At Alsana eating recovery centers, our clients are given an assignment to write about “a day in the life of their eating disorder.” This is an important assignment, because it can help clients understand the impact the eating disorder has had on their lives. The assignment also often reveals the torment of being engulfed by thoughts of food, weight, and exercise. A recent client, Katie*, shared her typical day living with bulimia nervosa. She was able to share this assignment while in treatment at Alsana with her peers in core group. In this therapeutic setting she was able to receive empathy, compassion, and validation of her experience. She was also able to share this assignment with her family, who was able to gain a better understanding of their daughter’s experience of bulimia nervosa.
Katie asked if she could anonymously share her “day in the life of an eating disorder” in hopes of helping others to better understand eating disorders, such as bulimia nervosa, and help individuals who are struggling with eating disorders get the help they need.
My day starts at 6:30am. I set my alarm early so I can start the day on the “right foot” by exercising. I hate running, but I know I need to do it to try to burn off what I didn’t get rid of yesterday. I am already tired even when I wake. My body aches and my throat burns from my behaviors yesterday. I force myself to run on the treadmill at the gym. I tell myself today is going to be different and I’m going to “be good and do good.” I tell myself I’m not going to have breakfast because I know I have calories that I didn’t get rid of yesterday and I need to make up for it this morning. While I’m running, I feel so hungry. I start fantasizing about a big breakfast while I’m running – bacon and eggs… pancakes, donuts… I disgust myself. “How can I be hungry after yesterday?! I am gross and disgusting and a pig.” I push the thoughts out of my head. I can see myself in the mirror while I’m running. I’m huge- I don’t deserve to eat.
After I run, I allow myself to stop by Starbucks to get a black coffee. That’s all I’m going to get. But when I get there I see the cake pops. On an impulse I ask for a box of cake pops. I tell the cashier it’s a friend’s birthday. I’m ashamed. I start bingeing in the car on the way home. I can’t believe I’m doing this, but I can’t stop. When I get inside my apartment, my roommates are gone. Thank goodness. I continue to eat more… cereal, mini-muffins, ice cream… A lot of the food is my roommates, but I don’t care. I can’t stop. I eat until I feel physically ill and then I purge. I know this doesn’t get rid of everything but I have to do something.
When I’m finished, I am defeated and hopeless. I was starting the day on a good foot and I already failed. I’m so weak. I’m late for work, and I’ve already been late this week. When I get to work I tell myself that since I was late I need to work through lunch, which I need to do to try to make up for what happened this morning. The entire day I am consumed with thoughts about food and my body and how I need to lose weight, but I can’t. I can’t concentrate on anything. The day slips by around me. My friends at work are talking about going out for dinner, but there is no way I am letting myself do that. I tell them I have to work late because I am behind. They all commend me for how hard I work. I’m such a liar.
When they all leave, I go home. I’m just going to have a salad and grilled chicken when I get home. I also have to stop by the store to replace my roommates’ breakfast food so they don’t know I ate it. While I’m driving home, I call my mom. We get in an argument because I was supposed to come home next weekend, but I lied and said I had other plans. I cannot let anyone see me like this. When I’m on the phone with her, I sort of drift off. I don’t feel anything, which I know is messed up.
When I stop by the grocery store, I go to buy my roommates’ food. As I go down the cereal aisle, I am struck by the urge to binge again. I fight myself in my head, but I know it’s useless. I buy their cereal, but I also buy my favorite cereal too. I start eating it in the car on the way home. By the time I’m home, I’ve eaten the entire box. I hide the box in the garbage can in the lobby. I run to my apartment to replace the cereal before my roommates return. I purge in the bathroom and turn on the shower in case my roommates return.
After I purge, I’m exhausted. I tell myself tomorrow will be different. I start looking up diet tricks on the internet- ways to trick myself into feeling full. Maybe tomorrow will be different. But I know it won’t. I go to bed early. I hear my roommates come in and I pretend I’m already asleep. I set my alarm to wake up early….
Katie’s story is similar to many others who suffer from Bulimia Nervosa. What is Bulimia? Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by frequent binges, which include eating large amounts of food and feeling out of control. Individuals with Bulimia Nervosa also compensate for their binges by purging through vomiting, laxative use, diuretics, or excessive exercise. Similar to Katie, those with Bulimia Nervosa, also evaluate themselves based on their size and shape.
Approximately 4.7 million females and 1.5 million males are diagnosed with bulimia nervosa. Similar to Katie, many individuals suffer in silence because they are ashamed of their symptoms or think the symptoms will get better on their own.
Katie reported that it was difficult to realize the degree to which bulimia consumed her life while she was in the throes of her illness . It wasn’t until her friends encouraged her to go to treatment that she was able to muster up the courage to make the call.
Katie is finally getting the help she needs. Her journey has been rocky, but she is on the right path and is hopeful that recovery is possible. She wanted her story to be shared so that others suffering know that help is available.
If you are or a loved one is struggling with symptoms of bulimia, you are not alone. Help is available and full, sustainable recovery IS possible.
*Names have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the client.
By: Nicole Siegfried, Ph.D, CEDS
Chief Clinical Officer