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 person who has bulimia developed binge/purge behavior.
A binge can be described as a trance-like state during which an individual consumes large quantities of food. 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 person who is binge eating is both compelled to consume food and is unable to stop themselves. Many people who binge eat will describe a sense of numbness during a binge, sort of like 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 purge behavior.
The most common purge behaviors are: 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 person who is binge eating at some point decides to respond to the binge with a purge.
The person who has bulimia uses purge behavior to rid themselves of discomfort, which is both physical and emotional. People who have bulimia often feel a deep sense of shame following a binge, and seek to rectify their shame with purge behavior.
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 person who has bulimia 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 themselves when they make a mistake or get into an uncontrollable urge state.
If you love someone who has bulimia, then please approach them 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 person who has bulimia needs to learn to love and care for themselves without bingeing and purging.
Less ick. More love.
Thanks to Kristen Wiig as Aunt Linda for the photo!