bulimia: more than "ox hunger"
It is estimated that one in four women in college have bulimia. One in four. It has become so common that some schools have been reported to have to post signs in the girls bathrooms that say something along the lines of - "Please stop throwing up - you are destroying our piping system and backing things up!" The acid that comes up from purging was eroding the schools' pipes. I've also noticed that among the complaints of having to share a room on campus with someone, that one of them was dealing with a roommate that "hogged" the bathroom because she was throwing up or on the toilet constantly from laxative abuse.
Once a problem that was "too gross" to imagine has practically the whole country affected. When did throwing up "here and there" become so acceptable? Furthermore, and I know this sounds melodramatic, but when are we going to end this madness?
Since the age of six I've had bad body image. I was always NOT RIGHT. Something was always fucked up with me. Either it was my hair or my feet or my nose, or my weight. I figured that if I could just be thinner, things would be better. If I could just lose some weight, I would be a different person with different friends and some different glamorous life. And so it started.
I didn't become immediately immersed in the idea of throwing up. Around that time I had gone off and on diets from the age of about 7 to 11, even though at that age you consider a diet really just telling people you are on one while never really changing eating patterns. But one day I overheard some people talking about how they vomitted what they ate just to keep their weight steady, and I figured that was a good idea. If food never fully went "in", it couldn't put anymore weight on. It was a disgusting thought to imagine me making myself vomit, but... I put my whole life into being the best, the thinnest, the winner, and if this made me drop some weight...
I hardly ever did it in the beginning. Just once in awhile, like once a month. But it gradually got worse. My parents always fought a lot and used me as a pawn to decide who was liked more, and I hated that. I found myself eating more and more around those times, and having to heave over a toilet just as many times to keep away the guilt. I stopped eating just three meals a day and instead skipped those and ate when I was upset. I then just purged to "wash" the sins away and to help find some peace in myself. Didn't matter what I was upset over. Food was there to help out, and so was purging.
About two years after starting I was flipping between ten pound weight gains and losses just about daily. My face was constantly bloated along with my hands and feet. It was really hard for me to sleep, too. I was so moody that I turned off a lot of people, but I didn't really notice the changes. I still thought that throwing up daily or weekly was "fine." I didn't realize that what was going on was bulimia until my freshman year of college when a friend of mine brought it up. She helped me go and see a counselor, even though I then denied everything. That helped a little...
I'm now a senior and still fighting. People don't understand this is an addiction. In the beginning you think you are fine, that there is no problem, and that you have control or that you only need to lose a "few more," but it bites you in the ass eventually. I'm going to group therapy and stuff, but I haven't found a therapist , one on one kind, that I really like so I just kind of try to fight the urges on my own. Some days are good, some days are really bad, but never in the middle. I hope that I can beat this one day, but it doesn't look like that'll happen anytime soon.
Bulimia is latin, meaning "ox hunger." There have been explanations that bulimia first began in the middle ages, where people in celebration gorged on food and then induced purging so that they could go back to the party and eat more with their friends. However, bulimia is not about purging for the sake of having to go back to a celebration. It's about emotional pain more than anything. Frightening, 2-4% of the population suffers from this, including 20% of high school girls. These statistics don't include the large amount of people that don't go for treatment, either.
The typical person that is vulnerable to developing bulimia hides what they feel inside frequently and is a people pleaser. Moreso than a person with anorexia, those vulnerable to bulimia care deeply about what others think about them. A past history of on and off dieting is common, as well as problems controllin their impulses. Often people vulnerable to bulimia tend to be more irrational and erratic with their emotions, which leads to the problem of controlling the impulses of dieting and purging.
Just as with anorexia, society gives the impression that to be liked (something the person vulnerable craves) you have to be thin. To be thin equals power and respect and money and love and attention. That alone can trigger bulimia, and because those that are vulnerable to developing this disorder veer from one extreme to another in every aspect of life, they eventually plunge head into the problem.
Something such as powerful and deadly as bulimia is not based around mere society, however. In the family of someone vulnerable, there is usually chaos. Emotions are erratic and scattered and the person isn't taught how to deal with things very well. It is often described that the mother has been the type to diet constantly herself, and moreso than anorexia there tends to be a past history of sexual abuse.
