Treatment of Bulimic Adolescents

Please Help Us to Better Understand Which Treatments Work Best for Adolescent Bulimia Nervosa

The University of Chicago is conducting a research study to compare three different outpatient psychological treatments for adolescents suffering from bulimia nervosa. The study requires that the adolescent and his/her parent or guardian be interviewed, fill out questionnaires, and then be assigned to one of three outpatient psychological treatments. Participants must be between the ages of 12 and 18 years. 18 outpatient visits will be provided over a 6 month period at no cost. Participants are eligible to earn up to $200 throughout the course of treatment for the completion of assessments.

If you are interested and would like more information, please call us at 773-834-5677 or email

Aims of the Project

Bulimia nervosa is a disorder that is becoming increasingly common among adolescents, and its effects are extremely serious. Along with anorexia nervosa, it has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder and it is associated with numerous medical complications including (but not limited to) electrolyte imbalances, cardiac irregularity, dental deterioration, and loss of menstruation. Bulimia nervosa involves recurrent episodes of uncontrolled overeating that are referred to as binge episodes. These binge episodes are followed by compensatory behaviors aimed at preventing weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting, laxative or diuretic abuse, fasting or intense exercising.

The purpose of the present study is to investigate which of three outpatient treatment methods works best to treat adolescent bulimia nervosa. The three type of treatment being investigated (Family-Based Treatment, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Supportive Psychotherapy) have all been shown to decrease symptoms when looked at independently; however, the purpose of this study is to determine which of these three treatments works best.


The primary participants are females and males with Bulimia Nervosa. In addition, one or both parents/guardians must also be willing to participate in treatment.

Eligibility Reqiurements

Primary Subjects

  1. Age: 12-18
  2. Diagnosis: Current Bulimia Nervosa or partial Bulimia Nervosa


One or both parents/guardians must be willing to participate in treatment and assessments.


  1. A preliminary phone conversation will be scheduled to allow for research staff to provide more information and determine if the participant might be eligible for the treatment study.
  2. A "baseline" assessment is scheduled, which is a preliminary interview with research staff. In this meeting, participants will be assessed more comprehensively to determine if the treatment study is a good fit for the participant and the family. In addition, the adolescent and parent(s) are interviewed and asked to fill out several questionnaires. At this meeting, the family will be given the opportunity to ask questions and make a final decision about whether or not to participate.
  3. Following the baseline assessment, the participant is randomly assigned to one of the three treatment types and to one Clinical Psychologist (Ph.D.).

Background on Treatments Being Used

Participants have an equal chance of being randomized to one of three treatments for bulimia nervosa:

Family-based Treatment: The initial focus is on putting parents temporarily in charge of helping to reduce the control that the eating disorder has over their child's life. The first stage of treatment focuses on weight restoration and reduction of eating disorders symptoms. Once the eating disorder is under control, parents return control over eating back to their child and help him/her with normal developmental tasks.

Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment: The rationale for this treatment is that unhealthy eating is maintained by problematic attitudes toward body shape and weight. This treatment focuses on addressing these problematic attitudes and the behaviors that happen as a result. In the treatment plan, participants are asked to keep records about certain thoughts and behaviors related to their eating disorder. As needed, parents will also be counseled to support their adolescent in these treatment strategies.

Supportive Psychotherapy: In this treatment plan, bulimic symptoms will be understood in terms of psychological processes. The development of symptoms and the relationship that these symptoms have to aspects of the participant's life and personality will be important issues to address in therapy. This treatment will include support and education about the medical and psychological consequences of bulimic symptoms.

More Information

For more information, please contact Colleen Stiles-Shields at 773-834-5677 or email


Daniel le Grange, PhD is the director of the Eating Disorders Program in the Department of Psychiatry at The University of Chicago.