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What’s So Bad About Throwing Up?

By Judith Brisman, PhD | April 1, 2013

The sun is beginning to emerge, the weather has warmed (a bit) and we are finally allowed the wisp of hope for spring and summer. Yes, bathing suit weather may actually soon be upon us.

This means that millions of women (and men too, despite my gender tilted language) are going to slough off winter layers, stand in front of the mirror—and be horrified. The airbrushed and photo-shopped bodies they’ve seen in magazines all winter will look nothing like their own. Panic will ensue and for many, the promise of summer will mean extreme dieting, fasting, cleansing and vomiting.

And many will ask “What’s so bad about that?
It’s temporary, the weight will come off. It’s just a phase. ”

Except for many, it won’t be.

“Just” a week of dieting, fasting and purging is always the way a severe eating disorder starts. There is never a guarantee regarding who will be okay and who won’t. It’s just too easy to do. Didn’t every two-pack-a-day smoker start with just one cigarette?

Every culture has its toxin. There’s cocaine in South America (piles of it as appetizers, I remember. I really saw that). There’s plenty of marijuana in Mexico, alcohol abuse in Indian tribal communities, cigarettes in France, food in America. It’s hard to be a human being.  We crave time out.

So is bulimia the new cigarette smoking? And if so, how do we remind our teens and our patients, that vomiting not that cool, just as dangerous (maybe more) and won’t even achieve the effects that someone wants (most people suffering from bulimia are of normal weight or above. Check the charts. Unfortunately no one wants to be of normal weight anymore. That is surely not an incentive to binge and throw up).

We like to turn to substances and the outside world to fix our weight, to fix our feelings and to fix our soul. The problem is that these solutions always work—for a minute. Then feelings, hungers, eating and distress inevitably come back. And the need to start eating, purging and dieting starts all over again. Talk to anyone caught in this battle—it’s torture.

So when the warm weather sends you into a swirl of body-obsessed panic, catch your breath. Dare to take a walk to the river and when the body torture thoughts come up, go inside, just for one moment. The sun, the warmth, the promise of spring holds the hope of good times and bared bodies. But what will you look like inside of yourself? What will give your life meaning this summer? What will your soul look like? If the sun and warmth can get you outside so that you have a moment to reflect and go inside, it will be one moment more that your body, the culture and the need to be skinny and cool are not the only things that matter. Take ten minutes away from the mirror. Take a walk outside. And take a big, long breath. Summer is about to begin.