Recovery from Bulimia Nervosa:
“There’s no other way around it. Whack-A-Mole won’t get you there.”
By: Kate Kaczor, RD, CEDRD, CSP, CSOWM
Lead Dietitian at Alsana Amare
Have you ever played the arcade game, Whack-A-Mole? I remember playing it at our local Chuck E Cheese when I was growing up. I remember trying so hard to win and get those valuable tickets that I could cash out for a small monkey stuffed animal, a glow-in-the dark eraser, or a blow-up baseball bat.
While I would always try my hardest to win this game and score the most points, I also remember this game posing a lot of frustration for me. There were just so many moles! And they were so fast! And they just kept coming even when you thought you had them all! It sometimes felt like an impossible task to whack all those moles!
This childhood game makes me think of the recovery process for those struggling from bulimia nervosa. If you have struggled with this disease, it is likely that your eating disorder has controlled you through a long list of behaviors, and this list is different for everyone. This may include bingeing, purging, restricting, exercise, laxative abuse, diuretic use, self-harm, substance abuse, impulsive behaviors, and it goes on and on. It can be such an exhausting struggle to challenge each of these behaviors, especially when one is always waiting in the wings to “pop up” on you. You might even wonder if it is worth the fight anymore.
Let me tell you, it is, and at Alsana: An Eating Recovery Community, we are here to help you conquer all parts of your eating disorder, so you never have to play this Whack-A-Mole game again. Here are some of the steps we will help you take as you work towards recovery from bulimia nervosa.
Realize that all eating disorder behaviors are destructive behaviors.
A challenge that comes up for many who are fighting for recovery from bulimia nervosa is “cherry-picking” behaviors. Often, clients might wish to keep their relationships with exercise or restricting, or any other behavior that they might put on a pedestal. I mean, if there is no bingeing and purging, there is no problem, right? Wrong! This is the type of approach that fuels the continuation of Whack-A-Mole. While certain behaviors may be less overt or societally criticized, you cannot experience recovery from bulimia nervosa without forcefully fighting all the behaviors (even those you would really prefer not to think of as behaviors). It would be like deciding to leave behind part of a malignant tumor—the cancer (or the bulimia nervosa) is just going to grow back with time and could end up taking your life.
Build a foundation.
In order to best arm you in your journey to recovery from bulimia nervosa, a solid foundation is key. When you enter treatment, you will work with a team of professionals to help create this foundation on many levels including medically and nutritionally. Stopping many of the behaviors involved with bulimia nervosa can lead to several physical side effects including slowed digestion, constipation, edema, and swelling of the parotid glands. These can be terrifying and lead many people to return to their behaviors to manage the symptoms. Fortunately, a dedicated medical team can help manage these side effects through medication and other helpful interventions. Developing trust with a medical team is key to continuing the journey of recovery from bulimia nervosa. It will provide you with resources to address medical complications that were a result of the behavior use including dental damage, bone loss, and gastrointestinal disease, so you can live a life of full health.
Nutritionally, a balanced meal plan with support and structure is vital for regulating the body’s digestive and hormonal processes. This helps limit physiological urges for bulimia nervosa behaviors and also neutralizing the food experience, so it is not psychologically as powerful anymore. Through the support of food exposures, you will increase your comfortability with a variety of food experiences and learn to approach them without fear. In times of stress, uncertainty, or chaos (which, let’s face it, come up more frequently than we would like) it is important to have this solid foundation and a “go-to plan” to help you identify how to nourish yourself and how to get support when things are not the norm. Treatment will help you solidify this plan.
Explore your values.
In order to continue your journey to full recovery from bulimia nervosa, identifying and exploring your values is vital. At Alsana, you will be able to explore these in group therapy session utilizing Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), through discussions with your relational ambassador, as well as in individual sessions with your treatment team. Often, values are lost when you spend countless hours with your disease. Reconnecting with them once you have an interruption of behaviors will help you start living the type of life that feels most meaningful to you. Perhaps your values include integrity, kindness, or accountability. Identifying which values you want to live by will help you make decisions that keep you away from bulimia nervosa and living your life. Ask yourself, will purging this meal be in line with my values today?
Create a new vision… and go get it!
Those pursuing recovery from bulimia nervosa tend to be some of the most talented people, they are just too distracted playing Whack-A-Mole to really embrace those talents. What could you do if you didn’t spend countless hours fighting with bulimia nervosa? After you have identified your values, come up with a goal of what do to with them. Maybe you have a love of animals and could volunteer at a local shelter. Perhaps you value education and could start exploring options for completing a degree. Real recovery manifests when we have a purpose outside of our food and appearance. Whatever brings you joy, big or small, go for it, and don’t look back.
To end this post today, I want to share a poem by Réné Gaudette.
Have you ever gone to a fair where you played that game called Whack-A-Mole? Where you’re sitting there and you’re hitting a hammer and you’re trying to hit the heads of these little things that keep popping up?
It’s almost like life is a Whack-A-Mole.
And everybody that tries to be different, they start off Whack-A-Mole-ing. They try to hit the right time, the right moment, the right thing, the right thought, the right circumstance.
And it just never works.
At the end of the day, you have to stop playing the game and choose a new way of living.
There’s no other way around it. Whack-A-Mole won’t get you there.
You don’t have to Whack-A-Mole your way through life—you can heal and build the life you want to live. If you are suffering from bulimia nervosa and are looking for full recovery, reach out to Alsana today by calling us at 888.822.8938 or filling out a contact form. We look forward to talking to you!