101 Tips for Bulimia Recovery

Bulimia Tips for Recovery

The better prepared you are for going into recovery the more likely you are to succeed. It’s important to have a clear direction, to understand exactly what to expect along the way, and most of all, to have a plan of action!

So if you’re ready to take those first steps towards your new bulimia-free life, but you’re unsure of where or how to get started, then this article is for you. Take some time to explore the wealth of helpful information below and you’ll be on your way to recovery in no time.

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How to let go of “wanting” to binge

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My name is Kathryn Hansen, and I’m the author of Brain over Binge (2011), and The Brain over Binge Recovery Guide (2016).

My focus is primarily on helping people stop binge eating, so in this post I’m going to address a binge eating issue that may be causing you some confusion and stagnation in your recovery. The issue is a common inner conflict, which can be described like this: You often feel like you want to binge, but you also know that you want to recover.

Any eating disorder recovery program or philosophy would agree that wanting to recover is absolutely necessary for lasting success. If you are here on bulimiahelp.org, you can rest assured that you have enough desire for recovery to move forward. If you didn’t want to recover, you’d be binge eating and purging without regret and without feeling the need to change. But the reality is, you are experiencing consequences in your health and your life that create motivation to move beyond bulimia.

The problem is: you don’t feel your motivation to recover all of the time, especially in moments when you feel you want to binge. During those times, it can be tempting to give up altogether, or at least temporarily, in order to get what you think you want:  a binge.

Below, I’m going to explain this inner conflict in a way that I hope will provide a fresh perspective. Then, I’ll explain how to get through the times of “wanting” without letting it derail your recovery efforts.

Two Types of “Wanting”

To understand why you sometimes feel like you want to binge even though you know you want to quit, it’s important to understand that there is a big difference between feeling like you want something in the moment, and truly wanting that thing.

On a simple, basic level, we all have two different types of wanting:

1.  Primal Wanting:

Primal wanting comes from the more primitive part of our brains—from a region that’s often called the “reward system.”  The reward system drives us to perform pleasurable activities, survival-based behavior, and encourages us to avoid pain—whether that’s emotional or physical pain. The reward system makes us “want” to perform our conditioned habits and makes us “not want” to do things that aren’t pleasurable or that we perceive might be painful in some way.

When the reward system is working properly, “primal wanting” isn’t usually a problem. It drives us toward natural and necessary behaviors, and stops us from getting hurt.

However, this same reward system can be activated by destructive behaviors and habits that have been reinforced over time, especially habits that involve pleasurable substances like drugs and large amounts of binge food. In destructive habits, primal wanting could also be called “false wanting,” because it tricks you into believing you want something that you really don’t want.

When it comes to bulimia, the reward system becomes conditioned to react as if binge eating is vital to your survival (and pleasure). When this primitive system is triggered, it gives you that strong feeling of wanting to binge.  It’s only doing its job because it senses that you actually need to binge, but you know that you don’t. (*Note: If you are still dieting restrictively, you certainly need more food, but you don’t need to binge). 


2.  Rational Wanting:

The second type of wanting is a less immediate “want.”  Rational wanting arises from the more logical, cognitive, uniquely human elements of your brain.  Rational wanting often involves working toward a goal, or at least involves some waiting to get what you want. It’s not driven by the thought of immediate pleasure without regard for long term consequences.  This type of wanting describes your desire for recovery.  Even though you may not feel and see it all of the time, you—your true self—wants to live free of your eating disorder.

Knowing that there are two different types of wanting, driven by two different pathways in the brain, helps you make sense of your inner conflict. 

To sum it up:  The primitive part of your brain is automatically, and often persuasively making you feel you want to binge, while your higher, rational brain truly wants recovery.

This explains why your urges to binge feel like such an intrusion—those urges get in the way of your goals, your real desires, and the person you know you can be.

Knowing that the binge urges are just an expression of irrational, false wanting gives you a clearer picture of why you have this inner discord. 


How to Disregard Primal/False Wanting

To start overcoming this, it’s important to look at when you feel that you “want” to binge.

