aka How my future child saved me.
aka How long were you bulimic for?
aka So how did you go from pre-meditating binges and purges to not making yourself sick for the past 9.5 years?
That my friend, is a long story with many twists and turns.
It started though one Saturday afternoon when I was kneeling on my bathroom floor with my head over the toilet bowl. I was on meant to be on my way to catch the ferry back to Staten Island for some family event that evening. My original plan was to catch a mid-day ferry. That got pushed pack to 2pm, then 3pm, then 4pm as I couldn’t get myself together to leave my apartment. I don’t remember why, but I was binging and that was stopping me from getting myself home to spend time with family.
I think by the time I had made myself sick, it was 2pm or so. I and remember sitting there thinking, what the f*ck Kendra!? What are you doing with your life? You are so messed up that you can’t even stick to your plans and catch the ferry on time! This is a SATURDAY AFTERNOON!!!!! Why aren’t you enjoying yourself? Why are you at your lowest? What is wrong with you?
I know those weren’t the kindest words I could say to myself, but they got my attention.
Followed by: How are you going to ever have a family? How are going to raise kids if you can’t control yourself and you end up here in broad daylight? How are you even going to birth a child if you can’t keep your food down? What if you vomit up your baby while you’re pregnant?
Now, I know from a biological point of view, that would be impossible because my uterus and stomach are not connected. But that Saturday afternoon, it seemed highly likely that they were.
And something clicked. I vowed to myself that I was going to change.
Magic didn’t happen overnight. But that one moment, that one choice, was pivotal.
And with that decision to change, and more specifically, that I wasn’t going to make myself sick anymore, I took my first steps down a different road.
This happened sometime in the winter of 2004. I don’t remember exactly when, but I know was I training for the Boston Marathon at the time.
The events of the next year was a blur for me. Partly because I still had one leg in the Denial river.
I had previously accepted that I was bulimic. It was the year before that I first told anyone; my boyfriend and my parents. You can read about that here.
But, since I stuck to that decision not to purge anymore, my logic for a good year or so was this:
Zero throwing up + Zero use of laxatives = Bulimia Free
For the record: this is the faultiest logic I have ever come across. And unfortunately, it is pervasive in the world of eating disorders and disordered eating.
The accepted medical definitions of anorexia and bulimia at the time, laid out very clear behavioural criteria that had to be met in order to wear the label of anorexic or bulimic. I clung to those criteria for dear life.
I skimmed over the caveat (and slight fine print): It is important to remember that someone can still have an eating disorder or body image issues and not meet the diagnostic criteria.
As I mentioned, I first heard about eating disorders in a psychology class. We learned about them according to the DSM-IV, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, published by the American Psychiatric Association. It is commonly used as a guide by doctors and psychiatrists to diagnose a person with a mental health issue.
The criteria at the time that I held on to, was that bulimia meant you had to purge twice a week for at least 3 months.
When I first experimented with binging and purging, this gave me license to proceed, because I knew that so long as I didn’t do it twice a week for 3 consecutive months, I was good to go. No problem to address. I had it all under control.
And on the flip side, when I made that decision on my bathroom floor not to purge again, it was back to ‘all is well’. No diagnostic behaviours present, meant no problem present.
(Again, this is not how it works!!!)
But that is how I was still floating down Denial and making steps to recovery at the same time.
Except I didn’t really see it as recovery at the time. What was I recovering from? All I had to do with stop some (pretty messed up) behaviours, and I was back to an even playing field with the general population.
I didn’t have the Acceptance or Awareness that there was anything to recover from. It also somehow served me and empowered me to believe that everything was OK.
That belief served as a life raft that I was willing to hold on to. If at the time you had offered me a life raft for Low Self-worth, People-Pleasing, Co-Dependency, Sex Issues, Money Issues, and a variety of other self-worth related issues painted on it, I’m not sure I would’ve grabbed it.
Stop Purging. Yes, that one I could wrap my head and my arms around.
So for a year or so, I was holding on to that life raft, trying to stay afloat. Trying to go about life as if everything was hunky dory because the problem had gone away.
What I didn’t know at the time, was that the other life raft was the one I’d eventually have to hold on to. The first one could only take me so far.
I have no judgement for myself then, and neither for you if you need the simple and specific life raft right now. Stop Purging, Follow the Meal Plan, Run More, Eat Less, or some other tactical change might be your saviour right now. And if it is, hold on tight.
I would just ask you this: don’t let it seduce you into thinking that it can carry you forever. And when it loses its buoyancy, don’t freak out. It doesn’t mean that you’re back to square one again, it just means you have to find the next one that is going to carry you a little bit further.
I want to acknowledge that the DSM-5, published in 2013, has changed the criteria for bulimia to purging only once a week for 3 months at a time. It’s also added in new category that is essentially a catch-all in case you don’t quite fit into any of the other ones. It’s called Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder (UFED) and is defined as this:
‘According to the DSM-5 criteria this category applies to where behaviours cause clinically significant distress/impairment of functioning, but do not meet the full criteria of any of the Feeding or Eating Disorder criteria.’
The funny thing is, I’m not sure I’ve ever met the bulimia criteria for either DSM-IV or DSM-V. Three months is a long time for me to do anything consistently once a week, let alone twice a week, without missing a beat. But that’s just me.
I don’t remember what the longest stretch of time my consistent purging covered, and I don’t remember the most intense frequency. I do know that the fall of 2000 marked my first purge and August of 2006 my last (with an 18 month break in the middle, does that count?)
I also know that for at least 4 years leading up to my first episode, I was restricting and controlling with food and my body to get a desired outcome, and that from 2006 until 2008 I still had binging episodes, was restrictive with my diet, and was using exercise for weight management.
To quote Liberty Bain, ‘You can have an anorexic mindset, and not be anorexic.’
My bulimic mindset carried on past my bulimia. To be honest, I am still recovering from a bulimic mindset, and I learn more about its impact every day. (And I’m actually grateful for it too. It’s helped me learn how to live. More on that later.)
So to answer the question, how long were you bulimic for? My answer could range from never (according to the DSM), to my whole life (according to my mindset).
Personally, I wouldn’t worry about meeting or not meeting the criteria.
The only benefit that I see of the criteria, is for that time where you’re not sure what’s going on, you feel really alone because you’re not sure if anyone is experiencing the same thing you are, and you’re asking yourself, ‘What the heck is wrong with me?’ Then you can google what your behaviours are, or how you’re feeling, and now you have a name for what you’re going through. And now you’re not alone anymore.
Point being: Use the label if it helps you. There were times when it helped me.
But really, the thing I invite you to ask yourself the following:
- Does your relationship to food, body and self cause you distress?
- Do I adopt a control/release indulge/deprive mindset at all?
- Does shame, vulnerability, and fear, lead me to try to change who I am and what I look like?
If yes, regardless of whether it is 1% of the time or 100% of the time, there is room to grow.
I wish those questions had made it into my Psychology of Adolescents class curriculum. Maybe I could’ve taken the shortcut, instead of the long way round.
Something to think about: What defining choices have you made in life? Would a label help or harm right now? What life raft would serve you best? What areas of your life cause you distress?
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 soon. Join Liberty Bain and I on Wednesdays from wherever you are, and see if this could be your next life raft. Join us this February.