Licensed Psychotherapist Leora Fulvio specializes in helping people recover from eating disorders, like bulimia and binge eating disorder. With years of experience and a personal connection to the cause, she's a caring, warm and empathetic advocate. Her new book, Reclaiming Yourself from Binge Eating, which is available for purchase today, has all of the elements necessary for an inspiring road to recovery: a patient narrative, a deep understanding of the psychology behind the disorder, and an actionable plan for recovery. To read this book feels like sitting in session with Fulvio, and is just as helpful. This is a must-read for anyone struggling with disordered eating. YourTango sat down with Leora to talk about her book — and the recovery process.
Click here to order the book, Reclaiming Yourself from Binge Eating.
YourTango: You started this book by talking about your personal experience with binge eating. What was it like to write about that? Did you feel it was necessary to connect with your readers?
Leora Fulvio: It was really scary. I didn't want to — at all — but I felt like it was really necessary to put my experience out there and say, "I've been through this. I got through this. I've helped a lot of people who got through this ... and you can also." But as a therapist, you're a blank slate. You don't talk about your experience and you don't talk about yourself. So putting myself out there was scary for me and uncomfortable, but as a writer you do the opposite: You have to be really vulnerable if you want to be a successful writer. So I was grappling with the writer hat and the psychotherapist hat. I knew it was important for people to feel heard. Sometimes in order to feel heard, you have to know that no one's talking down to you; they're sitting there with you. They're not just judging and saying "You need to do this." They've been through it, so they're saying "Let me help you. I'm on the other side of this. Let me hold your hand and help you walk across the bridge."
YourTango: How do you think that eating disorders play into our relationships? They can obviously harm our relationships, but on the flip side, can our partnerships help us heal?
Leora Fulvio: I think that there's a lot of different ways that eating disorders and relationships can play off of each other, the worst being a menage a trois between the eating disorder and the couple. There's a fine line. Sometimes somebody brings an eating disorder to a relationship, or they both have eating disorders. What I often see are women who come in with bulimia and their husbands or partners try to monitor their bulimia; what they're eating. Usually I ask my clients to bring their partners in to assess how they can help them recover. There are a few simple ways to do that. Number one is not enabling the eating disorder. So if the eating disordered person says "Go to the store and buy me ice cream," her partner can say "I'm not going to do that because I'm not sure where you are with your eating disorder and I want you to drive the train. I don't want to take responsibility. I'm not going to be the one responsible for this."
Another way to help is to not try to manage your partner's eating disordered behavior. If your partner is in the bathroom vomiting, you can't walk in, open the door and stop them. You can be there afterwards and say, "Are you OK? Do you want to talk? Can I hold you?" After somebody vomits, there's all this shame and relief and sadness and shame. There's release, but there's so much shame. Just to have someone there to hold them and say "It's OK. It's OK. It's OK. What do you need? Let's talk."
You need to be a loving, supportive partner. That's not going to save them — they're going to save themselves; therapy's going to save them — but you need to be there to support them through it. By loving them and asking them "What do you need?", you're helping them recover. Checking in and being supportive can be really conducive to supporting the recovery process.
YourTango: You mentioned the word "shame" a few times. It's an emotion that's so prevalent in people with eating disorders. Why is that?
Leora Fulvio: People with binge eating disorder or bulimia are treated differently than those struggling with anorexia. Someone who is starving themselves is thought of as being very disciplined or superhuman — although we know that's not true. Our media dotes on people who have lost weight and have that "discipline". We treat people who are not emaciated as inferior, and there is this public shaming of people, women especially, if they are curvy. Vuluptuous. Fat. And so if someone is binge eating, they sit there and say to themselves, "There is something wrong with me. I have to stop doing this. I'm so ashamed of myself. I need to stop. I need more willpower. Why did I do this again?"
It's really difficult to get help because there's such a strong belief that "All I need is to just not do this again. I just need more willpower." But once you reach out for support, you realize there are so many other people who are dealing with this, and that it's not about willpower. It's about being in contact with yourself and allowing yourself to be kind to yourself. It's something very different. People with binge eating disorder or bulimia are never really kind to themselves. It's not a lot of compassion: "Why can't I stop? Why can't I do this by myself?"
Because we don't talk a lot about overeating as being an actual eating disorder, it's hard for somebody to admit that they may need actual help. It feels very shameful and private.
YourTango: For someone reading this, thinking "I just need more willpower," what can they do? What is the first step they can take to recover, especially if they don't feel ready to see a therapist?
Leora Fulvio: I think the very, very first thing you have to do is forgive yourself. Say "It's OK. I love myself and I'm not going to get caught up in self reproach and deprecation. Because being in the loop of my eating disorder is how I cope; it's how I deal." The very first step is forgiveness. Going forward, it's saying, "Clearly I have been binge eating because there's something more going on for me. And I need a little bit of compassion. I am not going to get through this by beating myself up because I have been doing that for the past, however long, and it hasn't worked. So let me try something a little different."
And then, getting support is so important. Stop thinking you can do it alone. You might be able to. It's possible. People have. But you don't have to be in it alone. That's so isolating; that's so lonely. Eating disorders thrive in isolation so getting people on board with you, whether it's therapy or a support group, or calling your mom or a friend and just saying, "I need to talk about this," is such an important step.
Make a plan: How do I want to recover? Do I want to read a book? Do I want to go to a group? Talk to other people who have recovered? The most important thing is to forgive yourself, and to start from a place of compassion.
If your best friend came to you and said she had an eating disorder, you wouldn't say, "Why can't you just stop?" You would be there for her. And that's what you have to do for yourself.
YourTango: Is there anything you'd like to leave us with?
Leora Fulvio: I really want people to feel that I'm there sitting with them; supporting them. I want them to feel like there's hope, and that they can recover. My intention in writing the book was to provide "a-ha" moments that readers can come across and carry themselves through. To get them to the other side.
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