10 ways to boost endorphin levels during bulimia recovery

Catherine Liberty's picture

It’s no secret that bulimia can directly affect how your brain functions.

In fact many scientists now agree that when someone develops bulimia the biological mechanisms of their brain actually begin to alter. 

Of course research into eating disorders and their effects on the brain is such a complex area of study that scientists willingly admit we still have a great deal to learn. 

One thing science has uncovered though is the relationship between bulimic behaviours (bingeing and purging) and Endorphins.

What are Endorphins and how are they linked to Bulimia?

Endorphins are powerful, natural opiates that allow you to experience pleasure. They enhance your immune system, lower your stress levels and naturally reduce pain.  

What’s interesting about these “feel-good chemicals” is that they flood our bloodstream during stressful and enjoyable times.

Furthermore, research has proven that the bulimic cycle causes a flood of endorphins to rush through your brain, temporarily infusing you with a sense of numbness or euphoria.  

So if you’ve ever experienced a trance-like state during an episode of bulimia, or felt slightly high afterwards then it’s likely that an endorphin rush is to blame. 

What’s more alarming is the fact that when released in this way, the endorphins flooding your system have an almost identical effect on your brain as would be seen if you were to take heroin. It just goes to show how powerful they can be!

Over time your brain becomes accustomed to elevated levels of endorphins 

A growing body of research indicates that when you have bulimia, over time your brain becomes accustomed to the elevated endorphin levels. So you start needing more and more in order to create the same effect and feelings. 

This demand and reliance is one of the leading theories as to why bulimics tend to experience an increase in episodes of bingeing and purging over time.

Think about when you first became bulimic. Did you binge and purge as much as you do now?

Of course endorphins are not really the enemy here, it’s the way that we’re getting our endorphin boosts that’s the problem. 

While our bodies are smart enough to tell us when we need a boost of endorphins, they don't always tell us the best way to go about this. 

So often we’re drawn towards unhealthy endorphin raisers, which for people with bulimia is likely to be the binge-purge cycle. 

Now before we go any further I should point out that researchers are not claiming this need for endorphins is the only reason we become trapped in the bulimic cycle, what they are saying it that it seems to play a fundamental part. 

Other unhealthy endorphin raisers 

Other unhealthy endorphin raisers include things like excessive exercise, obsessive compulsive behaviours and causing yourself physical pain. 

Interestingly enough, even something as simple as imagining an argument in your head, purposefully bickering with a friend or leaving an important piece of work until the last minute to complete can all be responsible for increasing endorphin levels in unhealthy ways. 

10 Ways to release endorphins healthily during recovery

If you’re a recovering bulimic it’s important to seek out healthy and enjoyable endorphin raisers as this will enable you to boost your mood and to deal with depression and anxiety while avoiding any additional harm.

Here are 10 suggestions that have been proven to raise endorphin levels in healthy ways. Some of them may seem so simple, but you’ll be surprised at how effective they can be. 

1. THINK POSITIVE THOUGHTS

When people take a placebo pain medication that they believe it is going to be helpful, it often ends up working. Scientists believe this happens as a direct result of the power of positive thinking and its ability to release endorphins.  

2. GO FOR A WALK OR TAKE SOME GENTLE EXERCISE

While there is some debate as to the reasons why exercise increases endorphin levels, generally scientists agree that it does. Gentle exercise might not be enough to produce “runners high” but it should be enough to help raise your endorphins considerably. 

3. DANCE AND SING ALONG TO YOUR FAVOURITE SONG

It’s been observed that music that makes you happy activates areas in the limbic system which are responsible for the release of endorphins. Plus if you add dancing into the mix you’re also getting some endorphin boosting exercise. 

4. DON'T FORGET TO BREATHE!

It’s not rocket science but deep breathing has been proven to help with relaxation and when the body enters a very relaxed state more endorphins are released.

5. TAKE SOME TIME OUT TO LEARN AND PRACTICE MEDITATION

Just as above, meditating helps you to become completely relaxed which helps to boost those endorphins. If you've never meditated before you can pick up a beginners guide, join an organized class or even watch a few online videos for guidance. 

6. SPEND TIME WITH YOUR LOVED ONES (AND YOUR PETS!)

When you’re surrounded by loved ones  you’re more likely to feel calm, secure and happy. You're also more likely to experience physical contact – all things that have been attributed to helping with healthy endorphin release.

