So many of us remain trapped in destructive cycles of bulimia because we are convinced that purging helps us to lose – or at least “maintain” our weight.
If you’re already a member of Bulimia Help and have read through our extensive resource on bulimia and purging or if you have accessed our free week long bulimia recovery course then you should already have a better understanding of the reasons why purging just doesn’t work.
When I first joined Bulimia Help back in 2009, at my worst I was purging around 20 times a day.
Purging made me feel terrible but I continued to do it regardless…
I knew the reasons not to purge, I knew all of the purging side effects and I knew that purging made me feel dreadful – really dreadful. I’d sometimes wonder why I was so tired after purging, now the answer is obvious.
Lack of nutrients, dehydration, erratic blood sugar levels and then of course the emotional exhaustion that accompanies all of those factors.
A great thing about recovery is that you really have your eyes opened to the realities of bulimia for the very first time!
Five things I didn’t know about purging…
- I didn’t know that no matter how quickly I purged my body would fight to hold onto calories.
- I didn’t realize that no matter how much I restricted my body would fight to maintain my weight by slowing my metabolism and storing anything I did eat as fat.
- I didn’t know that if I stopped purging my urge to binge would dramatically reduce.
- I didn’t realize that purging was never and had never helped me to control my weight (even though it seems obvious now).
- I didn’t realize it was very possible to stop purging.
When you start to Realize that…
Purging does NOT work
Purging will NOT reduce your weight.
Purging ONLY encourages MORE bingeing
It can make it much easier to contemplate stopping.
Of course it’s not just as simple as saying “I will never purge again.” – In fact that’s something you should never say.
Here are some of my favorite purge-reduction strategies:
4 Strategies that will help you to stop purging
1. Create a new after meal routine
In other words when you finish eating find a way to distract yourself. Find an activity you can at least mildly occupy yourself with so that you won’t obsess over what you have just eaten or how full your stomach feels.
This could be anything at all, write in your journal, tidy your bedroom take the dog for a walk, call a friend – anything that can take your mind of purging!
It will feel difficult to impossible at first, but it does get easier with time.
2. Don’t drink too much during meal times
Of course it is essential that you keep yourself hydrated but you may wish to try avoiding drinking all together during meal times just until you are more comfortable with keeping food in your stomach again. This reduces the volume in your stomach and helps you to feel less full.
3. Don’t have any excuse to visit the bathroom after eating
Try to make sure that there is no reason for you to visit the bathroom for at least 30 minutes to an hour after your meal because sometimes just seeing the visual trigger of the toilet can push you over the edge.
4. Don’t say you’re never going to purge again
Absolute statements like that just add too much pressure onto your recovery. Of course it would be nice to just stop purging and never purge again but the reality of recovery is usually far from that.
10 Ways to Stop Vomiting After Meals
Vomiting after eating is the most common form of purging for people with bulimia. However, there are also other forms of purging such as abusing laxatives, over-exercising, diet pills, diuretics and fasting for periods of time.Some people use only one means of getting rid of food while others use a combination of methods. The ultimate goal of these methods is to rid the body of calories consumed and prevent weight gain.
Unfortunately, these habits are neither effective nor healthy and can wreak havoc on your body, causing long-term complications or even death. The habit of purging is a very strong one. In order to stop, you will probably need some help. Most people can’t recover alone. I know that my own recovery never would have happened without the right support. If you are currently suffering from bulimia and need to stop purging, here are some tips to help you get started.
1. Understand that making yourself sick doesn’t help maintain a lower weight.
People who vomit after meals are making an attempt to reverse the calories consumed and avoid weight gain, or even lose weight. The result is exactly the opposite. Research shows that people who binged then vomited still retained 1,000 to 1,200 calories after throwing up.
Even if you feel ‘empty’ after vomiting, you are probably dehydrated, which can lead to more binge urges and salt cravings.
Also, as your body responds to the food you have eaten, it releases insulin. When you throw up the contents of your stomach, there is now too much insulin in your body. This leads to more sugar cravings!
If you abuse laxatives to get rid of calories, then you need to understand how ineffective that is. Absorption occurs high in the digestive system. Laxatives empty the lower section. Any weight loss you may feel is only due to dehydration. The same goes for diuretics, which actually worsen water retention in the long-run.
Over-exercise is another method used to reduce the calories of a binge. Excessive exercise actually increases the appetite, which increases the likelihood of a binge. There are also many risks involved, such as muscle injuries and vitamin deficiencies.
Diet pills and fasting are also used, but again are ineffective. Diet pills put you at risk for heart problems as they often contain high levels of caffeine. Fasting only leads to more binging.
These methods of purging are not only ineffective, but are dangerous. Once your body has gone into starvation mode, it holds onto calories more effectively than ever. The same goes for dehydration. When you are chronically dehydrated, your body retains water which leads to bloating- the opposite effect of what you’re trying to achieve!
2. Talk to someone.
Because so many people suffer in silence, researchers do not have an accurate percentage of who successfully recovers alone. I can tell you from experience that it is nearly impossible, and was certainly impossible for me to recover by myself!
Finding support is a great first step to changing your habits once and for all. Not only can a ‘support buddy’ provide accountability, but they can be there for you during your crucial moments. The Bulimia Help Community is full of people who can offer support.
