There are so many articles, help sites, blog posts, and social media attention surround eating disorders, but I am rarely satisfied when I read them. In the past three years, I have spent hours upon hours trying to get to the heart of it all – to understand and know. It seems like that is the goal of hundreds of researchers and medical writers as well. I want to write posts for myself in hopes of closing the gap that I see in these articles. To combine what we know medically with what we know mentally, physically, and spiritually. It will at least help me, but I sincerely hope it helps you as well, and hopefully someone you know to see themselves in a better light.. Today, we’ll talk about another eating disorder we know about, but don’t really seem to know.
Bulimia nervosa does not take as many lives as anorexia nervosa, but it is somewhere between 4-6 times more common. I’m not a doctor or a psychologist, but I’d be willing to guess that there are many, many more people (men and women) struggling with variations of bulimia than we know about. The very word means “to eat like an ox”, referring to the binge-eating sessions in those with the disorder (Abraham 32). It’s a degrading, guilt-filled eating disorder where a person has irregular eating patterns, starving at times, binging followed by purging the food consumed. Many bulimics also have clinical depression and it’s sometimes hard to tell whether depression led to bulimia or vice versa (Abraham 91).
Let’s hear from someone who has lived this, a young patient with bulimia: “I think that I look forward to a binge-eating session. Exactly what I am thinking is vague, but on reflection it is: ‘Oh good, I won’t have to think about dieting any more – what a relief.’ If anything happens which delays the start of the binge I become quite angry and rather rude to the person who caused the delay. This anger is not warranted and is totally inappropriate – it could be likened to a temper tantrum” (Abraham 189).
We know that food is important, logically. We need it to survive. We need fat to absorb vitamins. We need nutrients and we need carbs and we need protein. But, if you are disgusted with the way you look, then that disgust can transfer to food. Wanting to get rid of that – to purge something disgusting can seem like a good idea.
I always wonder if there are triggers for eating disorders. Many sources say that even just being a woman increases your chances of having an eating disorder: New York Times’ Health Guide research shows that about 80% of those struggling with bulimia are female. Personality is a factor, as well as mental illness, cases of early onset of puberty, and having a family member who has battled an eating disorder all increase your likelihood of having one as well (“Bulimia”). But, I want to give you some of the instigators found by professionals who have dedicated their lives to helping those with anorexia and bulimia. The wording is changed, but the ideas come from a wonderful book called Biting the Hand that Starves You.
8 Possible Initiators of Anorexia/Bulimia (Maisel 24-28)
Professions/Activities focusing on the body
Feeling like You have no control over your life/body
Professions/Activities encouraging selflessness
Feeling Belittled or Underappreciated
Feeling overwhelmed emotionally
Achievement & Competition
Families promoting perfection, thinness, or guilt
Just knowing the background of someone struggling with bulimia can help us get a handle on not only how to help, but also how to empathize. Sometimes life is just so overwhelming and all of the voices coming from outside you can internalize into something painful before we know it. Someone who feels “underappreciated” might want to change how they look outside so that the person ignoring him/her might begin to recognize them and see value in them. A person who feels like their life is out of control might want to control it in any way they can – which in the case of eating disorders is through controlling food intake and purges.
So, let’s start a conversation. I’d urge you to talk to someone – anyone – this week about one or all of these questions. In your speaking, be critical but stay positive.
1) What issues do you think we face in our culture that need to change (Maisel 76)?
2) Do you think self-image is important to talk about? Eating disorders?
3) Talk about some of the 8 instigators of bulimia.
4) What do you think is the relationship between the disorder and the person?
5) Do you know anyone who struggles with self-image?
6) Why do you think someone might struggle with self-image or eating disorders?
7) Where do we need the focus to be when we talk about self-image and eating disorders?
8) What do you think of this quote: “Connecting to one’s spiritual knowledge can provide a person with an elevation from which she can survey her life and her world with a refreshing perspective” (Maisel 173). Do you think there is a relationship between our culture’s problems and spirituality?
You are welcome to have a conversation below or on our Facebook page. I’d love to hear from you and hear your thoughts on these issues through our Disordered Eating Series.
Abraham, Suzanne and Derek Llewellyn-Jones. Eating Disorders: The Facts, Fifth Edition. Oxford University Press, Inc: New York, 2003.
“Bulimia.” The New York Times: Health Guide. A.D.A.M., 8 Mar. 2013. Web. 26 Sept. 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/bulimia/risk-factors.html
Maisel, Richard, David Epston, and Ali Borden. Biting the Hand that Starves You: Inspiring Resistance to Anorexia/Bulimia. W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 2004.