If you regularly feel the need to force vomiting to get rid of food you’ve just consumed, you could be among those with a diagnosed eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia. This is a serious situation, and one that you most likely need professional help to overcome.
But that doesn’t mean that you can’t get started now trying to learn all you can about these unhealthy eating regimens and what you can do about it.
Basically, getting control of your eating disorder – whether you constantly purge or only occasionally do so, requires commitment and a whole lot of effort. It isn’t something that you tackle for a day or so and then go right back to your previous bad habits of trying to rid your body of whatever you’ve eaten recently.
Here are some things to think about and perhaps take it further and spring into action.
How Much Do You Want to Change?
No kidding, you have to want to change in order for any change to either come about in the first place or to remain for very long. There’s no magic elixir or pill that’s going to “cure” you of your bad eating habits. You won’t just go to sleep one night and wake up in the morning and be able to ditch your way of eating that’s proven so unhealthy.
You have to really want to change. This may start as a result of how bad your overall health has become after a protracted period of anorexia or bulimia, or it could be because you’ve recognized how unattractive you’ve become in the process. Your skin is sallow and sags. You have no energy. Your teeth are in bad shape due to all the stomach acids from regurgitation. Any one of these could be enough to send you scrambling for some way to stop this zero-sum process.
And, believe it or not, anorexia and bulimia only get worse if they remain untreated. In that respect, an eating disorder is like any other kind of addiction, whether it’s addiction to alcohol or drugs or gambling or compulsive spending. Once you’re into it, you can’t just stop of your own accord.
Are you all for doing what it takes one day and then change your mind the next? If so, even being forced into a treatment program for eating disorder – by your parents or spouse, for example – won’t be enough to keep you on-track with what you need to do.
But it is a start. And you have to begin somewhere, especially if things have gotten really bad for you health wise.
So, let’s say that you think you want to change. Now it’s time to help you become better informed so that you want to change.
Do You Have Someone Who Can Help Support your Desire to Change?
Going it alone – trying to overcome an eating disorder — is not conducive to optimum results. Just as alcoholics or drug addicts cannot just “get over” their habit, neither can you manage to make it through without outside help.
If you have family members such as parents, a spouse, or other loved one, who will be around to support and encourage you as you begin your journey toward recovery, you’ll be much more likely to succeed than if you have no one around you on a daily basis.
Of course, you can still go into treatment to overcome your eating disorder, but you’ll still need support. This will have to be in the form of outside support groups such as Overeaters Anonymous, which we’ll go into a bit later.
The point is that you will need someone who stands by you and readily offers encouragement when you feel at a stalemate, or when you’re tempted to resume your old bad habits of purging, or when you’re anxious, depressed or in a hurry for things to get better.
Recovery is sometimes a roller-coaster of emotions. One day you’re up and the next day you’re down. Sometimes it seems like you just stay in one place.
But every day you’re not purging is one day and one step closer to being healthy again.
You still need more.
What’s it Worth to You to Be Healthy Again?
While we’re examining what it takes to get control of your eating disorder, let’s look at what being healthy is really worth to you. If you’re ambivalent about whether or not you’re ever going to be healthy or even want to be healthy, you’ve got an uphill battle. Principally, there’s undoubtedly something underlying this ambivalence. It could be fear, or a feeling that you’re unloved and unlovable, or that you don’t deserve to be healthy – or happy, for that matter.
Many individuals who are anorexic or bulimic have underlying depression, anxiety, or have experienced childhood abuse or other trauma. They eat and then purge as a way to cope with feelings of pain. Many don’t have a clue why they do what they do. It’s just gone on for such a long time that the habits have become normal.
There’s one thing wrong with this picture: purging is anything but normal.
Do you want to get to the point where you can eat a meal with your family and friends without constantly measuring your portions or getting up to go to the restroom to induce vomiting? Do you want to enjoy the taste of food again? Do you want to be able to eat sensibly and reap the benefits of being healthy in body, mind and spirit?
Can you even remember the last time you were healthy? Wouldn’t you do anything to be healthy again?
If the answer is yes, you’re in the right frame of mind to pursue the goal further.
Getting the Facts Straight: What Anorexia and Bulimia Look Like
Tossing around the words anorexia and bulimia and eating disorder may have you rolling your eyes back. Maybe you think you don’t have such a condition. Maybe you should take a look at what anorexia and bulimia look like. See if you recognize yourself in any of the following:
- You eat a large portion of food in a relatively short period of time and immediately force vomiting or take laxatives in order to purge your body of what you’ve consumed.
- You have dramatic weight loss in a relatively short period of time.
- You dress in layers or wear baggy clothing to hide the fact that you’ve lost or gained a lot of weight or have significantly changed in your body shape.
- You’re obsessed with weight and constantly complain of weight problems.
- You have a constant fixation on food fat content and calories.
- You are obsessed with constant exercising.
- You make frequent trips to the bathroom – and run the water to mask the sounds of purging.
- You restrict yourself of food and/or starve yourself.
- You visibly binge and/or purge.
- You frequently use (and hide) diet pills, diuretics, and laxatives.
- You’re afraid to eat in the presence of others, so you tend toward isolation or eating out of the view of others.
- You employ food rituals: shifting food around in your plate to make it look like you’ve eaten some; cutting or mincing food into tiny pieces; avoiding fork contact with your lips; chewing food (but not swallowing it) and then spitting it out, or hiding food in a napkin and then throwing it away uneaten.
- You flush food down the toilet to get rid of it.
- You hide food (in closets, under the bed, in drawers or elsewhere) either to give the impression you’ve eaten your food or to have food ready to eat for later.
- You adopt secretive eating patterns or are vague about what/when you eat.
- You find yourself pre-occupied with thoughts of food, of cooking, and eating and all things connected with food.
- You keep a food diary where you record how much calories you’ve consumed, what you’ve denied or restricted yourself in the way of food, how often you’ve purged, how often you’ve exercised, and so on.
- You visit websites where you get ideas (unhealthy) on how to purge your food.
- You’re always reading books on losing weight, perhaps some on eating disorders (but only if you’re concerned or motivated to make a change).
- You experience hair loss.
- Your skin starts to look gray or pale.
- Your knuckles are calloused or bruised.
- You have bloodshot eyes.
- Your eyes may have light bruising underneath them or your cheeks may be bruised.
- You have frequent dizziness and/or headaches.
- You have frequent swollen glands or sore throat.
- You are constipated or have diarrhea.
- You have irregular periods or they cease altogether.
- You often feel cold.
- You have low blood pressure.
- You feel no desire for sex or you become promiscuous.
- You experience mood swings, depression and fatigue.
- You find yourself unable to sleep well at night and frequently suffer insomnia.
- You feel a sense of low self-esteem and believe that you are worthless.
- You make self-deprecating comments about being too fat.
- You’ve become a perfectionist.
Not a pretty picture, is it? If you’ve recognized yourself in some of the signs above, you could definitely use some help. The question becomes, what help is available and where do you find it?
Treatment for Eating Disorders
There are different types of therapy for treating people with eating disorders. There are psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors and social workers who do this kind of treatment. Most have a degree in the field, and many of them are licensed. As far as which is better, that’s a personal choice. Keep in mind that while social workers and counselors do not have to be licensed as a medical doctor to treat for an eating disorder, they can provide valuable and helpful service, but they cannot prescribe or dispense medications.
What you want to ensure is that you receive treatment or counseling in a safe and supportive environment. Make sure, too, that the person or facility providing the treatment has a good track record in treating people with eating disorder.
Types of counseling for eating disorder include psychoanalytic, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), marriage and/or family therapy. Much of this counseling is individual therapy, although group therapy is also often included as part of an overall treatment plan.
Where do you get treatment for eating disorder? There are three choices: inpatient, outpatient, and residential housing.
Inpatient treatment is what it sounds like. You reside at a treatment facility for the duration of your treatment program. This can be several weeks to several months, depending on the severity of your eating disorder and your progress toward overcoming it, along with the general state of your physical and emotional health.
Outpatient treatment for eating disorder is usually conducted at eating disorder clinics or mental health clinics, but can also occur at inpatient facilities that also offer outpatient treatment.
The focus of residential housing is to help with the patient’s transition back into daily life for those in recovery. Sometimes this is included in aftercare or continuing care programs, or it may be a separate care facility.
Self-Help Groups for Support When You are in Recovery
After you complete treatment for an eating disorder, you need continued support – both from your family and loved ones, but also from outside groups that have been formed specifically to help those in recovery from eating disorder.
Three of these groups are Overeaters Anonymous, Eating Disorders Anonymous, and Food Addicts Anonymous. There are no dues or fees to join, and participation in these 12-step fellowship groups is always anonymous.
By now, if you’re thinking about how to get control of your eating disorder, you may still have a lot of questions. There are additional resources that may help you sort out your concerns, or at least point you in the right direction to get the answers you need.
Check out the following:
- National Eating Disorders Association
- National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH)
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
- Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness
- National Center for Overcoming Overeating
- National Eating Disorders Screening Program
- Jessie’s Wish – A 501(c) 3 organization that helps educate about eating disorders and raises funds to help with financial assistance when there is inadequate or no available health insurance
- Academy for Eating Disorders
- National Association for Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
- Eating Disorder Hope
Resisting the urge to purge can seem overwhelming and overwhelmingly impossible. It’s not. But first you need to make the decision that you’re going to get control of your eating disorder. Reach out and ask for help. Explore your options. Make sure that you have necessary support from your family and loved ones as you embark on your healing journey, for it will be difficult at times for you to keep going if you try to do this alone. Also, be sure that you look into and start going to a 12-step fellowship group that can help you maintain your recovery from eating disorder.
Above all, be encouraged by your desire to make something happen in your life that will result in you being happier, healthier and able to overcome your eating disorder.
It will take time, but you can succeed.