Bulimia: No reason for shame
The year was 1986. Meredith Baxter Birney played a Step-ford wife named “Kate”, who was married to a handsome successful attorney. The name of the movie is “Kate’s Secret”.
When the film aired, bulimia was taboo. While bulimia may be less of a taboo topic now, there is still a lot of shame associated. And lots of misunderstanding.
It is not unusual for men and women who suffer from bulimia to feel embarrassed and disgusted about their behavior and about themselves. They may develop secretive habits to hide their behavior.
Questions parents ask when their child is diagnosed with bulimia include: What is bulimia? Is it treatable? How many people have it? Is it contagious? Is it our (parents’) fault?
Bulimia is an eating disorder categorized by eating large amounts of food and then compensating to ‘undo’ the binge. The compensation can be by inducing vomiting, fasting, and/or compulsively exercising. It becomes a very entrenched cycle that is hard to break.
But the cycle can be fully broken, with the right kind of treatment.
Treatment may involve psychotherapy, taking medication, and/or family therapy. The goal is develop a healthy relationship with food and the body, and to overcome feelings of anxiety, guilt, and shame.
Bulimia affects males and females.
It is not contagious.
There is no single cause of bulimia.
Poor self-esteem and concerns about weight and body image play major roles, and there are many other contributing causes. In most cases, people suffering with bulimia—and eating disorders in general—have trouble managing emotions. Eating can be an emotional release, so it’s not surprising that people binge and purge when feeling angry, depressed, stressed, anxious…or when feeling anything. Eating and purging numb emotions.
One thing is for sure. Bulimia is a complex emotional issue. Major causes and risk factors for bulimia include:
- Negative body image: The emphasis on thinness and beauty can lead to body dissatisfaction; all of us are bombarded with media images of an unrealistic physical ideal.
- Low self-esteem: Women or men who think of themselves as inadequate, unattractive, or inferior to others are at risk for bulimia. Contributors to low self-esteem include perfectionism, comparisons, and a critical home environment.
- Transitions: Bulimia can be triggered by stressful changes or transitions, such as the physical changes of puberty, going away to college, starting at a new school, a pet’s death, or the breakup of a relationship. Binging and purging may be an attempt to cope with stress that would otherwise overwhelm
- Appearance-oriented professions or activities: People who are involved in activities where there is pressure to look a certain way are more vulnerable to developing an eating disorder.
If you are living with bulimia, you know it feels very scary to feel so out of control. But hear this: change is possible.
Taking steps toward recovery is tough. It’s common to feel ambivalent about giving up binging and purging.
Treatment for bulimia is much more likely to succeed when you stop dieting. Once you stop trying to restrict calories and follow strict dietary rules, you will no longer be overwhelmed with cravings and thoughts of foods.
The secret to recovery is to learn how NOT to diet and how to effectively manage emotions.
By learning these skills, “Kate” no longer has a secret.
For more information about bulimia, please contact me or check out www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
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