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August 13, 2017

Bulimia & Adolescent Residential Treatment – What to Expect

Teenage girl exercising

The idea of committing to residential treatment for bulimia nervosa might feel frightening, especially to teens afraid of leaving family, friends, and a world they are comfortable in. Knowing what to expect can be helpful in calming fears and anxieties adolescents may feel before entering residential eating disorder treatment.

Knowing When to Seek Residential Eating Disorder Treatment

While your Doctor or eating disorder treatment team can give you a better idea if residential eating disorder treatment is right for you, experiencing multiple relapses, severe medical consequences, or suicidal ideation may mean you need more consistent care.

As scary as it may be, it’s important to be honest with your parents and doctors so that they can make the proper recommendation. Let them know what you’re going through and ask to be part of the conversation and decision-making process.

Your length of stay at residential eating disorder treatment will likely depend on the severity of your disorder and your insurance coverage. Sadly, insurance often doesn’t cover the entire recommended stay. Even so, any amount of residential treatment is helpful and can move you closer to recovery from bulimia nervosa.

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If your insurance will not cover your entire stay, discuss how you will maintain your progress once released with your eating disorder treatment team. Studies show that even minimal treatment, such as self-help groups, may improve bulimic behaviors so the work, and the progress, does not end with your residential stay [1].

What Kind of Specialized Therapy Will I Receive?

This depends on the treatment center. Insurance may limit what centers it will cover, but you will often have at least a few options to choose from.  Be sure to research treatment centers to find which therapeutic method they use. Here are a few that are most common [3]:

Psychotherapy: AKA the most empirically-supported, yet time-consuming, method for bulimia nervosa treatment which focuses on the underlying emotional reasons for the disorder.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is also empirically supported and focuses on how one’s thoughts and emotions can impact their behaviors. This approach is preferred by insurance companies, as it is more time-effective.
Holistic Care: This approach is becoming more common and focuses on the whole person, not only their eating disorder.

Boy considering residential treatment

You will also engage in group therapy, as studies show that fighting feelings of loneliness and isolation is crucial to recovery and relapse prevention [4]. Your family will also likely be asked to come and participate in a few sessions so that they can understand your disorder and learn to help you fight it while in treatment and when you return home.

You are likely to have an entire army supporting you on your eating disorder treatment team, including a psychologist/therapist, nutritionist/dietician, doctor, and possibly even a physical therapist. This combination of professionals will allow you to combat your disorder from all sides, becoming well physically and emotionally.

What About the Food in Bulimia Nervosa Recovery?

Many residential eating disorder treatment centers these days understand that having bulimia nervosa is rarely about the food. That being said, your negative relationship to food will be examined and processed, helping you to repair that relationship and nourish yourself properly.

It is scary to face a residential stay away from your family and friends, but it is sometimes necessary to fully recover from bulimia nervosa. Even away from home, you will not be alone as you process your disorder and repair your relationship with yourself and food.

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.About the Author: Margot Rittenhouse is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.


[1] HSU, L. K. G., et al. “Cognitive therapy, nutritional therapy and their combination in the treatment of bulimia nervosa.” Psychological Medicine 31.5 (2001): 871-9.
[2] Unknown (2017). Choosing between inpatient and outpatient for bulimia treatment. American Addiction Centers. Retrieved on 03 July 2017 from http://americanaddictioncenters.org/bulimia-treatment/inpatient-outpatient/
[3] Grohol, J. M. (2016). Treatment for bulimia. Psych Central. Retrieved on 03 July 2017 from https://psychcentral.com/lib/treatment-for-bulimia/.
[4] Stewart, W. (2004). The role of perceived loneliness and isolation in the relapse from recovery in patients with anorexia and bulimia nervosa. Clinical Social Work Journal, 32:2, 185-196.

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 August 13, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 13, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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