6 Steps to Stopping a Cycle of Binging and Purging

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The binge-purge cycle is a predictable pattern of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that can seem impossible for a person with bulimia to stop. The good news is that you can stop it. Although these ideas don't replace the advice of your therapist and other treatment providers, they may be able to help you stop the cycle and begin working on more positive coping skills, getting (and staying) in recovery.

Tips for Putting a Stop to the Binge-Purge Cycle

Here are six ways to stop your binge-purge cycle.

Avoid Triggers

Learn to identify what triggers your urges to binge and purge. Some people report being triggered to purge by mirrors or scales. Consider throwing out your scale and covering your mirrors. Although it may not be feasible to avoid mirrors forever, this may be a temporary help until you are healthy enough to challenge yourself in that way.

Triggers may also be emotional reactions like being bored, lonely, or stressed out. Although you can't always avoid stress, you can try to minimize it or control your reaction to stress. You can also learn to better cope with it. And, you can begin to recognize emotions such as being bored or lonely as needs that you can actually meet by doing an activity or connecting with loved ones.

Use Distractions

After meals or during a triggering event, you may only be able to think about how you will binge and/or purge and when you will be able to do it. Using distractions is a method often recommended to clients to make it through this difficult period.

Distractions can take any number of forms and you may need to try several things before you figure out what works for you. Ideas can include calling a friend, watching a funny television show or movie, arts and crafts, going for a walk, listening to a podcast, playing a game or reading a book.

Make sure to choose a distraction that you are actually interested in, and one that will hold your attention until the urge to binge and purge has passed.

Ask for Support

Asking loved ones for support can be incredibly helpful in avoiding binging and/or purging. You don't even have to talk to them about what you are struggling with.

Think about several people in your life who are supportive of you and your recovery. You may want to alert them ahead of time that they are a support person for you. Then, when an urge hits, call on them. Simply say, "I need some support right now." They may be a distraction for you and tell you jokes or go on a walk with you. They can also eat with you, play a card game with you or simply be someone who will listen.

Plan Ahead

Planning and consistency are things that many clients find to be helpful in recovery. Planning out grocery lists and meals ahead of time can make grocery shopping and meal preparation less stressful. It also helps prevent you from getting too hungry and being more likely to binge. A dietitian is an excellent person to help you in this endeavor. Planning ahead also means anticipating and preparing for any triggers you are unable to avoid.

Take Care of Yourself

Learning to take care of yourself is an important skill of recovery and is something that is a process, rather than a single act. However, when you begin doing things to take care of yourself in a variety of ways, it is likely that the urges to binge and purge will decrease. And, when they do occur, you will be in a better position not to act upon them.

You will need to take care of yourself physically (eating, moderate exercise, sleeping), emotionally (work on any issues you have with your therapist), relationally, spiritually and in other ways as well.

Learn From Past Cycles

Slips and relapses are an expected part of recovery. This isn't a bad thing, as long as you learn from previous cycles. When you do act on urges to binge and purge, many people want to pretend that it didn't really happen.

In order to stop the binge-purge cycle, examine what happened and what you can do differently the next time something similar happens. This is an exercise that can be incredibly helpful to go through with your therapist.

Be kind to yourself. As you learn more about what your own triggers are, and what coping skills work best for you, your recovery skills will become stronger and you will be more likely to stop yourself from acting upon urges.

And don't be ashamed to get help. A mental health professional can help guide you as you work on recognizing your triggers, developing more positive coping skills, and staying in recovery.

5 Sources
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By Susan Cowden, MS
Susan Cowden is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders.