If you have bulimia, as I did for 20 years, one of your most self-destructive habits is you turn to food when you can't cope with uncomfortable feelings, trauma or stress in your life. Relieving pain or stress with food, even temporarily, is a powerful reinforcement because it feels much better than whatever it is you want to avoid. And the reason you find it so frustrating when you binge and purge is because you can't control yourself. You know you shouldn't do it, but you can't stop. That's exactly what it feels like to an alcoholic or drug addict when they succumb to their addiction.
The painful cycle of acting impulsively and then feeling bad about it can go on for years or even decades. Feeling helpless and out of control is a never-ending cycle that further feeds the addiction. If you want to overcome your habituated way of being, the third of my bulimia tips series is to create new supportive habits.
Here are some ways I recommend to break your compulsive overeating and purging habits:
- Stop, Think, Choose - Catch yourself when you're about to binge. Literally freeze for 10 seconds before you do anything. Next, think about the outcome you'll face when you're done. How will you feel if you do binge and purge? Once you become aware of your actions and consequences you are at choice. These bulimia tips require a tremendous amount of intention, but you can be incredibly powerful when you set your mind to it.
- Create a Painful Association - You've practiced your binging habit for a long time - probably years even. Find a way to make a painful association with food such as wearing a rubber band on your wrist and snapping it whenever you even think of binging. You must make it a painful association; so really snap that rubber band hard. It may seem silly at first, but the pain sensation will start to send a message to the brain that pain is associated with thoughts of binging.
- Replace With a Supportive Habit - It is often easier to replace a bad habit with a supportive one than just stopping cold. Come up with a habit that supports your health and recovery and reach for it instead of food the next time you feel stressed or out of control.
As for my bulimia tips to help you replace bad habits with good ones, here are a few supportive habits to give you ideas and get you started:
- Reach for your favorite self-help book
- Read a favorite quote or poem that inspires you
- Listen to your favorite music, dance around or clean your house
- Call a supportive friend who will listen and help you find a solution
- Pick up a journal and write about your feelings before you take that first bite
- Find an online bulimia forum or chat room and help someone else by offering kind words
- Jump in the car and go for a beautiful, relaxing drive or walk around the block
- Play with your kids or just watch them and remember they're worth living for
30 Days to Create New Habits
Most research points to the fact that it takes 30 days of practicing to create a new habit. It will take longer if you're not having bulimic episodes every day. If you are, then practicing a new habit each day will help strengthen the muscle.
It is easier to create a habit of being bulimic than it is to release it. It was my experience that becoming a bulimic was far too easy and becoming a non-bulimic took more work. That's ok...it's worth it. Stick to your goal of being a non-bulimic, practice replacing your binging with a new supportive habit and you'll get there.
Be Consistent and Reward Yourself
If you consistently practice these bulimia tips you will benefit the most from them in the shortest possible time. Reward yourself with something positive for each milestone (1 day, 1 week, 30 days, 6 months, etc.) that you reach to keep yourself motivated and committed. It doesn't need to be a huge reward to reinforce the new behavior. It should make you feel good when you're done.
Overcoming bulimia is something that happens in years, not days. The first 30 days are critical to putting a stop to the destructive eating habits, but once you make it that first month, keep looking for ways to reinforce your recovery. Just because you stop binging and purging does not mean you have found a cure for bulimia. Get help and really work on the deeper issues that drove you into this addiction in the first place if you want to have lasting recovery.
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