One of the worst feelings a dysregulated eater experiences comes after engaging in a behavior you know is self-destructive but you go ahead and do it anyway. No sooner have you swallowed the last bite of whatever you ate so fast you didn’t taste it, than in rush self-loathing and regrets. No sooner have you closed the bathroom door behind you after a purge, than here come the recriminations and remorse. If only you could turn back the clock and undo your acting out, everything would be all right. But, of course, you can’t, and things are anything but all right. In your mind, you’ve lost control again, ruining your day, your week—your life.
Okay, let’s put your behavior into perspective. What you did may disappoint and upset you, but it’s changeable and you’ve hurt no one but yourself. The absolute worst thing you can do following a binge or a purge is to trash yourself. As Maya Angelou once said, “When we know better, we do better.” Simple as that: When you have the skills not to engage in these behaviors, you won’t. Right now, you’re still learning them. If you can replace ranting at yourself with curiosity and compassion, you’ll have a far stronger chance of preventing another episode of acting out. You’re probably in the groove of beating yourself up, so you’ll have to push your thinking hard in the direction of openness and self-discovery and away from negative mental chatter.
Focus on two questions and nothing else and don’t give up until you’ve gotten a complete answer: 1) What triggered my behavior? and 2) What actions could I have taken to prevent it? Answering these questions will do two things. First, it will give you information you can use to figure out to avoid the next binge or purge. Second, it will provide a tight mental/emotional focus that will stop you from going on and on about how you’re the worst person in the world and should be shot at dawn. If your thoughts wander off into the dark forest of self-recrimination, gently guide them back to why you did what you did and how you can do things differently next time.
It is not impossible to give up purging and bingeing. It’s difficult work, but thousands of people have done it. Please remind yourself that people do overcome their eating disorders, yours truly included. We all have to go through more or less the same process in recovery—what you’re going through, I went through and so has everyone else who’s become a “normal” eater. Mark your progress not by cessation of dysfunctional eating but by a decrease in its frequency and duration and the amount of functional eating time you have between binges or purges. Remember, progress, not perfection!