Thank you for your letter. It’s the first time anyone has ever written me a question! I loved that when I asked about changing your name for this blog post, you said, “you can shout my real name from the roof tops! My illness is not my secret anymore.”
Not having a secret anymore is what has kept me healed.
I videotaped myself reading your email. I wanted you to be able to see my initial reaction to your words:
Here is my response.
Your letter melted my heart, a little love puddle of sorts. Thank you for taking the time to reach out and let me know that you FELT my words. I immediately feel connected to people who are brave enough to tell me about their eating disorders. We’re kindred spirits. Even though we don’t always know each other in person, we certainly know what it’s like to carry the burden of shame in our hearts.
I want you to know, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
It feels like we’re alone because we don’t talk about our eating disorders with anyone. I started reading books about recovery when I first started my path. The personal stories added something to my healing-even if we didn’t share the same eating disorder or recovery story.
I’ve never been to an in-patient treatment center. I worked with a therapist for a year and a half and now I’ve been on my own for the same amount of time. Someday, I’m sure I’ll go back to see her-as a gift to myself.
Many of us try to “fix it” on our own.
For many years, I had a continuous debate in my head about why I was bulimic. How could I be bulimic when I come from such a loving family? What happened that made me this way? Why am I overeating right now? Why am I making myself sick right now? Why didn’t I stop sooner? What’s wrong with me? Why am I so f*cked up?
The whys don’t matter in the beginning.
What matters most is that you make the commitment to do something different and you stick with it. When you slip up, you don’t get caught up in judgment, you move onto the next meal (or when you’re hungry) and you try again. And again. And again.
It’s important to remind yourself what you’ve been doing is NOT working. Even though you think you “have it under control” or that you “can stop if you really tried”, the truth is that we can’t always do it on our own- sometimes we have to ask for help.
I had to start talking about it to health insurance phone representatives. They helped me research mental health therapists. I learned I had to become my own advocate. No one was going to do it for me. I waited for something to change for over two decades.
It was me who had to change.
I finally did. I made a commitment that no matter what, I was going to KEEP GOING. That’s the ONLY factor making this almost three-year experience different- this time around, I’m committed to KEEP GOING. I’ve learned tools that can get me through it.
We binge and purge so we don’t feel. When we’re not binging and purging, all of our attention stays focused on the food, the weight and the exercise. We let our minds do whatever they want in order not to feel. We work out and eat with one goal in mind: lose weight.
When I started therapy, my bulimia was the worst it had ever been. It stayed that way for a long time. Relapses could happen weekly, or once a month, then it was gone for a while, then it surprised me again, then it was gone for a while.
Gone? I couldn’t buy it. I knew how this worked. I had been trying to stop for years. “Trying to stop” doesn’t sound the same as being committed. I had to change my mindset.
It was awful having to tell my therapist when I relapsed. I remember I once lied about it. I told her I hadn’t made myself sick in the past week so I wouldn’t have to relive it. I walked out to my car at the end of the appointment feeling discouraged. I wasn’t honoring my commitment to KEEP GOING.
I used to think recovery was like a light switch. I could just wake up on a Monday and finally put it behind me. I just needed to be a certain weight before I could give it all up.
In the beginning stages of my recovery, my main concern was that I was getting heavier and heavier in therapy. I had a lot of things wrong about what recovery “looked like.” I thought I would stop cold turkey the moment I started seeing a therapist. I thought pounds would start slipping away the more I learned to feel my feelings, but it only made them pile up even more.
At the beginning, I saw a nutritionist a few times. She told me our bodies get hungry every four hours. She explained the importance of sneaking in a little bit of protein in my snacks and lots of it in meals.
I wanted more from her. I wanted someone to write me a food plan, to tell me what to eat, to give me exact portions and recipes. I tried asking my sister a couple times about what she ate each day, trying to mimic her whole foods lifestyle. If only someone would spell it out for me. I could finally lose weight so I could stop being bulimic.
It helped when I found out that eating disorders can take up to seven years to heal. It reassured me when I researched that weight gain was normal during the first part of recovery. I liked the idea that returning to my natural body weight would be part of the long-term transformation.
I’ve wanted to be thin since I was a chubby 5th grader. It’s all I ever wanted. If I could be thin, then I could “have it all.” My life would be better if I weighed less, if I looked different, if I was svelte. This eternal longing to be different kept my mind too preoccupied to heal. My thoughts were in constant motion of who I needed to be instead of spending any time loving the person I already was.
The Future Me was worth rewarding and worth loving- I just had to be different than who I was to receive that kind of grace. There was no room in my mind for loving the Present Me, the one with a round belly and arm chub.
I was caught up on how I needed to look in order to be free.
Now I know freedom starts from within each of us. I’m still heavier than I want to be. You’d think I’d be miserable. I’m not. I’m not attached to my weight like I used to be. I don’t fixate on changing the way I look. I see small changes in my body and I celebrate each and every victory.
I avoid fat talk at all costs. I stay away from new dieting trends and cleanses. More often than not, I try to maintain a whole foods diet and sneak greens into most meals. I don’t drink unless it’s a super special occasion. I make efforts to heal my leaky gut and to soothe the inflammation in my body. I can only imagine the long-term effects of my bulimia. Now that my mental health has been given a lot of TLC, I’m just now focusing on my body.
I have a few tools I like to keep in my back pocket:
My therapist first taught me to put an end to judging my binges and purges. It was time for me to replace those feelings with acknowledgement and move on. I could no longer wallow in self-loathing. This took time. Major time.
I learned daily mantras from my therapist. When I got hung up on my weight, she told me to tell myself, “That’s just the weight it is.”-kind of like “that’s just the way it is.” It helped. It was hard, but over time I learned to accept myself for where I was in my skin. I’m still practicing this every single day. I see changes in my body, but weight doesn’t come off the same way when you’re not restricting, dieting and listening to the Food Police in your brain.
I stopped weighing myself. The numbers are triggering. I threw my scale. I thought I could get away with a monthly weigh-in. I couldn’t. The scale was too tempting.
We talked about how purging was “no longer an option”. I was going to have to sit with all of that food in my belly. It was miserable. I felt disgusting. I was gaining weight when I felt like I should be losing weight. After all, I was seeing a therapist, right? I was in recovery. I should be different by now.
I learned to tell myself, “I get to eat again.” This helps me to not overeat.
I’m not saying ANY of this is easy. Right now I think I’ll be in recovery the rest of my life. It all started by me paying attention to how I talked to myself in mirrors, while I put on clothes, while I worked out and while I was out in public. I used to be so mean. I told myself things I would never say to another human being. I was cruel. I had to pay attention to what I was telling myself so I could shift my thoughts.
I celebrate that most of my days are spent in a world of appreciation, love and self-care. For the most part I eat healthy and when I don’t, I savor every bite. I can tell when I’m having a sketchy food day. Even if I overeat, I sit with it. I process my reasons for bingeing, even if it’s a small binge. I take the time to figure it out.
I’m ecstatic for you, especially on your down days…and trust me, they will come! Opening up about my bulimia has been THE scariest thing I’ve ever done. Choosing to recover has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Healing my mind has been worth every growing pain in the process.
You have begun! You have begun! You have begun!