Bulimia often feels shamefully disgusting to the people who do it. It is possibly even more disgusting when the people who love them find out what they are doing.
Bulimia is thought of as the ickiest form of disordered eating because of the purge. It’s easy to see bulimia as a gross illness. But let’s try to shift our perspective to one of love by evaluating why the bulimic developed binge/purge behavior.
A binge can be described as a trance-like state during which an individual consumes large quantities of calories beyond any reasonable level of stomach fullness. This is not just eating a little too much. It’s not about going to the buffet and having an extra plate once in a while. It a consistent behavior in which the binger is both compelled to consume huge quantities of food and is unable to stop herself. Many bingers will describe a sense of numbness during a binge – a complete separation from the body.
This is also how we can define binge eating disorder – it turns into bulimia nervosa when consistently accompanied by purging.
There are three typical purge behaviors: vomiting, utilizing laxatives; and exercising in a specific effort to rid oneself of the calories consumed during a binge.
Regardless of the method of purging, the concept is that the binge eater at some point decides to respond to the binge with a purge.
The bulimic uses purge behavior to rid herself of discomfort, which is both physical and emotional. Bulimics are often perfectionists; many feel a deep sense of shame following a binge, and seek to rectify their failure with purging.
If we look at the binge as a deep and uncontrollable urge to fill oneself, and we look at the purge as the urge to free oneself from discomfort, then we can see how the bulimic may be attempting to provide self-care and self-love with bulimia.
It’s true that the purging behavior can seem disgusting, and possibly even violent, but sometimes it is the self’s way of attempting to overcome shame. Bulimia can be seen as a maladaptive form of self-care.
Try not to get hung up on the gross factor of the purge. Instead, think about how that person, whom you love so much, can learn healthy ways to soothe and calm herself when she makes a mistake or gets into an uncontrollable urge state.
If you love someone who is bulimic, then please approach her from a loving, healing perspective. Tame your ick factor with recognition of the fact that this is a person who needs love.
There are many pathways required to heal bulimia, but one essential path is that the bulimic needs to learn to love and care for herself without bingeing and purging.
Less ick. More love.
Thanks to Kristen Wiig as Aunt Linda for the photo!