How I Beat the Cycle of Binging and PurgingPosted: April 4, 2011
Recently I was asked an excellent question about binge eating and overcoming restriction to eliminate the urge to binge.
I personally fell into the former category. The heavy, overwhelming feeling of food sitting in my stomach was almost unbearable. I would immediately be consumed with a need to get the food out of my body. The urge was impossible to ignore and would intensify until I gave in to it.
I struggled with this for nearly two years. It happened more frequently as I began “allowing” myself to eat “naughty” foods – I would order fries or ice cream, enjoy them…and then immediately be slammed by the fear that I’d lost control over my intake and would immediately see the evidence on my thighs. I often had to excuse myself from the table at restaurants, parties at my university and holiday meals with my family. Purging brought an immediate sense of relief, but the guilt that had accompanied the original meal still remained.
During my eating disorder, binging was often the result of stress that I had no idea how to healthfully deal with. For me, binging occurred on two levels:
- The severe restrictions I imposed on myself 95 percent of the time eventually gave way to the primal need for food. At this point, my body was (rightfully!) distrusting of my potential to feed it ever again, and because it literally did not know where its next meal would come from, my mindset was often to shove as much food in as possible during this slim window of opportunity.
- Even when I felt that I could continue my patterns of restriction for a longer period of time, I often would binge as a result of feeling overwhelmed by life and its stressors. Common issues that triggered some of my binges included fighting with my mother, jealousy, massive homework assignments and procrastination on various deadlines. Compounded with a laundry list of insecurities, these external factors often triggered a binge that was immediately followed by guilt and a desire to purge.
Despite not binging and purging frequently enough to be classified as bulimic, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that healthy women do not consume a half a box of laxatives or force themselves to vomit. It was a very shameful process, and I found myself spending inordinate amounts of time planning ways to excuse myself from activities or hide the red marks on my knuckles. I knew that this was no way to live. Although I never had one “Aha!” moment where I made a conscious decision to quit, I learned to identify the factors that triggered my binge/purge episodes so that I could curb them in the first place.
One of the first things I did was identify “safe” foods that I knew I could keep down. I avoided cheese, rice, noodles, chips and pizza for an extended period of time because I knew that even a small portion would still trigger intense guilt and a bulimic reaction. I based my diet on mostly fruits, vegetables, chicken, salad and protein bars.
Over time, I began reincorporating “fear foods.” At first, I would enjoy a small single bite. Eventually, I taught my body to stomach normal portions of the foods that had once triggered a binge.
Another key step in beating my bulimic tendencies was learning to stop eating when I’d hit my “full point.” I knew that once I’d reached a certain level of “fullness,” continuing to add food to my stomach would make me acutely aware of the amount of food that I had consumed, leading to – you guessed it – the need to purge.
Eating slowly was key. During binges, I literally stuffed my face in a feverish attempt to get food into my body. I had to make a conscious attempt to enjoy my meal and put away my silverware once I was no longer physically hungry. Learning to stop eating when I was full helped me avoid that unbearably full feeling of food in my stomach. I also refused to allow myself to eat out of boredom or sadness.
There were many times that I caught myself mid-binge (or mid-purge) and noted that I was engaging in unhealthy habits. This happened a great deal during recovery. I made note of the fact that I was not dealing with my urges properly and removed myself from the situation. I often physically told myself that this cycle was an unacceptable, unhealthy behavior. I forced myself to become mindful of what I was doing rather than slamming back pizza slices in rapid succession. I was ashamed of my disordered eating and would typically stop once I realized I was engaging in a bulimic cycle.
Slowly, I learned that a healthy relationship with food involved moderate amounts of whatever sounded best to me. I began independently researching nutrition and soon realized that bodies often crave the nutrients it is lacking. This made immense amounts of sense to me, and I started focusing on giving myself adequate nutrients and enough variety to stay satisfied without having to resort to a binge. I made being good to my body a priority. I viewed purging as a “punishment,” and treating myself with kindness helped counteract that urge. Over time, the bulimic episodes tapered off and eventually stopped.
Although since recovering, I have occasionally been faced with the desire to binge or purge, choosing not to restrict my diet and eating with awareness has helped me curb my bulimic urges. I remind myself that there is no reason to be guilty for enjoying a meal with a moderate fat content or an entire serving of dessert. I believe that I am worth more than a night spent with my face in the toilet bowl. I also believe that no woman should feel so poorly about herself and her food choices that she subjects herself to the misery of a binge and purge cycle. There is indeed a beautiful, liberated life beyond the disorder – a life not interrupted by guilt and self-loathing, and it is worth every single struggle that comes with recovery.
Have you ever struggled with binge eating or bulimia? How have you learned to stop the cycle?