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Purity and Purging

In my work, I’ve met many women who are relentlessly driven toward purity. To be sure, there are men out there as well who yearn to be flawless or perfect, but the need seems to come with the cultural territory of being female. It’s a compulsion that can take over your life, ruin your chance for happiness, and make being a “normal” eater impossible.

Purity isn’t quite the same as perfection. Without heading for the dictionary, let’s say that purity makes us want to be sparkly clean inside. We never want to have an untoward thought or an unkind feeling. We want to be holy and better than, to rise above it all—whatever “it” is—and be a flesh-and-blood ideal of humanity, a contradiction if there ever was one. As you read this description, does it seem natural and healthy to you? Moreover, does it seem doable? If so, at what cost and sacrifice?

It’s an honorable and admirable quest to want to improve yourself. I’m in the business of helping people do just that and am behind self-improvement 100%. But pursuing purity—scouring out all your impurities—is not about self-improvement. It’s an unrealistic, pathological desire to cleanse yourself in order to be acceptable to others and yourself. It’s about ridding yourself of “badness,” of everything you perceive as unacceptable and replacing it with everything good, to be acceptable and accepted.

Even the promises you make to yourself after a purge have a ring of purification to them—I’ll never be bad again, I’ll be good, I’ll drive out the demons that make me abuse food and my body. What better metaphor for taking in “bad” and purifying yourself to be “good”? The binge-purge cycle is an endless loop of pollution and purification which speaks to your real issue of yearning to be untainted, free of impurities. In the 30 years I’ve worked with women who binge and purge, I’ve never met one who didn’t have a perfection jones—not merely wishing to be perfect, but finding the thought of not being so utterly unbearable. And, in some sad cases, wishing to not be at all if not as a vessel of total and complete purity.

So, here’s the bottom line. If you binge and purge and have been unable to stop, ask yourself if these behaviors speak to yearning to be good and wholesome and pure. If so, recognize that this is an unreachable, unnatural state for humans, an impossibility. You will never get there. The alternative is to relax and enjoy the ordinariness of being flawed and imperfect, of holding the positives and negatives about you as sacred, and being a normal, mixed bag specimen of the human race.

Why Your Brain Shuts Down

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