My 6 biggest lessons from 2 years of bulimia coaching

Catherine Liberty's picture

Two hands holding supporting each other during bulimia recovery.

Two years of being a bulimia coach, helping others through recovery and four years of full recovery have taught me a lot about what it really takes to overcome bulimia.

Today I’m going to share some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned during this time.

I hope that my personal insight and understanding of recovery will help you to feel motivated and inspired as you continue on your journey.

Perhaps I can even help you to see certain aspects of recovery a little differently too? 

Okay, the first lesson may be a bit of a shocker, but here we go…

Lesson 1: Relapses can be good for you (seriously!)

Bulimia relapses make you stronger

This is a pretty controversial statement I know, but it’s something I discovered during my own recovery and something that has only been further reinforced after working on a one-to-one basis with others in recovery for the past two years.

Exactly how can a relapse be a good thing?
Well, my understanding and experience of relapses is that…

They provide essential learning opportunities

- opportunities we need in order to understand exactly how to move forwards in recovery. They have the ability to highlight specific areas of recovery we need to work on, to bring into awareness previously unacknowledged trigger patterns and to show us areas in our recovery where some further strategies need to be implemented. 

They teach us how to be strong

- When you’re new to recovery relapsing is often your number 1 fear. Your worry that it means you’re not going to be strong enough to recover or you think it’s means that you’re weak, but this couldn’t be further from the truth!

Every time you pick yourself  up following a relapse you’re demonstrating so much courage and building inner strength and resilience.  As my favourite Japanese proverb says, “fall down seven times, stand up eight.” 

They allow us to see bulimia’s true colours

- When you experience a relapse a little further into your recovery you can be quite shocked by how different the experience of bingeing and purging is in reality compared to your memories of it.

I remember relapsing once because I “needed” the escape and comfort it used to give me. Much to my disappointment, a couple of months in recovery had provided me with enough mental clarity to see that any previous emotional benefits I had associated with bulimia were simply an illusion.

An awareness of bulimia’s “true colours” can be incredibly motivating when it comes to sticking with recovery through the more challenging times. 

They help us to explore new ways of measuring progress

- and this is a very important thing, because counting the number of bulimia-free days you’ve experienced since starting recovery is not always an accurate portrayal of your progress.

As a Recovery Coach I try hard to get people to look at the bigger picture, to explore how progress can be made even in the face of relapse and to distance themselves from all or nothing ways of thinking

Lesson 2: It’s okay if you don’t have support at home

bulimia support at home

Although I personally did have the support of my husband during recovery, I’ve met and worked with lots of recovering (and now recovered) bulimics who just don’t have that kind of support.

Sometimes it’s because they have made a decision to keep their bulimia a secret, other times it’s because family members and loved ones have been unsupportive and lacked understanding of the role they can play in recovery.

If you’re in this position right now I want you to know that it’s okay if you don’t have support at home, you can still recover,  as long as you’re willing to find that support somewhere else

Whether that’s through peer support, professional support, local support meetings or something like our 1-to-1 Recovery Coaching Program, building up a support system is so essential to your recovery.

We all need to feel understood, we all need to have people to confide in, we all need that reassurance that the things we’re experiencing in recovery are normal. On the most basic of levels, we simply need to know that we're not in this alone. 

Incidentally, if you’d like to talk to your loved one about recovery but you’re not sure how to get started then why not access our free downloadable guides.

Lesson 3: Early intervention is better, but it’s not essential

Never too late to start your bulimia recovery

We’re always hearing the line, “when it comes to the treatment of eating disorders, early intervention is key” and of course it makes sense that the earlier you can seek treatment the better.

But I think that a lot of the time claiming that early intervention is “key” deters long-term suffers from seeking help. They start to think it’s too late or that it will never be possible to recover from a lifetime of disordered eating.

But you know what?

That’s just not true!

Anyone can recover from bulimia, no matter how long they’ve suffered for.

I must have written that line a thousand times since I started to work for Bulimia Help, but I feel it’s so important to get the message across that it is NEVER too late to recover

Maybe you remember the amazing interview with Pat Mary? I was lucky enough to coach Pat through her entire recovery and guess what? She managed to make a FULL RECOVERY after suffering from bulimia for 43 years!

Lesson 4: The biggest barrier to recovery is often our refusal to accept its true nature. 

Its oky not to be perfect

About a month into recovery I remember becoming secretly obsessed with the idea of  “the perfect recovery.” Despite what I’d heard about the ups and downs of recovery I decided I was going to be different, that I was going to be stronger and somehow avoid relapses, weight fluctuations and all the other typical “complications” that people tend to face on the road to recovery. 

My time as a Recovery Coach has shown me that I’m not the only person who harbours this secret dream either, it‘s actually quite common. Unfortunately, by demanding so much perfection from ourselves  leave no room for error, no space for compassion when things go wrong (and at one point or another they always do).  

