Bulimia Liberation: Annie's Story of Healing and ResilienceJan 25, 2024
Annie shares her triumphant journey, breaking free from over a decade of bulimia. Navigate healing, resilience, and well-being in this inspiring recovery interview.
Share a little bit about your background struggling with an eating disorder? How long did you struggle, at what age, and what your treatment process was like?
My background struggle with eating disorders is a story that spans decades, rooted in the complexities of family dynamics and personal struggle. It all started with my dieting mother, who constantly felt fat and ugly. As a child I was tasked with helping my mom plan meals, grocery shop and stick to her diet. My mom believed that helping her was a way to bond. This is where my journey with avoiding fats began, not realizing the impact it would have on my own relationship with food.
My mother struggled with mental health, often staying in psychiatric wards, leaving our home environment stressful and tense. My father, under this strain, wasn't at his best, often critical. My role shifted from being a child to ensuring my mom was okay. There was little room for me to be curious, to participate in sports teams or music classes I yearned for. Someone had to be there for mom. I learned to suppress my feelings, to put others first – a pattern that would echo through my life.
In high school, after complaining about my body, my mom introduced me to a low-carb diet. That's when I spiraled into the world of rigid eating rules. For 13 years, I lived with bulimia, a secret I kept perfectly hidden from everyone. It wasn't until a terrifying incident, where I ruptured and bled after vomiting, that I realized the severity of my condition. That night, I made a promise to myself to stop, but that only led me to swap bulimia with extreme dieting and exercise through programs like Beach Body.
My fear of gaining weight and losing my boyfriend's affection only fueled my descent into orthorexia and later, a relapse. My relationship, now nearing two decades, was a significant part of my life, but I felt like a fraud. I couldn't bring myself to say the word 'bulimia' to him or even out loud to myself. I wrote him a note, gave it to him and locked myself in the bathroom, and cried. His response, full of support and love, was a turning point. We agreed to face this together.
However, the lack of resources and invalidation led me into wellness programs that perpetuated my disorder. It was only after reading "Life Without ED" that I began to acknowledge my issues and started the true healing process. I thought I had recovered and beat my eating disorder until reading this book. I realized that I still had an eating disorder mind and had replaced bulimia with orthorexia and was purging through exercise which is a form of bulimia.
Another pivotal moment in my recovery was when I unexpectedly became pregnant nearly 10 years ago. It pushed me to dive deeper into therapy and healing. However, a diagnosis of an autoimmune disease led me down another path of unnecessary food eliminations, resulting in conditioned food sensitivities – a psychological response where certain foods cause symptoms due to beliefs about their harmfulness, rather than any physiological reaction.
Today, I stand on the other side of these struggles. I am happy, strong, and healthier than I've ever been. My journey through eating disorders, family challenges, and misguided health advice has been a long one, but it has led me to a place of understanding, resilience, and true well-being.
How did you deal with feelings of shame in eating disorder recovery?
I've learned not to feel ashamed of my past with eating disorders.
At a time when I was struggling, it was a coping mechanism that, in its way, helped me survive difficult times. Now, with self-compassion and a deeper understanding of myself, I recognize that what I needed then is not what I need now. I've grown beyond it and have found healthier ways to cope and thrive. My struggles through bulimia are not a mark of shame, but a testament to my strength and my capacity to change and heal.
In my journey through different diets, I've learned to reframe my experiences rather than shame myself for being caught up in diet culture. When I embraced the keto diet, it was a courageous step towards challenging my fear of fats.
This wasn't just a diet; it was a confrontation of deep-seated fears, and that was smart. It taught me not to fear a whole food group, although I eventually realized the importance of balance when it began affecting my health negatively.
Then, moving to a plant-based high carb low fat diet helped me address my fear of carbs in a similar way. What was smart about this journey was not just the diets themselves, but the way they helped me address my fear of carbs in a similar way. What was smart about this journey was not just the diets themselves, but the way they helped me understand my body's needs and break down my mental barriers related to food. This process was as much about emotional and mental healing as it was about physical health. By reframing my experience, I've learned to view my journey through diet culture as an insightful path to self-awareness and healthier habits.
Self-compassion played a pivotal role in unlearning internalized weight stigma and the toxic messaging I had absorbed over the years. Recognizing and dismantling these beliefs required a great deal of patience, kindness towards myself, and an understanding that the journey would involve mistakes and learning. This process involved actively seeking out new sources of information and perspectives, especially from those in marginalized bodies who have been directly impacted by societal biases. I immersed myself in books, podcasts, and courses that challenged my previous beliefs and opened my eyes to the diverse experiences and realities of health and body image.
