Julie Kerr is an eating disorder recovery coach and mentor at Bulimia Free.
Julie self-recovered from a 15 year battle with anorexia and Bulimia over 20 years ago and brings a unique and powerful perspective on recovery.
Bulimia Nervosa, also known as simply bulimia, is an eating disorder characterised by binge eating followed by purging. Binge eating refers to eating a large amount of food in a short time. Purging refers to the attempts to get rid of the food consumed. This may be done by vomiting or taking laxatives.
The reality is people with bulimia are at a high risk for dying, especially if they are purging, using laxatives and doing excessive exercise. Many people with Bulimia have died from cardiac arrest which is usually caused by low potassium or an electrolyte imbalance. Others have died from a raptured oesophagus.
We got an insight on Julie’s life to help others know that it is something that can be conquered.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like?
The early years were idyllic. Growing up in a picturesque Devon as the eldest of three sisters was a childhood dream: We played, although not always nicely, in the apple orchard and fields beyond our garden. Fishing for anything that we could find in the small stream just down the road and cycling around the lanes on tri-cycles.
When I was 8 we moved to Loughborough in the Midlands where my brother was born. Horse-riding replaced the fishing and cycling until, in my late teens, I discovered Northern Soul, dancing, and a passion for making clothes assisted by Mum and her 1950’s Vogue patterns.
What was the strongest influence in your life as a young adult?
I began modelling during my gap year and for what was supposed to be for a year, turned into well over 14 years.
To the outside world it seemed I was living the dream, with agents in London, Paris, Hamburg and Tokyo I had plenty of work. However, in reality my life was somewhat less glamorous. Behind the painted smiles and faked happiness, I hid my shameful secret. Back in the day there was no name for it, but I later came to know it as Bulimia.
And so, what should have been some of the most exciting years of my life (18 to 33) were shaped and dominated by an obsession with my weight and dieting, overwhelming compulsions to binge and purge, self-hate, guilt and shame, a huge amount of stress and constant lying to cover up or hide the eating disorder.
You’re the founder of Bulimia Free how did that come about that?
I’d like to say it was a flash of divine inspiration. However, Bulimia Free was the child of patient detective work, determination and a desire to show others that recovery can be complete, empowering and permanent.
Some 8 years ago while training be a life coach, a psychotherapist told me that nobody ever truly recovers from bulimia. When I said I absolutely had, she asked “How”? I couldn’t answer her, I hadn’t got a clue!
I’d had no recovery treatment or help. And if I recall correctly, back then, there wasn’t even a word for what I was doing and there was no Internet or Google. But 2010 was different, so I Googled ‘bulimia’ and was shocked by my search.
Not only was I reading things like, “you never really recover”, “it’s a life-long battle” and that “you’ll always have to be careful around food”, which to me were plain wrong, there were so many people struggling.
As they say, the past leaves clues. From the vantage point of freedom; and with the knowledge and insights I’d gained from being trained in various coaching and healing modalities, I analysed my 15-year struggle and recovery.
I saw the fundamental mistakes I’d innocently made and how these errors had kept me trapped in a living hell, struggling unnecessarily for years. As a former sufferer I saw connections between things that were seemingly unrelated or insignificant. However, these tiny details were in fact key to my eventual freedom from bulimia, a freedom that is now well over 20 years.
Given the web of confusion that I had uncovered, I decided to create a recovery program; mentoring and coaching people in a way that reflected my own journey and success. Initially I was plagued by self-doubt, I mean who was I to be doing this?
But that ‘little voice in my head” was wrong. Bulimia can be a powerful teacher. I shared my methods with others: What worked for me worked for them too. I turned the experience of my own recovery into a training program that is helping others break free from their personal hell. And Bulimia Free was born.
Tell us also how you overcame bulimia.
Recovering from bulimia is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. To tell you in detail would take a book.
On the surface it sounds so easy if I just say – I stopped dieting and started listening to (and trusting in) my body’s hunger cues. But that is essentially what I did. However, it was not all I did.
Before any real behavioural change can be made, a shift in mind-set is required. Without that seismic mental shift, change work is no more helpful than moving deckchairs on the Titanic.
A seemingly random conversation in Paris, redirected the course of my eating disorder towards freedom around food and a new relationship with myself. I had what can only be called an epiphany.
My beliefs and assumptions were torn apart and a new vision emerged. I saw new solutions and possibilities for action not just in the future but right then. I realised what I needed to do, and I’d heard a ‘new’ voice, say, “I can do that”
As Neville Goddard said, ‘There can be no outer change until there is first an imaginal change’.
