Ignorance is dangerous. Learn about your eating disorder.
- Category: Psychotherapy and Recovery Work
A young woman told me she was binging and purging every day and didn't know why. When I suggested she get professional help she said she saw a psychotherapist twice and it did no good. The man told her to eat “good” food so she won't want to purge. He said the solution to her problem was “that easy” and that she was stupid to purge everything she ate.
The result of that encounter is that she's still terrified about her inability to stop bingeing and purging. In addition she feels stupid, incompetent, lost and confused.
She needs accurate information so she can reject false information and critical attitudes like what she received from the ignorant and, to my way of thinking, callous psychotherapist she encountered.
In this age of Google you can look up just about anything, but the sites you find may be inaccurate, disheartening and even dangerous. I looked up "throw up" and "make myself throw up." I found hundreds of thousands of sites that were pro ana, pro mia and instructional about how to self induce vomiting.
So she needs a few words to help her find helpful information. Eating disorders, bulimia, anorexia, binge eating, BEDA are search times more likely to lead to helpful information.
Hopefully she will find a site or a person who tells her:
1. Bingeing and purging are symptoms of an eating disorder named bulimia. Without treatment it will get worse. It's an illness, not a character flaw. You need a mental health professional who understands and has specific experience with eating disorders.
2. People, including health professionals, who lack knowledge about eating disorders, binge/purge behavior doesn't make sense. Such people think, “You eat because your body needs nourishment. Why would you throw up? Just stop it."
3. When you suffer from bulimia you throw up for reasons. You don't know or understand what those reasons may be. The only way you can explain them is by saying, “I can't stop myself." "I don't want to stop." "I promise myself that I will stop." "This is the last time I will ever do this."
4. To a mental health professional who understands eating disorders these binge/purge behaviors do make sense. You are not eating because you hungry. In fact, when you know you are hungry and eat for that reason it's a developmental milestone on your recovery journey.
5. Sometimes you eat just so you can throw up. You can feel soothed by the binge until it hurts too much so you throw up so you can binge again. But some people need to binge so they can throw up because it's the throwing up that brings some relief from anxiety.
6. Bulimia and anorexia are illnesses. You don't recover through will power just as you don't recover from pneumonia through will power. You need caring and appropriate healing work with a professional who knows about eating disorders and who respects you and what you are going through.
7. Developing a solid, trusting, mutually appreciating relationship with a knowledgeable, respectul and experienced psychotherapist is crucial in moving toward recovery. Recovery is not about will power. You need healing. You need treatment. You need understanding and respect for your situation. You need to know you have an illness and that, with the right help, you can get better.
8. If you are young and living with your parents or financially dependent on them because you are in school or in an early career stage, you need to tell them what is going on witJh you. You need to let them help you get the treatment you need.
Ignorant people are in the world. Self destructive people are in the world. Suffering people who want company in their suffering are in the world. When you know you have an eating disorder you can reject criticism. You can reject invitations to "do your eating disorder better." You can know enough to recognize negativity and ignorance and can move in the direction of your healing.
Joanna Poppink, MFT, Los Angeles eating disorder recovery psychotherapist
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