Bingeing, Purging, Food and Eating Disorders: What Is Bulimia About?
Bulimia: you never seem to hear much about it nowadays. It was quite a 'trendy' ailment back in the nineties, the latest psycho-medical complaint that tacky weekly and monthly magazines were just full of. Articles on it gave rather nausea-inducing accounts of sufferers' struggles with the urge to scarf down every calorie-laden item in sight, followed by the induction of vomiting via fingers down the throat, or self-administered laxatives with the inevitable disagreeable results. Hey, are these people crazy? Why would anybody treat themselves that way?
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Well, I used to suffer from a mild version of some bulimic-type ailment myself, suffering eating disorders symptoms a long time back in the day, and crazy doesn't quite describe the mindset of it to me. It seems as if for many sufferers, weight-loss is at least the starting point that sets them off on the bulimic journey. (Does this make sense? Perhaps not. Do many things in life make much sense? I rest my case.) No, a binge of several thousand calories isn't logically calculated to make any individual shed a few pounds. But, at least from my personal experience, that isn't the starting point from which a binge begins.
So what is that starting point, that rationale that makes a bulimic-type binge seem like a rational and sensible idea (well, almost). (A fairly recent article observes the precondition for bulimic behaviour - purging - as being trying to keep your weight down in the first place.1 Which kind of seems, simultaneously, obvious and counter-intuitive. The purging, maybe: but the initial stuffing?) The first and most important thing, I think, is the fact that this binge is the last binge in which you will ever partake. (In what way is this a fact? Uh, in much the same way as joining a gym and making a New Year's resolution about getting and keeping fit, makes the achievement of said goal a fact.)
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So that's the starting point, and simultaneously the reason for the binge in itself. This is the last time you will ever eat anything, anything remotely yummy. After this, it will be alfalfa sprouts and brewer's yeast all the way. Goodbye doughnuts, goodbye bacon, bye-bye chocolate and so long to chocolate-covered kirsch-soaked cherries. No more buttered toast, no more pork pies, raw cabbage soup and steamed rice will constitute a feast for you after today. Therefore, it's time to chow down! If you will never again eat anything covered in butter, or containing sugar, or resembling anything remotely delicious or even edible – then why hold back at all now?
No, now is the time, the very last time, to cram it all in. And I mean everything – bacon sandwiches, toasted cheese, black forest torte and hunks of old-socks-smelly mature cheese. That, and anything else you can lay your hands on. Eat, eat and be nauseated, for tomorrow we starve!
But what about when the binge is done? That moment when you're so stuffed it's like you've literally been beached – lying there on the powdery sands, a whale too huge and puny-limbed to move or exert any leverage. What do you do to alleviate that powerful discomfort of having eaten far beyond the point of hunger, satiety or outright sickness? The bulimic options are induced vomiting, or – ahem – the laxative route.
I would say that I have never tried either, but that wouldn't be quite accurate. After a couple of especially out-of-control and spectacular binges, I did indeed get to the point of having it occur to me that a finger down the throat and a quick spew of the contents of an over-stuffed stomach might be just the quick fix I needed. (And I'm not going to say I didn't try it either. Kids, don't try this at home. It's not pleasant.)
The other option – going in the other direction – of heavy doses of Ex-Lax or whatever your bowel-loosener of choice might be, somehow never appealed to me. (Or even less so than the alternative!) But a lot of people apparently do it!
I finally got past both the 'solutions', and the bingeing phenomenon itself, when I finally began to concentrate on what would make my body feel better and work better, rather than attempting to control and dictate to it. That included respecting the dictates of hunger and satisfying them, and also listening when my body was saying – in no uncertain terms – that what it actually wanted at that moment was NO MORE FOOD! (For any bulimic, the sensation of punishing your body with food – of eating well past the point of discomfort and nausea – will be familiar. Food is supposed to be a pleasure. Why punish yourself with it?)
Are you suffering with the stress and pressures that bulimic-type conditions bring? Don't forget that your doctor should be your first port of call when you are troubled with any medical or psychological condition, including help for bulimics. And don't suffer alone: food should be a pleasure, not an instrument of torture!
1. ML Butryn PhD, A Juarascio BA, MR Lowe PhD. The relation of weight suppression and BMI to bulimic symptoms. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 44(7), pp612–617. November 2011.
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