Regardless of who you confide in, be sure you aren’t trying to stop purging alone. The isolation of bulimia can increase feelings of loneliness and frustration. It doesn’t take weakness to ask for help, it takes true strength!
3. Adopt a structured eating plan.
Chaotic eating can lead directly to binging and purging. Structured eating helps to rebalance the body and provide a consistent amount of food. This helps to reduce and end purging because it weakens binge urges. With smaller, weaker binges the desire to get rid of the food also decreases, making it easier to resist.
4. Stick to your ‘safe’ foods at first.
Most people with eating disorders have food lists. These lists can include ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ foods. When unsafe foods are eaten, the desire to throw up after eating may arise for fear of gaining weight. By sticking to foods you are comfortable eating when you begin structured eating, you may not feel the need to get rid of the calories.
When foods that are considered to be fattening are eaten, the desire to make yourself sick, abuse laxatives or get rid of it in some way may be overwhelming and nearly impossible to resist.
As structured eating progresses and you become more comfortable having food in your body, you can gradually introduce things that have been off limits in the past. It is important you get used to feeling food in your stomach. Once you are accustomed to eating regularly from your ‘safe’ list, take it slowly by adding new types of meals and snacks as you are comfortable.
5. Practice a delay.
A very effective habit-changing practice is to delay purging until you can resist it entirely. The first time you practice this, try to delay the purge by just five minutes. Once you are successful with that, increase your time to ten minutes, then twenty, then thirty. Increase your delay time until you can completely resist. Don’t worry if you aren’t able to do this at first, it takes lots of time and practice.
Helpful Hint: While practicing a delay, be sure and distract yourself in some way so that you aren’t just watching the clock!
6. Keep a recovery journal.Journaling is very helpful for many reasons. It gives you a sacred place to write your inner most thoughts and feelings about food, anxiety, stress or whatever triggers you.It also gives you a place to keep positive recovery thoughts and motivation such as moments of success and inspirational quotes for when you most need them. And possibly the most beneficial part of a recovery journal is the insight it gives.
You have the chance to review your thoughts and feelings once you have calmed down or are in a better mood. That is when you can rationalize and decide what was really triggering and how you can best handle it in the future. Tracking progress, as well as relapses, can show you exactly where your strengths and weaknesses are.
7. Analyze your pattern.
Review your recovery journal often. Even if you only write in bullet points or a few sentences at the end of the day, look over it again. Try to decide what is helping and what isn’t.
Your journal gives you the chance to decode your binge and purge cycles and see where things are most challenging. Review the successes as much as the failures. Examine what helped you succeed and focus on how to keep going!
8. Celebrate every bit of success.
During recovery it can be easy to focus on failure instead of success. Try shifting your focus and celebrating each accomplishment, no matter how big or small.
So you successfully postponed purging for five minutes? Great job!
Don’t focus on the fact that you still purged, focus on the positive changes you are making! You didn’t develop this habit overnight, and it won’t go away that quickly either.
Be patient and maintain a positive outlook as you go. It will be much more helpful than beating yourself up. You can keep a list of accomplishments in your recovery journal. This way you can review them if you are feeling down.
Remember, the journey of recovery is long and consists of many small steps. Celebrate each accomplishment as you go!
9. Take it one day at a time.
Some people keep track of how many days they can go without a relapse. Others do not. Regardless of whether you count the days, keep things simple. Focus only on today. Don’t dwell on yesterday. Release the anxiety about tomorrow. Recovery happens in the moment, which is where your attention should be.
For my personal recovery, I counted days. Looking back I think it did more harm than good. My advice to others is not to keep track. If you do, try to do like I did and just exclude relapses from your list.
For example, if I relapsed on day 50, I would start over the next day as day 50 instead of going back to day 1. This keeps you from being so down on yourself.
10. Understand the risks.
The more knowledge you have about the effects, the more empowered you are in order to change your mindset and your habits. If you ignore the possible consequences like I did for many years, it can be very shocking to do the research.
The more you know, the better informed your decision to stop will be. Although your recovery should not be fear-based, you may find more motivation in knowing what the dangers are. According to the US National Library of Medicine, the following can result from purging:
- Hair loss and brittle fingernails.
- Cavities or gum infections
- Broken blood vessels in the eyes.
- Irritated or infected sinuses.
- Skin rashes and acne.
- Swollen or infected glands.
- Overall swollen appearance of the face, particularly the cheeks.
- Irritation or damage to the lining of the stomach and esophagus.
- Hypokalemia (low potassium) which can result in abnormal heart rhythms, fatigue, constipation and muscular damage
- Amenorrhea (irregular periods)
- Edema (swelling) of the body due to water retention and dehydration
- Russell’s Sign- visible scars and calluses on the hands
If you have experienced any of these, you should see a doctor for a full check-up. The earlier you start recovery, the fewer long-term affects you may experience. It’s never too late to make positive changes for your emotional and physical health.
As someone who has made a full recovery from bulimia, I know the challenges you face in accepting food without trying to get rid of the calories.
I hope you find these 10 tips to be practical and helpful. I once believed that vomiting and diet pills helped maintain a low weight, but I was wrong.
I now live a life free from bulimia, and you can too!
Don’t wait any longer to stop binging and purging once and for all! The journey of recovery can start today.
You deserve to be happy and healthy.