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Stopping the Binge-Purge Cycle

Get Off the Roller Coaster

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Updated April 09, 2014

Stopping the Binge-Purge Cycle
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The binge-purge cycle is a predictable pattern of thoughts, emotions and behaviors that can seem impossible 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.

Avoid triggers. Learn to identify what triggers your urges to binge and purge. Some people report being triggered 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 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 I often recommend to clients to make it through this difficult time 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, 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 is another thing that many of my 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.

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. However, in order to stop the cycle, you need to examine what happened and where you could have made different choices to stop it from occurring. This is an exercise that can be incredibly helpful to go through with your therapist. As you learn more about what your own triggers are, and what coping skills work best for you, you will be more likely to stop yourself from acting upon urges.

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