What Other Behaviors Do Bulimics Share?
People with eating disorders have compulsive personalities; the rituals they create are safe and familiar places to reside. Many of the rituals revolve around food and body image, such as arranging food on their plates, excessive exercise, eating systematically, looking in the mirror, and obsessive calorie counting. Some behaviors are not related to food, such as always knowing where the nearest bathroom is, avoiding people, lying, keeping secrets, kleptomania, and compulsive shopping.
Most bulimics take exhaustive steps to cover up their symptoms. During the five years of my first marriage, my husband never found out about my closely-guarded secrets. No one knew! Covering my tracks was part of my daily routine. Lying about food was second nature to me. For example, if I went to the same grocery two days in a row to buy large quantities of binge food, I would tell the checker that I was a nursery school teacher buying snacks for the children. My rituals included a preoccupation with scales, mirrors, and trying on clothes. I used to weigh myself before and after binges to be sure that I gained no weight. (At one point in my recovery, I took a hammer to the scale!) I could not pass a mirror without judging every slight bulge or hair out of place.
In our survey, 37% of the bulimics mentioned kleptomania as a symptom. Obviously, stealing is one way to offset the cost of food, but there is more to kleptomania than just basic economics. Both compulsive shopping and stealing are ways to “fill up” without eating, as well as to symbolically fulfill unmet emotional needs. Also, stealing from other people can be a way to communicate negative feelings without using words.
In my case, I felt unworthy and incapable of affording “nice” things, although I spent vast amounts on food. I wanted love and attention, and not knowing how to get those emotional rewards, I settled for the temporary satisfaction of new things. Sometimes I just wanted the rush of doing something I shouldn’t. The women in our survey had similar experiences. Their stealing ranged from candy bars to larger, more expensive items. Most of those who stole also indicated that it was not too difficult a pattern to change. A few women were arrested, then stopped immediately, such as this one:
I stopped stealing after I got caught with a chicken in my purse!
Reprinted with permission from Bulimia: A Guide to Recovery
By Lindsey Hall and Leigh Cohn
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