Inside Look

Uncovering the Hidden Covert Behaviors of Bulimia

bulimia recovery Oct 05, 2023

Covert Behaviors!


In this blog, we will dive deep into the world of bulimia, uncovering hidden behaviors that can hinder the path to recovery. These covert behaviors are like silent saboteurs, often lurking unnoticed, but they play a significant role in the struggle against this eating disorder. We'll explore how these behaviors operate, their impact on recovery, and provide practical insights for overcoming them. By the end of this article, you'll have a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics between bulimia and recovery and be equipped with strategies to conquer these challenges.

Understanding Bulimia

Before we dive into the covert behaviors that hinder recovery, it's crucial to understand bulimia itself. Bulimia nervosa, often referred to as bulimia, is an eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating, followed by compensatory behaviors such as purging, fasting, or excessive exercise. Individuals with bulimia often experience feelings of guilt, shame, and a loss of control during binge episodes.

Recovery from bulimia involves breaking free from these destructive patterns and establishing a healthier relationship with food and one's body. It's a journey of self-discovery, healing, and resilience.

The Covert Behaviors of Bulimia

Covert behaviors are the hidden tactics that individuals with bulimia employ, often without realizing the harm they cause to their recovery efforts. These behaviors can be insidious, seemingly harmless, and even culturally accepted. However, they undermine the progress made towards overcoming bulimia. Let's shine a light on some of these covert behaviors. You can find more in the “8 Keys to Recovery From An Eating Disorder,” by Carolyn Costin (one of my mentors!) and Gwen Schubert Grabb. On page 171, the book presents that it is important for you to identify, explore, and work on any behaviors that keep you in an eating disorder mindset or interfere with your progress (Costin & Grabb 2012).

  1. Weighing Yourself: Frequent weight checks are a common practice among those with bulimia. It becomes an obsession, a daily ritual that fuels anxiety and self-judgment.
  2. Comparing Yourself to Others: Constantly measuring your worth against others can lead to feelings of inadequacy and perpetuate body image issues.
  3. Counting: Whether it's calories, macros, or serving sizes, this behavior becomes an obsession intertwined with bulimia. The constant need to quantify and control food intake can be detrimental to recovery.
  4. “Saving Up” for Liquid Calories: Many individuals with bulimia employ the tactic of consuming liquid calories, often in the form of alcohol. This deceptive approach allows for purging without suspicion.
  5. Reading Food Labels: The meticulous examination of food labels is a habit entrenched in individuals with eating disorders, including bulimia. It fosters an unhealthy obsession with food composition.
  6. Diet Pills: The use of weight-loss pills as a means of control can lead to dependency, making recovery even more challenging.
  7. Fasting, Cleanses, and Detox Methods: Extreme measures like fasting and detox methods are taken to exert control over one's body, hindering the recovery process.
  8. Skipping Meals: Regularly missing meals becomes part of the disordered eating pattern, contributing to the vicious cycle of bulimia.
  9. Labeling Foods as Good and Bad: Imposing moral judgments on food choices reinforces the distorted relationship with food, making recovery difficult.
  10. Chewing and Spitting Out Food: While seemingly less harmful than binging and purging, this action can have its own psychological consequences, further complicating recovery.

The Power of Behavior Change

Understanding these covert behaviors is the first step towards overcoming them. It's essential to recognize that behaviors can evolve into habits over time, performed subconsciously and repeatedly. Breaking free from these behaviors is a crucial aspect of bulimia recovery.

Behavior change is not easy, but it is possible. Let's explore some strategies for transforming these behaviors and fostering a healthier relationship with food and yourself.

Strategies for Behavior Change

  1. Identification: Start by identifying the specific covert behaviors you want to change. Awareness is the first step towards transformation.
  2. Set Achievable Goals: Instead of attempting to eliminate a behavior entirely, set smaller, attainable goals. For example, if you weigh yourself daily, aim to do it only once a week.
  3. Seek Support: Reach out to a therapist or support group specializing in eating disorders. They can provide guidance and a safe space to discuss your challenges.
  4. Mindful Eating: Practice mindful eating, focusing on savoring your food without judgment or distractions. This can help break the cycle of disordered eating.
  5. Self-Compassion: Cultivate self-compassion and self-acceptance. Understand that recovery is a journey, and setbacks are part of the process.
  6. Replace Behaviors: Substitute harmful behaviors with healthier alternatives. For instance, replace calorie counting with focusing on the nutritional value of food.
  7. Professional Help: Consider consulting a registered dietitian who specializes in eating disorders. They can assist you in developing a balanced approach to nutrition.
  8. Journaling: Keep a journal to track your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors related to food. This can provide valuable insights into your triggers.
  9. Celebrate Small Wins: Acknowledge and celebrate your progress, no matter how small. Each step forward is a victory in your recovery journey.
  10. Mind-Body Practices: Engage in mind-body practices like yoga or meditation to help you connect with your body and reduce stress.

Here is a quote from one of my private clients, who once struggled with bulimia, in giving up her sabotaging covert behavior of weighing herself multiple times per day. "I felt shaky and was unsure if I really wanted to throw out my scale to stop weighing myself. But, now that I have done it, I am more intentional about listening to my body's needs, and I am in a much better mood, too. Just trying to fight the urge sometimes to buy a new one." L.A.

Remember, recovery is not a linear process, and setbacks may occur. What's essential is your commitment to the journey and your willingness to seek help and make changes. 

In the intricate dance between bulimia and recovery, covert behaviors can be formidable adversaries. However, armed with knowledge and strategies for change, you can navigate this challenging path towards healing. Recovery from bulimia is possible, and every step you take towards breaking free from covert behaviors brings you closer to a healthier, happier life. Embrace the journey, seek support, and remember that you are not alone in your pursuit of recovery from bulimia.


With Love & Light,

Sarah Lee

Sarah Lee is a Certified Eating Disorder Recovery Coach with four professional certifications, including one from the esteemed Carolyn Costin Institute. Since 2016, she has run a private practice currently located in Dallas, TX, assisting clients globally along with mentoring newer recovery coaches.

Posted on October 5th, 2023.

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