I Never Thought Bulimia Would Open Doors, Help Make Friends and Influence People…

Half the women on this bloody planet have eating disorders, but nobody bloody talks about it” – Sharon Osbourne.

Getting my teeth cleaned a while back, I had a strong urge to ask the hygienist if she could see any evidence of my dirty little secret. Never having confessed to a dentist before I told myself it was ridiculous. She’s not interested in my stinking past… 

Unable to shake it, I had to ask. “Can you tell I used to be bulimic?”

The hygienist said no, she couldn’t tell, my teeth looked good.

I felt relieved she had some pork stuck between my molars to focus on.

Then she asked how long I had it for. When did it start? Was it bad? Was I over it? Did I ever use laxatives? I looked up into her eyes, grey yet warm, and they were very curious those eyes. Too curious. Peering down at me over her sterile mask she sucked in a long breath.

“Me too,” she said.

It was the longest teeth cleaning session I’ve ever had and we ended up doing far more talking than polishing. Her bulimia had been hanging around for over a decade. She hated it and tried to hide it from her husband, who didn’t understand why she couldn’t just stop.

'Purge' by the wickedly clever artist, Mariel Clayton

‘Purge’ by the wickedly clever artist, Mariel Clayton

“Thank you for telling me,” she said. “I never talk about it.”

Bulimia has to be one of the uncoolest disorders around because it involves two of the ickiest bodily functions: barfing and pooping. As one woman said to me recently, “Anorexics are seen to have a tragic real disease and bulimics are thought of as attention-seeking nut jobs.”

I was an attention-seeking nut job during my entire twenties: from university right through to a fancy-pants marketing career. I was petrified of anybody finding out. They’ll think I’m weak. Stupid. I won’t get hired to work on chocolate accounts. 

The hardest part was feeling utterly alone. Fearing that if I told anyone then that thinly veiled thing called MY LIFE—the one I had been hanging onto so tightly—would sink with shame. I worked very hard to hide it. We all do. Bulimics are cagier than Her Majesty’s Secret Service Agents and can go incognito for years because we don’t usually get skinny. If anything, a bit puffy. Which, you can imagine, adds to the problem.

During my thirties I began discreetly confessing to people and discovered—in equal doses of relief and horror—that I was not alone. Fellow attention-seeking nut jobs popped up from my old advertising agency, high school friends, new friends, and work circles. I found out my stunningly fit dance teacher was bulimic, my favourite blogger, Glennon Melton-Doyle, favourite Spice Girl (Ginger) and favourite male comedian, Russell BrandLady GagaKatie Couric.  Sharon ObsourneYeardley Smith (voice of Lisa Simpson). Elton JohnSally FieldPrincess DiJane Fonda. We’ve all had it.

I’ve had me too moments on dive trips in Zanzibar to picnics in Central Park. Every time it happens I hear the same thing. I never talk about this. It’s so embarrassing.

However, we always get to the same fantastic ending. HOLY SMOKE: I AM NOT A FREAK!

And then we have a laugh about the dangers of buffet tables.

One in five women engage in some kind of disordered eating and there’s more characters on stage than ever before: orthorexia—a fixation for pure, righteous food or obsessive cleansing; pregorexia—dieting and exercise while pregnant; anorexia athletica—addicted to working out; binge eating—without the purging or laxatives, and drunkorexia (something I’ve dabbled in my whole life)—reducing food intake to get drunk faster.

And it’s not just women. There’s a girl in my son’s class who diets, at six, “just like Mummy”, and it makes me feel sick. Ex-bulimics hate to feel nauseous.

It makes me want to shout: Please don’t fight food. You’ll never win. It’s not the food’s fault; it’s just sitting there minding its own peas and q’s. Diets say You Are Not OK and they only lead to trouble. I know, I started my first one at nine and graduated to the worst kind. If you’re worried about your bottom then please put on your favourite tune and dance around the room. As for that gap between your thighs—use it to mount a horse and ride like the wind. And if anyone dares to call you fat, then you say, ‘A big, plump, warm heart is way better than a skinny mean one.’ Our bodies are designed to give us joy and you’ll never find it in a plate of grated carrot and sardines. When you are full of joy you will be your most beautiful.

That’s what I will be telling my daughter.

The only way to not mess up another generation is to talk about our complicated, addictive, chaotic relationship with food.

So I decided to interview other inspiring people who share my messy secret. They are not awesome because they had bulimia but many awesome people have had it. And they are f##king awesome for talking to me about it because sharing stories is the best way to bust open this secretive business and kick that pimp, Shame, in the shins.

Please share the link—one in five women you know will be interested, but you probably won’t know who.

If you are interested in sharing your story then please email me: awesomebulimicsIknow@gmail.com. I would love to chat.

My name is Angela Barnett (aka Barfbag), you can find my story here.

Or listen to me chat to Kathryn Ryan on Radio New Zealand about how to talk to teens about their bodies.

Or read about Fucking Awesome Bulimics I Know (FABIK) on the Huffington Post or New York Mag.

* See more of Mariel Clayton’s beautifully twisted photographs here.