Is it when you are having urges, in the moments leading up to binges? Or is it after and between binges when you are feeling connected to your true self and your desire to recover?

In the vast majority of cases, you only temporarily want to binge prior to a binge; and afterward, you realize that you, in fact, didn’t want to binge at all.

When experiencing the post-binge consequences, it’s easy to recognize that it was only false wanting that got you to act on the urge. You feel regret, and it’s then that your desire for recovery naturally resurfaces.

The good news is that you don’t need to binge to allow your desire to recover to resurface. Your rational, true desire for recovery will resurface even if you don’t binge—once the urge passes.

The key to recognise false wanting

The key is to be able to recognize false wanting prior to a binge, not just afterward, so that you can avoid acting on the urge.

To do this, it can help to write down the thoughts and feelings that make you feel you want to binge.

By writing down your thoughts and feelings every time you start to hear all of those thoughts and feel that desire, you’ll recognize it for what it is: just the brain’s reward system doing it’s appointed task, and you’ll know it’s just a temporary state you can pass through.

You can learn to experience the false wanting in a different way—using detachment.

Detachment means that you aren’t actively bringing attention to what you are experiencing. Without the fuel of your attention, those feelings of desire will fade way, the urge will pass, and you’ll reconnect with your rational desire to recover. You’ll also be so happy that you didn’t let the false wanting derail you from what you truly want.

If you can pass through those feelings over and over, the primitive brain learns; it becomes re-conditioned and re-wired, and it gradually stops producing the desire to binge.


*I focused on binge eating here, but know this same concept can apply to other eating-disordered behaviors you sometimes feel like you “want” to do—like dieting and/or purging—which can become conditioned habits as well and are often driven by false wanting. You can find out more about this strategy and other helpful ideas for ending binge eating in my new book:  The Brain over Binge Recovery Guide.  To learn more, visit my website: www.brainoverbinge.com

The importance of gratitude

Sometimes life can give you a wake up call.

A few weeks ago I got a call from our doctor telling me my six year son’s blood work had come back abnormal and they were taking this very serious.

In an instant my life was turned upside down. I was full of fear, dread and worry.

They had to do further tests and we had to anxiously wait with so much fear of the unknown.

What the doctors were suspecting was just terrifying, every parents worst nightmare, our hearts literally sunk.

Thankfully and luckily with special thanks to one amazing doctor (who fast tracked the whole process) we got news that our little boy was perfectly fine. It was just a scare.

I don’t think I will ever be able to put into words the relief Richard and I felt.

Tears were streaming down our faces when we heard the news, as would any parent. Our little boy is healthy and I’m eternally thankful and grateful for this.

Like I said, sometimes life can give you a wake up call.

Life is precious, our health is precious, as is our beautiful loved ones.

Ali and Nathan

So many of us focus on what we don’t have rather than focus on what we do have.

So I want to make this a week all about gratitude.

Living with an eating disorder is very, very challenging, so it is important that we take the time out to recharge our batteries and to perhaps remember some of the positives in our life.

To me help you do this, me and Richard have created a special Deep Trance Meditation to unlock the power of Gratitude.

And you can download it or listen to it for free here. This is a powerful 20 minute deep trance meditation audio that can help train your brain to notice life’s positives so you can see more and more of them. (the first time I listened back to it I cried!)

Universities around the world have scientifically proven gratitude as one of the surest ways to improve a persons sense of well being.

Study’s show that daily gratitude exercises resulted in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy.

So go ahead and have a listen or download the audio here: Deep Trance Meditation for Gratitude

So the challenge is to listening to the audio once a day, every day this week.

And please post a comment below if you notice any changes.

You might notice you feel more blessed and full of gratitude that good weather allowed you to get out for an afternoon run, or that a stranger lent a helping hand allowing you to make it to the bus on time, or that your kids are healthy and well.

I will check back in with you at the end of the week and let you know the findings on this.

With love and gratitude,

Ali 🙂

Body image and recovery

I would like to share with you a very inspiring article that one of my coachees kindly wrote about her experiences with body image and recovery.

Despite suffering very bad bloating throughout her recovery, Lena managed to push this all to one side. She instead focused on her meal plans and was committed to making sure she was getting enough variety of foods and nutrition each day.

Recovery does take stepping outside your comfort zone a little, it’s so challenging I know, but it really does pay off when you then find yourself completely free from binging and purging and able to eat intuitively. It’s the best thing you will ever do.

Thank you Lena for sharing your great insight about how to make this challenging part of recovery possible.

Here is her story below:

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LENA’S STORY

I became bulimic at the age of thirteen. It all started when I went on a diet, trying to loose weight (looking back I have no idea why I thought I needed to). Additionally I was also hoping to get attention from others by literally “disappearing”.

My goal was to loose as much weight as possible, I purposely planned to become under-weight to an unhealthy extreme. I thought this would enable me to demonstrate others how “strong” and “resilient” I could be by not eating.

Well, this didn’t turn out as planned and left me with a fifteen and a half years long battle with bulimia.

Over this period, I indeed was “thin enough” and I hoped I would be living happily in a body that I thought I should live in. However, it turned out differently. Those fifteen years came with a lot of sadness, loneliness, fear, depression, and anxiety. Additionally of course, the battle with food and being owned by bulimia and by those extremely strong urges to binge that come with this “package”.

Bulimia cost me so much; it cost me my teenage years and early to mid twenties when I should have had fun with friends (rather than spending most of my time alone binging and purging), my teeth, my health (I got diagnosed with severe osteoporosis by the age of nineteen, my digestive systems doesn’t work as it should and I may never be able to have children) and so much more.

Accepting and “liking” myself has always been hard for me. I remember that, even when I was a little girl, I always used to compare myself to others. I always thought that others were nicer, prettier, skinnier, smarter, better, more fun or whatever it may be than myself.

I have always found it very hard to accept and love myself, I have always put so much pressure on myself with the aim of being excellent as “normal” was just not good enough. Reflecting back now, I believe that at a very young age I had interpreted and taught myself that being excellent and a high-achiever was “the way” for me to feel loved or even to feel love worthy.

In all those years I didn’t live, I only lived to struggle for a body I had told myself for so long I should have.

About a year and a half ago, I realised that this can’t be it. I started to understand that the only way of becoming free from bulimia is to like myself, including my body. I tried once more to battle bulimia, but without success.

However the result was that within a short amount of time I put on the weight that I must have needed. This of course was initially too hard to accept and very overwhelming, which meant that I continued to restrict food over the course of the day with the hope of loosing this weight again. Ultimately this resulted in the continuation of those urges to binge.

About three months ago I started with the Bulimia Health Method. Initially I was not too optimistic, as over the past fifteen years I had tried so many strategies to end my bulimia but nothing helped. (I was hospitalised several times for multiple months, I did counselling for numerous years, I saw different dieticians, I participated in support groups, I tried hypnotherapy and other alternative treatments etc.) In fact I almost had accepted that being bulimic is who I was.

Over the past three months following the Bulimia Help Method I didn’t put on any extra weight on (I guess, I must have reached my natural set point), but I started to accept my body for what it is and what it needs to be. I stopped trying to control my weight and rather focused on my wish to be healthy and free from bulimia.

For seven weeks I have now been binge and purge free I still can’t believe that this is true (but I do realise that I am still in very early stages of recovery). I never even considered that this would be possible for me, especially after having lived with bulimia for so many years.

I can’t describe how amazing the past weeks have been. I have never felt so free and happy. I am no longer a slave to incredibly strong urges to binge. I have been living life over the past weeks.

Yes, I live!

I am now more active, I enjoy going to yoga or a run, I come home from work and do something nice, something that I like, I meet friends, I read books, and I sometimes even take the time to look at the sky and sunset and there are so many more things I am free to do. I enjoy these days. I also found pleasure in eating and cooking for others and myself. I chew and taste different flavours of different foods.