7. LAUGH OR CRY (OR LAUGH SO MUCH THAT YOU CRY)

There is a lot more to the saying “laughter is the best form of medicine” than you would think. For example did you know that people who laugh more are not only happier but also healthier and more resistant to disease? On the flip side having a good cry can also help to release endorphins. We often associate crying with negativity but it is a healthy way to raise endorphins and to release built up stress hormones.

8. FIND A PASTIME THAT INCLUDES REPETITIVE MOTIONS (SUCH AS SEWING OR KNITTING) 

Following repetitive motions puts you in a very relaxed and focused state which has been shown to encourage the release of endorphins. 

9. EMBRACE YOUR INNER CHILD AND DO SOMETHING SILLY

That’s right, just by embracing your inner child and acting in a silly way you can release a ton of endorphins.

10. ADD SOME SPICY FOODS TO YOUR MEAL PLAN 

Spicy foods, particularly those containing a chemical called capsaicin, are effective at boosting endorphins so consider spicing up some of your usual meals. 

6 comments

Rosanna
Rosanna's picture
Offline
Joined: 27 Jul 2011
WOW! I actually can't thank

WOW! I actually can't thank you enough for this amazing article Catherine. I'm a scientist myself, so this kind of logical approach to exactly why the b/p cycle is so addictive really struck a chord with me. Approaching a binge urge with the mentality 'so my body needs a boost of endorphins - let's pick something more healthy to fulfil that role' sounds like an awesome strategy and I love all your ideas :D The fact that OCD behaviours and self-harm may also be similar unhealthy ways of producing this endorphin boost is also super interesting - I've definitely never understood why those behaviours become so compulsive.

Thank you!! x

missdawes
missdawes's picture
Offline
Joined: 19 Aug 2011
Thanks Catherine. I was

Thanks Catherine. I was interested to note that I do ALL of the unhealthy things to raise endorphins. Hmm... that's given me something to think about. A very timely article, thank you for posting it. x

scarlet dahlia
scarlet dahlia's picture
Offline
Joined: 19 Mar 2011
I love all the correlations!

I love all the correlations! So informative, enlightening, and relieving. I will try those methods!

It is the animate earth that speaks. Human speech is but a part of that vaster discourse. --David Abram, "Spell of the Sensuous"

Mouli
Mouli's picture
Offline
Joined: 6 Aug 2011
Goodness, the other night I

Goodness, the other night I flew off the handle BIG time and felt really bad for it as I probably over reacted but I can now see how perhaps it was me trying to raise endorpphin levels (in a negative way, so not so good). I used to negatively exercise madly and perhaps because I am not doing that anymore OR b/p ing. The body is trying to find other avenues which I will be more aware of now to try and not make them new negative aprroaches. Thanks again for the useful article I find them very helpful, m x

Catherine Liberty
Catherine Liberty's picture
Offline
Joined: 4 Jul 2009
Thank you so much for all the

Thank you so much for all the positive feedback :)

pixee3
pixee3's picture
Offline
Joined: 8 Apr 2012
Thanks Catherine, these are

Thanks Catherine, these are great tools. I have found also that facing a fear is something that releases endorphins, I have been afraid of dancing and public speaking for as long as I can remember. I have recently begun doing poster presentations with a classmate of mine at counseling association conferences and dancing by myself (for now until i'm brave enough to do it in public). It feels great to overcome something and know that you made it out alive - even enjoyed it! Resisting a binge is also something that releases endorphins and gives me a natural high knowing that I made progress and I feel proud of myself :).

Join the BulimiaHelp.org Recovery Program & Support Community. Tell me more

So, how can we help you?

1. Recovery Tools

Our selection of helpful recovery tools will help support your recovery.
To explore these helpful resources click here.


2. Try out our Recovery Program

This is the most effective way to implement The Bulimia Help Method right now. Everything you need to transform your life and break free from bulimia.
Learn more


1-1 Private Coaching

If you would like our Recovery Coaches to personally guide and support your recovery you can visit our 1-1 Private Coaching page.

 


 

 


Free Kick-start Recovery Course

This free 6 day recovery course will teach you the fundamentals of our unique approach to bulimia recovery.


We ♥ your privacy

 

The information provided in this website is for information purposes only. The information on this website is NOT a substitute for proper diagnosis, treatment or the provision of advice by an appropriate health professional. Please refer to the full disclaimer and copyright. If you do think you might suffer from an eating disorder, it is important that you talk to your General Practitioner, as there are many physical complications that can arise from being at an unhealthily low weight or from losing weight very quickly, or from purging. We advise you to seek professional help with working on an eating disorder.

 

Copyright © BulimiaHelp.org. 2013. All rights reserved.