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The Binging and Purging Cycle - Why You Feel Out of Control with Bulimia

Updated on October 9, 2011
The pressures on women today are great – they need to be a nurturer.
The pressures on women today are great – they need to be a nurturer.

A web of complex issues generally underlies the disordered cycle of binging and purging that becomes second nature for bulimics. Consider the fact that the pressures on women today are great – they need to be a nurturer, to have a fulfilling career, they’re obliged to keep it all together or at least to be seen as keeping it all together.

Eating disorders can be the expression of deeper needs

Apart from all the pressures I just mentioned, there is the added pressure to look perfect as well. With eating disorders and the media perpetuating unreal ideals of airbrushed beauty the desire to be thin has become linked to love and approval.  A woman’s body is tied to her self-esteem and something she feels she can control.

The fact is that “women speak with their bodies”, as Susie Orbach, psychoanalyst and social critic has said.  So, the binging and purging is a manifestation of what a woman is trying to express. Remaining a certain body size is a way of preserving a certain illusion of being in control to show the world outside she’s ok.

The Desire for Control

There is much that we as women are unable to control in our lives.  In a desire to regain at least some control, we create the illusion of being in control by focusing on being thin, on healthy eating, on exercising compulsively, and in ritualistic behavior. 

Many of us tend not to impose any part of ourselves or our opinions on others.  We compensate for this lack of expression by controlling our bodies and establishing our autonomy over that physicality.

The Control Paradox

So much is out of control that we feel we can control at least our own bodies by binging and purging (or extreme fasting in the case of anorexia).  The paradox here is that this behavior actually continues to deny a woman what she really wants and needs.  There is a dilemma between complete control and complete lack of control. The desire for happiness ironically plunges a woman into dark despair.

Why women can need an eating disorder

Let us be honest here – we may think that we are in control; that we are choosing to binge and purge.  But, the fact is that the eating disorder is very much in control. When I was bulimic I felt I needed my eating disorder to cope with life.  Living without it and facing my fears, my problems and dealing with everyday stress seemed impossible.  Giving it up terrified me.

The socializing factor that promotes nurturing of others

Women are conditioned to take care of others in our society.  We are nurturers and we are habituated to put ourselves and our needs last.  Society today has conditioned us to feel guilty if we think about putting our needs and wellbeing right up there with the needs of others. A natural consequence of this denial of the self is anger, frustration and resentment towards our friends, our family and people in our lives in general.  This emotional suppression adds fuel to the fire for our feeling out of control.

All or nothing and the illusion of control

Therituals involved in an eating disorder – the obsessive attention to calories consumed and burned, “overcoming” hunger - do give an ephemeral sense of control; a sort of personal fascism.

On the one hand is the need to be in tight control of our body and what we put into it. And then there is the complete relinquishment of control that manifests during binging and purging. The feeling of being possessed by food and compulsive overeating until you feel you may explode.  The overwhelming guilt following a binge that leads to purging all shrouded in secrecy and isolation.   You may think you’re in control of your behavior, but you’re actually just a prisoner to your eating disorder.

Resolving the issue of control and feelings of powerlessness

If your life seems to be divided into good and bad phases; good when you perceive yourself to be in control and bad when you see the control slipping away, you’ve grasped what I am talking about.

Since control is a central reason for binging and purging behavior, resolving the control paradox is central to recovery. The fact is that real control is very different from the rituals of an eating disorder. The important thing is to take on the emotional issues head or and to regain your true power.  Start by tackling problems relating what’s causing feelings of helplessness and powerlessness and emerge victorious. Being aware of and present to the underlying causes of your addiction will give you your true power back.


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