Jenny's Journey Part 6 - Binging and Purging

Written by Jonathan Kattenberg on November 3, 2020
Est. Reading: 6 minutes

This part of my story is going to be the hardest for me to write as it is still so recent for me. The feelings and emotions are raw.

In fact, I actually don't want to do it if I'm honest. I'm still a bit ashamed, embarrassed and worried about what people will think.

I'm still unsure as to why I find it so hard to talk about, maybe I'm struggling to accept it as an illness? Perhaps I feel hypocritical dishing out helpful techniques when I'm still actively battling the condition?

Saying that, with the help from Walking With My Bear so far, I've reduced my binging and purging from daily to just an average of twice a week, and I'm getting stronger each week.

Why have I included this chapter if it's hard for me to write?

I'm writing this to hopefully help someone in a similar situation.

Someone on a similar journey, because that's what it is. It's not straight forward, and you mustn't expect permanent changes overnight – expect ups and downs.

Even when you make the smallest of changes, just remind yourself of what you've accomplished by making that change. It might be you have a tiny bit more confidence, a better understanding or another ounce of self-worth. Every bit of strength allows you to continue on your journey.

I'm sharing my story, however difficult, so I too can celebrate my victories, and keep on this path getting healthier and braver. 

Binging and purging

Another way for me to numb those pesky feelings and emotions. A release and a way of controlling something in your life.

When you're binging, you can't cry. So why did I want to cry?

Working with Walking With My Bear, I've since unearthed various parts of my life that could have contributed to my eating disorder. My attitude towards food turned into habitual behaviour that I have practised on and off for over 20 years. I suppose binging and purging was my 'safety habit' in the beginning, a way of controlling something when life threw those lovely curveballs.

It was, and still is like a default mechanism—an unhealthy coping strategy of impulsive behaviour.


Going back a few years when my eating issues were getting better, my drinking then got worse, and vice versa. I swapped one unhelpful way of numbing my mind to another.

The NHS eating disorder service is reluctant to treat eating and drinking issues together. Even though it is so common for them to come hand in hand (as I've mentioned in Part 3 of my journey).

I got into a very vicious cycle, and the eating disorder team thought I was doing ok with my eating. Still, in reality, I was becoming alcohol dependant, to cope with my mind. I even drank on the ward when I was incarcerated to "cope". 

I was playing my part and eating to get out of the place. That was my mindset, and there wasn't a lot of mental health support; considering I was sectioned in an eating disorder hospital. The staff on the ward were more supportive than the qualified specialists with whom I would see just once a week if I was lucky. 

I went from eating practically nothing to 3 meals a day, 2 snacks and supper. Drinking was how I now coped because I was no longer in control of my food, and the reason I was doing this to myself in the first place wasn't being addressed.

My biggest challenge to date. 

Fast forward a year or so, defying death, making it through detox for alcoholism, finally sober I have another challenge to face. 

Picture me on my discharge date from detox: 

I walk out of there riddled with anxiety, guilt, low self-confidence and no self-worth. I'm inundated with thoughts and feelings that were previously numbed by alcohol, also feeling like I've physically been hit by a bus. Most of these feelings stemmed from knowing my bulimia would creep back in. I knew this because it had already started whilst in detox. 

There was a lot of support and group work in detox regarding addiction, but nothing aimed at my eating issues, at the time. 

Inevitably (for me) the drinking stopped, and binge/purge turned into a daily occurrence. Releasing me from my emotions and a different way of numbing and controlling something, along with diet restrictions. I felt major guilt that I was still too physically unwell to exercise or even move much. I believed at the time as I wasn't very mobile, I didn't deserve to eat.

I now find it useful to see my eating issues as a type of addiction. So, I apply and adapt specific knowledge from my addiction therapy to the eating side of things (this is only a recent breakthrough). 

Hail Walking With My Bear. 

I spent many months working on, and still am, my binge and purge behaviour. It took a while for me to be entirely honest with Jonathan, even though he was always professional, non-judgemental and for me, the guru of mental health issues. 

I was scared and embarrassed. It felt like my safety net was being taken away from me, remember I was also battling alcohol addiction at the same time.

Jonathan and I worked on learning to live with the past. Identifying my addiction as an illness and acknowledging that my "Bear" was misbehaving. 

But why? And how do I get my "Bear" to work with me, to be my friend. 

That's a good question. 

Taming my Bear. 

I had brain frazzle (feel free to use my new phrase), a mist surrounding my mind.

Making my "Bear" behave was about gaining the confidence to push past boundaries and make achieving more desirable than the urge to purge. I slowly started to gain the confidence and ability to believe the reality of it all and what I would gain from not doing it, what was right, wrong and why.

We pin-pointed that the internal and external influences fed (no pun intended) my urges.

There are two helpful strategies that we still work with now:

The Spiders Web is a strategy Walking With My Bear created to identify key elements of an event in a person's life. These individual aspects from your past can influence thoughts, feelings and actions when applied to any other situation in life.

This theory helps to break down the situation and determine what previous events are influencing your current behaviour and choices. 

Where have you used this unhelpful behaviour before to cope? 

Every time you come to a decision; you have a choice. Take time to weigh up your options and "play the full tape" (meaning, if you chose a certain option, what would happen later down the line?).

The Circle Theory.

There is also The Circle theory, which I tend to use more when faced with challenging thoughts or decisions. 

In a circle, write down everything you can control. 

In a bigger circle around the first one, write in it the things you can influence or think you may be able to change. 

On the outside of the circle, write the things you feel you cannot control. Now bring your focus to all 3 sections.

This helps you identify and realise the 3 versions of an outcome or situation. With each point bring The Spiders Web technique into the analysing process (reminder; identify key elements of your past that influence your thoughts, feelings and action). 

In Practice. 

By using The Circle theory and The Spiders Web technique, you'll soon discover whether you can control or influence the challenge you are facing. Or that in fact, there's no point sweating over the things you have no control over.

Applying both techniques in this order provides you with an effective method that breaks down your thought process to:

  1. identify the influences that feed your behaviour
  2. logically see what you could/can change or influence when fusing the two techniques together.

Resisting Urges. 

Something else which I find helpful to resist urges to binge is that for me, cravings only last 40 minutes. It's fairly easy to distract yourself for 40 minutes. Get out of the house, have a shower or go for a drive. 

You're not avoiding dealing with it. Once the urge has subsided, even a bit, you can use the Spider Web, Circle Theory or even both to find the reason behind the urge to binge once your mind has calmed down.

When I use these techniques, it empowers me to push my boundaries to the next level, i.e. towards altogether stopping or doing a day less.

Just over 2 months ago I was binging and purging every day. 2 months later and I am averaging 5 out of 7 days a week free from binging and purging. I even went 14 days at one point without any binging or purging.

Catching your breath. 

It's like going up the ladder of success. You take 2 steps up and sometimes you have to go down a step just to catch your breath. Each time I progress, my Bear tries to re-adjust me back to my old ways. 

I keep progressing up that ladder due to the process of mindset techniques taught to me by Walking With My Bear.

These allow and empower me to identify key triggers, thoughts and behavioural patterns.

Giving me a newfound confidence that I will be free of my addictions, eating disorder and previously used coping strategies. 

Please feel free to get in touch with Walking With My Bear if you would like some support from me. I would be more than happy to open "Jen's book of wisdom" for you.

Warmest Wishes, until next time.

Jenny x

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