic Violence Program, Saint Louis University Student Health and Counseling, Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute Eating Disorders Program, and has been in Private Practice.

Libby currently works as a counselor at Fontbonne University and is a Adjunct Professor at Saint Louis University, and is a contributing author for Addiction Hope and Eating Disorder Hope. Libby lives in the St. Louis area with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys spending time with her family, running, and watching movies.


[1] Alternatives to Binging. (n.d.). Retrieved August 06, 2017, from
[2] SELF HELP FOR BULIMIA AND BINGE EATING. (n.d.). Retrieved August 06, 2017, from

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on October 8, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on October 8, 2017.
Published on