Are You Dreading The Most Food Orientated Season Of The Year?
Yes, it’s coming up to that time of year again – the Christmas and New Year Holiday Season. The season to be merry! However if you have bulimia, it’s more likely to fill you with utter dread. It certainly did me…
All that focus on food, social occasions and drink did not make me feel merry; it completely overwhelmed and stressed me out.
Even worse, there was the traditional family get together at my parents. My mum loved to go crazy at Christmas. The fridge would be full to bursting and the cupboards stacked to collapsing. That cornucopia of binge food meant heaven or hell – depending on how I was feeling.
So instead of looking forward to a fun-filled time with my family, all I could think about was what would I do if I binged? Safe and alone in my London flat, this wasn’t a problem. But hemmed into a house full of people who were unaware of my secret illness was a different challenge. So instead of getting drawn along on the wave of festive cheer, I’d spend weeks worrying and strategizing about how I was going to control my bulimia – and keep it a secret from my friends and family.
The internal dialogue went into overdrive
I’d feel confident I would cope – I’d promise myself I’d be good. That I’d be vigilant and keep a tight rein on what I ate – surely then I’d be able to control myself.
And then a part of me would feel a little excited…
What if I did ‘it’ just the once? What if I really let go and gave into the cravings? I mean that would be OK – wouldn’t it? I could make up for it by being ‘good’ the rest of the time?
Blah, blah, blah… that little voice in my head was forever ruining my good intentions.
The past came back to haunt the present
I’d recall memories of the fraught moments of Christmas’s Past such as nearly getting caught or chucking up into a bucket in my bedroom. I’d try to push them away, but those internal movies would keep on playing. Was this Christmas going to be the same as all the others that bulimia ruined for me?
I’d see myself sitting there, trying to eat slowly – trying to be ‘normal’ – trying to control the inner turmoil as that unwanted and dangerous urge grew. Oblivious, the rest of my family sit around the table. They’re all laughing, telling stories and tucking into piled plates and enjoying the expansive spread Mum has cooked.
“Come on Julie,” says Dad ‘it’s Christmas for goodness sake. Here, have some pudding”. “No” I scream internally. “Don’t you understand, I can’t” as I watch him plonk a bowl piled high with Christmas pudding and cream in front me. “He’s doing it on purpose – he doesn’t like it that I’m a model – he wants me to be fat” “Well, I’ll show him”, I’d simmer inwardly.
The urge to binge was too overpowering
I tell myself just a couple spoonfuls, that’ll be enough – I’m NOT going to binge.
But of course it’s NOT enough – I want more.
Suddenly I come to life, “What’s everyone doing after lunch?” I ask, more animatedly than I’ve been since I’d arrived. I could feel the excitement growing inside me. My heart’s racing now and I know I’m going to binge – but I want to be alone – so I can eat like I want.
“The Walk, of course”, replies Dad
The deceitful lies
“Yes. They’re going out!” says the little voice in my head triumphantly – “now you can binge, but quick, make an excuse so you don’t have to go with them”.
“Hey Mum, let me wash up, you guys get ready to go out, there’s something I really want to watch on TV and I’m a little tired from the long drive, so I’d just like to relax – if that’s OK? ”. Time stands still – will she ‘buy’ it – will they ‘buy’ it?
“Don’t you want to burn all those calories you’ve just eaten” my younger sister says sarcastically.
The paranoia and suspicions
“OMG, does she know?
I want to reply “Don’t be so stupid one flipping walk won’t burn off all the calories I’ve just eaten – the only thing that’s going to sort out what I’ve just eaten is to puke”. But I smile and reply “I ran miles yesterday and besides, I lost some weight before I came, so I could relax and indulge a bit”
“Now leave me alone” I’d seethe inwardly.
“How long will you be?” I’d ask sweetly, secretly meaning how long have I got?
“Oh, we’ll be back before dark”, says Dad. “That’s really helpful”, I think – “I’d better get on with it”
I go into the living room to pick up some glasses, but really I’m going to scoff some of those chocolates that have been on my mind since this morning, when I’d pulled them out of my stocking thinking angrily. “Why did she buy these for me? Does she want me to get fat?” But now I’m kind of glad she did, as I won’t have to explain why I ate someone else’s.
Back in the kitchen, I start tidying up (in between furtive mouthfuls of leftover pudding and cream and a number of mince pies). I’m willing them to get out of the house… until finally the door slams and they’re gone.
And at last – I’m alone, to eat.
The elation of a binge…
My heart beats faster as I hurriedly eat more and more. The relief washes over me. And for a wonderful moment, there’s excitement and gratification as I give in. But then I come to my senses and joy turns to panic – my bloated, bulging belly is full of all those calories!
And I know what I must do next…
I quickly tidy up and head upstairs. My heart leaps into my mouth as the back door opens and the whole family pile back in capped, gloved and red-nosed. They’re laughing, happy and full of life.
Why are they back so soon –“ I thought you’d be ages yet?” I say, trying to keep the panic out of my voice and act normally.
