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What Are Life-Enhancing Treatments at Bulimia Nervosa Treatment Centers?

Bulimia nervosa treatment plans have to be multifaceted; bulimia nervosa is a complex disorder that involves the mental, physical, and social health of each client.  Each aspect needs to be treated separately yet simultaneously to ensure the individual’s eating disorder is completely eradicated and a recovered life can begin.  Because of this, there need to be a variety of bulimia nervosa therapy and treatment options provided by the medical, psychiatric and therapeutic staff at any good bulimia nervosa treatment center.

For example, someone receiving a bulimia treatment plan centered on restoring nutritional balance to a client that’s suffering malnutrition following months or years of disordered eating normally needs some form of talk therapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as well, to correct the damaging behavioral patterns that caused the malnutrition in the first place.  Otherwise, the individual is prone to returning to the same disordered behavior after leaving the bulimia nervosa treatment center.  In a similar fashion, a person who has comorbid occurrences of anorexia nervosa and anxiety, or depression and bulimia nervosa, will need to address both conditions at the same time, eliminating underlying causes in order to end their eating disorder for good.

While the medical and mental health aspects of bulimia nervosa treatment plans are of course essential to a full recovery, one thing that often goes overlooked during treatment is the social and lifestyle facet of the disorder.  Because bulimia nervosa carries with it a slew of behavioral changes, its impact on an individual’s social life and even their ability to enjoy the small things in life.  Depression often accompanies bulimia nervosa as well and can have a similar impact on people’s ability to feel joy or take part in activities they normally enjoy.

How Bulimia Nervosa Affects the Ability to Enjoy Life

Most people know the classic behavioral symptoms of bulimia nervosa, specifically the recurring cycle of binge eating episodes (in which the individual consumes large amounts of food in a short period), followed by compensatory actions to remove the caloric intake.  These behaviors, in isolation, would cause difficulties in a variety of social situations all by themselves.  Because the binge eating episodes tend to be done in private, people with bulimia nervosa may excuse themselves from parties or even something as simple as watching a movie with a friend to binge eat, or they may avoid invitations to a part that takes place at the same time they regularly have binge eating episodes.

There are other common emotional and behavioral symptoms of bulimia nervosa which can interfere with a person’s ability to enjoy life.  Very often, the binge eating episodes and purging behaviors carry with them a sense of shame and guilt.  These feelings can be overwhelming, creating a loop or cycle of binge-eating to alleviate negative feelings and negative self-esteem, followed by purging or other compensatory behaviors, followed by renewed shame, and back to the start.  This shame can make public appearances or socializing unbearable, compounded by anxiety that people might know about their condition or talk when they go to the bathroom.

Another frequent causative factor for bulimia nervosa which can greatly affect a person’s ability to enjoy life to the fullest is body dysmorphia, which can be a disorder in its own right.  This is when a person perceives flaws in their body or appearance which may or may not be there in reality.  As relates to eating disorders, body dysmorphia normally presents as a distorted perception of being too “fat” or “overweight,” though dissatisfaction with one’s hair or face are also common.

Of course, everyone feels unattractive sometimes or wishes they could change some aspect of their appearance.  Body dysmorphia is different from this.  As an analogy, depression is commonly misunderstood as a feeling of being sad, and people with depression may hear something like, “Just cheer up! It’ll be OK,” from well-meaning friends.  A person with body dysmorphia may hear something like, “You look great! Just don’t worry so much about it,” and this can have the effect of simply increasing the individual’s anxiety and distorted perception.

A final component of bulimia nervosa which can interfere with someone’s ability to enjoy their life fully is the complex relationship they have with food and eating.  Meals and eating together are important to human culture and relationships in every part of the world.  Many of our rules of etiquette have their basis in shared meals, and most people’s daily life is anchored by breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  These social experiences can be disrupted by the thoughts and behaviors that come with bulimia nervosa.

People with bulimia nervosa often go on strict diets or engage in fad diets, in order to counteract their disordered body image (especially the distorted perception that they are overweight).  Because of this, there can be considerable anxiety concerning eating in public or with other people in the home.  They may have announced to their friends that they are on diet X or diet Y, and then feel that they can’t eat what they like in front of those friends because they’ve already laid out what the diet rules are.  Instead of enjoying a delicious meal of foods they enjoy with their friends, people with bulimia nervosa may experience discomfort at the situation or even avoid it entirely.

