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Eating Disorder Therapist
Overcome disordered eating and find peace with food
10 Lessons in Bulimia Recovery
by Harriet Frew on September 7th, 2015

I am writing this article with the aim of instilling hope and promise in recovery. I meet too many people through my work that often feel resigned and a slave to their eating problem, not really believing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel or a way out of the dark hole. Also, many wonder if a preoccupation with food and body image can ever really disappear once you have experienced this to an intense degree. For me personally, after living through seven destructive years of Bulimia Nervosa, I feel fortunate to say that I have felt free from the shackles of food and body image preoccupation for many years now. I have not purged through vomiting since August 1998 (which for me marked a massive turning point in recovery). However, it has been a more gradual progression from this point to what I would label complete recovery of body and mind.
I am very aware that every recovery story is different. What has helped me might not always work for you, but please glean the bits that make sense to you personally and discard anything that is unhelpful.
10 lessons in recovery: -
1. HOPE.
Apart from at my absolute worst point of low weight and endless bingeing and purging, I never saw the Bulimia as something that was going to be around to stay for the long-term. I believed in a bigger and brighter future where I would feel personally fulfilled and happy. I had no idea about how I was going to do that. I remember feeling pretty confused back then with my decision making and was still strongly programmed to worry about what others expected of me. The inner drive and hope propelled me forward though. I believed in a different future. And I have no doubt looking back, although unwittingly at the time, how helpful this was to me in not getting stuck with Bulimia. 

2. PERSISTENCE IN GETTING HELP. I was ill in the 1990’s and back then eating disorder support was somewhat limited to say the least. Unless you had Anorexia Nervosa and required hospital admission, it was unlikely you would get any support on the NHS. Private Counsellors with eating disorder experience were few and far between. I went down quite a few blind alleys before I actually managed to access the help I desperately needed. The persistence did pay off though. 
3. PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT. I have always been an avid self-help reader, particularly in my twenties when I was looking for guidance and role-models to inspire me. From ‘The Road Less Travelled’ by M. Scott Peck to ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’ by Susan Jeffers to ‘A Woman in your Own Right’ by Anne Dickson to ‘Be your Own Life Coach’ by Fiona Harrold.  Reading didn’t bring overnight change but the drip, drip of positivity and hope was effective cumulatively. At the time, I was often frustrated by my lack of progress in self-improvement, but looking back, I see how every book I read was another mini stepping stone to change. I still have internalised many of the messages from these books to this day. 

4. WEIGHT. At 1.68m, I was never going to be able to maintain 7 ½ stone without restricting my food intake obsessively. For me to sustain this low weight, involved eating an extremely small amount and living my whole day in complete food preoccupation and accompanied by a strong temptation to binge, which was regularly succumbed to. One of the biggest shifts in reducing bingeing and purging was allowing my body to be nourished again and to restore my weight to a healthy level. This involved gaining 2 stone in weight and maintaining this. Of course, this was a massive shift in body acceptance after holding an unrealistically and often praised skinny body shape for a time period. However, it was a necessity to allow myself to recover. At 2 stone heavier, I am still slim with a healthy BMI but as my body is nourished, food fixation is now absent (the absence of this has also been aided by working on the psychological side too. I appreciate recovery is more than weight gain alone). 
5. BALANCING BLOOD SUGAR. Eating enough protein, good fats and low Glycaemic Index carbohydrates regularly throughout the day helps manage cravings and keep blood sugar stable. I don’t stick exclusively to this way of eating in an obsessive manner but generally try to apply these principles to everyday life. This also involves watching alcohol intake and drinking sensibly. Drinking can definitely exacerbate bulimic symptoms. 

6. BREAKING THE DIET MENTALITY. Although I eat mainly with blood sugar balancing in mind, I also do permit myself to eat anything and everything if I fancy it. I also aim to practice mindful eating. When foods are categorised as ‘good’ and ‘bad’, then this actually fuels the dieting mindset and can intensify bingeing. When all foods are permitted, then the paradox is that you crave the previously labelled ‘bad’ foods much less. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy can help significantly with this. 
7. GOOD FRIENDS. I haven’t always been able to be open with my family, but a few close friends have helped me through tremendously at different points. I would say that their support has not been specifically talking about eating disorder issues but general emotional chaos that life throws at you. Being able to access and accept the right support has been incredibly constructive in helping me move on. 

8. STABILITY. In my twenties, my life sometimes felt like a wild rollercoaster full of ecstatic highs but also deathly lows. I lived on impulse and spontaneity to an unhelpful extent which often left me confused and vulnerable to hurt and upset due to a lack of boundaries. Regular work; a stable relationship and a secure home-life all contributed to help me feel more settled and then to take steps to manage my eating better. 
9. STOPPING PEOPLE PLEASING. Learning to say ‘no’ and setting limits with others is an ongoing lesson for me. When I had Bulimia I was the classic people pleaser who said yes to everything and outwardly was the positive, happy, coping person. Behind closed doors, the Bulimia allowed an outlet for all the inbuilt frustration, anger and overwhelm that I found hard to admit to. Beginning to accept all my emotions, good and bad, and managing them more constructively was another significant point of progress in recovery. 

 10. SELF-ACCEPTANCE. For many years, I criticised and blamed myself for not being the person that others had expected me to be. Overtime, I have learned to let go and embrace who I am with my qualities and limitations. Only when I have been more fully able to do this, have I been able to really experience an inner contentment; peace and joy with life. I still get frustrated and overwhelmed at times, as we all do, but no longer do I need to channel this into food or my body. 

It is all a work in progress. I know in terms of personal development, I still have much to learn and many lessons to take on board and this will always continue through my life. Now though, I can embrace and manage these difficulties more effectively and the important thing is that I don’t turn to food to cope.  I remain quite sensitive and open to life at times and I know that I feel my feelings deeply. This is not always easy. However, feeling my emotions intensely, there is the capacity to experience love and joy quite profoundly too, which to me, is really what life is all about.
Stay hopeful; you don’t have to go it alone. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. You might take a few wrong turns before you find it. Good luck on your journey.

Posted in Bingeing, Body image, Counselling, Dieting, Giving up dieting, Identity, Motivation and change, Recovery, Self-esteem, Therapy, Thoughts, Values, Weight, Bulimia    Tagged with 10 lessons, bulimia nervosa, bulimia, recovery, counselling, help, support


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Find peace with food and overcome disordered eating.