A short version of a long journey: ending bulimia.
There are plenty of stories like mine on the internet nowadays. But when I was in my late teens and early 20s I had no idea there was a name for what I did. There was only one other person I knew of who binged and purged in my circle of friends and we never even confided in each other. I know what a secretive issue this is, and how isolating it can be to struggle with any food or body issue.
It’s ironic that diet, weight loss, and fitness is a multi-billion dollar industry, while food and body issues are still secretive, shame-filled, and painful.
With the release of my new website it feels right to share some of my story.
Growing up I was a very active girl. I played sports at school, and at home I was one of the boys, joining in whatever seasonal sport was happening. Except for road hockey. All those crashing bodies and swinging sticks looked more dangerous than fun.
Around age 10 I started to notice that I wasn’t as skinny as the other girls. “Well-covered” as my mother would affectionately say. At 16 I was tired of the extra weight and went on an extreme diet, eating only 500 calories a day. I recall a lot of iceberg lettuce and tuna. Before that I never knew what a calorie was. My mother didn’t diet. There was no judgement in my house about “good” food vs. “bad” food. I lost 10 lbs in 2 weeks and was thrilled that I finally felt thin.
From that point on I was counting calories and burning calories. Diets, exercise, health and fitness magazines were a constant part of my life. My high school years reflected a pattern that our culture has accepted as normal, that women are always thinking about their body and trying to lose weight. I went to an all-girls Catholic high school so there were a lot of opportunities to compare myself to other girls. There were three qualities that I admired: thin, pretty, and smart. I wouldn’t dream of judging other girls by these standards, only myself.
At the time I was completely unconscious that I was comparing myself. From the outside you would never know I had any kind of issue with food or my weight. I didn’t talk about it and was genuinely a really happy person.
Before finishing high school I went out west for the summer with a girlfriend to work in the mountains. Waitressing at a small lodge was the best job for money, but also allowed me limitless opportunities to eat pie and french fries at one a.m after the bar closed. Not surprisingly both my girlfriend and I gained weight that summer.
I continued my habit of snacking after dinner and late-night “pig-outs”, as we called it back then. Then one day while out with some girlfriends for a lunch that ended with lots of ice cream, we were in the bathroom and one of them said she was going to make herself throw up. It seemed like a bizarre thing to do until I tried it. And then it seemed like the answer to letting myself eat the “bad stuff”.
In my 20s I thrived in my professional life. Working as a massage therapist in the mountains was a dream lifestyle. Except by then I secretly struggled with bulimia on a daily basis. Ever the optimist, I was sure I could stop the bingeing and purging (that’s what I believed and told myself every day). Outwardly I was happy and active, spending my days outside skiing, hiking, biking, and my nights dancing. It seemed to balance out the awful feeling I’d wake up with after bingeing the night before.
Happy optimists can tolerate unhealthy behaviours for longer than they should, especially when the behaviours are a secret.
Eventually, my insecurities and the emotional rollercoaster of guilt, frustration, and shame for having no control with food led me to seek counselling.
I was determined to figure this out and sought help from different therapists and counsellors, but the advice didn’t seem to help. Counsellors focused on what I ate.
One told me I shouldn’t eat “trigger food” like chocolate. I found a new therapist.
It was confusing. I didn’t know the answer but deep down I knew that chocolate wasn’t the culprit.
Finally, the painful end of a significant relationship was the tipping point. I had to make getting well my primary goal.
(As a therapist, I know that for most people it’s when life brings them to their knees that they finally commit to the work of healing the underlying issues. The tipping point is usually when the pain of our behaviour surpasses our fear of change.)
While I studied science and psychology at university to become a specialist in mind-body health, I immersed myself in my own personal growth.
To heal my eating disorder, I first had to understand the particular combination of childhood experiences that led to how I felt about myself: an early medical trauma, my cultural and religious upbringing, and being highly sensitive to others’ feelings. Going on that healing journey liberated me from the unconscious beliefs and fears that influenced me, held me back in life, and fueled my insecurity.
The experience of healing my eating disorder was deeply transformative. My personal and spiritual growth combined with a newfound trust in my body freed me. I never dieted again. My relationship with food became free of rules and guilt.
Outwardly, I’m sure I didn’t seem very different to some people. But my inner sense of self-worth, self-love and confidence changed dramatically. It was a very difficult journey but the benefits have continued. The spiritual growth and tools for personal growth continue to provide me with a buoyancy to weather life’s difficulties.
I transformed my life by my commitment to healing. My inner knowing was right; bulimia had nothing to do with chocolate.
But that’s not to say I’m a “perfect” eater. I still use food when I’m not physically hungry. I tend to use sweet food for quick energy when I’m tired. And I’ll nibble on snacks throughout an entire flight to quell my fear of flying and keep myself distracted. And by “snacks” I don’t mean carrot sticks.
Now, I just don’t get caught up in letting what I eat define me. I’m no longer “good” or “bad” because of what I just ate.
Collectively, the benefits for women to be free of this issue would be hard to overstate. The roots of our unhealthy relationship with food and our bodies are tied to so many complex issues: inequality and patriarchy, and early childhood trauma to name a few.
I’m endlessly passionate about helping other women free themselves of their battle with food and their body. There is so much that needs to change in our world. Learning to heal the traumas and wounds of our past is a good place to start.