How to become bulimic in 10 lessons

Dinner plate with STOP sign
You couldn’t do it if you tried. But in 1989, at the age of twenty, I managed to make myself bulimic. I would consume nothing but water for seven days at a time, or eat to the point of crippling pain, begging myself to stop … yet would carry on. I’d like to take a look at how I accomplished such an incredible feat. What are the lessons here? How could you make yourself bulimic?

I was a size twelve and five foot six when growing up. I always had a healthy appetite. I’d go back for seconds of school dinners as many times as they were available, never thought about my weight or about dieting. I always skipped games. I was rubbish at swimming, netball, cross-country, gymnastics.

My weight crept up so gradually that I didn’t really notice. It must have happened in the sixth form. It became difficult, after a Sunday roast, to fasten my size fourteens. I refused to buy a larger size. I’d lie down after dinner with my trousers open and wait until they fitted comfortably again.


No.1

In the summer of 1989, aged nineteen, whilst on holiday in Germany, I met a beautiful, and very slim, young woman, Alex, to whom I felt deeply attracted. The attraction was mutual. We embarked upon a romantic relationship, which proved to be enormously difficult for both of us. We were struggling with coming out and with accepting our sexuality. I had never had any sexual contact with another woman and I was terrified. On top of this pressure, I was really troubled by how attractive Alex was and how unattractive (fat) I felt.

The lesson:
To become bulimic … ignore the fact that someone is attracted to you already, just the way you are.


No.2

My 23rd August 1989 diary entry reads, “This morning I decided that I really must lose some weight now. I didn’t have a single thing to eat all day.” Unfortunately, I had very little idea about what losing weight might entail. I understood that food was making me fat, so it seemed logical to stop consuming food. My first attempt at weight loss involved eating no solid food for a four day period, surviving on high-calorie (though I didn’t know what a calorie was at that time) full fat milk and orange juice. I observed that I still looked fat following this experiment so, for a while, I forgot about it.

The lesson:
To become bulimic … neglect to learn the basics of a healthy lifestyle.


No.3

At university I used to do shifts in the bar at my hall of residence. One evening in December 1989 a fellow student, Guy Gilpin, ordered one of the spirits along the back wall. To serve him I turned my body side-on for some moments. When I handed him his drink, he said to me, “You’re getting fat, Natasha.” That is the first comment I remember hearing about my weight.

The lesson:
To become bulimic … allow other people’s ideas about attractiveness to influence you.


No.4

A few evenings after Guy Gilpin shared his view with me, I visited the communal bathroom in my hall of residence, where I put my fingers down my throat for the first time. By a majestic stroke of luck I was rubbish at it. I tried a few times to heave up my dinner, but all my effort produced was a couple of chips, a little ham, and some slime.

The lesson:
To become bulimic … ignore your instincts about what constitutes rational, healthy behaviour.


No.5

Alex and I lived in different towns. We met up for a few days on a couple of occasions, still struggling to express our attraction to each other. When Alex told her mother about me at Christmas 1989, her mother’s reaction was so negative that Alex rejected me. My first barren attempt at ridding my body of food might have ended in the bathroom at my halls of residence. However, Alex’s mother’s homophobia had turned Alex against me. At this point I felt that if I were to embark upon a mission of winning Alex back, then I would need to become as attractive as she was in order to feel worthy. Alex was slim. I weighed ten and a half stone, none of which was muscle. I used to catch the bus to travel the length of a road.

The lesson:
To become bulimic … compare yourself with others.


No.6

At the age of twenty I found life hard. My approach to coping with anything was to create a drama around it. I had started questioning people about dieting. I learned about calories and about eating less than I would burn off. However, this sounded painfully dull. Not eating felt like dedication, fun … drama. Not eating would earn me a lot of attention.

The lesson:
To become bulimic … when faced with a challenge, create a drama.


No.7

I wrote out charts that restricted me to eating three meals per week. So, four days out of each week involved my eating nothing, and for three days out of each week I was permitted one meal per day. If I succeeded, I could put a tick in the box for that day on my chart. Of course, this became obsessive. It also resulted in my crash-losing a lot of weight, which made me ecstatic and served to fuel the obsession.

The lesson:
To become bulimic … get obsessed with your weight loss goal.


