Treating Bulimia is More Effective with Parental Support

Unfortunately, bulimia continues to be a serious problem among teenagers and adolescents throughout the country. It’s also an eating disorder that presents its own unique hurdles in treatment. That’s why many are encouraged by the results of a new study indicating that teens have a higher chance of recovery when parents participate in the treatment process.

Family Support Pays Off

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco conducted the largest trial to date among patients with bulimia nervosa, which involves episodes of binge eating followed by attempts to purge (through vomiting, use of diuretics or extreme exercise).

They compared the effectiveness of two specific recovery models:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Focuses on the individual patient, helping them to understand and confront the thoughts that drive them to binge and purge.
  • Family Based Therapy (FBT): Involves the patient's family and trains parents how to best support the patient in their recovery.

Family-Based Therapy

Researchers found that bulimia patients who participated in family-based therapy were more likely to achieve abstinence from binging and purging than those who underwent CBT alone, both in the short and long-term.

Encouraging results included:

  • Immediately following initial treatment, 39 percent of FBT patients were abstinent from binging and purging, compared to only 20 percent of CBT patients.
  • After six months, 44 percent of FBT patients were abstinent, compared to 25 percent of CBT patients.
  • After a year, abstinence rates were 49 percent for FBT versus 32 percent for CBT.

Recovery Must be a Family Affair

Parents are often excluded from treatment of teen eating disorders, due to a belief in psychiatry that the parents are part of the cause of the eating disorder. But these findings suggest that parental involvement could, in fact, be hugely beneficial to a teen’s chances of recovery.

"These findings are quite clear," said Daniel Le Grange, professor at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital San Francisco.

"This study shows definitively that parental engagement is imperative for a successful outcome of adolescents with bulimia nervosa. It goes counter to the training that physicians receive in psychiatry, which teaches that parents are to blame for bulimia, and therefore should be omitted from treatment."
Additional Reading: 7 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Anorexia

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