#TalkAboutItTuesday: Binging, Purging and Bulimia

A simple bite that turns into a binge. That’s how it all started. I suffered from bulimia for upwards of 5 years, in various states of severity throughout that time. At the height of my bulimia, I would binge and purge up to a dozen times a day; sometimes in very close succession. Anything and everything was fair game. I would eat foods I thought of as indulgent and unhealthy, knowing that I would bring it right back up without any of the caloric repercussions. I would stuff myself until I became uncomfortably full, and then —as simply as it sounds— throw it all up. By simply contracting my stomach muscles in a certain way I was able to bring up what I had just eaten. Often times, depending on what I had eaten, it was painful. My stomach would hurt, my esophagus would burn, and my mouth would become sore. Over time I had begun to learn what foods were easiest to purge. Ice cream and cereal became my go-to binge foods as they were satisfying to eat, but incredibly easy to bring back up. Foods like bread, pizza, or any other dense items were much more difficult, and painful, to purge due to fact that they would often “ball up”. This would make it difficult to move through my esophagus, and sometimes raise my anxiety levels in fear of being unable to void it from my stomach. I would often eat meals with large amounts of water in order to ensure easier purging, as it’s easier to bring up solids with a liquid. I began to find it difficult to eat a simple meal without feeling the urge to over eat. Trying to stop myself from overeating, which would lead to purging, became near impossible for me. Even eating something as simple as an apple would trigger an unhealthy eating pattern. I became afraid to eat, because I knew what it would lead to. I would feel incredibly weak and tired post purging, and often lacked the energy to do much of anything.

For me, bulimia was a way to indulge in foods I wouldn’t otherwise eat. It became a “no consequence” diet.  I was able to eat anything I wanted without fear of gaining weight, but little did I realize at the time, bulimia was costly in more ways than one.  Not only is the cost of bulimia experienced physically, but also financially; it is an expensive eating disorder. I don’t like to think about how much money I was wasted on purchasing food I knew I would just purge. I essentially flushed money down the toilet. I have done irreparable damage to my digestive system and metabolism due to years of abuse, and it will take a very long time for my body to recover from both my anorexia and bulimia. Eating disorders take a huge toil on a person physically and mentally, and its effects can be felt long after one begins to recover.

Bulimia is a very difficult thing to hide from those around you. The unexplained absences after meals, the time spent in the bathrooms, and the sound of vomiting often make it difficult to conceal the illness. However, unlike anorexia, bulimia sufferers are often of average weight making it difficult to notice if someone is suffering. It is difficult to determine how many individuals suffer from bulimia, as binge eating and purging often takes place in private. However, it is estimated that 1-3% of Canadian women will develop bulimia at some point in their lifetime, with most women developing bulimia in their late adolescents (Statistics Canada, 2015) Bulimia is an illness that may present at intermittent times over a period of time, or as an ongoing chronic issue. (Statistics Canada, 2015) Often, bulimia sufferers have, at one point in their lives, suffered from restrictive eating, or anorexia. (Statistics Canada, 2015) Bulimia is clinically characterized as periods of binge eating, followed by participating in methods of inappropriate behaviour to prevent weight gain (Statistics Canada, 2015). This includes purging, sometimes coupled with the use of laxatives and over exercising. Many bulimics also suffer from co-occurring disorders, such as depression and anxiety.  I myself, as I have mentioned in previous posts, suffered from severe depression and anxiety.

Treatment for bulimia is similar to that of any other eating disorders. In hospital treatment, cognitive behavioural therapy, and counselling have all been effective in helping people recover. I was medically diagnosed as bulimic and referred to an in hospital treatment program. I decided not to commit to the offered treatment, and instead opted for weekly counselling. While this process took much longer it felt like the right option for me at the time.  Any form of treatment will help an individual establish the triggers and patterns which result in binging and purging behaviours. The tracking of binging and purging episodes may help sufferers begin to understand their triggers, allowing them to develop healthy coping mechanisms. Identifying the feelings, and their causes, associated with a bulimia episode is what I found valuable to my recovery. Over the years I have developed the ability to identify my triggers before they become uncontrollable and overwhelming, and as a result I have established healthy coping methods. Some of my coping methods include meditation, breathing activities, going for a short walk, stretching, and (as silly as it may sound) watching cute animal videos. Everyone’s coping methods will differ, and for some their recovery methods will completely differ. Finding what best helps you is the best method that there is. Remembering self-care is another critical component to anyone’s recovery. Ensuring that you are surrounded by those who will be supportive, as well as creating a safe recovery space are also extremely important. Lastly, know that recovery is a journey, and you’re eating disorder is not a life sentence. You can find happiness and health again, it may just take a little time.

Resources
Centre for Addiction & Mental Health (CAMH) (416) 535-8501
National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) (416) 340-4156
F.E.A.S.T. Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders

  1. Statistics Canada. (2015). Section D- Eating Disorders. Retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-619-m/2012004/sections/sectiond-eng.htm

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