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Stigma Fighters : Erin Campbell Thompson

Living In A Grey World

The first time I ever purged was in the bathroom of a Friendly’s restaurant at the age of 15. I had just finished eating a colossal burger, french fries, and chocolate ice cream with hot fudge and gummy bears. You may be thinking, “after eating that combination of food no wonder you felt sick!” — This was true. It was a lot of food, but it wasn’t the food that made me sick; it was how I felt about what I had eaten that was making me sick to my stomach.

After I was finished regurgitating the $16.00 lunch my mother and father had bought me, I felt this immediate calm rush over me. This calm felt like a hug or a heated blanket, it was that comforting. I thought to myself, “I feel better, this is okay.”

I felt better than before I had eaten. It’s as if I never had eaten.

This “event” (as I will refer to it) started a fifteen year battle, which I still must contend with every day.

See, back then I thought of bulimia as a skill, and for me, it was. I could eat all the time and all I had to do was make myself “get rid of it”.

I felt powerful.

However, even way back then, I knew that this wasn’t something I should do all the time.

I said to myself, “I’ll only use it on weekends.”

“I’ll only use it at holidays.”

However, this “control” I was so pleased about — being able to “get rid of” food I would overeat — started shifting into every weekend and then, unfortunately, over time, every day.

After I graduated from high school, I moved out to Denver from New Hampshire to live with my best friend. This was the first time I had ever lived on my own and I was 2000 miles away from my family. It was at this point in my life, where I was purging up to five times a day.

However, I wasn’t overeating every day. No. I was purging after the consumption of normal amounts of food. I couldn’t stand the way anything felt in my stomach. The instant I would feel food or liquid in my belly, I would immediately start to panic. I could feel myself expanding. I looked fatter. My jeans were tight around my waist. This feeling couldn’t be just in my head, I could physically feel my body react when I ate.

I couldn’t rest until I could “get rid of” what I had consumed. If I didn’t evacuate my system, fast, this feeling would consume me.

To the people around me, I looked normal. I wasn’t underweight. At times I was slightly overweight. However, people started to notice that I wasn’t myself. I was much more anxious and much less happy. I made comments about my weight 24/7. I made comments about what everybody else was eating. As you can imagine, the relationship I had with my best friend became very shaky. In fact, we spent over two years not speaking to one another as a result of the person I had become.

I started therapy to work on my bulimia and emotional eating issues, and got to a point for a while when I wasn’t purging at all. However, to make up for the lack of control I had with the food I was eating, I decided to take up an excessive amount of exercise.

I would run five miles to work, be on my feet all day long, and then run the five miles home and then some. Every day. I thought that it was good for me. I mean, I was exercising, right? Surely cardio is better than sticking your fingers down your throat multiple times a day.

However, my exercise obsession soon caught up with me. I would give myself heat stroke, flu-like symptoms from dehydration, and my hair started to get coarse and thin. My therapist told me that I was replacing one compulsive behavior for another and that we should start paying closer attention to my “triggers”.

I thought, “lady, I don’t have any triggers other than the fact that I have to eat and I hate the way it makes me feel!”

I kept food journals. I wrote down what I had to eat. I wrote down how I felt before and after I ate. I documented the times I exercised and purged. I visited a nutritionist. I visited a psychiatrist. I tried anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications, and meditation.

I still obsessed over food and felt it’s complete control over me.

After I graduated from college, I moved to New York. I moved in with a boyfriend who was a secret alcoholic and 14 years my senior. I was a secret emotional eater and bulimic and 24 years old. You can only guess what this choice did for my eating disorder issues, I’m sure.

At first, as with any relationship, things were great. We were in love and things were perfect (well, as perfect as they could be). I got a job, settled into life, and tried to keep a balanced diet and exercise. I kept my bulimia issues a secret. I would get up in the middle of the night to eat hidden food and then would purge in the bathroom. I would binge eat on my lunch break and purge in the bathroom in the warehouse where nobody could hear me. I guess in those days I thought, “as long as nobody knows I’m doing this and I can get away with it, I’m not doing anything wrong.”

What wonderful logic, huh?

If a bulimic binges and purges when no one’s around, did it really happen? If only it was that easy to ignore or deal with.

As two people living with addictive personalities will clash, my boyfriend at the time and I started to bring out the worst in each other. I drove him to drink and he drove me to bulimia. It was an awful cycle. It was at this point that I officially switched from binging and purging and moved into simply emotional eating. I didn’t care about having friends or doing anything with my life. I just cared about making myself numb by eating all the time. When I went to the doctors for a yearly pap smear, they weighed me. I weighed over 150 pounds. I had never weighed that much in my life. As a 5 foot tall girl, this was considerably overweight for my frame. I became emotional. It was as if it was the first time I had really felt anything for months, but it wasn’t a good feeling.

I decided I had to do something. I knew I was unhappy. And I knew that what I was doing to myself was much bigger than what I could understand. I decided to go back to a therapist, but this time I was going to be selective. I couldn’t pick a decent boyfriend. I couldn’t control myself with food. However, I could control who I chose to help me get myself back.

My therapist’s specialties were eating disorders and anxiety; the two things I was suffering from. I never understood how much anxiety I had until I worked with her. I also never understood that it was the root of my problem. Therapy helped me to understand the patterns of my behavior and how my underlying anxiety contributed to my disordered eating.

