How bulimia took over my life

An anonymous article contributed by someone who wishes to share their experience of living with bulimia, and help others out there who may be going through something similar. This is an incredibly important subject matter; be aware that it may be triggering or difficult to read for some. This is something we need to be talking about far more, and stop passing judgement on. 

It is one of the most traditional Christmas scenes: the extended family all gathered for lunch, clustered around the dining room table. We have all just eaten delicious turkey and stuffing, roast potatoes in goose fat, assorted vegetables, pigs in blankets, Yule log, and Christmas pudding. Crammed between cousins, I decide that everyone is too preoccupied to notice my disappearance. I slip away to the bathroom and lock the door firmly behind me.

Running the taps to mask any noise, I knelt in front of the toilet and thrust two fingers down my throat, as I had done countless times before. Immediately, my stomach heaves as I vomit. I do it once more, and then again and again until my stomach is empty.  My bloodshot eyes water and sting as I hold my hair back, my throat burning with pain. In my head, the same thought process, the same mentality, chases itself, like a dog in pursuit of its tail. “Calories are bad; you need to be thin. Stick thin. If you’re thin you’ll be attractive.”  

I stand up, my legs trembling with exhaustion before trying to make myself presentable. Holding a damp flannel over my red eyes and applying a slick of foundation to my face to cover any red flush.  A spritz of perfume to hide any lingering smell of vomit completes the job. Perfect. Nobody would ever know. I return downstairs where none of my family is any the wiser.

The scene above is one of many identical mealtimes I experienced during my long struggle with bulimia. The first time I made myself sick, it was almost an accident; I was fourteen and was curious to see if it actually worked. To my horror, and delight, it did. Around two years later I started using it as a method to control my weight. At first I would only make myself sick if I had had an overly fattening/sugary meal, but it soon progressed to eating large amounts of my favourite food in secret with the sole intention of throwing it all up afterwards, sometimes spending up to twenty pounds a day on junk food.

It soon became a twice-daily occurrence at least, and only increased as I started at St Andrews. Not only did my close friends and family not suspect it at all but I also didn’t see it as a health hazard or an addiction. Ironically, bulimia sufferers often don’t lose the weight they would like because it is impossible for all the food you have eaten to come back up when you vomit; some estimates put it at as little as 50%[1]. It was only when coupled with severe calorie counting (sometimes eating as few as 400 calories a day, only eating when with company so as not to raise suspicion) that my weight eventually and slowly slid from 9 stone to 8 stone, then into the lower half of 7 stone, my BMI severely under what it should be.

I became reliant on making myself sick to feel better about myself; if I had had a bad day, felt particularly low or had done badly academically, I would binge and purge. As my grades and social life plummeted, I felt increasingly worthless. Bulimia was the only element in my life I was totally in control of, as I felt that it showed dedication and self-restraint. As it worsened, I would be incapable of eating even small amounts of healthy food without disappearing to the bathroom afterwards. It had finally become an addiction that was outside of my control. Yet I didn’t see it that way. I saw it as another aspect of my daily life that I had simply come to accept.

It was only when I began to cough up blood that I realised it was a problem. I made a Student Services appointment in St Andrews and was quickly referred to a doctor. When I tearfully told him the extent of my situation, he was horrified. A medical assessment showed the physical damage - tears to my throat and low blood pressure – and explained my constant fatigue and irregular periods.  He told me that had I left it much longer to seek help, I would have risked a heart attack - the most common cause of death for people with an eating disorder. It came as no surprise to me when I was diagnosed with bulimia linked to severe anxiety and depression.

That was a year ago. I improved slowly but surely, and having regular therapy sessions as well as taking medication has helped me realise how unhealthy my state of mind and self-perception were. The relapse rate for bulimia is high, (estimated at 30%-63%[2]) but so far I am lucky enough not to be part of that statistic.  Re-learning a healthy eating regime, developing new hobbies and finding new friends have helped me rebuild my self-confidence and regain control of my life. If you are suffering from bulimia, my advice is this; tell somebody. Bulimia is not normal; it is not healthy and is potentially fatal, but it is beatable. Understanding and accepting this is the first step on the way to a better and happier lifestyle with a promising and healthy future.

If you are, or think you are, suffering with an eating disorder or any other kind of food-related illness please find help using any of these services:

University of St Andrews Student Services :

B-eat, the UK’s eating disorder charity :

The Samaritans :

University of St Andrews Nightline: