Bulimia is a disorder that largely affects women (90% of bulimics are women), and is a disorder that can be hidden relatively easily. If you understand it, you can recognize it in a friend or loved one, or yourself, and get help.
Bulimia Nervosa affects 5% of the population in Australia. According to the Butterfly Foundation, “Bulimia Nervosa is characterised by recurrent binge-eating episodes followed by compensatory behaviours such as self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diuretics, fasting and over exercising.”
Bulimia is a psychological disorder that is characterised by feelings of intense guilt and shame, low self-worth and a feeling of lack of control. Some of the physical complications that are typical of the behaviour are significant damage to the teeth and oesophagus, clammy hands and tremors, anxiety and heart palpitations, risk of osteoporosis, puffy skin, menstrual irregularity, constipation. Bulimia can be split into the purging and non-purging type. The purging type will compensate for the binges with vomiting, diuretics or laxatives. Non-purging type will compensate with fasting or excessive exercising. Bulimics are often normal weight or only slightly under or over weight, so can often mange to keep their disorder hidden for a long time.
Bulimic behaviour is typically a compensation for some other deeper issue related to the persons self-worth and can be an unconscious way of feeling in-control, loved, or accepted. In this way it is the far end of the psycho-eating scale. Psycho-eating means eating for psychological reasons rather than physiological ones. The only true physiological reason to eat is to nourish and fuel the body. Many people psycho-eat, very few “normal” eaters do not eat t some times for some psychological reason, however bulimics will continue to eat when others would stop, and then feel such intense self-judgement, shame and guilt they need to compensate in extreme and unhealthy ways for the food consumed. When you eat for psychological reasons then the normal signals to stop, (your belly being full and hunger hormone turned off) do not apply. If you are eating to fill a psychological hole, it can never be satisfied by food.
From a coaching perspective bulimia is the most extreme and disordered end of the internal pain / external pleasure cycle. The internal pain of low-self worth, extreme self-judgement and/ or unresolved past trauma, drives the external pleasure of the bingeing behaviour, then cycles back down to shame and guilt of the binge, and then to the external pleasure of the purging. This is a vicious cycle, and can only be completely healed by dealing with the underlying self-worth, self-judgement, body-image and past trauma.
Bulimia often begins with body consciousness as a teenager, usually beginning with a strict deprivation diet in the pursuit of thinness, resulting in a starvation response and uncontrollable hunger, which often creates a binge. Usually the purging behaviour is learned, many young girls have been shown how to purge by a girlfriend while in high school. When the many body changes of puberty hit, you’re reading beauty magazines with slim, photoshopped models, and the sense of being judged by your appearance in school cliques is at its most influential, the conditions are ripe for this disordered thinking and behaviour.
With the social acceptance of the secret girlfriend group, the bingeing/ purging behaviour is anchored to feeling cool, accepted, part of a group, keeping slim, and being desirable. So even though the behaviour of self-induced vomiting is painful, difficult and unnatural, the psychological pleasure that it evokes can be stronger than the pain of the behaviour.
The behaviour is also driven by many unconscious limiting beliefs including one’s like these…
Many women who are overweight or dieting will exhibit some similar behaviours to bulimics, including seeming to be obsessed with food and the health values of food, weighing themselves, exercising a lot, having low self-esteem, and being judgemental of their bodies. This is why it is essential if you want to shape your body to do it through self-love and adopting healthy lifestyle practices instead of extreme diets. However, bulimia is much more extreme, anti-social behaviour and is typically accompanied by secrecy and shame, regular toilet visits after meals, excuses not to eat, avoidance of social occasions with food. Normal eating does not have the same feelings of shame and secrecy and uncontrollable desire to binge and then compensate for the binges in some way.
“Normal eating includes the ingestion of healthy foods, the intake of a mixed and balanced diet that contains enough nutrients and calories to meet the body’s needs, and a positive attitude about food (no labelling of foods as “good” or “bad,” “healthy” or “fattening,” which can lead to feelings of guilt and anxiety). Normal eating is related not only to health maintenance, but also to acceptable social behaviour, and is both flexible and pleasurable. It is important for people to understand that normal eating fluctuates; however, it should not fluctuate to the point of leading to a nutrient deficiency or excess weight loss or gain. Thoughts about desired foods and meal planning should be part of person’s daily life, but should not dominate it.”
