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I needed to know the cause of bulimia. I needed to know why I had these uncontrollable urges to eat everything in sight. I needed to know why, at times, I would even vomit into my mouth, chew it up again and re-eat it. I knew this wasn't normal behavior - but I also knew that I wasn't a nut case.
So why then, was I bulimic? What was the cause of bulimia?
Discovering what causes bulimia was not exactly easy. It took me a year of recovery and many years of post-recovery research to truly understand what drove me to lie, steal and cheat for my binge eating addiction.
Here's what I discovered, in a nut-shell.
Traditionally, therapists and most people in general believe that eating disorders are a mental illness... A problem caused by a deep inner turmoil, withheld secrets, trauma, abuse. It is commonly believed that the route to eating disorder recovery is through extensive therapy, trying to get to the 'bottom' of the problems...
Many people also believe that complete recovery from eating disorders isn't possible - that recovery is something that needs to be 'maintained' - that it's never completely natural. (A complete load of nonsense!)
HOWEVER, with modern day science, there is growing evidence that eating disorders are not always caused by deep inner turmoil...
The cause of bulimia is in the physical wiring of our brains, that for reasons I'll explain below, have been wired incorrectly over time.
So the key question in looking for a bulimia cure is to figure out what the hell was the cause of bulimia in the first place...
What caused (and continues to cause) those relentless binge urges?
For this, you'll need to think back... Back to the time when you first decided to try and lose weight, or go on a diet.
You can look into why you decided to diet... That's up to you...
For me, it was to be thin for my sport. I also had a childhood dream to be famous and I believed I had to be thin to get there. But those are irrelevant really, I moved on from that sport and those dreams, but my bulimia escalated.
What matters is what that dieting did to my young brain... And what dieting did to your young brain too.
When you first began dieting and lost a little weight, you would have felt successful... Proud of yourself, I'm guessing. You would have boosted yourself up and made a big deal about it. Each time you successfully refused food or lost weight, you felt good...
Each time you repeated this cycle, you were changing the physical makeup of your brain: You were creating neural pathways (connections in your brain) which reinforced that being thin was important.
The more you dieted and paid attention to being thin, the more you noticed how being thin was important. You began to notice thin people who were successful, popular, famous. Your brain began to filter out and ignore any normal or heavier people who were successful.
Over time, your brain was conditioned to believe that being thin was of utmost importance.
But restricting your food and dieting didn't only emphasis the importance of being thin to your brain...
It did something else that was dangerous and ultimately lead to you developing bulimia...
When you diet, your lack of nutrition sends messages to a part of your brain called the sub-cortex. Your sub cortex is the primal, most undeveloped and animalistic part of your brain. We share this part of the brain with most other species on the planet...
The sub cortex is responsible for keeping us alive through our basic instincts. One of these basic instincts is the fear of famine and extreme hunger.
Our sub-cortex knows nothing of dieting (remember, it is very basic) and interprets our imposed food restriction as a deadly serious situation that could lead to death. It interprets it as a famine.
Our sub-cortexes defense strategy against this 'famine' is to send us urges to eat and urges to be on the lookout for food at all times.
In the unknowing dieters mind, this is worrying. They feel this extreme desire to be thin, but begin having these uncontrollable urges to 'break their diet'.
Almost always, your sub cortex will win. You will give in and eat.
Because of your neural pathways that have been conditioned to believe that being thin is of extreme importance, 'breaking your diet' results in extreme stress, guilt and fear of gaining weight.
Your response? To diet more, to over exercise or to purge.
All 3 of these actions send deeper and more profound messages to your sub cortex that say:
"Yes, indeed there is a famine - keep those urges to eat coming!"
And so the cycle of bingeing, purging and starving begins. The cause of bulimia is born.
As the months and years of bulimia go by, you may or may not move past your desire to be thin. Other neural pathways may take their place... For example, the desire to be a mother, the desire to succeed at university, the desire to be healthy...
But bulimia is more of a problem than ever.
You may even gain weight, reach a healthy weight or even become overweight... This weight gain may quieten, a bit, the sub cortex from sending those binge urges for fear of famine... (although even thoughts of dieting are enough to keep it active)
But even still, with no thoughts of dieting and a healthy weight, bulimia remains - often stronger and more defiant than ever.
This is because you have now moved on from the cause of bulimia (dieting and survival instincts from the sub cortex) to the maintenance phase of bulimia...
Years upon years of bingeing and purging have solidified this habit into your brain as resilient neural pathway connections. As I mentioned earlier, these are real physical connections in your brain that are caused by emphasis and repetition. These neural pathway connections are so deep that they are the natural actions for you to resort to...
Below is a picture of what the neural pathways in our brains look like. The stronger a habit and the more we repeat it - the more dense and strong those neural pathways become.
Imagine you are in the middle of a field of tall grass that reaches just above your head. You want to get out, so you look around you. There are two signs...
One of the signs says "Binge eating and purging". Leading from this sign is a clear and well trodden path through the grass. It'll be a sinch to walk this path as it's obviously been done many times before.
But knowing that this pathway only leads to pain and suffering, you look around for alternatives.
You see a sign saying "Normal Eating". Leading from this sign is nothing but thick grass! Walking this path will be an absolute mission - it looks like it hasn't been walked in years!
But those are the two options and you must choose...
Further define the path of binge eating and purging, or begin the process of defining your normal eating path?
Let's say you choose to walk the pathway of normal eating.
It takes you forever to get anywhere - the grass is so tall and it's just so hard to walk! Every step feels like a fight.
But you look behind and see that as you've walked, you've trodden and flattened some of that grass. There is an ever so slight path forming behind you. This drives you on.
When you are placed in the position again to choose between the binge eating or normal eating path, normal eating still looks daunting - but slightly less so.
Leave it un-walked and the grass will re-grow.
Decide to walk it and you will define the path even more - and more - and more.
Eventually, with time and persistence - the pathway that leads to normal eating will be clearly defined and a sinch to walk! The pathway that says "Binge eating and purging" will be so overgrown you wouldn't even consider walking it!
And that is exactly how the neural pathways in your brain work...
Stop using them and they will eventually disappear!
With enough attention and practice - normal eating will become completely natural to you. You will 100% recover from bulimia!
How could I go from so hopelessly lost in bulimia, bingeing and purging over 15 times a day - lying and stealing to get food... Even re-eating my own vomit... to a completely normal eater - probably the most normal eater I know?
The ONLY answer is that I changed my brain...
This brain of mine now is not the same brain I had back then, at least in the areas that control food, body image and appetite.
I am so passionate about this re-wiring the sub-conscious mind that it makes up a large part of The Bulimia Recovery Program that I run... Re-wiring not only worked for me - but it has worked for many of the women in my program too!
I eliminated primal hunger (the original cause of bulimia) and I re-wired the neural pathways that were maintaining my binge urges. Simple in theory, much harder to do - but completely possible for everyone, including you!
Article by Shaye Boddington
Author of your-bulimia-recovery.com
and creator of The Bulimia Recovery Program and Community