I’ve been losing the fight with my eating disorder. Several years ago, I was diagnosed with bulimia nervosa. It’s a dangerous disease characterized by eating large amounts of food in a short amount of time and then purging that food (either through self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or exercise).
When I’m bingeing, I feel like I’ve lost all control. Why else would I eat four donuts in 10 minutes? It feels awful and wonderful at once to let myself go like that. I spend most of my energy keeping myself rigorously in hand. To let go and just indulge is pleasant and terrifying.
Then there’s the guilt and shame. I feel shame every time I eat, whether I’m bingeing or not, but especially when I’m bingeing. It washes over me like a sticky smog that I can’t see through or breathe in.
The only way to regain control and relieve the shame is to purge. So I do. I get rid of all the food I just ate. But I don’t feel better. The shame is lessened, but it doesn’t go away. I can’t focus or concentrate because the desire for more food is so strong. I try my best to center on something else, but the thoughts become so intrusive I cannot think about anything but food or my weight or my body image.
My desire for control becomes stronger the more out of control I feel. After a binge/purge, I restrict. Because I’ll show my body who’s boss, that’s what! I’m in charge again.
“Bulimia Nervosa” comes from a Greek word meaning ravenous hunger. What a way to label an eating disorder! The Mayo Clinic offers a list of signs and symptoms for bulimia nervosa. They include:
- Being preoccupied with your body shape and weight
- Living in fear of gaining weight
- Repeated episodes of eating abnormally large amounts of food in one sitting
- Feeling a loss of control during bingeing — like you can’t stop eating or can’t control what you eat
- Forcing yourself to vomit or exercising too much to keep from gaining weight after bingeing
- Using laxatives, diuretics or enemas after eating when they’re not needed
- Fasting, restricting calories or avoiding certain foods between binges
- Using dietary supplements or herbal products excessively for weight loss
According to this list, I am textbook bulimic. And all of this is happening with me because I’m not doing anything about it. I’m not going to EDA meetings. I’m not reading my ED books. I’m not talking to people about my eating disorder.
I’m like a child playing with a dangerous snake — seeing how close I can get before it strikes.
I can’t tell you why I do what I do. I do think it’s about control. I also think it’s about trauma. I’m trying to come to terms with something in my past that I’m not ready to talk about here yet. But because I’m internalizing it, I’m acting out in other ways – like bingeing and purging.
All I can say is I’m grateful I’m not drinking/drugging. I’m grateful I’m not cutting or burning (though those thoughts are becoming more intrusive as well).
It’s dangerous for me to think of my bulimia as the “safe” thing to do. Bulimia comes with many physical, mental, and emotional side effects. The image below comes from HealthLine and shows some of the side effects of bulimia:
I don’t have all of these symptoms, but I do have several. Dry skin, feeling light headed, sore/swollen throat, puffy face and jaw, red eyes, and one thing that they don’t mention here – petechia.
Petechia are red or purple spots on the skin caused by broken capillary blood vessels. I get these when I vomit. They’re a dead giveaway that I’ve purged, and my husband always notices.
He doesn’t really know what to do, so he does the best thing. He gives me a hug.
It’s hard to know what to do for people who are struggling with eating disorders. Here are some suggestions:
- DO educate yourself about the disease.
Whether it’s bulimia or anorexia or any other type of mental illness, educating yourself will help you put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Knowing the symptoms will help you understand what the other person is experiencing on a daily basis. You might begin to understand how draining and exhausting it is to live with a disease like bulimia.
- DON’T judge or criticize!
We already judge ourselves harshly. We don’t need a pile-on.
- DO ask what you can do to help.
We might not know what you can do for us, but knowing that someone wants to help is nice.
- DON’T talk about your diet and exercise regimen.
What works for you is not going to magically cure us. The last thing we want to talk about is food. It’s too personal.
- DO be a good role model.
This applies to nutrition, body image, and positive self talk.
- DON’T tell us what to do.
That’s what we have doctors for. And statements like “Just stop” or “You just need to eat right” are not helpful. It’s not about the food. It’s about our relationship with food.
- DO be patient with us.
Recovery is a long, hard journey. Speaking for myself, I’ve tripped up and relapsed multiple times. There have been so many days that have felt like one step forward and two steps back. Please stick with us. We need your support.
I don’t know how I’m going to break out of this cycle. I feel stuck. I’m going to have to find a way to talk about all of this with someone, so I’m going to find a way to get to an EDA meeting. I must take action, or this will only get worse.