Given such long battle with food I would have never even imagined that I could ever be capable of doing so. I am no longer terrified of having to eat with others; I even eat foods that I didn’t “allow” myself to eat for so long.

I now sit down with my husband for dinner and we share a meal together. I am now able to do all of this, rather than binging every evening, hiding and hoping that my husband wouldn’t find out about it. I have found freedom.

I now look in the mirror and I see this extra weight, which I have started to accept and I am even beginning to like. I started to accept me for who I am, including my body and my weight, which is defined by my genetics.

I always was extremely fearful of reaching a certain weight. However having faced this fear, I realised that absolutely nothing happened. I am still myself, just happier and no longer controlled by bulimia.

I learned that it is not worth “messing around with weight” as ultimately I cannot change it. I look at myself now and see a healthy (still young) woman, who is happy and who lives life.

Of course, I won’t pretend. I still have many moments when I wish I were skinnier. I’m still very critical about the area especially around my belly, which is exacerbated by the fact that I’m still constantly bloated – something I struggle with a lot. I also guess to some extent every woman (and man) has (have) those moments; I cannot think of one friend of mine who doesn’t have those thoughts (which most likely is a result of the society we live in, where skinny is perfect and beautiful).

I also think that I most likely will always have those moments and thoughts. However, I just don’t let them influence and dominate me as much anymore. I overpower those thoughts and moments by emphasising on the amazing changes I recently experienced which makes me realise how much happier I am now.

I learned how happiness, contentment and health are so much more valuable than a few kilos here or there. I focus on these positive things, when looking in the mirror again. I rather choose life and quality of living over fighting my body.

I have learned this the hard way (and continue to learn) that I cannot win this fight. I have learned and strongly believe, that in the end, how much we weigh is completely irrelevant and it is so much more important to be able to live for who we are and loving the way we are meant to be.

Lena (Melbourne and Vienna)

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Thank you for sharing your story with us Lena. You are an inspiration!

Using mental rehearsal to prevent binge eating

Well it’s that time of year again.

The holiday season is almost upon us and I know from my own experiences how completely terrifying and exhausting this time of year can be.

I used to stress constantly about holiday dinner parties, I avoided all extra treats and threw away any food gifts I received. I drank too much wine at parties because I felt insecure and nervous. I also turned down invitations to certain gatherings where I knew I would be especially triggered.

It was certainly a challenge.

So I decided today was the perfect time to share one of my favourite tips for surviving the holiday season when you’re in recovery.

Mental Rehearsal

Mental rehearsal works on the simple principle that your nervous system cannot tell the difference between a real or vividly imagined thought. So when you imagine performing a situation, you are in a way training your brain to perform this way in real life. This process isn’t intended to build unrealistic expectations; it is simply designed to improve your readiness for the real situation.

How to use mental rehearsal

This doesn’t have to take long at all, just close your eyes and take a few minutes to visualize the upcoming meal.

Imagine yourself acting confidently, feeling happy and making food choices that are recovery-friendly.

Imagine the food on your plate, delicious, not too little and not too much.

Imagine yourself feeling content throughout your meal and peaceful at the end with no urges to continue eating no matter how delicious it all was.

Imagine yourself dealing with any bulimic urges in a calm and recovery-focused manner. You are accepting them without allowing them to knock you off balance.

Imagine yourself dealing with others in a peaceful and calm way too. See yourself no longer feeling triggered in this environment.

Ask yourself what will you eat? how much will you eat? what will you have for desert? Then visualise your plan going successfully.

On the flip side also visualize any potential challenges and come up with a strategy for dealing with these things.

Do you have a family member who always comments on your weight? Visualise your response to their comments.

Is a certain dish triggering for you? Visualise an alternative available that you are comfortable eating.

Don’t forget to visualise including some of those wonderful festive foods as part of your meals and snacks so you don’t feel mentally deprived. How and when will you eat them?

Give it a go and see if it makes those specific meal scenarios a little more manageable. You may be surprised by just how powerful this exercise can be.

In health and love!

Ali Kerr