Bulimia Recovery: Understanding How Bulimia is Serving YouDec 06, 2023
Hi, I am so happy you have found our Conquering Bulimia Blog!
If you're stumbling upon this blog post, chances are you're either on the path to bulimia recovery or seeking insights into the journey. First things first, a warm welcome to my little space of the internet – a place where we can connect, share, and navigate recovery together.
Now, let's dive into the heart of the matter: Bulimia Recovery. In this blog, I will share research, real quotes, and true-personal experiences of bulimia recovery and offer a beacon of hope to those who might be at the starting line of their own journey. Bulimia recovery is a winding road, unique for each, but the destination is worth every step.
Throughout this narrative, I'll weave in essential keywords for the Search Engine Gods (aka SEO): Bulimia Recovery. Because let's face it, we want this information to reach as many recovery seeking souls as possible. So many struggle in silence and we are on a mission to change that!
So, whether you're here for personal insights, practical tips, or just a virtual shoulder to lean on, you're in the right place.
Bulimia is serving you, making it hard to stop.
Now, the title of this blog might seem a bit puzzling. Bulimia tends to bring a heap of shame along with it, and it's often considered one of the most physically destructive eating disorders. So, you might be wondering, how on earth could it be serving you?
But let's flip the script and ask an even bigger question – how could it not be serving you? I mean, really, if it wasn't doing something for you, wouldn't it be easy to just stop? But we know, firsthand, that releasing the grip of bulimia and even saying “yes” to bulimia recovery isn't a walk in the park. It is like it has a very specific job to do, and it is doing it. And before we get into that more, we must take a few steps back.
Start at the beginning: How did you “get” bulimia?
There is a common phrase used in recovery and attempts to simply explain the complexities of bulimia along with other eating disorders: “It’s not about the food.” It aims to shed light on that it is not all about dieting and weight loss, even though you yourself may believe that is what is happening. You try to “eat well” or follow a certain plan, to then find yourself binging on foods and amounts you deem as wrong, bad, weight inducing, so to right what is wrong, you purge. Then the cycle begins again.
Per the definition from the National Institute of Mental Health, “Bulimia nervosa is a condition where people have recurrent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food and feeling a lack of control over their eating. This binge eating is followed by behaviors that compensate for the overeating to prevent weight gain, such as forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, or a combination of these behaviors. Unlike those with anorexia nervosa, people with bulimia nervosa may maintain a normal weight or be overweight.”
With all this said, if it were just about food and weight, a dietitian created meal plan and reaching healthy-natural-individualized weight range would be the ultimate solution, yet we all know that is not the case. There are many factors that contribute to the development of bulimia. I often refer to it as a perfect storm. Here are just some factors that contribute. You may have just a couple, all of them, or more. Through bulimia recovery understanding your factors can be helpful.
- Genetic Temperament
- Cultural Ideals
- Early Age Learned Behaviors
- Trauma (Big T and Little T)
- Difficulty Expressing Feelings
- Intense Fear of Not Measuring Up
- The Desire to Be in Control
- The Belief of the Myth: I must be thin to be attractive and desirable
Exploring shame in bulimia recovery:
If you have followed me for a while, or read other blogs I have written, you know I often state that bulimia carries the most shame of all eating disorders and this is proven every time I work with someone in bulimia recovery. The very nature of bulimia screams that you are wrong when you “give in,” once again, to binging and purging, or for some just purging, because underneath you believe you have broken the rules and there will be consequences.
Here are some direct anonymous quotes from some of my private clients who I have helped in bulimia recovery. Perhaps, you have said or thought some of the same things – you are not alone.
- “I just go into “F#*& It” mode. Then I feel so bad.”
- “I lose all control and eat until I may explode. Immediately, I know it cannot stay in me.”
- “I cannot handle certain foods because I cannot stop. I will have to run it all off.”
- “Something takes over me and I eat whatever. If I don’t throw up, I will gain tons of weight.”
In each of these quotes you can see an element of wanting to be in control or feeling out of control, followed by the feelings of shame, and then an attempt to fix or avoid perceived consequences.
In bulimia recovery, sharing and being completely vulnerable with someone you trust is one of the best ways to release shame. That could be a family member, friend, or professional. Yes, you may still have guilt. Guilt and shame are not the same. Guilt can actually be a productive motivator in bulimia recovery. How can that be?
In the words, of well-renowned author and speaker, Brene Brown, “I believe that there is a profound difference between shame and guilt. I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful—it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort. I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging—something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive.”
Why does bulimia feel like a habit?
Restricting can feel like you are triumphing, exceling, moving towards positive goals, and like you are in control. Plus, our culture praises restriction often confusing it with discipline. In this state, knowingly or unknowingly, engaging in restriction you may believe that if you can just continue and not “mess up” you will have all that you want, and in bulimia recovery you’ll even be convinced that is living recovered. However, this creates a mental and possibly physical presence of deprivation, which fuels the cycle of then binging and purging. Binging and purging can then become an undercover way to numb out and escape from feelings, memories, and true needs. And then you go round and round.
Habits are often found in patterns and distinct cycles. You may or may not be aware of this for yourself. I know I was unaware when I struggled with bulimia. It wasn’t until I went into bulimia recovery that it became so apparent. Allow me to get personal and share one of my patterns:
I have always loved to work and feel like I am accomplishing things. In my 20s, I was quickly climbing the corporate ladder while bulimia was backstage and top secret. Each day, I would have a preset food plan for myself on what I would eat to ensure I stayed within a certain calorie range (aka Weight Watcher Points).
