“I can’t really explain how I felt the first time I made myself throw up. I remember all of the details about it though. I threw up into a trash bag while I was alone in my room, right after I had finished eating a bag of popcorn. It felt wrong, difficult, but strangely satisfying. I had gotten to a point where I really didn’t care anymore. I just wanted to be thin, because to me, being thin meant that I would finally be happy.”
Fat people face the scorn of society and are open targets for discrimination and bigotry. — Alexis Conason Psy.D.
These are the words of a self-confessed bulimic who was practically living a superficially contented life just because she was thin. She would throw up profusely sometimes and would lie down in bed for hours because of exhaustion. In school, though, it wouldn’t take long for her to puke in the ladies’ room after eating her lunch, and then walking down the hallway like nothing happened.
Jenny was only one among the 3% of young American females afflicted with a distressing eating disorder like Bulimia Nervosa (see definition here: www.sheknows.com), and one of the 40% who engaged in binge eating as a way to lose or maintain their weight. I use the past tense because she is now an ex-bulimic who had her fair share of struggles in overcoming bulimia. She recalls that her attempt to end her life and the devastation that she felt seeing her parents’ sadness over her situation made her decide to try and stop this life-threatening disorder and start the journey towards being bulimia-free.
Balancing serotonin levels with nutrition is central to managing the range of symptoms that occur along the eating disorders continuum. — Leslie E. Korn Ph.D., MPH, LMHC, ACS, NTP
What She Did
The first thing Jenny did was seek professional help, a doctor who helped formulate her own meal plan composed of three meals and three snacks daily. The doctor suggested that she take in small portions of her food so that she doesn’t feel sudden hunger and find the urge to binge eat and then, of course, the urge to vomit again. She ate mostly fruits, vegetables, and lean protein and avoided sugary food, which often aggravated her hunger episodes. She was also advised to eat with family and friends and not isolate herself.
“It wasn’t easy,” she said. “I would conform to the meal plan, and then just 3 weeks after that, I would give up to my urges and run to the toilet after eating so much.”
To reinforce the help that she got from her doctor, she also opened herself up to online communities that were available to provide pertinent information about eating disorders and how badly they can destroy lives. These communities also gave her the opportunity to know women and men who, like her, were struggling to stop binge eating. She learned there that purging in bulimia did not only involve vomiting but also taking too many laxatives and diuretics and also too much exercise.
Through her online friends, she realized that she was not alone in this world and there were other individuals who had more severe cases. She had the opportunity to help others by sharing her experiences and learning how to help herself in the process.
After having accepted her illness, she became more determined to do what is right for her and for her family. She gained self-confidence and was thinking more positively. She also practiced meditation techniques, which helped her relax and gain control over her emotions. She particularly benefited from mindfulness meditation and affirmations.
In all these scenarios, the body is being abused and serious medical and mental health consequences ensue. When it’s clear that the issue warrants professional attention, loved ones can still feel helpless in their attempts to intervene. — Lisa Ferentz LCSW-C, DAPA
On her recovery, Jenny has this to say: “I still do not consider myself fully recovered. I feel better, and I am in control of my life in a much healthier way now, but I still have thoughts about it. Being able to leave them at thoughts, and not making them actions was a huge step for me.”
Relapses are a normal thing during the first months of recovery, and it pains her to recall how horrible she felt that time. It’s been four years since she had a vomiting episode and would hate to describe her an ex-bulimic, but in a way, this serves as a reminder for her that she once was a victim of Bulimia and she will never allow it to overpower her again.