Purging weaved in and out of my life much more momentarily than restriction did. But intentionally throwing up, unlike caloric restriction, is something you’re either doing or you’re not. There is no spectrum, no gradient, between problematic and not. So it was extreme and damaging the moment it began. And although it didn’t last nearly as long as my eating disorder as a whole, its consequences did not end when the behavior did. And I want to talk about them, because eating disorders get glamorized far too often and the reality is the furthest thing from glamorous.
As a disclaimer, I can only speak from experience, and I am not a professional.
The first time I ever made myself throw up I had eaten one of my favorite meals, alfredo chicken pasta with no chicken but with hot sauce perfectly added and mixed in, from Applebee’s. Call me trashy but I loved Applebee’s, and if they were vegan I still would. I had been out to eat with my dad and sister and maybe her boyfriend. We went to the location by her high school in Neptune. I don’t remember why we were there or what we talked about. But I remember as soon as we got home locking myself in the bathroom but facing the toilet instead of sitting down. I don’t remember how the thought arrived but I vividly remember thinking this would be the only time I would ever do this. I believed with every fiber of my being that it would only be that once. The thought that I had already lost control did not even brush by my mind. All I know is I believed it was what I needed to do to feel better in that moment and also that I was absolutely, 100% confident it would be “just this once.”
It was not. I don’t remember feeling like I had gone against my word or let myself down when I did it the second time. It already felt normal. It became as routine to me as brushing my teeth in the morning. But with more euphoria. Because there was some euphoria. And that’s why I think the takeover was so immediate and why it is so dangerous. You lose control the moment you do it. It is the flip of a switch. You become someone who intentionally throws up, and it’s who you are. Kind of like once you get your first tattoo, you are a person with tattoos so the decision to get another will never seem as life changing. And like tattoos, the effects of purging can last a long time. Purging can literally be fatal. How’s that for a long term side effect?
I lost perspective so rapidly. I forgot what I was doing was unusual. There were people who I was also paranoid might develop eating disorders, who the last thing I’d want to do is trigger or “inspire” them, yet I would openly make myself throw up when around them. I see now how disturbing and potentially harmful that is. At the time it just felt normal.
After the last time I made myself throw up, I did not throw up for over five years. And it was weird. At first that seemed beneficial; I think it would have been triggering to throw up.
But there were times where I was sick and nauseous, and I knew that throwing up would relieve it. I wasn’t about to do it on purpose, but I wished it would happen. I don’t know if this was a physical or a mental barrier, but it was extremely apparent and caused me physical pain.
For example, once I came down with a really really bad stomach bug. I spent a long time by the toilet waiting and wishing that I would throw up, but it didn’t happen. I passed that bug on to my then-boyfriend, who threw up so much and for so many hours he almost went to the hospital for dehydration, and he passed it on to several of his roommates who also threw up quite a lot. I had that same bug, I felt unbearably nauseous, but not once did I throw up. I think this is the best example I can use to illustrate how truly bizarre it was that I literally lost the ability to throw up.
Eventually it happened, years later in a bathroom at work. I have thrown up I believe a total of three times since the last time it was intentional back in 2011.
My purging was not limited to throwing up. I also abused Smoothie King laxatives for some amount of time. The first time I bought them I convinced my friend to buy them and some bullshit diet pills for me and I paid them back. Part of me justified the laxatives because they weren’t branded as laxatives despite that being exactly what they were.
As an aside, it’s really fucked up for companies to sell laxatives as a health or fitness product and even worse for them to sell them specifically as a weight loss product (looking at all the “flat tummy” teas). Laxatives exist to be used temporarily for severe constipation. It is not only ineffective for genuine weight loss, it is dangerous to use them long term. You are at risk for dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, kidney and liver damage, and more.
I’m not sure when I stopped using the laxatives. But I know that there were long term consequences. The biggest and most obvious one is a little graphic but let it be a cautionary tale. I basically had no pooping muscles. That is how it felt. Like I forgot how to push. And so when I would have to go shit the only thing that could help move it along was time. This lasted for a really long time. I honestly don’t know if I have ever fully regained the strength of these muscles.
These are some of the taboo side effects I experienced. Eating disorders are a mental illness, not a choice, but there are decisions our disordered brains get to make, and I hope by sharing this someone will choose not to make the same choices I did to go down this road. I hope by sharing this that someone who is living this now will realize how out of control it is. That it won’t be just one time. That the best thing you can do for yourself if you find yourself about to do it for the first time is to recognize it’s already a problem, stop, and seek help. These disorders really do have a horrible distorting effect that makes us feel like we are in control. But we aren’t. We’re sick. A healthy brain wouldn’t make these decisions. And we deserve to get better. And we can. I have, and my life is so much better for it.
And finally, I share this because the world can be a triggering place. I know that there are people out there who believe that the world is too sensitive now and that people need to toughen up, and maybe there is truth in that, I don’t know. But I do know that we can choose to use our language in a way that is responsible and compassionate. I hope that sharing this can serve as a reminder to all that eating disorders are horrible, dangerous, and debilitating, and we can support those in recovery or trying to be in recovery by unsubscribing to diet culture and the language surrounding it, by minimizing our focus on the physical attributes of ourselves and those around us, and by loving ourselves a little bit better. I think we could all benefit from that.