The truth is that recovery can be messy, it‘s painful, scary and seriously intimidating at times. By pretending that it’s not, or convincing ourselves that things can be different for us, we’re setting ourselves up for failure.

In recovery you need to remember that you are only human, it’s okay to make mistakes, it’s okay to not be perfect. The faster you can accept the true nature of recovery the faster you’ll find yourself adapting, changing and recovering!

Lesson 5: You don’t have to change your personality in order to recover

Like many people, I used to convince myself that if I really wanted to recover I first had to learn how to love myself, how to be confident in my own skin and how to be fearless in the face of emotional distress.

I thought I needed to learn how to stop feeling vulnerable and sensitive all of the time and I presumed I’d have to find a way to boost my self-esteem and uncover the secret for letting go of my drive for perfection too.

With a list that long no wonder I kept avoiding recovery! It sounds impossible and you know what? It probably is! 

The good news is that you do NOT need to change your personality in order to recover and the even better news is that you will start to see certain aspects of your self changing naturally over the course of your recovery.

With bulimia no longer in control of your life you begin to embrace healthy coping mechanisms, you give your brain chemicals the opportunity to rebalance and in the process you naturally become less obsessive, you find that self confidence you‘ve been craving, you gradually discover how to love yourself and you see that feelings like vulnerability are absolutely nothing to be afraid of. 

One thing I keep hearing from the people who I coach is how they’re also finding their perfectionism diminishing over time and this is something I can really identify with too.

In the past eating disorder research has generally failed to make this connection, however I was pleased to discover a recent study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders does support the idea that people who achieve full recovery experience a significant decline in perfectionism.

I suppose the bottom line is this - you don’t need to worry about trying to change yourself in order to recover, but you’ll definitely begin to notice incredibly positive changes happening naturally during the process.

Lesson 6: We’re always confusing strength for weakness (and we need to stop!)

You are stronger than you think

Every day I get to work with so many wonderful, courageous and powerful people in recovery, but one thing that many of them have in common is the belief that they are inherently weak.

Newer members of our Coaching Program tell me that they fear they do not have what it takes to recover, older members who have suffered relapses often confide in me that they feel too weak to truly beat bulimia.

But as overwhelming as those feelings can get some times, we must realise that fear, worry and other negative emotions do NOT equate to weakness.

I sit here on a daily basis surrounded by so much strength and inspiration, amazed by the strength of character and sheer determination to recover that so many people have. I see people fighting the battle of their lives every single day and it baffles me that this can be construed as weakness!

Of course I've been there myself, so many times during my own recovery I felt weak and vulnerable too. Bulimia clouded my vision so much that I was completely unable to acknowledge my own true strength.

The important thing to know is that you are not weak because you suffer with bulimia and you are certainly not weak for choosing recovery! 

  • We go into recovery accepting it may be the hardest thing we EVER do. 
  • We face it head on even though we know at times it will be painful.
  • We pick ourselves up time after time because we trust that we can never fail if we never give up.
  • We commit to kicking bulimia out of our lives forever, even though many of us can not remember a time when we lived without the "safety-net" of an eating disorder.

This is NOT weakness - this is the most impressive demonstration of strength I have ever known! 

No matter what’s happening in your recovery right now, no matter how far you have left to travel, no matter how many times you have fallen, if you are still here then you are stronger than you know.

Please take a step back, look at how far you have already come, how dedicated and determined you are right here in this moment and let that inner strength shine through today. 

A little about me

Becoming a Recovery Coach was really just a natural progression for me and an expansion on what I was already trying to do here - offering support and guidance to those who were still struggling and who were in need of compassion, understanding and guidance.

Over the past couple of years I’ve dedicated my time to ensuring that as many people as possible are able to experience the same level of happiness and freedom I am blessed with today.

I have background in Psychology and Social Work but I’m not a therapist, a qualified counsellor or an “eating disorder professional” in the traditional sense. I’m simply someone who remembers what it’s like to feel hopelessly trapped by bulimia, someone who has been through all of the ups and downs that recovery has to offer and someone who understands exactly what it takes to recover.

If you’re new to Bulimia Help or unfamiliar with our 1-to-1 Coaching Program and want to know more you can learn all about it here: www.coaching.bulimiahelp.org

10 comments

littlecat
littlecat's picture
Thank you Catherine. Your

Thank you Catherine. Your emails get me though the day sometimes.
 

Catherine Liberty
Catherine Liberty's picture
Hi Littlecat! Thank you so

Hi Littlecat!

Thank you so much, that is so kind of you to say, I'm thrilled to be in a position where I can use my past pain and struggles to help others to get through recovery too. I know it's not easy, but it is always worth the fight :)

Catherine

Addie Stephens
Anonymous's picture
Hey Catherine. my name is

Hey Catherine. my name is Addie. ive been suffering for almost four years. i could really use some insight and advice. thank you.

Catherine Liberty
Catherine Liberty's picture
Hi Addie, It's nice to meet

Hi Addie, It's nice to meet you :)

Since I recovered and was asked to work for Bulimia Help I've spent a lot of time writing blogs here packed with insights, tips and lots of my own personal recovery experiences too so the first thing I would suggest is spending some time reading through the ones that interest you! I've written a lot about how I recovered, the struggles I faced and the lessons I learned along the way too.

Does anyone know about your bulimia or are you receiving any help at present?

Support really is an absolute must when it comes to recovery, it's far too hard to go it alone. But as I mentioned above, it's okay to find that support in other places if you don't feel you'll be able to get it at home. It's also really important to visit your doctor for a check up, and I know that is the last thing most people want to do, but I really would urge you to consider it if you haven't done so already.

I did completely recover with Bulimia Help and their recovery program but I still had my doctor monitor me throughout my recovery. One of the very first steps I took at the start of my recovery was creating and implementing a structured eating plan and it's definitely a great place to start.

Before joining this site I'd never realised that most of my binge urges were happening because my body was crying out for sustenance. It was not easy at first, I was terrified I'd gain weight, that my body wouldn't cope with a normal amount of food and I was completely convinced that even though other people were recovering, I was going to be different somehow. Weaker or just not able to live without bulimia.

But slowly I began to see just how essential regular eating is to recovery.

We have a great resource on structured eating and meal planning here that I hope you'll find helpful: http://www.bulimiahelp.org/book/info/creating-meal-plan I hope you'll find these links and resources helpful Addie, please let me know if there is anything I can do to help you further.

I wish I would have been brave enough to reach out for help earlier. I know it's scary, but it is the right thing to do.

Take Care, Catherine

Casey
Anonymous's picture
Thank you so much, Catherine.

Thank you so much, Catherine. This really helps with exacty what I've been struggling with for a while. You're wonderful.

Catherine Liberty
Catherine Liberty's picture
Hi Casey! Thank you so much

Hi Casey! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment here. I'm so happy that you've found this blog post helpful :)

Have a great week!
Catherine

Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Hey Catherine, Thank you for

Hey Catherine,

Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I really like that you are not a trained psychologist but someone who has been there too.
I have suffered from bulimia and anorexia for 20 years now and have really good days, even weeks or months and then relapse again. I was wondering if you have heard of a connection between bulimia and IBS as this seems what has happened to me. It doesn't make recovery easier as almost everything I do eat causes bloating, gas, constipation and so on. I am sad most days that I do have the wish to get better and to enjoy food but with IBS that seems almost impossible. Reading your block somehow made me feel more hopeful again so I really want to say thank you :)

Catherine Liberty
Catherine Liberty's picture
Thank you so much for taking

Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a kind message to me, I really do appreciate it! I'm so sorry to hear that you've struggled with eating disorders for 20 years now, I can't even imagine what you must have been through in that time, but look at how strong you are, still fighting on, still hopefully - and you absolutely should be. Yes I personally only suffered with bulimia for ten years, but I've witnessed so many incredible recoveries over the past few years, people finding full recovery even after 40 years in some cases - so I look to them and know that recovery has to be possible for every single person out there.

It is wonderful to hear that you're able to experience good days, weeks and months where your eating disorders are no longer in control of your life, you should be so proud of yourself for that! The one thing I would say is to play detective a little, to look at those relapses and to really ask yourself "why is this happening?" For me relapses happened even in the later stages of my recovery and really I think for a number of reasons - sometimes related to restriction - sometimes related to becoming emotionally overwhelmed - most of the time related to a whole range of little things that had all built up and "pushed me over the edge." But when you start to work out exactly what those triggers are then you'll be in a great place to learn from them, to try out new strategies that focus on those specific areas. 

Your IBS must be making recovery so much more difficult, I know we all tend to experience symptoms similar to IBS during the first few months of recovery - especially the dreaded "recovery bloat" so I'm really sorry to hear that your IBS seems to be an ongoing condition. Have you considered meeting with a nutritionist to discuss a recovery meal plan that could work for you and take into account your IBS? If you were to meet with someone who has previous experience of working with people in recovery it might be a great idea. 

Once again thank you so much for your message :)

Catherine

 

larissag
larissag's picture
That was an amazing read

That was an amazing read Catherine. Thank you for reminding me that I don't have to try and do this perfectly, that I am human. So easy to get stuck in the rut of perfectionism. I am seeing that no matter how long we've tried, fell down and been picked back up, we are still STRONGER than we know. We are all capable of recovery. You are such a blessing to the people in recovery. You've made a decision to spread hope and give back. You are a big part of peoples healing. Words can't express my gratitude for you because you chose to make a difference. Thank you.

to thine own self be true

cherry5000
cherry5000's picture
I do really agree. Your

I do really agree. Your emails do help me get over little bumps and refresh my mind. They remind me to go explore the sight. There's so much I overlook. Thanks a million

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