No.8

The deprivation also served to make me obsess over food. I started fantasising about meal concoctions, dreaming about food at night, haunting supermarket shelves to read calorie contents on packaging. And sometimes I would crack. I would consume vast quantities of food in one sitting, forcing it into myself to relieve the frustration, ignoring the physical pain. As we’ve established, I was rubbish at self-induced vomiting (and also at physical exercise), so to compensate for bingeing, I relied mainly on fasting for three days afterwards. The longing for food that the fasting created led to another binge. It became a trap.

The lesson:
To become bulimic … deprive yourself of food.


No.9

As well as helping to provoke bingeing, depriving yourself of food puts your body into panic mode where it believes it is starving and so your metabolic rate slows right down. In panic mode, the body needs a lot less food to function. So, you need to eat a lot less in order to maintain or to lose weight.

At Easter 1990 I was home for the holidays, where I was obliged to eat with my parents. I coped with this monumental inconvenience by taking in just four hundred calories per day (a fifth of what the body needs). Because of my now slow metabolic rate, even after eating four hundred calories per day for two weeks, I had lost no more weight.

I ventured onto other methods of weight loss, such as alcohol-induced vomiting and laxative abuse. I was missing lectures at exam time through lack of energy and I was experiencing black-outs. The physical effects, such as thinning hair, swollen glands, and losing my periods, where piling up. But I just wanted to lose a few more pounds.

The lesson:
To become bulimic … despite all evidence, believe that you have the situation under control.


No.10

My eating disorder intensified during the following year, which I spent as a sandwich year in France, teaching English. I would binge-eat staggering amounts of food and eventually lie in a nauseated ball on my bed for hours, crying in pain. On two occasions the volume consumed caused my body to throw up of its own accord.

I would compensate by going two to four weeks at a time, eating no more than fifty calories per day, usually one apple or one very low fat yoghurt. Often I would have to stop and sit down on the short walk from my home to the bus stop through lack of energy.

Sheer embarrassment led me to lose all the weight again in summer 1991, when I had to return to university for my final year. I had created such a drama around my bulimia and my weight loss, that the idea of returning at the same bulging size fourteen-plus I’d started out at was unthinkable.

The hellish, cyclic eating patterns stayed with me for many years. I wish I could let others know not to venture down that path.

The lesson:
To become bulimic … don’t heed a warning. Believe it will be different for you.


Do you have any lessons to share on how to make yourself bulimic?

6 Comments

  1. Neil
    Posted June 3, 2020 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Oh Natasha, what a poignant post. My heart goes out to you.
    When I was 12, my neighbour commented on how much weight I had gained. I hadn’t noticed until she said something, but then I was hyper aware of it. At 14 I was slender.
    My entire adult life I’ve been on diets, cycling through gain and loss, bombarded with body images that just weren’t my natural lifestyle.
    I remember one Christmas I just let go and utterly embraced the excess of the season. I went back to work in January 15 pounds heavier, and there were audible guffaws from people and not-whispered comments about how fat I was.
    The thing is, whenever I eat what I want, and enjoy it, I gain weight. Even with exercise (which I find hard to stick to). The only way I ever lost weight was by denying myself the things I enjoyed the most. And sometimes I need to consume the things I enjoy. Like these days. There is a pile of chocolate within view, and everyday I have some. I won’t buy more (I haven’t been to a shop in 3 months). But I can’t look at it every single day and have only one per week or month. It is there. I see it. I want it. I can’t deny it. When it is gone it will be easier, and I can do without. No see no want. That’s me.
    Not bulimia, I realize, but there are so many struggles, mental and physical.
    Best wishes :)

    • Natasha Holme
      Posted June 3, 2020 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

      What damage a throwaway comment can do, Neil! I am still either watching what I eat or exercising to excess. A short way back in history, looking well-fed was fashionable. …

      • Neil
        Posted June 5, 2020 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

        Exactly! Most people don’t say things to be mean, but few people realize the impact their words can have. Society changes over time, but usually quite slowly.
        The pandemic has been good for me: I can’t eat out = less calories in. I have lots to do in the garden = more calories out.
        Hope you are doing okay :)

        • Natasha Holme
          Posted June 5, 2020 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

          They probably even think they’re helping! Makes me wonder what I’ve said and forgotten that had a massive impact that I know nothing about. I’m really careful these days how I talk to people.

          • Neil
            Posted June 6, 2020 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

            Me too! I mean, sometimes I say what needs to be said, but I am very careful about those casual off-hand comments. If I say something I’ve usually thought about it a great deal before saying it!

            • Natasha Holme
              Posted June 6, 2020 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

              Thank goodness we’re grown up now ;-)

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