Through this, I came to understand concepts like healthism and food elitism, which helped me redefine what health truly means. One of the most critical realizations was that health-promoting behaviors are not synonymous with weight control. Learning that your weight is not an accurate measure of health was liberating. It allowed me to shift my focus away from the scale and towards actions that genuinely contribute to well-being, like balanced nutrition, physical activity for enjoyment, and mental health care. I also had to forgive myself for the unconscious harm I might have caused in the past due to my internalized beliefs. This forgiveness was crucial in moving forward and committing to continuous education and growth. It's a commitment I take seriously, not just for myself, but in how I will raise my daughter, teaching her to value health and well-being over superficial measures.
Therapy, reframing beliefs, and intentional mindset shifts were integral to this process. Setting different intentions - ones that prioritize self-care, mental health, and inclusive understanding of health - has been a transformative experience. It's an ongoing process, but one that is rooted in self-compassion and a commitment to better understanding and respecting the diversity of human bodies and experiences.
If you could identify the three biggest factors that helped you achieve full recovery from your eating disorder, what are they?
- Critical thinking/education
- Shifting from wellness culture to evidence-based care (intuitive eating)
- Therapy/coping self-awareness
Reflecting on my past, I realize the considerable amount of time and money I spent in health food stores, investing in detox kits, caffeine and diet pills, cleanses, goji berries, and a myriad of vitamins. These products were often sold to me, a young girl at the time, by individuals who instilled a deep mistrust in conventional medicine. I remember how they convinced me that the wheezing and rashes I developed from their products were just signs of 'detoxing'. This was not only misleading but dangerous; it became clear that their primary concern wasn't my well-being.
One of the most disconcerting experiences was with a naturopathic doctor who advised me to cut out various foods to reverse my autoimmune condition, vehemently opposing the medication that, even in minimal doses, made a significant positive difference in my health. Her confidence in dismissing the expertise of a triple board-certified endocrinologist was astounding. She spoke in absolutes and seemed certain she knew more than medical professionals with years of specialized training. This kind of misguided assurance was not only harmful but also a stark example of overstepping professional boundaries.
The harm in the wellness industry isn't isolated; I've seen it affect many others. A poignant example is a bulimia client who, instead of seeking timely medical care, turned to an alternative clinic. She unnecessarily cut out food groups, and her cancer spread to a point where it was too late to treat effectively. She tragically passed away at 38. Through these experiences and learning about thousands of similar stories, I've come to realize the impact of alternative medicine on health. I've seen people make great strides in recovery, only to relapse into an eating disorder or develop conditioned food sensitivities because of the influence of alternative treatments.
While there's harm and good in both conventional and alternative medicine, the key difference often lies in accountability and evidence-based practice. There are undoubtedly well-intentioned, evidence-based naturopaths, just as there are excellent doctors in conventional medicine. The crucial aspect is staying within one's scope of expertise and always prioritizing the patient's well-being based on solid evidence and ethical practice. My experiences have taught me the importance of discernment in health choices and the value of relying on proven, accountable medical practices.
Do you have any favorite eating disorder recovery resources? Can you leave anyone currently struggling with an eating disorder some inspiration?
To all of you on the path of eating disorder recovery, I want to share a message of hope and encouragement. Be endlessly curious. Explore every perspective, understand the nuances of placebo and nocebo effects, and how they can intertwine with eating disorders. Sometimes, programs may encourage you to bypass your true feelings in the name of spirituality – question these practices.
Educate yourself with resources like books by eating disorder dietitians, and medical professionals who specialize in eating disorders. Learn about conditioned food sensitivities and how our beliefs about food can sometimes shape our physical responses. If you're involved in the wellness industry, stay open to learning from experts. It's crucial to understand different viewpoints and reflect on whether your practices may inadvertently cause harm.
Many of you with eating disorders might find yourselves diagnosed with a comorbid mental health condition. If this is your reality, know that you are neither doomed nor damaged. Recovery, even from complex conditions like cluster B personality disorders, is possible with introspection and dedicated therapeutic work.
They are adaptations.
Remember, developing an eating disorder is not your fault. In your recovery, be cautious not to let it define you. Prioritize your health over the comfort of others and don't get entangled in the endless search for a root cause. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with you. Embrace basic, health-promoting behaviors and take it one step at a time. As you heal, you may encounter intense grief and emotions. This is natural and a sign that your body is healing itself.
