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I'm writing a book which includes a main character who's recovering from bulimia and I want to portray it as accurately/respectfully as possible.

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Posted 15 April 2018 - 02:46 PM

If this is a bad place to post this, I will happily remove it without a fuss.


I'm currently writing a dystopian story and I wanted to tackle some real, human issues in it. There are two main characters, one of whom has dyslexia and the other is recovering from bulimia but relapses. These are not used as plot points, they are internal struggles they each deal with on a daily basis. They are not romanticized or made to seem like they are less severe than they are.


I have tried to do as much research I can on these topics, but I wanted to make sure I was portraying bulimia accurately and respectfully, as I know how harmful bad representation can be. 


So I have two questions, one very specific and one very general; is the backstory of how he developed his eating disorder realistic/respectful and what advice would you give to me in portraying bulimia in fiction?


The backstory: Milo is a seventeen-year-old guy who is a guard at the kingdom. Both of his parents were also guards. A little over a year before the story takes places, his mom is unexpectedly and suddenly killed. Milo isn't sure how to cope with his feelings and turns to binge eating. However, after he binges, he feels worse about himself than before so he started purging to get rid of the gross feelings. It became an addiction, he got a sort of high from it all. About three months before the story started, his dad caught him in the act and was worried about his health and safety, so he started monitoring Milo's meals more carefully and trying to offer emotional support. But during the story, when he's away from his dad, he relapses.


Like I said, I don't want to do harm by portraying this, especially as someone who hasn't had any first-hand experiences with eating disorders. (However, my mom used to have bulimia and she talked to me about it a little bit. That's where some of my research comes from, the rest was from Google.) 


If you have any advice whatsoever, I would be glad to hear your perspective. Thank you so much for reading this and I apologize if anything I said was wrong, offensive, or harmful in any way.

#2 Rose22



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Posted 15 April 2018 - 03:05 PM

TW: suicide and sexual assault


Hi there! I really appreciate you doing your research beforehand, it really is important. A lot of the feelings you have right, including feeling terrible after binging, feeling high from it, etc. I struggle a lot though with bulimia being triggered by his mom dying. Bulimia is usually due to internal pain (at least for me) but is for sure influenced by outside events. Mine started when I was suicidal and was binging just to get through the night. It also got worse after being sexually assaulted. But both of these things just intensified feelings that were already there (worthlessness, loneliness, anxiety...) and didn't just come out of nowhere. So as long as you include the specific feelings he is having and thoughts he has about himself after (and maybe before) his mom died, I think it'll be pretty accurate. Also, I binge/purge out of sadness too but there is this weird, specific feeling of desperation and anxiety (at least before I do it) that continues to intensify and there's less and less that you can do about it. Sometimes it feels like if I don't binge, cut, or whatever I'm going to explode.


Also, I thought it would be worth mentioning that having your parents watch you like a hawk and monitor what you eat is incredibly humiliating. It put a huge strain on my relationship with my parents and eight years later I still resent them a little. Hope this helps, I can only speak from my own experience. Good luck with the book, and thank you for trying to understand!

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#3 neversickenough



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Posted 15 April 2018 - 05:35 PM

Maybe this is just something I want to see when I see bulimia in fiction, but I'm so exhausted with the "bulimia is clean" idea that gets portrayed in media. That you eat with nice utensils and you gently lean over the toilet (usually while kneeling, when I believe most ppl who toilet purge stand according to a thread we had on positions lol), and you use two fingers, and they never get vomit on them, and then you puke once and you wash your hands after and that's That. 


Obviously, that's how it is for some people. I don't want to discount anyone's experience, but this is how it's always portrayed.

For a lot of us, bulimia's messy and diverse. It's sitting in your bedroom or your kitchen surrounded by various types of food that you've stocked up on, watching Netflix in the background. It's using three fingers, standing but bent over with one hand pressing against your stomach (I swear I read a thread where we all talked about how we All Did This lol), NAKED, puking into a toilet or a sink or a plastic bag or a tupperware container or a shower. (Or a bucket in your shower, so that you don't clog the drain!) It's gagging many, many times, and then it's immediately going back to your binge food and finishing the rest of it, and repeating the process. It's eating taco bell in your car after dinner, then puking into plastic bags and throwing them out in the dumpster. It's losing your money but not being able to stop. It's some days, being able to get nothing up no matter how hard you try, so you panic and cry and take a ton of laxatives. It's being able to puke just by contracting your stomach muscles instead of your fingers, sometimes after a long time, sometimes just something people can do naturally. It's drinking a ton of liquid during the binge and after, to get it all up, and it's knowing that for most people, dense and bready things (and chocolate) come up harder than light things like vegetables. It's having vomit go up your nose sometimes, it's having spicy food burn coming back up, it's ice cream tasting good both ways as disgusting as that sounds. It's vomit splashback in your face (and laying toilet paper down in the water so it doesn't splash back, though that's never worked for me).


