What Do YOU Blame Your Bulimia On?
Perhaps you point the finger at your genetic make-up, your addictive personality or some deep-rooted self-esteem and confidence issues that stem from your childhood.
These are all plausible explanations and ones that “experts” endorse.
However, I find it shocking that no one is highlighting the problem with dieting.
Let me explain…
When you make the decision to go on a diet, you’re effectively embarking on a restrictive eating programme that involves cutting calories, removing food types or both. In turn, you can end up under-eating. And when you compare the side effects of a restrictive eating programme (under-eating) with symptoms associated with bulimia, I believe you’ll be shocked too…
Nine common side effects associated with under eating:
- Urges to binge
- Obsessive thoughts about food, weight and body image
- Feeling low, mood swings and even depression
- Self critical
- Distorted body image
- Emotional and increasingly unable to cope with life’s challenges
- Distorted and irrational thinking
- Nervousness and anxiety
- Panic attacks
As a bulimia sufferer, how many of these side effects do you experience?
What’s more – is it a surprise to know that symptoms you’ve probably attributed to bulimia could actually be the result of you NOT eating enough?
Then let’s explore why…
A restrictive diet interferes with your body’s natural chemistry
The reason a diet can lead to these wide-ranging symptoms is because dieting typically corresponds with a restrictive eating pattern. When you make a decision to “cut-down” to lose weight, you start reducing your calorie intake.
And if you don’t diet “sensibly”, you may start under-eating. In turn, your body is denied access to sufficient energy, proteins, vitamins and minerals to function effectively – and this lack of nutrition unsurprisingly results in side effects.
The brain, for example, is the most glucose hungry organ in the body and if it doesn’t get enough fuel, you’ll quickly become irritable and experience mood swings.
What’s more, a restrictive diet can have a profound impact on the level of hormones responsible for regulating mood and combatting depressive thoughts and anxiety.
Check this out…
A study reported in “Tryptophan, Serotonin and Melatonin, Basic Aspects & Application” (1999) found that healthy women going on a 3-week moderate weight loss diet of 1000 calories experienced lower plasma concentrations of “the 5-HT precursor, L-tryptophan (TP)” (a chemical known to regulate mood) along with “consequent increases in hunger and loss of satiety”.
They also found that in a “recovered female subject with a history of bulimia” these depletions caused “a temporary return of the depressive symptoms together with concerns about weight and shape and fear of a loss of control of eating (binging).
If you start eating properly your bulimia symptoms could reduce
Once bulimia takes its grip it can be very hard to recover.
- You constantly stress about how what you eat will affect how you look.
- You become obsessed with food
- You manage your daily life around cycles of bingeing and purging.
You may even believe that bulimia is the solution to the stress and anxiety you’re experiencing.
And it means the idea of eating “properly” again may fill you with horror.
So let me reveal another piece of information that again shows why a healthy relationship with food will support your recovery.
Bulimia and restrictive eating initiates survival response mechanisms
Your brain is hardwired for survival.
Your archaic, reptilian brain is outside the realms of your conscious control. It enables vital life process to happen without you even thinking about it and therefore helps to keep you alive! However, when you go on a restrictive diet for a period of time, your primitive brain interprets this as a “famine” and consequently clicks into survival (binge) mode. In turn:
- Your body’s metabolic rate is lowered to conserve energy
- Your reptilian brain informs your conscious brain of the need to eat
- These messages can turn into uncontrollable urges to consume food so when it is available, a binge happens.
- What’s more, because your body is fuelled on simple carbohydrates such as glucose, you will instinctively crave foods that are high in sugar. And because fatty foods leave you feeling satiated, you’ll crave those too.
So dieting can cause bingeing. And bingeing is pleasurable! The foods you’ve been denying yourself taste really good. In turn, your brain makes a lasting connection between binge foods and pleasure.
And if you’ve started a diet because you wanted to lose weight, after a full-on binge your conscious brain kicks in and you start to feel disgusted and annoyed with yourself. You can feel panic that all your hard work has been spoiled and this can lead to a need to purge.
Bulimia isn’t necessarily the direct result of an emotional issue
Bulimia is often blamed on an emotional trigger. And whilst an emotional issue may have caused you to turn to dieting in the first place, as you can see it’s not necessarily the cause of bulimia.
In reality you don’t just wake up with bulimia.
Instead it’s a learned habit. You’ve got to make a conscious decision to want to purge.
And you’ll probably remember that the first time was really hard and uncomfortable. It’s not easy deciding to stick your fingers down your throat and throw up. It feels wrong and it tastes vile – but you push through the pain because you think it will make you feel better and provide a solution to the ‘damaging’ binge.
Then, over time, and as you do it more frequently, it becomes easy and establishes itself as a hardwired habit. What’s more, because humans are naturally pleasure-seeking beings, you’ll remember the “good” feelings bingeing created – and subconsciously will be driven to do it again (which of course starts the cycle of bingeing followed by purging).
In time, that addictive behaviour becomes tied up in your identity and is much harder to shift. What’s more, because you’re purging on a regular basis, you can become under-nourished. Which in turn causes the types of side effects I revealed at the beginning of this post.
Moving towards recovery from bulimia and beyond
Now I’m not suggesting recovery from bulimia is as easy as eating normally again. Once you’ve become trapped in the bulimic cycle, your relationship with food becomes distorted and you can feel fearful of eating a proper balanced diet – especially if you believe it’s going to affect your weight or your body image.
So somehow you need to balance that distorted believe with the knowledge that eating sufficient calories and nutrients on a consistent basis, WILL cause many of the symptoms you’ve associated with bulimia to disappear. That is the terrifying urges to binge will disappear.
Food is NOT your enemy. Food is the fuel that makes everything you want for your life possible. Unfortunately there are a lot of confusing messages out there and in the next post; we’ll explore some simple strategies that will help you shift your negative relationship with food.
It’s an essential read and an important follow-up from this article you can read it by clicking HERE .
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Bulimia Recovery Coach
Julie won a 15 year battle with bulimia over 20 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.