Confessions: I Have Bulimia

By L.E.

I got caught telling the stupidest lies to my roommate to hide the fact that I had scarfed down half a pound of the peanut brittle she had received as a Christmas gift from her boyfriend. I blamed it on my friend; all the while my “friend” did not exist.

I was ashamed at what I had done. I had no idea the candy was a gift, yet I didn’t want to come clean as far as hiding my secret of chewing food, particularly sugary stuff, then spitting it out.

I have lived being a bulimic for almost five years. I do not mean to search for pity or attention, only to inform you that Bulimia Nervosa, like other eating disorders, is a serious illness and needs to be addressed.

Bulimics often look “normal” or even overweight. Bulimia is unlike anorexia nervosa, where the individual loses extreme amounts of weight through starvation. Eating disorders can range from consuming extreme portions of food to adopting radical habits and eating patterns. You can be a health freak and have an eating disorder or even have two eating disorders simultaneously.

I didn’t stumble into bulimia knowingly. Initially I thought that by spitting out my food this was not “purging,” or getting rid of food forcefully through behaviors such as vomiting, taking laxatives or resorting to enemas or drugs. I wasn’t getting thinner from the process, so came my assumption that I must not have bulimia, only binge eating and an extreme sugar addiction.

Wrong. The mouth is still considered a part of the digestive tract. Some signs of the illness were apparent. At sixteen I had high cholesterol, and still do to this day. By 19 my teeth were showing more wear than normal, and during the past year, more of my hair began to fall out. Things had not always been this way.

My habits changed after an injury during junior year of high school. I always wanted to achieve extreme endurance feats even when physically impossible. My frame is not the tall, svelte prototype typical of elites in the sports I participated in. I didn’t give a damn about being skinny or media images; toned and fast was all I wanted to be. There would be days where I gave up, and others where I mentally sabotaged myself for being unmotivated, not a team player, and above all things, fat. I had not seen my ideal weight at my best physical shape in ages. This attitude stayed with me before and after my time in college athletics.

Consuming sugar is like getting high, always leaving me wanting for more the next day. With dress sizes fluctuating, sugar became an enemy that I could not turn away from. During March of 2005, I looked at an 800-calorie bomb of a muffin and thought to myself, “What if I could have the taste but not the muffin?”

Soon I began spitting out muffins, ice cream, and other sweets into napkins and paper towels. Store receipts, toilet paper, cups and bags would work if neither of these were available, or if a sink and toilet were not in proximity. Portions increased each year. Healthy foods were being vilified for any amounts of caloric intake.

Going on dates and eating with groups of people was always tricky, but I managed to discreetly wipe my mouth and put the napkins in my purse. I drank multiple glasses of water to make bathroom trips seem plausible when I was really disposing the evidence into the trash. When I couldn’t do this, my purse reeked of food, and I finished the deed at home.

Things were getting worse. My apartment had drainage problems from all the food I was purging. Some days I slept for over sixteen hours straight. I felt so weak that it hurt to move my legs upon waking up, using sugar as a means to jump-start the day. Like many other times before, I would get lazy and lethargic then steal my roommate’s candy.

After getting caught, and denying everything, I wondered just how much longer I was willing to let the cycle continue. How much longer was I willing to lie?

I admitted my guilt and secret out of shame through e-mail. I stayed at a friend’s house, and during the week told others of what I had done. When I reached my doctor, she immediately referred me to another physician specializing in eating disorders. A complete blood count came next.

I stalled getting back home but I knew I would have to face my roommate that week. It was inevitable.

Later that night my dignity melted away as I apologized and told her about my doctor’s visit. She explained that although she had been angry, she was more concerned about my condition and was going to suggest that I get help. I am very lucky to have my roommate, or else I would have not confronted my eating disorder directly.

During the appointment the following week I was diagnosed with bulimia. Hearing the news was mind numbing. Bulimia. It was as if my well-camouflaged monstrous failure stepped out of hiding. I was a bit relieved to finally know that my condition had a name, but still felt that I should have known better.

When I was by myself, or when I broke the news to my close friends, I cried. Even so, I feel blessed to have a few select people who are close to me that I can count on for support. Like other eating disorders, bulimia also has its psychological components, and I am in the process of finding a therapist.

Currently I have a nutritionist and have been told to schedule weekly follow-up sessions. My first nutritionist meeting was an eye opener. Bulimia, as I was told, can slow the metabolic rate by up to twenty-percent.

I was given an assignment to make a list of all the foods that I had an irrational fear of, and describe why I felt this way. As far as changing behaviors go, the first goals are to eat foods without remorse, and incorporate lunches, consisting of a carbohydrate and a protein — the “shirt and pants” of a meal as my nutritionist puts it, seeing as how clothing are basic components of dressing to go out, much like how food is essential for fueling the body. Finding foods that I am willing to consume entirely rather than eliminating spitting is the priority for now. This isn’t easy. Although I have started to eat breakfast a bit more consistently, bringing myself to eat feels like a chore.

If I could flip an “OFF” switch on bulimia, I would. I have tried this approach to cease my purging before, yet all in vain. The reality is that months of treatment lie ahead of me. I can’t face bulimia alone.