I was known at times for working late into the night after everyone else had gone home. Repeatedly, I would find myself having intense urges to eat whatever I could find around 7p-8p. It would start as, “I’ll just have one or two bite-sized candy bars.” These treats were found in our office supply closet for business meetings and training courses. Then the thought was, “Okay, just one more.” And before I knew it, I would have eaten more than planned and felt out of control. The next thought was inevitably, “I have already messed up now, I might as well eat whatever I want.”
This would often result in me finally leaving my office for the day, driving though a fast-food restaurant or into a convenient store and loading up on as much as I could. All this knowing, once I went past the “okay” number of bite sized candy bars, I would ultimately self-induce vomiting to feel better and then go to bed.
All I was thinking at the time was, “Why can’t I just stick to my Weight Watcher points every day. My hunger and appetite cannot be trusted.”
This pattern felt like a habit, but also felt like urges that just took over me. What was really happening? Let’s break it down:
- I would have a restrictive mindset (although I didn’t see it that way) all day and aim to “be good” so I could manage my weight
- I would push myself to work longer and past a point that was healthy
- My physical body needed more nutrition, a real dinner, and rest
- The evenings often highlighted loneliness and my longing for love, which I subconsciously wanted to avoid
- As soon as I thought I “messed up,” I went all in and then compensated to fix
How to overcome the urges in bulimia recovery?
Let me break the ice by saying to overcome the urges, you are going to have to feel discomfort. That is the only way through. This can come in a variety of ways:
- Discomfort by forcing a change in your environment
- Discomfort by changing your eating schedule
- Discomfort by challenging food rules and restrictive thinking
- Discomfort by feeling full, maybe even overly full at times
- Discomfort by learning to tolerate distressing emotions
- Discomfort by surfing unpleasant physical sensations and symptoms
As quoted in Healthline Nutrition, “Individuals with bulimia then attempt to purge to compensate for the calories consumed and to relieve gut discomfort.”
In my example, how did I practically overcome the pattern and urges?
- Stopped counting Weight Watcher points
- Lots of discomfort, for this felt like I was giving up my safety net and I would not know how to eat
- Made sure I included protein and fat with each meal
- Lots of discomfort, because protein and fat were higher in calories
- Ate when I was hungry and not by a clock or preset plan
- Lots of discomfort because I didn’t trust my body
- Listened to and honored when I was tired
- Lots of discomfort because feeling tired seemed weak
- Aimed to leave work by 6p
- Lots of discomfort because I always wanted to stay ahead
- If I truly needed to work late, I would take a break and go eat dinner instead of mindless snacking.
- Lots of discomfort because I feared taking a break would mean not returning to work. And sometimes it did, which was a blessing.
In what ways is bulimia serving you?
If you believe your struggle with bulimia is all bad, then you may never pay attention to how it is serving you or said another way what job it has. Especially, when it comes to your emotional world. Some of the ways bulimia was serving me: sometimes helped me feel in control, begged me to fuel my body more, asking me to slow down and rest, took up empty space, and released physical and emotional discomfort in my body.
In an article from Eating Disorder Hope this phenomenon is described as, “Emotional dysregulation means that when a person is seen as being emotional, they are met with experiences of being overlooked, misunderstood, or criticized by peers or family. These experiences lead to an inability to express emotion and turn to negative coping tools to try to release what they are feeling. In eating disorders, emotional dysregulation is common. Typically, those with bulimia nervosa are more likely to use dysfunctional tools such as excessive worry, obsessive thoughts, and emotion suppression to situations. When an individual engages in binging and purging behaviors, it serves as a way to distract or ameliorate painful internal emotions, and therefore may reinforce the eating disorder behaviors.”
In a sense, bulimia has developed for you through a perfect storm and has become a maladaptive way to cope and survive. The great cover-up is believing it is all about food and trying to control your body, yet as we have explored the blanket must be pulled back to understand and gain insight into what is underneath.
That IS some of the work in bulimia recovery that will help set you free. For once you understand, you can then put bulimia out of a job by replacing the three pillar behaviors (restricting, binging, and purging) with new patterns, new habits, that will serve you in a fully healthy way and align with your core values.
You've got this!
As we wrap up this blog on bulimia recovery, I want to leave you with a heartfelt message, one that comes from a place of understanding and personal experience. Fighting against bulimia often feels like waging a war with an unseen adversary, but in truth, it's a battle within.
I get it. Bulimia can make you feel like there's a relentless monster residing within, something uncontrollable and overwhelming. I've been there, wrestling with those same thoughts. However, through my own journey, I discovered that fighting against it only fueled the resistance, creating a cycle that seemed impossible to break.
So, here's a gentle nudge to shift your perspective. Instead of fighting, try understanding. Lay down the desire for control and open yourself to the possibility of self-compassion. It's like unlocking a doorway to make peace with yourself, stepping through with grace and empathy.
Bulimia recovery isn't about strict control or harsh resistance. It's about understanding, compassion, and love. Seeking to understand yourself can be the key to breaking free from the chains of restriction, bingeing, and purging.
As you navigate this path, remember that bulimia recovery is a process, not a destination. Embrace each step with patience. If you stumble, it's not a defeat; it's a learning opportunity. So, walk forward with courage, seek understanding, and let the journey towards a life free from the grips of bulimia unfold.
And to those who might be searching for a guiding light in their own bulimia recovery, know that I am here ready to support you offering personal one-on-one coaching, an intensive, private, self-paced course for bulimia recovery that is currently discounted over 50% (Conquering Bulimia), and free resources such as this blog. My life’s calling is to help as many people as I possibly can break free of bulimia, just like I did. If I can do it, you can do it too!
Author: Sarah Lee
Certified Eating Disorder Recovery Coach, CCIEDC
Fully recovered from Bulimia since 2006
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