How to Break Free From the Binge-Purge Cycle of Bulimia Nervosa

Do you find yourself struggling with your relationship with food? In particular, being on a cycle of binging and purging? If so, you are not alone.

According to studies, up to 70% of women experience some form of disordered eating. The binge-purge cycle is one of the most challenging patterns to break free from, as it can have both physical and psychological consequences.

In this article, I’ll explore what the binge-purge cycle is, its potential causes, and most importantly, how you can break free from it. I’ll also provide practical tips to help you develop a healthier relationship with food and your body.

The binge-purge cycle is recurrent episodes of binging and purging common in those struggling with bulimia nervosa.

There’s two distant parts: the binge phase and the purge phase.

The Binge Phase

The binge phase starts the binge-purge cycle. It usually begins with feelings of distress, which lead to a binge episode. This is often followed by guilt, shame, and the urge to purge.

Emotional distress, physical hunger, or feeling out of control with food are common triggers for the binge phase.

The Purge Phase

The purge phase is typically an attempt to make up for the binges. This is often done to prevent weight gain, deal with guilt, or cope with the feeling of fullness. Purging can take many forms, including self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, and the use of laxatives or diuretics.

Overall, the binge-purge cycle is a vicious cycle that can lead to serious health consequences. It is important to seek professional help if you or someone you know is struggling with binge eating or bulimia nervosa.

A infographic detailing the binge-purge cycle

If you are struggling to get off the binge-purge cycle, it’s important to understand the underlying causes. All eating disorders are multi-factorial, so there’s no one cause. While everyone’s experience is unique, some common factors contribute to the cycle.

Let’s explore the most likely causes…

Psychological factors:

Low self-esteem, body image dissatisfaction, and perfectionism are common psychological factors that can contribute to the binge-purge cycle. Emotional difficulties, such as anxiety, depression, or stress, can also play a role.

Dieting and restrictive eating:

Dieting or engaging in food restriction leads to feelings of deprivation. This more often than not, triggers binge eating, emotional eating, or overeating.

Traumatic experiences:

Past trauma, such as abuse, neglect, or bullying, can increase the risk of developing disordered eating. Living on a binge-purge cycle might be a coping mechanism or a way to regain control for you.

Sociocultural influences:

Societal pressure to achieve unrealistic body standards, media portrayal of the “perfect” body, and cultural emphasis on thinness can contribute to body dissatisfaction and the development of unhealthy eating behaviours.

Recovery from the binge-purge cycle requires patience, self-compassion, and professional support.

Here are some strategies that I recommend to break free:

1. Practice self-care and stress management:

Often a lack of self-care and emotional coping are common in those struggling. We recommend focusing on self-care and taking care of yourself emotionally.

2. Develop distraction tools

Distraction tools can be an effective way to interrupt the binge-purge cycle. Downloading my free distraction guide with 30 ideas can be a helpful resource to turn to when feeling triggered.

Some examples of distractions include listening to music, taking a walk, or calling a friend. Many more are found in my free distraction download.

3. Challenge negative thoughts

The binge-purge cycle is really difficult to break free from. What makes it even more difficult is having your mind bully you, thus keeping you stuck in the cycle.

We recommend challenging any negative thoughts you have about food and your body. This is a pillar in cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) which is a remedy for bulimia recovery.

4. Build a supportive network

Surround yourself with understanding and supportive individuals who can provide encouragement and accountability throughout your recovery journey—perhaps finding a support group (such as this one from First Steps ED), an online community, or people going through this too.

5. Be patient

Recovery is a process that takes time and commitment. It is important to be patient with yourself and celebrate small victories along the way. Seeking professional help from a treatment team, including a therapist and nutritionist, can provide guidance and support throughout the recovery journey.

Remember that recovery is possible and you are not alone. With the right support and tools, you can break free from the binge-purge cycle and move towards a healthier and happier life.

How can I recognise the signs of a binge-eating episode?

Binge-eating episodes are characterised by the consumption of a large amount of food in a short period of time, typically accompanied by a feeling of loss of control.

Signs of a binge-eating episode may include eating when not hungry, eating alone due to shame or embarrassment, and feeling guilty or disgusted with oneself after overeating.

What strategies are effective for managing urges to binge eat?

Strategies for managing urges to binge eat may include identifying triggers, practising mindfulness, and developing healthy coping mechanisms, such as exercise or creative activities. Seeking support from a therapist or support group can also be helpful.

Is binging and purging only down to one reason?

Usually, the development of disordered eating behaviours is multi-factorial. This means that an accumulation of factors goes into it.

It’s often a combination of things, such as emotional distress, mental health difficulties, restrictive eating, and poor emotional regulation. You could say that binge-purge behaviours are a maladaptive coping mechanism.

In what ways can therapy assist in breaking the cycle of bingeing and purging?

Therapy can assist in breaking the cycle of bingeing and purging by helping you identify and address underlying emotional issues, develop healthier coping mechanisms, and learn new behavioural strategies.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) are two types of therapy that are effective in treating binge-purge behaviours. I am trained in both and use tools from both to help my clients. I’m a big fan of DBT, which is a “new-age” form of CBT.

If you want to get a feel for DBT for binging and purging, check out this DBT workbook for bulimia (*).

Are there any specific dietary changes to prevent the urge to binge eat?

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to preventing the urge to binge eat, some dietary strategies may be helpful.

These may include eating regular, balanced meals, avoiding restrictive diets, and incorporating satisfying and enjoyable foods into your diet. I recommend seeking 1-1 support if you find the eating side of recovery difficult (which most do).

I hope this blog was helpful to creating a pathway out of binging and purging.

I’m rooting for you.

(*) Any links with this symbol are affiliate links. This means I earn a commission whenever you purchase using this link. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

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