Harvard Mental Health Letter

Treating bulimia nervosa

A combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and medication works best.

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by a cycle of binge eating followed by some type of compensatory action to avoid weight gain. Researchers estimate that one to three women out of 100 will develop bulimia nervosa at some point in their lives. In men, the rate of diagnosis is only about one-tenth the rate in women.

Although many Americans overeat by consuming too many calories per day (which helps explain why more than one in three are obese), binge eating involves consuming extreme amounts of food within a restricted time frame — usually within two hours. While on a binge, a patient may eat an entire cake rather than one or two slices, or a full gallon of ice cream rather than a bowl.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »