Bulimia is a serious eating disorder wherein a person binges on food then forces it out later by vomiting or using laxatives. The disorder affects people worldwide—mostly teens—who want to lose weight fast and keep fats off.

Apart from forced vomiting, bulimic teens find other ways to force the food out. They fast or exercise vigorously. Taking laxatives is also very common. Teens who suffer from bulimia are often unable to control their behavior toward food. They know that food binging will lead to weight gain, so they overcorrect the incident by forcing the food out before it has time to turn into fats.

Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) looked into the 12-month therapy of 130 teens who suffer from bulimia. After the 12-month period, 39 percent of patients who received family-based therapy (FBT) showed better control over binging and purging in the four weeks that followed. Only 20 percent of the patients who received cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) were able to do the same. Six months after the therapy, 44 percent of the FBT patients showed improvement, while only 25 percent of the CBT patients were able to retain control.

During CBT, the patient and the therapist come up with coping strategies to stabilize bulimic symptoms. Emotional management is taught and monitored to create and practice new behaviors toward eating. The therapist also works in changing a patient's perception on food. Issues such as body image, peer pressure and self-esteem are also addressed by the therapist.

In FBT, the parents are brought in for emotional support, which makes it an effective outpatient treatment. FBT involves constant communication between parents and child using a positive approach. Parents are highly involved in the treatment by understanding the severity of the disorder. Bulimic teens are often ashamed to talk to an elder—especially a parent—about their condition. Keeping communication lines open between parent and child helps in battling the eating disorder. Having a support group help teens overcome the sickness.

"Parents need to be actively involved in the treatment of kids and teens with eating disorders," said Benioff UCSF Professor Daniel Le Grange, who led the study.

Bulimia is a quiet sickness that affects over 3 percent of teens in the United States. Parents should be made aware of the warning signs such as constant dieting, food obsession and the abnormal use of laxatives.

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