What do I do with a bulimic friend?

bulimic friend
Anorexia and bulimia are serious diseases that need attention but often it is difficult to get the sufferer to address the problem.

I am worried that my flatmate is anorexic and bulimic. She is getting very thin and she hardly eats. I accidentally found heaps of snack food hidden in her room. Curious, I kept checking and it all disappeared when I was out. I think she’s throwing up. Should I confront her? She keeps very much to herself. And if she admits it, what do I do to help?

Anorexia is the rejection of food, while bulimia is the over indulgence of food. Frequently, these contradictory impulses arise in the one person, usually a woman. In this case, the anorexic-bulimic, usually termed bulimic, will swing from having hardly any food to gorging. After gorging, she will throw up.

The motivations of anorexics and bulimics are complex. Sufferers of this illness are not fully aware of the reasons for their lack of appetite or binging. Their actions are like that of an addict. They are driven.

Anorexics and bulimics subconsciously equate eating with living. They have a deep and overwhelming fear of life. They don’t know how to make sense of this world or how to deal with it. In other words, they do not know how to digest life. Likewise, their body has trouble digesting food. It sits heavily in the stomach. They feel bloated and gross. Consequently, they try to avoid food.

At the same time, bulimics and anorexics have an underlying hunger for life. They cannot accept hunger and greed as a part of their nature. The truth, of course, is that greed is a part of all of our natures.

The anorexic’s greed is completely repressed and she would rather die than acknowledge it. She is so afraid of being greedy she thinks she is a glutton when she eats virtually nothing.

The bulimic’s greed breaks out in binging behaviour. This terrifies her. She feels guilty and bloated. She now rejects the food and vomits. In effect, she is rejecting the truth she doesn’t want to face, her greed and her desire for life.

The bulimic swings from one extreme to the other, from overindulgence to self-denial. She does not know how to be balanced and moderate.

To heal, the bulimic has to come to a conscious understanding of her deeper needs and fears. She has to challenge her thinking, become aware of her fear of life and her legitimate desire for life, and she has to learn to control her emotions and impulses.

Confronting her will not work. Instead, accept her as she is. She is struggling. Be grateful for every moment that she is alive. For anorexics and bulimics, that is a great achievement in itself.

Once you can approach her with this understanding attitude, be genuinely curious. Show an interest in her. Don’t interfere. Allow her to run her life. But, in your day-to-day interactions with her, bring up anything out of the ordinary that you notice, like the stored food. Naturally, do this without judgement or concern, only with curiosity.

By creating this open and supportive environment, the hope is that eventually she will confess. Her secretiveness is motivated by shame. Admitting her problem is the beginning of healing.

The road to recovery is long and difficult. Remain supportive. Be gently honest while accepting her unconditionally.

Struggling with an eating disorder? North Brisbane Psychologists can help. Book an appointment today!