For once in my life I actually felt like I was capable of understanding my behavior.

I learned that the cycle I was trapping myself in was something I could gain control over.

A couple of times, like during the recession when I couldn’t find a steady job and while my father was dying from cancer, I did relapse.

After I lost my father in 2011, I decided to change my life and take hold of my health.

I became a fitness instructor, certified personal trainer, and certified nutrition specialist. I educated myself about exercise and food and how to use the two in a respectful and balanced manner. I also started a blog, so I could talk about my passion for wellness and living a happy life.

In November, I married the love of my life and in March I moved to Scotland to live with him.

My logic is no longer about all or nothing, black or white, and yes or no decisions.

I live in a grey world and I couldn’t be happier about it.

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beetsErin is the author of BeetsPerMinute, a health and fitness blog. She is a personal trainer and nutrition specialist living in Scotland with her husband, Luke. As an individual, who, after years of suffering from an eating disorder, self-doubt, and aimlessly jumping from diet to diet, decided to change her life and get healthy for good! She knows how difficult getting through an eating disorder is, and feels she can relate to so many other people facing the same issue.

Erin can be found on her website, Facebook and Twitter

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  • http://astrongradio.tumblr.com Allison Strong

    Dear Erin, Thank you so much for writing. I have an eating disorder and have gone to inpatient and long term outpatient for it. The progress I’ve made is that I don’t ever ever get on scales, and I try to live with the excess hunger created by my bipolar meds. If I wait long enough, it will go away. But It’s a long time to wait, like two hours of feeling starving. I am so glad that you wrote. I love Stigma fighters.
    I never have purged via vomiting except when I feel sick and need to, like maybe twice a year. But I was thinking to myself yesterday how much I needed to reflect on this problem. Yesterday was a rough day, hunger around the clock. Paradoxically, I am hungrier after I eat a meal than before.
    I am a former LA actor, model and professional beach volleyball player. I began feeling that my fatness was the reason for my social alienation around age 11. I used to sneak food and hide it under the bed. At age 15 my parents divorced. Mom moved to Sun Valley, Idaho and in my new school, I had a high school physical fitness person who made us run all hour, no sports, no games. I found the drug of endorphins and the feeling of post-purge (via exercise) so when I moved back to San Diego, as I was aggressively pursuing skills in Volleyball, I began running 6 miles a day on the beach from Del Mar to La Jolla and back barefoot, sort of in the water. A scholarship to Stanford for volleyball followed and I was always able to eat a lot because of the intense training schedule year round. A 10 year cocaine addiction directly tied to fear of gaining weight kept me in continual legal trouble.
    When I gave up the cocaine, as typically happens, I came down with bipolar disorder 1, and had to start taking antipsychotics. They increase cravings for starch sugar. My eating disorder of exercise bulimia began in earnest, with two sets of tennis and 2 hours of soft sand beach running every day, with all sorts of ice cream and cakes and crap at night. I was still gaining weight and freaking out. I went to a health food store and was sold an herbal supplement called Xenadrine that had Ma Huang (the ephedra in Phen Phen) and my weight and appetite stayed steady. I developed an arrhythmia in my heart, I think because of this. This supplement has been outlawed as of 2006 or so. I took it for years, two capsules before meals. I hate to say this, but I didn’t abuse it and it helped, even though I attribute the heart arrhythmia to it. For two years I went to Overeaters anonymous and fell in with the belief that if you don’t eat any flour or sugar products, you will be fine and more in touch with your spiritual self. It’s a lot of work, and you have to prepare and carry around the ‘appropriate’ food around in a cooler because with these antipsychotics, hunger strikes with low blood sugar at random. You can’t be too prepared. But after a while, I dropped out of OA.
    I don’t know if you keep up on FDA approval of drugs and such, and I don’t know if this comment will be struck, but most recently, the FDA approved a stimulant drug that metabolizes into methamphetamine in the body for “binge eating disorder.” We are legalizing and advertising ‘diet pills’ once again. Unbelievable. I know from experience that this is a temporary fix, and if you truly do have an eating disorder, this will not turn out good. The relief from feeling ravenous is temporary as well.
    I’m 54 now, and because of all this, I have chronic pain and blew out most of the discs in my back. I’ve had five foot surgeries and two knee surgeries. Obviously, I can no longer run or play tennis but I took up distance swimming here in South Florida, weights and the lifecycle. Lately I have been doing nothing due to a broken bone in my foot that did not happen during exercise but a freak accident. I don’t mind not exercising. It gives me more time to write.
    I can’t tell you how much worse my eating problem has become with the antipsychotics. Eating a full meal makes me hungrier.
    The side effects of antipsychotics is weight gain, metabolic slowing, metabolic syndrome and finally, the grand prize of diabetes type two.
    Here’s my question in light of this drug that has just been approved to suppress appetite: Which is worse: a heart arrhythmia or severe weight gain and the complications and amputations of diabetes? I hope I don’t live long enough to find that one out! But I do hope that I live long enough to finish my three books about being a bipolar alternative music disc jockey in major markets, and a music journalist, even for now defunct UK outlet Melody Maker even when dealing with my bipolar disorder. My eating disorder will also be addressed in my books.