What is Bulimia Nutrition Therapy?

Eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa (BN), anorexia nervosa (AN), and binge eating disorder (BED) are complex conditions with physical, emotional, and mental origins and consequences.

As such, eating disorder treatment is often multi-faceted in order to address these varying causes and contributions.

Author | Danielle Mauldin
Reviewed By | Bridget Clerkin

3 sources cited

Treatment for bulimia

Aside from the different types of psychotherapy often employed to help eating disorder patients change their thoughts and behaviors, nutritional therapy is another common type of treatment used to broaden a patient’s understanding of what it means to eat healthily.

What is Nutrition Therapy?

Nutrition therapy, also sometimes called nutrition counseling or medical nutrition therapy, is a type of treatment in which a person works with a registered dietician or other professional to understand more about the role diet plays in overall health.

Nutritional therapy is a crucial component of eating disorder treatment.

It is a common type of treatment used for a variety of health conditions, including diabetes and some forms of cancer. [1] But, nutritional therapy is also generally considered a crucial aspect of eating disorder treatment.

Those who provide medical nutrition therapy can help develop meal plans and educate someone on the types and amount of food that is generally required for someone of their age, body type, gender, and medical status to remain healthy.

Nutritional therapists can also help patients with bulimia nervosa tune in to their natural hunger cues, understand more about how their metabolism works, and, hopefully, build a generally more positive relationship with food and eating. [2]

What is Nutrition Therapy Like?

While dietitians and other nutrition professionals are qualified to help educate patients about proper diet and health, they are often also trained in the neurological, psychological, and physiological influences on eating disorders. [1]

As such, those providing this type of counseling often don’t focus on nutritional facts alone but rather work from a more holistic standpoint. They may ask patients more personal questions or work in conjunction with other members of a patient’s treatment team to best personalize an eating plan.

These plans can incorporate any number of considerations, from someone’s specific nutritional needs to any co-occurring medical and psychological complications, to their personal history.

And many nutrition counselors will also work to not just help a patient understand what to eat but help them proactively work on their relationship with food. They may talk a patient through meals or use other techniques to help them simultaneously improve their attitudes toward food and their own body and appearance.

Nutrition Counseling for Bulimia Nervosa

Nutritional imbalance is a major concern for patients with eating disorders of all kinds. But the type of disordered behaviors involved in bulimia nervosa tend to have specific effects on someone’s health.

In particular, many bingeing behaviors associated with BN, including self-induced vomiting, can wreak havoc on the body’s electrolyte levels, which can have a cascade of dangerous consequences. Cycles of binging and purging can also have devastating effects on someone’s metabolism, which can likewise further cause or exacerbate any number of health concerns. [3]

Nutritional counseling can reduce harm caused to the body by disordered eating patterns.

But even before a patient has full control over their disordered eating behaviors, proper nutritional counseling can help to reduce the harm these eating patterns have done to their body by helping to reestablish at least some internal balance.

As treatment goes on, nutrition intervention can continue to help someone build back the foundations of their physical health, promote healthy weight gain when necessary, and learn how to manage foods that may trigger binging episodes.

Benefits of Nutrition Therapy

Many people may think that nutritional therapy is a secondary aspect of eating disorder recovery. But the treatment often plays a crucial role in helping someone maintain healthier eating habits and attitudes toward food after leaving more intensive therapies or treatment programs.

Those with expertise and training in diet and nutrition may be able to better convey these ideas than a mental health professional, even if that professional is trained in treating eating disorders. And generally, eating disorders are usually best treated by a team, with members of different specialties working together to provide a patient with a comprehensive treatment plan.

When done right, nutritional counseling can help a patient learn about their body’s nutritional needs and work to meet those needs as best as possible. A trained dietitian can also help patients work through related issues, including how they think about food and how the way they eat is related to body image or other mental health concerns.  

In recovery, nutritional counselors will often be flexible with patients, meeting them where they are and aiming to get the best possible results. Goals will frequently shift as the patient grows in recovery and is better able to meet their nutritional needs over time.

Finding Help for Bulimia Nervosa

If you or a loved one are struggling with bulimia nervosa, it’s important to seek help. This condition is dangerous and can even be deadly if left untreated.

Speaking with your therapist, psychiatrist, or primary care physician is a great place to get started. These experts may be able to guide you to successful treatment programs or put you in touch with other professionals, such as nutrition counselors, who can help you determine the best next steps.

A number of eating disorder hotlines are also available. These services allow callers to remain anonymous while offering information and additional resources on a number of different eating disorders and potential treatment options.

Recovery from bulimia nervosa may seem difficult or even impossible for someone in the throes of the disorder, but healing from these unhelpful thoughts and behaviors is entirely possible. With the right kind of help, you can find your way to a healthier and happier future.


  1. Ozier, A. D., Henry, B. W., & American Dietetic Association (2011). Position of the American Dietetic Association: nutrition intervention in the treatment of eating disorders. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 111(8):1236–1241.
  2. Reiter, C. S., & Graves, L. (2010). Nutrition therapy for eating disorders. Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 25(2):122–136.
  3. Medical complications of bulimia nervosa. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. Accessed April 2023. 

Last Update | 05 - 3 - 2023

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