Bulimia: No reason for shame

The year was 1986. Meredith Baxter Birney played a Step-ford wife named “Kate”, who was married to a handsome successful attorney.  The name of the movie is “Kate’s Secret”.
When the film aired, bulimia was  taboo. While bulimia may be less of a taboo topic now, there is still a lot of shame associated. And lots of misunderstanding.
It is not unusual for men and women who suffer from bulimia to  feel embarrassed and disgusted about their behavior and about themselves. They may develop secretive habits to hide their behavior.

Questions parents ask when their child is diagnosed with bulimia include: What is bulimia? Is it treatableHow many people have it? Is it contagious? Is it our (parents’) fault?

Bulimia is an eating disorder categorized by eating large amounts of food and then compensating to ‘undo’ the binge. The compensation can be by inducing vomiting, fasting, and/or compulsively exercising. It becomes a very entrenched cycle that is hard to break.

But the cycle can be fully broken, with the right kind of treatment.
Treatment may involve psychotherapy, taking medication, and/or family therapy. The goal is develop a healthy relationship with food and the body, and to overcome feelings of anxiety, guilt, and shame.

Bulimia affects males and females.

It is not contagious.

 There is no  single cause of bulimia.

Poor self-esteem and concerns about weight and  body image play major roles, and there are many other contributing causes. In most  cases, people suffering with bulimia—and eating disorders in general—have  trouble managing emotions. Eating can be an emotional release,  so it’s not surprising that people binge and purge when feeling angry, depressed,  stressed,  anxious…or when feeling anything. Eating and purging numb emotions.

One thing is for sure. Bulimia is a complex emotional issue. Major causes and risk factors  for bulimia include:

  • Negative body image: The emphasis on thinness and beauty can lead to body dissatisfaction; all of us are bombarded with media images of an unrealistic  physical ideal.
  • Low  self-esteem: Women or men who think of themselves as  inadequate, unattractive, or inferior to others are at risk for  bulimia. Contributors to low self-esteem include  perfectionism,  comparisons, and a critical home environment.
  • Transitions: Bulimia can be triggered by stressful changes or transitions, such as the physical  changes of puberty, going away to college, starting at a new school, a pet’s death, or the breakup of a relationship.  Binging and purging may be an attempt to cope with stress that would otherwise overwhelm
  • Appearance-oriented  professions or activities: People who are involved in activities where there is pressure to look a certain way are more vulnerable to developing an eating disorder.

If you are living with bulimia, you know it feels very scary to  feel so out of control.  But hear this: change is possible.
Taking steps toward recovery is tough. It’s common to feel ambivalent  about giving up  binging and purging.
Treatment for bulimia is much more likely  to succeed when you stop dieting. Once you stop trying to restrict calories and  follow strict dietary rules, you will no longer be overwhelmed with cravings  and thoughts of foods.
The secret to recovery is to learn how NOT to diet and how to effectively manage emotions.

By learning these skills, “Kate” no longer has a secret.

​For more information about bulimia, please contact me or check out

Dr. Elayne Daniels

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