Bulimia is a hidden illness. On the outside, it looks like you're fine, when inside you still feel the ache in the throat, the discomfort in your stomach and general body, the guilt and the shame. You are worry they may discover your secret, when in fact it would be better they did discover it and finally make you end it.
It started when I was around 15, and finding out that I could eat a lot and, with this “magical method”, get rid of it all… and start again. Unfortunately, I still hadn’t read that after these episodes, you’re damaging your inner organs… and your soul. Among many other very bad consequences.
I have always been cheerful, bubbly, full of energy, so that is the image I normally give to others, and the image I am happy showing. "Ruining" this image, because of the episodes... Every time they would happen, I felt very upset. I knew I wasn't that illness!
I knew something was not right; I know my parents and family were worried… Every time, I would promise them it all had gone away from my mind and I had no intention of doing it again. I saw them cry and get worried, blaming themselves and over-protecting me, not really knowing how to handle it all. They let go a bit after my therapy sessions by the age of 19, as it seemed it was all under control.
However, as soon as I moved away for uni, and afterwards abroad, these bad habits came with me. Not constantly, but “this awful friend” was always around.
Looking at pictures from those times, I can tell I look tired, among other harms I didn’t (want to) pay attention to.
After these episodes, I would feel wrecked, so often I changed plans to meet a friend or do something fun due to not having the energy. And the cycle of feeling bad, embarrassed, ashamed, sad would start again. And that was never-ending.
I believe now I used those actions to cope with feelings of not being worthwhile, anxiety, loneliness, sadness, when things didn’t go the way I wanted… Even just to pass the time, some days, as it was a very deep-rooted habit. And again, feeling bad after as I could have invested that time in better things, even just like reading or catching up with a friend.
But as I grew older, around 26 – 27, I knew this wasn’t right, wasn’t sustainable and wasn’t the life I wanted to have.
I wanted to be true to myself, not lie to myself thinking that this wasn’t going to be harmful, that “one last time” would give me the pleasure and fake instant relief I needed at that precise moment. But after the high, a very big low and days of guilt would follow. A big sense of feeling bad for lying again to those who care about me, and, what’s worse, to myself.
So finally I decided I had to put an end into it.
I got in touch with a health coach online who had been through the same. Our monthly sessions were powerful and I believe what inspired me and made me believe her advice was the fact that she had also been suffering from bulimia for many years.
It’s been a long journey, full of ups and downs. But I was ready for it. I opened up to more friends and family around as years passed by... Not with all the details, but the more I thought of it as something from the past, as it wasn't part of my day-to-day anymore, the more empowered I felt to beat it. I liked myself and my lifestyle, and also meeting my boyfriend and now husband was making me want to live at ease and enjoy life.
I would celebrate with myself and the support of my coach the many days without "acting on it", and coping with the normal things in life, just feeling thoughts and feelings. Episodes went from several times a day in my teenage years, to once a month, and then once every 6 months, and then not even thinking of it. Along the way, I didn't punish myself or think it all hadn’t been worth it, but I would do my best to visualise a future of a guilt-free life, of channelling this energy and these thoughts into something I REALLY wanted to do.
I have even fallen in love with food, digesting it well and structured my meals. I try to never stay hungry. Playing with it, trying to cook a bit more and enjoy more the flavours, the composition, the enjoying a meal in a beautiful environment and with friends, family or co-workers.
I partnered with my health coach for around four months. Then the coaching sessions finished, and it was time to walk by myself… and now it’s been around three years I can consider myself recovered.
Even though sometimes I don’t feel perfect, or I don’t eat “perfectly”, I let go. I fell for meditation and mindfulness, and I also allow myself to not always be busy, but to have wind-down time. If I am tired, I know a quiet day or avoiding that gym session will do me good. The thoughts of going for “it” may pop up sometimes, progressively less often they used to, but I observe them and don’t act on them.
Now, at 33, I know it's a lot about being compassionate with myself the same way I am with my loved ones. It's not about the food, never about the food; there's something else and you have to dig deeper to get better. You'll need therapy, a coach, nutritionist... Get all the help you can, but most of it has to come from you, when you say "enough!"
Life is not perfect, but believe me, the light in the end of the tunnel showcases a life at ease, doing what you really want to do (which you may still be figuring out, and so am I, but that’s okay too – letting go of the perfectionism is also part of the process). How rewarding it is to now live a life true to myself, according to my values and beliefs!
It may be a long-term process, but it will be very worth it. It'll feel frustrating sometimes, but you have to stand up and keep walking. This progress will shape yourself, make you more resilient and grateful for what you have, willing to live life to the fullest, with energy for good or bad moments that will come up. And proud of having left this very damaging illness behind.