Meet Bulimia – the eating disorder bully you cannot see

Meet Bulimia – the eating disorder bully you cannot see

Do I look like I have an eating disorder? No? A cub reporter, age 19. When not typing stories for the newspaper, I typed endless new diets, in a hopeless bid to control the bingeing and restricting behaviour of the bulimia eating disorder that caused endless chaos in my life.

Do I look like I have an eating disorder? No? A cub reporter, age 19. When not typing stories for the newspaper, I secretly typed endless new diets, in a hopeless bid to control the bingeing and restricting behaviour of the bulimia eating disorder that caused endless chaos in my life. This time is described in my memoir, A Girl Called Tim

High five for Out of Sight – a documentary about invisible eating disorders, one of which is BulimiaIf this video had been around when I was younger it would have helped me realise that I had an illness – not a weakness;  and my parents and sister would have understood the challenges that whirled in my mind. Knowledge is essential in recovery from an eating disorder. The good news is that today, wonderful support is available. Out of Sight is an example. If you recognise yourself, here, if you think ‘this are my thoughts’, ‘this is how I feel, too’ seek help today. Know that you are not alone, that you can be free.

In the 1980s, when little was known about bulimia, I felt dreadfully alone. (This time is described in my memoir A Girl Called Tim).

At the age of 38, some 27 years after developing anorexia and transitioning into bulimia, I penned in my diary:

… for years I have been searching, seeking my identity, my purpose, my meaning, in life. Years. I’ve concluded that I am a prisoner to myself. And if I don’t set myself free, if I don’t take a stand, I will live the rest of my life feeling frustrated, and unfulfilled; I will not know the joy of inner peace, or the achievements I can enjoy if my energies are set free in a positive way.

I can see that, for many years, since I fell prey to anorexia nervosa, much of my creative energy has been wasted in a negative way, for I have turned it on myself, my own private obsession with food has robbed me of my true self.

I have had some hard lessons. I know I can live with myself only if I accept that my mistakes, my bad experiences, can be the catalyst, the seed, for new beginnings and fulfilment.

I find great difficulty in understanding myself, my behaviour, but I must try to understand myself, my fears, my needs, if I am to correct myself and live out the rest of my life free from the nasty inhibitions that have plagued my inner self for so long.

From adolescence until well into midlife, eating disorder thoughts raced and raged in my mind. The thoughts seesawed chaotically like this:

  • If I lose xx kg and weigh ‘this much’, I will feel content and at peace; I will cope with life’s challenges (studies, learning to drive, new boyfriend, new job, marriage, visiting the in-laws, baby, returning to work, divorce, you name it).
  • If I eat ‘this much’, allow myself ‘this many’ calories, I will feel in control; I will feel happy and self-assured.
  • I know I have failed before but this time I will succeed. Nothing is more important than sticking rigidly to my diet and weighing ‘this much’. This is the only way to achieve the inner peace I have sought for so long.

And the let-down upon breaking the diet, always with a binge:

A Girl Called Tim - describes my recovery from anorexia and bulimia, and the regaining of my life.

A Girl Called Tim – describes my recovery from anorexia and bulimia, and the regaining of my life.

  • I weigh too much and feel unworthy, unattractive, lack confidence.
  • I have eaten too much and feel guilty and weak; I loathe myself.
  • I have failed again and am in a deep, black hole; I know at some level that counting calories is not the way to attain inner peace but I don’t know what else to do.

At the age of 39, I welcomed 1990 with a revelation, acknowledging the futility of calorie counting:

Happy new resolve, happy new me. Farewell to bulimia. Farewell to counting calories, farewell to bingeing, farewell to starving. Hello to counting portions for this year as I rid myself of all bulimic behaviour. This year is the year I GROW. No more wasted energy on bulimic torment. Positive growth….

At least I was on the right track now, but retraining thought patterns and finding a replacement for the calorie counting behaviour was a challenge. Whenever a stressful moment occurred, which was often, I went on automatic pilot, resorting to calorie counting as a coping mechanism. Letdowns occurred time and time again.

Only two weeks later:

This day is the LAST, the very LAST, terrible day I ever have due to bingeing. I made myself feel absolutely terrible and unable to think straight.

My first priority is to reduce to —-kg and stay there. Nothing else matters. An average —- calories daily. Keeping to this goal is all-important. I am fighting this thing inside me unto its death; this is the transition of me, afflicted by anorexia nervosa at age 11 and then bulimia wreaking havoc on my thoughts and behaviour, me, setting me FREE from all this to enjoy life, to give, to grow. This is what I am doing; 28 years is ENOUGH. The rest of my life I shall be FREE of the horrid torment.

It wasn’t easy. My relationship with my parents and sister became more estranged.

May 1990: I have started a lot of new lives. I expect I have one more to start, because I have mucked up so far. I will start as soon as I get a hold on things. I suppose starting by dieting will be better than not starting at all.

Counting calories was the only coping mechanism I knew. It was always doomed to fail, for this was the eating disorder at work, not me.

Mindfulness – a breakthrough

When I was 47, a dietician provided a light bulb moment. She gently suggested:

Focus on your feelings and the food will take care of itself.

As for weight, the dietician said this would take care of itself, too.

And it did.

It took time, and effort, and required skills in self-awareness and mindfulness, but with the guidance of this wonderful therapist, I built a new sense of self and identity. No bulimia, diet or weight target in sight.

I learnt that to be a worthy person and realize life dreams, I had to hit the delete button on thoughts that said ‘I have to lose weight, weigh this certain amount, to be a success’.

Since 2006, I have been free to be me.

Never give up hope – for my experience is that recovery IS possible at every age; it is never too late to discover the joy and contentment that comes in being free to live life, true to our own self.

Out of Sight no more

Out of Sight will help you understand a life-threatening illness that is grossly misunderstood. I was once like the three young women who courageously and candidly share their stories. My heart goes out to them, and everyone who is suffering this illness today.

Bulimia is the eating disorder you generally ‘don’t see’. I was among the 40 per cent of patients with Anorexia who go on to develop Bulimia. It is in many ways a silent hell. People think you are recovered, because you are eating and look ‘well’. Wrong. The illness resides in the brain, and the brain takes a long time to heal.

If you know or think you may be suffering Bulimia – watch  Out of Sight and you will realise you are not alone, and that you can regain your true self.

If you know someone who is suffering Bulimia – watch Out of Sight and it will help you understand the difficulties and daily torments relating to thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

If you are suffering the symptoms of Bulimia, I encourage you to seek help, today! This is an illness an help is available. You CAN reclaim you!

Out of Sight – A documentary about invisible eating disorders, produced by *Proud2Bme and Center for Eating Disorders Ursula, is recorded in Dutch but the English subtitles make it very easy to follow.

Proud2Bme, based in The Netherlands, is a wonderful example of what can happen when the voices of experience and evidence-based research unite to raise awareness of eating disorders. Scarlet Hemkes, who suffered from anorexia and bulimia for about 10 years, and Dr Eric van Furth, a researcher and clinician, created Proud2Bme and, at the NEDA Conference  2011 helped to launch  Proud2Bme in the United States.

Leave a Reply