aka When did you start purging?
aka Why do UK toilets suck?
Going into my junior year of college, I was still only dabbling with binges. Nothing too extreme that a run and a workout at the gym couldn’t take care of.
But it still wasn’t solving the problem. I still wasn’t able to fully enjoy the foods that treated my taste buds, and ultimately, I still wasn’t enjoying life as I wanted to.
I had gotten dumped by another guy. I had a well-paid internship at a bank in Manhattan over the summer, and as much as I thought it was a dream come true, I wasn’t convinced it was a career path for me, but I didn’t know what else to go after. Especially since ‘Personal Trainer’ didn’t really seem appropriate after spending all the money, time, and effort that went into an Ivy League education.
I was also gearing up for a Spring semester study abroad program in the UK, so my Fall semester felt very transient. And my performance in cross-country wasn’t improving as exponentially as I had hoped for.
That two punch hit of shame and vulnerability was showing up in more than one place.
So, sitting in my room, one weekday evening, when that pit in my stomach got the point of unbearable, I recalled a lecture from my Psychology of Adolescents class that talked about an option to get rid of your food after you ate. And so I tried it.
And it worked.
I could eat loads. Feel full. Relieve the tension.
I could then vomit everything back up and it was as if the binge never happened.
Calories consumed – Calories expunged = Zero
The Fear of Fat taken care of.
I did this once, maybe twice that semester.
The binging became more frequent and of larger quantities though. I guess once I knew I had a solution to deal with the consequences of extra calories, I felt I could take bigger risks.
What I had now idea about then, that I realize now, is that the binges were definitely happening when I was feeling vulnerable.
On a plane home from Miami, after saying goodbye to a guy I just started dating and wouldn’t see for 5 months while I was in the UK, I plowed through a container of chocolate covered almonds that he had given me. I still have the glass container and use it a vase. It fits about 250g of nuts in it (I just measured.) I ate over half in one go, about 5-6 times more than a normal serving of nuts or chocolate.
One of the first nights after arriving at the UK University, I binged on the stash of Power Bars that I had brought with me. They were my running food staple at the time. I think I finished off at least half of the chocolate and peanut butter ones. I remember feeling so alone. And cold. The room was cold, the furniture stark, the curtains and carpet were old and dreary. I also was aware that as I was eating the Power Bars, they tasted like cardboard. I was craving the pleasurable flavors of chocolate and peanut butter, but they weren’t there. I kept eating more in the hopes that the next bite would do the trick.
The food in the university’s cafeteria was horrible, as were the lunch ladies that portioned out your food. There was no pleasure in eating, so I started to buy my own groceries. I remember going up and down the aisle of Tesco’s and everything was unfamiliar. I bought a jar of mincemeat because that looked healthy enough but tasty. I binged on uncooked mincemeat and Hovis white bread. Both are disgusting by the way. They put these solid bits of lard in the mincemeat. I remember trying to pick around the white bits so I didn’t eat the fat.
A couple of weeks or so after arriving in the UK, I received a care package from my aunt and uncle filled with American snacks and goodies. I am ashamed to say, I binged through at least 50% of it. I had to keep some of it intact to share with the friends I was making so they didn’t find out my secret.
I tried purging, but it was harder in the UK. I couldn’t hide the vomit in a plastic bag in my garbage can because it was only emptied once a week when the dormitory cleaners came. My options were toilet or shower.
This is how I learned that UK toilets suck. Actually, technically, they don’t suck. That’s the problem. You gotta flush over and over and over, one right one right after another, in order to create enough force for the water to go down.
Purging in the toilet was not an option.
I tried the shower, but didn’t really think about the bits of rice and peas that might get stuck in the drain. That was definitely gross.
Once I knew that the logistics of purging were difficult, I tried to control the binges. This kind of made things worse. I’d wake up full, stuffed, lethargic, depressed. I’d say to myself, ‘right, today’s going to be different’. I’d haul myself to lectures, have a granola bar or flapjack for lunch, meet up with the track team for practice, which just wasn’t the same vibe as I was used to, have a dismal dinner in the dining hall, and then face the night.
I’d try really hard to not binge, but when that is all you’re thinking about, inevitably you do.
Luckily I only had to get through March because the month of April we broke up for Spring break and I went backpacking around Europe with some other study-abroaders. There was no need for a binge while in Italy, Spain, Switzerland and France.
Why? Because I was happy.
Funny how that works.
Writing this I realize what I was really craving:
Pleasure. Beauty. Comfort. Connection.
Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of positive memories and I developed friendships that I maintained well beyond my time there, some to this day. But the presence of vulnerability and the absence of those first three really shook me.
When I was travelling however, I felt like a completely new person. I felt free. Everything was a sensory adventure. And I was on this adventure with other like-minded souls.
What comes to me here is the importance of a tribe. When you’re in a tribe, you are connected by heritage and you automatically belong. The parts of you that in other places might feel shameful, are accepted here.
Since belonging is a given, it’s super easy to be your quintessential self because that question of, ‘what will they think of me?’ isn’t there anymore. There isn’t much fear.
When you’re freely living as your quintessential self, without shame and fear, vulnerability isn’t so uncomfortable. The dance becomes easy.
And when you and your tribe are surrounding yourselves and beauty, pleasure, excitement and newness every day; when you are living fully, there really isn’t a reason to binge or purge anymore.
Something to think about: What does living fully mean to you? When have experienced this? Do you notice any chances in your relationship to food, body and self during these times?
Your story matters. As part of ‘Bulimia Uncovered: 29 days to being your Quintessential Self’ we want to hear from you. How can you relate to what you’ve just read? Leave a comment below and share your related stories and pictures however you do best. If using social media use hashtag #bu29days and tag me so we can follow. We’re also inviting stories to feature on The True You Project. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like yours shared there.
Feb Food Fun giveaway! Want more tools to overcome judgement and shame, and be your quintessential self? Join the True You Project community and you’ll receive Your True You Journey, an 8 week self-coaching e-guide that will give you the tools to navigate through the mud and peel back the layers covering up your True You.
Nourish your Quintessential Self. The Nourish Circle, a private group for women to support each other’s journeys with food, body and self, is starting.Join Liberty Bain and I on Wednesdays from wherever you are and receive support for your own dance with vulnerability. Join us this February.