I’m pausing my What Makes Recovery Work blog series this month to bring you something I know will be helpful to many of you. If you’ve read my books or blog, you’ll know that I did not purge through self-induced vomiting (instead, I purged with excessive exercise and also with restrictive eating). I fully realize that those of you who purge through self-induced vomiting face a different set of challenges in recovery.
Many of you have told me that the physical effects of stopping purging (such as bloating and other uncomfortable symptoms) make you want to binge and purge just to get “relief.” Even though you know rationally that binge eating and purging is not a real solution for those symptoms and that it causes further damage to your health, when you feel so uncomfortable, it may seem tempting to get that temporary reprieve from bloating or other physical symptoms. You may even be someone who has developed the habit of purging normal meals, and you are finding it difficult to stop, or you are concerned with what may happen to your weight if you stop.
To address this issue I’ve reached out to Ali Kerr of HealED, who has personal experience with overcoming self-induced vomiting, and who has guided many others to do the same. Below is a guest post from Ali!
Are you ready to stop purging your food but find yourself worried about what will happen to your body when you do? Perhaps you’ve recently stopped or reduced purging episodes only to find that your body is swelling up, bloating, and gaining weight as a result?
As the founder of HealED, author of the bestselling books “The Bulimia Help Method” and “The Binge Code”, and a qualified Nutritional Therapist, I have coached hundreds of clients over the years who have experienced this same fear and resistance when it comes to giving up purging. Not only that, I have experienced this challenge first hand myself.
It takes an incredible amount of bravery to stop purging your food and to trust your body to adapt through this process. When we first stop purging we tend to experience overwhelming and intense “side-effects” which include:
Bloating of the stomach
Swollen hands and feet
An uncomfortable feeling of heaviness right through the body, and
A temporary increase in weight
These changes often leave us feeling defeated, confused and convinced that we will never recover without our weight rapidly spiraling out of control.
I remember believing that my body could not handle food anymore. I was also certain that I would end up becoming very overweight and regularly thought about purging again just to gain some relief. Yet despite these impulses to purge “just one last time,” I persevered with recovery, I stayed strong, and I did not purge. I found that within a month the bloating and other symptoms had significantly reduced. The same is true for my clients today, with most them noticing a significant reduction in bloating and other associated symptoms within the first 4-6 weeks of stopping purging.
Through my research I came to discover that the bloating and other challenging “side-effects” that we associate with the cessation of purging largely occur due to our bodies being in a state of chronic dehydration at the start of recovery. This means it’s important to give your body time (and permission) to go through these healing changes.
Here are my top five tips to help you through the initial stages of quitting purging:
1. Keep your body well hydrated
As strange as it sounds, ensuring that you drink at least 2-3 litres of fluid each day will help to reduce water retention. So, get into the habit of sipping water regularly through the day, take a bottle of water with you wherever you go, drink soothing herbal teas to aid digestion after meals, and try to incorporate lots of fresh fruits and vegetables into your meal plans as they are naturally hydrating.
2. Stop checking your weight
The majority of weight fluctuations that occur when we stop purging are the result of water weight and this can equate to rapid weight fluctuations. Seeing big changes on your scale early on in recovery may derail your recovery efforts. It would be such a shame for you to give up all hope because of a little temporary water weight, wouldn’t it?! So, see if you can make a pact with yourself to avoid stepping on the scale for the time being. It can help to move it out of your bathroom completely or to take out the batteries. If this feels intimidating, challenge yourself to go without checking the number one week at a time.
3. Commit to stopping purging no matter what
To overcome bloating and the other associated symptoms you may be experiencing right now you absolutely, 100%, must learn to stop purging completely. Tell yourself that even if you overeat, binge, or feel incredibly bloated, purging is no longer an option.
4. Avoid seeking out quick fixes for your bloating
There is tons of advice out there on how to reduce bloating. Generally, it involves imposing new strict food rules or trying diets that eliminate whole food groups at a time. Not only is this not recovery-friendly but it simply will not work. Understand that your body is bloating because you are beginning to heal from the effects of purging, you must give it the time it needs to do this. There are no quick fixes. It’s important to understand that while this bloating may feel uncomfortable or even painful, it’s not dangerous because all you are doing is re-learning how to do something that is completely natural and safe, which is eating and digesting food. However if you do experience intense, prolonged pain, discomfort or bloating that becomes worrying you should always consult your doctor.
5. Let go of any misconceptions you hold about “the benefits” of purging (hint: there aren’t any!)
While purging your food may have caused some temporary initial weight loss when you first developed your eating disorder, purging does not help you to lose weight in the long run. In fact, prolonged periods of purging cause metabolic changes that prompt your body to store more fat. Purging also increases the likelihood that you will binge and research proves the number of calories absorbed from a binge, even after purging, is greater than the number that would have been absorbed on a binge-free day. If anything, purging contributes to weight gain NOT weight loss!
Really, this boils down to trust. You need to trust that your body can handle the food, you need to trust that the bloating will not turn to fat, you need to trust that the discomfort will pass. Give your body time to heal (at least 4-6 weeks). Please, please, please be patient with your body and give it time to heal. A lifetime free from bulimia far outweighs a couple of weeks worth of feeling bloated.
If you would like some extra support and guidance on stopping purging, you can read our step-by-step guide to stopping purging HERE.
Alison Kerr (BA, Nutritional Therapist) is at the forefront of a groundbreaking revolution in eating disorder recovery. She is the founder and CEO of HealED, a wellness company that specializes in coaching people to break free from their food issues.
Alison is a best selling author of several books on overcoming binge eating and bulimia. A native of Scotland, her first book “The Bulimia Help Method” was published in 2014 and has become a best seller in its field. Her latest book “The Binge Code” is the culmination of ten years working with people who suffer from binge eating and emotional eating. Alison’s approach is unorthodox, engaging, fun and most importantly, effective. You can learn more here: http://heal-ed.com