The Realities of Bulimia That No One Talks About
I spent a good 5 years of my life suffering with Bulimia and I wonder if I would have purged that first time had I known the reality of what I was getting myself into. The text books we read in health class freshman year of high school only glazed over the side effects of Bulimia and didn't make the lasting impact to really prevent me from sticking my finger down my throat a few years later. These side effects are only small portion of what I actually experienced: fatigue, hunger, inflamed esophagus, bad breath, cavities, body weight changes, poor self esteem, sore throat. While these sound pretty bad, they don't fully explain the realities of the disease or the extremes of these side effects.
If there's a chance you are considering Bulimia as an option for weight loss, or you a parent wanting to educate your kid, or you are just looking for more information on the disease, then you have come to the right place.
WARNING: This post will be graphic. You have been warned.
1. You will ALWAYS feel tired
I had this disease all through college and vividly remember falling asleep during lectures, falling asleep during tests, falling asleep at the bar, falling asleep everywhere. Bulimia messes up your electrolyte levels so you are in a constant state of fatigue and are always exhausted. There were so many times I knew I was tired because of this, and I wish I could have gone back and relived those moments again with a healthy body. This fatigue thankfully went away with recovery.
2. You sometimes feel like you are having a heart attack
The palpitations I experienced were very scary, and I always had a thought in the back of my mind that I could have a heart attack at any time. These palpitations were due to the electrolyte imbalances from constant purging, and unfortunately my heart issues have stuck with me through recovery. I still experience an occasional heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and I am sure this is a result of years of bingeing and purging. I feel lucky to have survived through this disease and my heart arrhythmia is a constant reminder of the importance of true health.
3. You lose all control over your food urges and feel trapped around food
I remember feeling like I was addicted to food and was unable to stop eating if there was food nearby. There were constantly moments where I was not binging on purpose but found myself stuffing my face until I was uncomfortably full. It was like my brain became wired to binge no matter what and I couldn't stop it. I felt helpless and unable to control my own mind. I started feeling trapped in situations where food was present and it was completely overwhelming and prevented me from being fully present and enjoying social situations that involved food.
4. Your self esteem plummets
Bulimia started from a place of low self esteem, because I wanted to lose weight but felt completely incapable of self control and dieting. So I would binge and purge, feel bad about the action, decide to try dieting or restricting food intake again the next day, and the cycle continues. Each go-round my self esteem would drop a little more. It felt like a downward spiral that was impossible to get out of.
5. You look at social situations through a bulimia focused lense
Anytime there is food involved in a social setting I would get hyper-focused on finding a way to purge. I used to get nervous about going to birthday dinners for friends because I knew they would want to go out afterwards and I was nervous I would have no opportunity to purge beforehand. I no longer saw things as fun outings and instead saw them as potential binge traps. This hurt my ability to socialize and then hurt my self esteem even more.
Anywhere I went I was always looking for private bathrooms just in case. If we went to restaurants I would scope out the restroom before to make sure I could have privacy when purging. It consumed my life and I didn't feel like myself at all.
6. Your lips, mouth, and throat are always chapped and sore
For years I had some significantly chapped lips and odd sores that appeared occasionally from excessive purging. The outside of my mouth was always crusty and dry. The inside of my mouth always had sores of some sort. My throat was always sore or sensitive. This eventually went away with recovery.
7. Your hand always smells like vomit
No matter how many times I washed and scrubbed I felt like my hand always had a vomit smell on it... This also went away with recovery (thank goodness).
8. Your teeth actually rot (no matter how well you maintain them)
I have some big old teeth I was really nervous about damaging, but Bulimia knows no logic and despite my love for my teeth it didn't stop me from continuing with my disease. During recovery I finally gained the courage to see a dentist and had a whopping 19 cavities, aka $2500 dollars worth of dental work. If you had seen my teeth from the outside they looked fine, but inside they were rotting. This is a great example of how Bulimia can trick you into thinking you are ok, when in reality you are causing long term damage.
9. You eventually stop losing weight
That's right, no matter how often I binged I got to a certain point into the disease where it was no longer helping me shed pounds. My body somehow figured out a way to fight back and I started gaining weight (an eating disordered girls nightmare). This only led to me feeling more ashamed of myself and brought my self esteem down even further. It turns out our bodies are smart and will catch onto your patterns over time and make your eating disorder less effective. I found this out the hard way.
10. You will clean a LOT of toilettes
I was so ashamed of my eating disorder I did everything I possibly could to hide it. This meant shoveling vomit down shower drains, puking behind bushes, and throwing up into toilets and cleaning them afterwards. This included restroom toilets, home toilets, gas station toilets. Pretty much anytime I purged I had to clean. Looking back I am disgusted with the fact that I would scrub these toilets just to hide my disease, but Bulimia will do that to you and try to convince you that everything is fine.
Recovery is SO WORTH IT
As you can tell, my self esteem was at an all time low when I finally decided to start recovering. It took a LONG time, I slipped up and went into remission on multiple occasions, but I never lost sight of the end goal of being fully recovered and normal towards food and my body. There are many different aspects of recovery that are physically and mentally taxing (gaining weight, bloating, digestion issues), but in the end the fight was worth it. During those tough moments I turned to prayer, and I tried to distract myself as much as possible. It was a long road but I am so thankful I started the journey and am now fully recovered.
If you are considering turning to Bulimia as a way to lose weight I hope this encouraged you to AVOID IT AT ALL COSTS. I wish I could go back in time and stop myself the first time I ever purged. I wish I had instead figured out a way to accept my body for what it was instead of becoming so focused on losing weight. It probably took years off my life, gave me some expensive dental bills, and made me incredibly unhappy.
If you are reading this during recovery please know that I am cheering for you! Don't give up on yourself, it's going to be worth it one day. Being fully recovered feels like blissful freedom and opens you up to ALL of life's possibilities. The fight is worth it. You are worth it.
life after bulimia
Now that I am fully recovered I look back on my years with the disease and feel so sad for my younger self, but am thankful I could experience this and gain the insight on the importance of self love. This disease started from a place of very low self esteem and the only way out of it was to improve the way I thought about myself. I am now a happy, confident, life loving and food loving girl with ZERO urges to binge and purge. I have regained my identity as an athlete and am now an avid runner and completed the 2018 Boston Marathon. I manage an indoor cycling studio where our main message to the community is to love your body and look at exercise as a celebration rather than a punishment.
Long story short life became more beautiful once Bulimia was out of the picture.
If you are suffering from Bulimia I encourage you to continue the fight, seek professional help, tell a trusted friend, just to anything you can to keep up the fight of recovery. If you want to chat with me email me at email@example.com or DM me on Instagram @britelford_fitness. I would love to hear from you!