Somewhere the feelings of unworthyness and failure build and erode the person's self-esteem, whether that be the person feeling inadequat in their parents' eyes or perhaps even a boyfriend's eyes. Food brings comfort and purging the relief into the person's body and mind. Purging also causes a sick sense of control, as well. Knowing that they can basically eat what they want and just bring it all up later helps the person feel better and in control of what they allow their bodies to have and digest.
As with anorexia, the person with bulima will measure everything by one object - their bodies. Their body and their weight will commonly measure whether the day will be good or bad, and whether they are allowed to eat. Of course, usually by nightfall, the person with bulimia ends up bingeing/eating anyways, and then purging. A cycle of trying to starve and/or diet during the day but then eating and purging at night is not uncommon. The person with bulimia then feels even more of a failure as they can't even "diet" right.
Becuase bulimia does not cause someone to lose an extraordinary amount of weight, it is generally an easy disorder to hide. The person with bulimia will often only purge at night or when they take showers so that no one can hear them vomitting or see them binge. With anorexia there tend to be more extreme detereorations of the body on the outside, whereas with bulimia much of the physical damage is done on the inside. Thus it isn't uncommon for someone to live with this disorder for many years before being caught or finally coming to for help.
One of the many reasons people that suffer from bulimia don't go for help is because they feel ashamed. Let's face it. In society people with anorexia are almost put on pedestals. Sure we are shocked at how emaciated someone could get, but at the same time we have a morbid fascination with their extreme self control and destruction. People regard purging as utterly gross (which, it is, but that does not make the person suffering is gross) and believe that people with bulimia just have a lack of self control and that's it. To keep people from thinking less of them, someone suffering will hide their problem. They also fear the threat of weight. I wont lie, stopping purging cold turkey and right away will bring some weight gain, but the person suffering wont wait long enough for their metabolisms to straighten out and will continue the behaviors without speaking to anyone.
You or the person you know with this problem must be willing to work together with a therapist in order to get better. When trying to stop alone the person with bulimia commonly believes that the bingeing is the only problem, so they solely work on restrictive eating. Inevtiably they get too hungry and binge anyways, which leads to a trip to the bathroom. The key to treating bulimia is not self control. This sounds like a problem that is basically just a fight with food, when in reality it is a battle with the self and self esteem inside of a person. You or the person suffering must deal with the issues that are triggering you to eat and purge for comfort, and you must be willing to put up a fight. Remember that eating disorders are addictions, and it will require a lot of TEAMWORK between you and a therapist to finally win this battle.
When you or someone you know is ready to come forward for help, usually group therapy is the first place to go. Because so many people with bulimia feel incredibly guilty and ashamed, it is usually a helpful experience to talk with others that also suffer, just to know that you or the other person is not alone and has nothing to feel bad about. Overeaters Anonymos tends to show promising results for compulsive overeaters and people with bulimia, but if you are not a Christian you might have trouble following some parts of the 12 step program. Individual therapy is key to fully recovering. It is tough to deal with the issues that someone with bulimia has locked away inside all these years, but they must be dealt with so that you or the person does not have to constantly go back to purging as a way to comfort and bring relief to internal pain. As with anorexia, usually family therapy is suggested for those patients that are under 16 or 18 and have bulimia.
I should make a note here, that those suffering from bulimia tend to have problems with substance abuse moreso than people with anorexia. It is estimated that as many as 50-60% of those with bulimia are also alcoholics and need treatment for alcohol abuse along with the purging. If this is the case with you or someone you know, you must get treatment for the drug/alcohol addiction ALONG WITH the purging. You can not treat one problem and not treat the other. What will happen if you treat one addiction is the person will just replace the treated addiction with the nontreated one (i.e. - the person goes into treatment for bulimia, so they drink to make up for not purging, or, they go into treatment for cocaine, so they eat and purge to make up for the loss of the drug).
To see a listing of treatment options, go to here: Treatment
"I'll show you why
you're so much more than good enough..."