Maybe you don't want to show those things. Maybe we shouldn't, because they can be triggering, they can give people ideas. Maybe you're not even planning to go into the details like this. But I think any sort of diversity in what a bulimic does would be Refreshing at this point, even if it's just the stuff in the little details. 


Anyway, re: the trigger, I think it's believable. Particularly the "turns to binge eating" and then later turns to purging. I think what person above me was saying about internal pain is true, but I think the death of a loved one can cause a lot of internal pain. And if you're comfort eating, and then have issues about your body on top of it already (which, being a guard, I assume physical fitness is stressed, and sometimes it is just as easy as that), it's easy to turn to purging imo.

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#4 AcetylCoA


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Posted 15 April 2018 - 05:53 PM

You're not half wrong with the Bulimia being bought on by trauma. Although bereavement "On it's ownTM" doesn't usually cause PTSD, 66% of males with Bulimia Nervosa have PTSD, and 40% of females. I'm not a bulimic (or Ana, or EDNOS, or anything in DSM) but I purge as a method of losing weight, and you'd do really well to listen to the advice of the other fantastic people who've commented on the finer points, but here's a few pointers:



Purging is messy. Physically, yes, but also emotionally, because "loss of dignity" doesn't even begin to describe how it feels standing/kneeling over a toilet and sticking fingers in your throat. 


People do it for a variety of reasons, but in this case it would likely be for control. It gives a sense that even though you can't control anything else in your life, you can control what happens to your body, and this could well produce the "High" you're describing.


There's a lot of shame. Most people don't understand Self Harm, or Restriction, or most other symptoms, but for some reason, when it comes to Purging, not only do most people don't understand it, they don't make an effort to. This could be due to the "Yuck" factor of it, but still, if Milo's dad is the main factor in stopping him from B/P'ing, then the relationship is likely to be really, really strained.




Just my meager contributions, and thank you so, so much for even trying to portray this in a sensitive way :)

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#5 Guest_numbersandthoughts_*

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Posted 15 April 2018 - 07:03 PM

Hi hi! Thanks for sourcing for more information to write as accuratly/realistically as possible.


I don't have a lot to offer but honestly eh- I have dealt with it on a level? remember there is more than one way of purging???? lax. exercise. vomiting (which realistically you can get nothing up sometimes or get puke evERYWHERE.)


THe cause of the MC getting bulimia/disordered eating....I was kinda lost. Does he binge to fill a hole in his life? DId his mom make him things and he ate a lot of them when he was little and she reassured him and he didn't know? MOSTLY some form of disordered eating while younger can lend to bigger problems in later years I have seen a pattern in?  And the exact reason for purging?

purging can also feel dirty as well as cleansing.

#6 abbywest


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Posted 15 April 2018 - 07:31 PM

Hey so I see a lot of people not getting on with the fact that he developed bulimia after his mum died & I have to disagree with them on that, I think that bulimia can most definitely be a coping mechanism to deal with loss, particularly the loss of a parental figure as losing someone like that can make things feel very out of control and the purging gives a sense of control

I mean my most recent relapse was caused when my mum went into hospital so yeah

I think that it’s a good back story and sounds like you’ve got it right :) one thing I would suggest is to not tiptoe over anything, bulimia is messy and disgusting and if you want to portray it accurately you should include the aspects that pretty much all mainstream media doesn’t

Good luck op let us know how it goes!

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#7 Sad_thiin



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Posted 15 April 2018 - 08:02 PM

I think that's a great back story!! Maybe also include something about his self image as well because that is also big in what we think of. Maybe also have a story of how he finds out about purging/how to purge as well like we usually don't just know to stick our fingers down our throats if ya know what I mean😂

And for the other thing, don't romanticize it. We need something real. Try to show how dark and addicting it gets. I do like that you are using a male character for this as well because it shows that not only females have eating disorders. Try to also explain his mental state through all of this as well and update on his mental health. It's also not just a quick trip to the bathroom if your thinking of having a bathroom scene 😂

I think this is a great idea and good luck on your story xxx

#8 violetballetslippers


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Posted 15 April 2018 - 08:19 PM

Wish I had more advice or input but just wanted to stop by to say as a real life bulimic I really love the story and what you're writing about! I think it seems totally plausible. The death of a parent/a life stressor is often a trigger for a relapse or start of a disorder. Love that the character is male and love that you understand the feeling of shame, guilt etc. that would lead to a purge following binge eating. Sounds great.

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