– Perieira, R.F. & Alvarenga, M. (2007). Disordered Eating: Identifying, Treating, Preventing and Differentiating it from Eating Disorders. Diabetes Spectrum, 5, 141-148.
Body image is not what you weigh, or what you look like, but what you feel and think about your body. You can build a healthy body image with acceptance, self-love, affirmations, coaching and counselling, and having a critical eye for mass marketing, magazines and media images of slimness and beauty. In a heartening move from a fashion media giant, VOGUE banned the use of girls under 16 or those who appeared to have an eating disorder.
“Today’s fashion models weigh 23% less than the average female, and a young woman between the ages of 18-34 has a 7% chance of being as slim as a catwalk model and a 1% chance of being as thin as a supermodel. However, 69% of girls in one study said that magazine models influence their idea of the perfect body shape, and the pervasive acceptance of this unrealistic body type creates an impractical standard for the majority of women. Perhaps if we become a little more aware of what effort and enhancements go into a photo shoot – we can enjoy the image for its beauty, yet not use it as a means to measure ourselves.”
If you suffer from bulimia this message is for you… Ultimately bulimia is a disease that stems from self-loathing and damages and undermines your health. It may have begun as a protection mechanism or to fulfil a psychological need to feel loved and accepted. Bulimia does not love your body. It does not help or heal your body, it does not allow you and your uniqueness and beauty to shine. You are worthy of true self-love, loving yourself through your choices for nourishment. Please love the behaviour that loves you back. Choose to serve your body and your body will serve you. You can heal and release the emotions from whatever trauma has caused this behaviour to begin, You deserve to be loved and you can love yourself.
Reflect on when you first learned or began this behaviour. Write out the answers to these questions to understand more fully why this behaviour began and to gather the strength to decide to change it.
If you have bulimic episodes or behaviour it is essential to get help to change the behaviour, as it is physically and emotionally damaging and unhealthy. If you have questions about this, feel free to contact me directly or please seek help through ones of these community organisations.
Please feel free to post your comments anonymously if you suffer from this and would like to share your story. The more we understand, the more we can help each other. (the facebook commenting is not anonymous)
I’ve passed the big 4-0! I’ve now ‘released’ 48kgs, since the birth of my son 2 years ago. To Kylie, Selina and all my GBQ sisters, you helped me to get out of my own way, so I could coach my inner critic and encourage my cheerleader. I am getting my pre-babies mojo back and am in a better headspace than when I was fighting fit! I feel like GBQ really delivered on the greatest gift, self-love and clarity, and has given me the confidence and conviction to continue my journey! Thank you.
With Kylie’s help I released the hopelessness & anger I was using as an excuse, and have stepped out of my shell with a vengeance! I’m now clear on what I want to do with my life and I’m taking steps towards making it a reality, and in doing so my entire eating habits have changed… the ‘hunger subsided’ & I’ve stuck to my better eating habits and gym workouts easily. It’s been amazing!
Working with Kylie has been life changing. Kylie helped me get back in touch with my own body, taught me how to nourish myself and get my glowing, gorgeous body. She helped me move from self-loathing to self-love. She taught me how to consciously turn down the critical voice and turn up my inner cheerleader. Without a doubt starting with your mindset is the first place to start on your weight loss journey. Lasting results for sure and totally life changing!
What I have gotten out of the course can’t be measured. I glow from the inside out! For the first time in years; I am happy because I am happy! I love myself – I can actually look in a mirror with no self loathing… I love the woman smiling back at me and not just because my body has changed on the outside – I have changed from the inside and it is a reflection!
Everything has really changed, I finally let the girl inside out. I feel like my life has really just started. I’ve had a massive increase in personal power (from zero), sense of possibility, happiness, resilience, CONFIDENCE! Reached my first weight loss goal, I have gone from a size 12 to an 8-10. I love myself and respect myself for the first time, I cannot express how much this has changed me. Thank you does not even cut it.
I have been struggling with my weight and feeling of not being good enough for as long as I can remember…This has changed for me now. I have had more awakenings and realisations and learnings than I thought possible in the past few months. This really is SOOOOO not about the weight. I TOTALLY get that now.
I have loads more energy… I’m eating so well and exercising when I can. With my 1st baby I couldn’t cope with the emotional roller-coaster that is pregnancy. I ate, and ate, and ate non-stop. My head is in such a great place at the moment. I owe it all to Kylie and your Goddess Body Quest program x