Bulimia is an eating disorder, first recognised by the medical profession in the late 1970s. It comes from the Greek word boulimia: or ‘ravenous hunger’. Sufferers ‘binge’ on large amounts of food and are then gripped by an extreme sense of loss of control. They then try to compensate by using behaviours such as vomiting, using laxatives, diuretics, excessive exercise or dieting. These in turn provoke a range of emotions: guilt, worthlessness, depression, anxiety, helplessness, hopelessness and despair.
If this is you, I’d encourage you to talk to a trusted friend or your GP and to ask for help. Eating disorders are hugely difficult to overcome alone and you will need as much support as you can get. Here are some practical tips which may also help:
- Keep a diary of when, why and where you binge. Can you identify any triggers? What other ways could you deal with your emotions? (For me, praying and writing a prayer journal is an enormous help).
- Start slow: try to limit your binges to one place and time.
- In the early stages, try to avoid unstructured time: especially in evenings or weekends. Plan a time table of activities that aren’t based around food and stick to them.
- Work out meal plans and times. Stick to them until you can get a bit of routine. Make sure you have something to do after eating (not vigorous exercise). If you’re used to bingeing in a certain place, why not eat somewhere else? This may feel very scary, but it’s a way of beginning to challenge the mind-set that keeps repeating the same struggles.
- Find a quiet space where you can have your meals without distractions. Eat slowly and savour the food. Eat with others, when possible. Then give yourself a clear cut off point – tidy up or go to another room. Pray about how you’re feeling.
- Practise leaving a little food on your plate.
- Don’t go food shopping when you’re overtired, hungry or when you’ve had an emotional shock. Make a list in advance or order online. Avoid trigger food where possible and pack it away where you won’t see it all the time.
- When you make mistakes, don’t panic. This is a part of recovery and a little setback won’t undo any progress you’ve been making.
- Don’t fast, as this will set you up for a binge.
- Learn from your mistakes. What was it that encouraged you to binge? What could you change for next time?
- Eat small meals every couple of hours. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of fluids as hunger and thirst can be easily confused.
- Try to avoid triggers, i.e; people, places and things that you associate with bingeing.
- Remember: your thoughts don’t have to lead to an action. I know the urge to binge feels overwhelming and irresistible, but you can resist it. Try to step away from the situation and create some mental space. Instead of telling yourself ‘I’m starving and I need to binge’, say to yourself: ‘I’m experiencing the urge to overeat – it’s strong and even scary but that’s okay. I can let it go. If I don’t give into it, nothing terrible will happen. It will get weaker and in time it’ll go away.
- Your feelings will not kill you. Part of recovery is learning to sit with uncomfortable emotions – and to create a distance between what you’re thinking and what you’re doing. The road to recovery isn’t a grand gesture: it’s a million tiny steps.