Mindfulness and Bulimia Nervosa Treatment Options

Simply defined, mindfulness refers to “living in the moment.” In more detail, mindfulness is when a person is innately aware of what they are doing and their surroundings in real time, pushing thoughts of the past and the future away to simply be. If a person is brushing their teeth in a mindful way, they aren’t brushing their teeth and scanning their phone for a new ottoman from IKEA.  They’re not brushing their teeth with one hand and cleaning the mirror with the other.  They just focus on brushing, spitting, and repeat.  It sounds like something basic, but the truth is people with or without eating disorders’ minds are cluttered with myriad random thoughts, fears, plans, and memories.

It’s been found that helping clients at bulimia nervosa treatment centers learn more about the benefits of mindfulness training greatly assists in identifying and correcting disordered thoughts, feelings, and actions.  Mindfulness training normally begins with guided meditation or yoga, both of which train the participant to simply clear their mind and simply be in the moment.  This state of “living in the moment” is something like lift weights; the more a person does it, the better they become at doing it.

So how does mindfulness tie into getting the most out of life’s little joys and pleasures?  In two ways.

First, mindfulness techniques are extremely useful in isolating negative thoughts and feelings.  When focused on nothing but what a person is feeling at the moment, a certain clarity can be achieved.  In that mindful moment, someone who has been feeling a compulsion to binge eat can recognize that this is a harmful behavior and begin to stand up to those urges.  This kind of moment of clarity also applies to dysmorphic perceptions of the body.  With training, a person can realize that their perception is distorted, and the body’s perceived flaws are nonexistent.  It’s not an “instant cure” by any means, however, time and again bulimia nervosa treatment centers have used mindfulness training to reach these kinds of breakthroughs.

Secondly, the ability to put aside worries and fears and live in the moment is a wonderful way to make experiences special and memorable.  For example, taking a trip to a local zoo is much better if you are centering our attention on the animals, their colors and movements, and your own feelings about them than if you are worried about dieting or what you’ll eat later on that day.

Getting the most out of these kinds of experiences are key to Monte Nido’s life-enhancing bulimia nervosa treatments for this reason and because we hope to repair the damage done to people’s ability to enjoy life to the fullest by eating disorders.

What Kinds of Life-Enhancing Treatments Can I Expect?

At Monte Nido, we believe that eating disorders can rob a person of more than physical and mental health; they can rob someone of their ability to enjoy life.  That’s why we include at least two life-enhancing experiences every week – to help people not only learn what they are recovering from, but what they are recovering to.  These experiences, combined with mindfulness training that allows our clients to live in the moment, can provide chances for our clients to learn how to manage their eating disorders.  Perhaps as important, they allow for chances to learn how to effectively live their life following recovery.

Because these life-enhancing treatments are so powerful in helping people recovered from eating disorders reintegrate into social situations and learn how to get the most out of excursions, we employ a variety of different types of outings which reflect popular hobbies and activities.

  • Nature walks

A prominently known method of achieving a state of mindfulness is to “be one” with nature.  We conduct opportunities to commune with each other and with the local environment as life-enhancing therapy at our various locations throughout the US, whether that be the beach near our Malibu location or the green woodlands around our Glenwood, MD residential facility.

  • Bowling, miniature golf, and other games

These kinds of activities are more than simple games to pass the time.  They can help teach both teamwork and friendly competition, and foster a sense of positive self-esteem.  More than that, they are simply fun to engage in and having some fun never hurts when recovery is concerned.

  • Cultural events

At all of our locations, we like to design life-enhancing experiences for our clients that take advantage of the local cultural and art scene.  This can range anywhere from attending the latest expressionist art exhibit at the nearest art museum to catching a play at a downtown repertory.  It’s not all highbrow, though.  Our clients and staff also love to attend movies and other screenings.

  • Restaurants and food shopping

Doubling as a kind of exposure therapy as part of a bulimia nervosa treatment plan, or as part of any treatment program for disordered relationships with eating and meals, visits to restaurants also prepare people in recovery for one of the most frequent activities in social life.  Meals with family, dates, even food festivals are common activities with strong social cues and learning to deal with and even appreciate them while still in recovery can give our clients the confidence and self-worth to make the most of them during their recovered life.

Call Monte Nido to Learn More

Treatment at an outpatient or inpatient bulimia nervosa treatment center is not always an easy path.  It’s important to take the time to get enjoyment out of the little activities we all enjoy.  That’s why life-enhancing experiences are weaved into every one of our eating disorder treatment programs. It gives our clients something to look forward to, not only while in recovery but after a full recovery has been achieved.  Call today at 888.891.2590 to speak with our compassionate and experienced admissions team and get started on the path to recovery.


Melissa Orshan Spann, PhD, LMHC, RTY 200, is Chief Clinical Officer at Monte Nido, 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.