That new vision was so compelling, it pulled me through every tough challenges recovery demands. And believe me, there were challenges: physical, mental and emotional.
When you feel you cannot trust yourself and feel your body is betraying you, it’s really hard to listen to your hunger and respond when what it’s asking for, demanding even, are foods that you’ve spent years believing are ‘bad’, ‘unhealthy’, ‘addictive’ or ‘fattening’. Or ones that you [believe you] can’t stop eating, once you start.
It’s hard to deal with a bloated stomach because your gastrointestinal tract is sorting itself out. Nothing fits. It’s uncomfortable, often very painful, sometimes embarrassing. Not knowing then what I now know: that bloating is a common symptom of recovery, I often wondered if there wasn’t something seriously wrong with me.
Probably the biggest challenges lay in working things out objectively rather than subjectively and becoming more emotionally resilient. So, rather than reacting out of sheer habit, I was responding to what was really in front of me.
This meant getting to grips with my biggest adversary – me! Or rather the me that had bought into the idea that I wasn’t good enough, beautiful enough or thin enough; and that if I just got ‘thin enough’ or looked a certain way, I’d be beautiful, successful and happy. The me that I believed wasn’t smart enough, competent enough and couldn’t deal with any upset in my life without resorting to bingeing and purging. The me that thought I was fundamentally flawed, a despised failure who deserved to be punished for not being perfect.
But through it all I never lost sight of that new vision of myself. I clung on, tenuous though it was at times, to the belief I could do it. And now well over 20 year’s bulimia free, I think I can safely say I did it.
In your experience what was the trigger?
The easiest and most obvious answer would be to say, the trigger was my restrictive dieting. And on one level it was, given our brains are ‘hardwired’ to have us seek out food and eat, and probably more than we think we should eat, when our caloric and or nutritional requirements are not met.
Anyone reading this article, who has dieted for a time, will no doubt have experienced breaking a dietary rule, over eating, or even bingeing, even though this wasn’t what they [consciously] wanted to do so, and they have their ‘primitive’ brain to thank.
But not everybody who diets develops bulimia.
The thing is bulimia isn’t only about bingeing. It is also about the ‘purging’ behaviours of self-induced vomiting, over exercising, restrictive dieting, fasting and or missing meals, amongst other behaviours, to compensate for bingeing, overeating or broken dietary rules. Without the purging behaviour, there is no bulimia.
So, is it ‘purging’ that triggers bulimia?
And although bingeing definitely triggers purging, not everyone who binges, purges.
So, something else is going on…
When I believed my budding modelling career and move to London was in jeopardy because of my seeming inability to control myself around food, ‘purging’ [initially] seemed to be a solution to the problem of ‘bingeing’.
And time and time again I have observed in people who purge, an underlying motive that runs far deeper than just wanting to be ‘thin’, or ‘fit’ or ‘healthy’’: They have a compelling vision that they believe being ‘thin’, ‘fit ‘or ‘healthy’ will fix or provide and so they will do what [they erroneously think] it takes to get there.
What is the greatest challenge reaching out and helping those struggling with Bulimia?
To paraphrase Einstein, “You can’t solve a problem with the same level or kind of thinking that created the problem in the first place”.
The steps for recovery so often go against deeply held beliefs, cultural and personal. So, even if some know what to do and how to do it, the pull of old [erroneous] beliefs, voiced through a manipulative, sometimes mean, sometimes seductive, ‘little voice’ causes slip ups and relapses which are incredibly discouraging.
Ironically with the internet and all the information at our hands, I think recovery is harder now then it was for me 20 odd years ago (without the internet).
The conflicting information on bulimia, both the causes and what to do to recover, juxtaposed with the cultural obsession with thinness, fitness and ‘health’ makes recovery incredibly confusing and frightening.
What do you currently do?
For the last 6 years I have been empowering women from all over the globe, to not just break free from bulimia but to maintain that freedom through my one to one mentoring and coaching service.
What do you love most about what you do?
Seeing the transformation in clients as they connect with their own wisdom, power and beauty.
What are the key things you look for in a client?
Simply a desire to stop the behaviour of bingeing and purging.
What keeps you motivated?
A passion for life.
What is your favourite past time activity?
I love to relax, preferably in the sun, and read a good thriller.
What are the 5 most important items to you in your handbag?
Credit card, reading glasses, lip gloss and my mobile phone so my clients can contact me in moments of need.
What’s next for you?
Continual development of my business. This will enable me to support more people who need support and advice. One exciting project is my new online course “BustED” that is currently in development. Watch this space!
If you would need help with bulimia please contact Julie through this email firstname.lastname@example.org.