Understand the mind-gut connection. Sometimes, it's anxiety driving your symptoms, not the food itself. Be aware that undereating can exacerbate symptoms and trigger flare-ups.
Be cautious with dietary advice in self-help books, especially if you're recovering from an eating disorder. Such advice, even from professionals, can be harmful and potentially trigger a relapse. Always seek personalized guidance from healthcare experts specializing in eating disorders for safe and effective recovery strategies.
Finding the right eating disorder recovery care means choosing a path that aligns with your personal beliefs and needs. If you're not religious, opt for non-secular, evidence-based therapies. Conversely, if spirituality is important to you, seek programs that integrate these elements. Avoid healing methods that don't resonate with you, as they can be counterproductive, leading to spiritual bypassing and dissociation. Remember, your recovery journey should feel authentic and supportive, tailored specifically to you.
When seeking recovery from an eating disorder, it's important to recognize that popular methods like meditation and yoga aren't one-size-fits-all solutions. While beneficial for some, these practices can be detrimental for others. For individuals with trauma histories or certain mental health conditions, meditation can sometimes lead to increased anxiety, intrusive thoughts, or dissociative states. Similarly, yoga, with its focus on body awareness, can unintentionally trigger distressing body-related thoughts in some people, especially those with body dysmorphia or a history of eating disorders.
You can overcome your eating disorder or make significant progress with the right guidance. Remember, your past doesn't define you, and you are not broken. Even while managing chronic illnesses, it's possible to lead a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life. I'm a testament to this – managing multiple chronic conditions, I've found happiness, health, and a sense of freedom I've never known before. Don't lose hope in yourself; with determination and the right support, you can achieve a state of well-being and joy. Keep pushing forward and believe in your ability to thrive.
*Annie is a recovered trauma-informed eating disorder mentor and intuitive eating facilitator with a dedicated focus on addressing misinformation in wellness spaces. She connects individuals with vital resources and offers specialized eating disorder recovery coaching, collaborating closely with other treatment providers. Her mission is to guide individuals towards a healthier relationship to food and self, while also equipping them with the skills to navigate and discern accurate information amidst the challenges of misinformation in wellness environments.
Annie is currently working on building virtual intuitive eating/eating disorder recovery workshops stay tuned!
Annie's Favorite Books and Resources
I recommend exploring intuitive eating in relation to eating disorder recovery through the research available on the Intuitive Eating website, particularly the section dedicated to eating disorders. These studies demonstrate how intuitive eating can improve relationships with food, enhance body image, and reduce disordered eating behaviors. It's important to undertake this approach under professional guidance. Additionally, reading materials by authors like Evelyn Tribole, Elyse Resch, and Christy Harrison provide deeper insights. These resources combine scientific evidence with personal experiences, offering a well-rounded perspective for anyone on the path to recovery.
- Books by Christy Harrison: Christy Harrison, a well-known figure in the field of eating disorder recovery, has written several impactful books. Her work focuses on dismantling diet culture, understanding the socio-cultural factors of eating disorders, and promoting a more compassionate, inclusive approach to body image and eating. Her books are essential for anyone looking to deepen their understanding of these issues from both a personal and societal perspective.
I particularly loved her latest book The Wellness Trap and her new podcast Rethinking Wellness.
- Food Therapy" by Pixie Turner: This book offers a fresh perspective on how we view food and our relationship with it, blending psychological insights with nutritional knowledge.
- The Medical Complications of Eating Disorders" by Jennifer Gaudiani: This book provides in-depth knowledge about the physical impacts of eating disorders and is a crucial resource for anyone looking to understand the medical side of these conditions.
- Marci Evans Courses: Marci Evans offers a range of courses focusing on different elements of eating disorder treatment and recovery, combining the latest research with practical approaches.
- Some of my Favorite Registered Dietitians
- Body Image Art therapist
I highly recommend her book The Art of Body Acceptance
- Fat Activist
- Disorders of Mind Gut Interaction Resources
The Rome Foundation: The Rome Foundation is an independent not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting the creation of scientific data and educational information to assist in diagnosing and treating Disorders of Gut-Brain Interaction (DGBIs), formerly called Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (FGIDs).
- Conditioned Food Sensitivity Expert
Thank you, Annie, for contributing to the Conquering Bulimia blog! You are an inspiration!
Interviewer: Sarah Lee, Certified Eating Disorder Recovery Coach, CCIEDC
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