Bulimia: factor of chemistry, not character

(Photo by Heather Davidson)
(Photo by Heather Davidson)

The first time I ever made myself throw up, I said that it would be a one-time thing. That “one-time thing” became something that took over my life.

Bulimia occurs when there are fits of extreme overeating, which is then followed by self-induced vomiting or fasting. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorder (ANAD) 25 per cent of college-aged women engage in bingeing and purging as a weight-management technique.

However, purging is not limited to throwing up. Extreme exercising and an abuse of laxatives are other ways in which an individual purges after binges.

Luciana Rosu-Sieza, the interim executive director of the Bulimia Anorexia Nervosa Association (BANA) explained that the causes of bulimia vary based on the person, describing these factors as the “perfect storm.”

“A lot of people say that the media could be a factor, which is true, but everyone is exposed to the media and not everybody has bulimia,” Rosu-Sieza explained.

“But the reality is that there are a lot of contributing factors such as individual, societal and peer influences, genetics and different factors, and I think when they all align then it creates that perfect storm that might drive somebody to actually develop an eating disorder.”

There were many contributing factors that led to my eating disorder. Although vanity certainly played a part, there were other stressors. The first was definitely the pressures of school and work, as I have severe perfectionism and never felt like I was meeting my potential. If there were issues with my friends, I was always convinced that it was my fault. I had a few negative experiences in past relationships and it led to feelings of shame and disgust.

All of these factors made me feel like I didn’t have any control over my life or myself. Bulimia was a way for me to get that back.

One thing that I didn’t sign on for was the health drawbacks that came as a result. Caroline Valeriote, a registered dietitian at Wilfrid Laurier University, explained that bulimia has direct damage to the teeth and esophagus.

“If you’re purging, you can definitely do damage to your teeth because the dangerous acids of your stomach are not supposed to be coming up,” Valeriote explained. “In the long term it can also give you a disordered pattern to what is normalized.”

Dangers can also arise from abusing laxatives. Misusing laxatives can have detrimental damage for the future, such as the bowel losing its ability to naturally signal to you when you need to have a bowel movement. Laxatives can also have the opposite affect and, according to Valeriote, it is just as dangerous.

“If you become too constipated from the abuse of laxatives, that can be very uncomfortable and you can get a lot of bloating and its dangerous for the intestines.”

I had been dealing with this disorder privately for a number of years, but did not get professional help until last year. The reason being that I never thought that my bulimia was serious enough to justify getting help. However, my eating disorder eventually got to the point where I was scared to eat because it would make me do one of two things: gain weight or throw up. And when I would eat, I always chose the latter as a way to cope.

BANA works to promote acceptance of diverse body shapes and sizes through the adoption of a healthy, balanced lifestyle. In addition, BANA organizes and hosts educational health promotion presentations and programs, while not talking about eating disorders.

“Research shows that really talking about eating disorders can sometimes promote it in certain people so we try to stay away from the topic,” Rosu-Sieza explained.

From my own experiences, I can say that there is still a stigma regarding eating disorders. There were times people have been insensitive towards my bulimia because they were ignorant about the subject. This led to feelings of guilt and shame.

“I think there is a lot of miscommunication or misunderstanding about eating disorders and a lot of times people might say ‘why are you doing this’ or ‘just start eating’ and they don’t really understand the full scope of it,” Rosu-Sieza said.

“So I think until we actually get to a point where it actually is recognized as a serious diagnosable psychological medical disorder, we may not get past that.”

To anyone who is suffering from bulimia, I want you to know that you are not a failure. It took me a few years to realize this and while I am still on the road to recovery, I believe that overcoming bulimia is possible.

Surround yourself with good people and don’t be afraid to admit that you need help. Just realize that bulimia is not a flaw in character: just chemistry.

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