“Oh, we met the Warner’s in the woods and they’re coming here for tea in about half an hour” says Mum cheerfully “Wow, you’ve done a good job here, unfortunately it’s all going to get messed up again”, she laughs pulling out the Christmas Cake. “Thank God, I didn’t start on that” I think and momentarily worry what she will notice. But she’s busy right now.
I glug down some diet coke and slip upstairs. En route I secretly grab the bucket from the broom cupboard – throwing up in the bathroom is too dangerous right now. Someone will come banging on the door or loiter outside – it’s going to have to be the bucket in the bedroom. My heart is pounding – I feel hot and sweaty.
Followed by the shame and self-depreciating talk
“Why did they have to come back so early?” “ Why did I do it?” “Will I get it all up?” Thoughts swirl around in my head as I stick my fingers down my throat.
I shove the bucket to the back of my bedroom cupboard. I loathe the evidence but I have no choice – I’ll just have to deal with it later. But I’m beside myself. “What if someone finds it?” “But why would they?” I struggle with the dilemma, but I can’t risk walking the length of the corridor now with a bucket of puke in my hands – try explaining that one away.
After peering out of the bedroom door to make sure the coast is clear, I dash to the bathroom to brush my teeth.
My eyes are bloodshot – I look awful. “You stupid, stupid cow, I hate you!” I say to the face in the mirror as guilt, shame and self-hatred engulf me. And as I walk back to my bedroom, I hear the arrival of the Warner’s. The tinkle of laughter and warm friendly voices carries up the stairs. Normally I like them, but not today, not now. I can’t be sure I’ve got all the food up and it’s their fault.
Mum calls me down and begrudgingly I go.
The sitting room looks perfect, pretty and peaceful – it’s a far cry from how I feel inside. The Christmas tree and its lights twinkle next to the crackling fire. And my family and the Warner’s are chatting away. I feel like an outsider, an intruder – and I wished they’d all go away.
I say hello and try to be nice, but I’m distracted and upset. All I can think about is the food I didn’t get up, the pounds I’m piling on and the bucket I’ve hidden.
At last, the Warner’s go and I’m exhausted. Mum returns from saying farewell, “Where’s the bucket?” she asks shattering my thoughts “I need to wash the kitchen floor”
The bucket. The one that’s in my bedroom cupboard full of puke…
They look at me. “I haven’t had it’ I snap back “why do I always get the blame?” And as I rush out of the door Dad says, “what’s wrong with her?” Yeah! What IS wrong with me? Why can’t I stop?
Christmas is a big challenge for bulimia sufferers
And even when I was well on the road to recovery and the relapses were few and far between, I’d still find myself getting anxious about food, my weight and how I was going to cope when faced with all the trigger foods and situations over the holiday season.
For many years, over Christmas, all my bulimic thoughts and behaviours came back with a vengeance.
A ‘rule’ would be broken, an innocent joke cracked or a telling comment would cause my self-esteem to plummet. Old emotions and resentments would crop up in family situations triggering arguments. Looking back, I can now see how irrational my thinking was. But at the time, I remember feeling justified and right – right enough to ‘deserve’ a binge and slyly sneak off to purge. Then, later, filled with regret and remorse, I’d make everyone wrong – especially myself.
I’d kill all the magic of Christmas – the love and connection, joy and generosity, fun and laughter. I’d feel isolated, lonely and miserable – caught up in my negative thoughts and feelings. And everything I didn’t want to happen – happened.
Things did change
Then one Christmas, when I’d finally learnt how to stop bingeing and purging, it was binge and purge free! Can you imagine what that felt like after years of misery? This was a huge turning point in my recovery, and one you can have too.
I felt so proud and delighted and alive. It was THE BEST Christmas ever. Finally I could join in with everyone else and focus on having fun with the people I love.
And today, Christmas is no longer marred by memories of near discoveries, lies, cover-ups, shame and guilt. Instead I’m free to love and to laugh and to eat. And I no longer stress about weight gain because my relationship with food has transformed. I have no urge to binge and instead, I enjoy the seasonal festivities with no remorse.
Please tell me – what’s Christmas like for you?
I’m curious. As a bulimia sufferer, how do you feel about the festive season? Do you have similar experiences that used to plague me?
I’d love for you to share your thoughts, feelings and experiences and so I’ve written FIVE quick questions for you to answer. All you need to do is click the link below.
Plus, a special thank you for getting involved
And if you add your name and email address into the last question, I’ll get back to you personally with some helpful tips and strategies to help you get your head in the right place so you can enjoy Christmas that little bit more this year.
You don’t need to feel alone, and Christmas doesn’t have to be the way you imagine. So please, take some time right now to answer my questions and let me help you.
I look forward to reading your answers.
P.S. Remember to follow me on…
Bulimia Recovery Coach
Julie won a 15 year battle with bulimia over 30 years ago and now mentors and coaches others to bulimia freedom. She is a compassionate, caring bulimia recovery coach who brings a unique and powerful perspective on recovery that has helped people from all walks of life, not just stop bingeing and purging but learn how to love themselves and their bodies and create a life they love.