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“I Eat Until I Hurt and I Cannot Stop. Help!”

January 25, 2011

After obsessing about food and weigh since the fourth grade, this young reader wants to be FREE. How did you get there?

I got an email from a young woman the other day who seems to have been bouncing between different disordered eating behaviors for a few years and is obsessed with food. I’m sure many of you will relate to her—and have wisdom to share. Please weigh in and give this girl some hope!

Q. I just turned 16 and ever since I have been in elementary school I have been obsessed about weight and food. When I was in about 4th grade I restricted food so I would lose weight (I always had more meat on my bones than my sis and cousins). I still had this image in my mind that I was “fat” but my parents and everyone was concerned with how boney I was getting. I was proud that I was finally one of the skinniest girls in middle school. I felt happy and popular.

Now I realize how crazy I was. But I still have not recovered from my food issues. By the time I got to high school I gained some weight and looked healthy, but I thought I was fat since I weighed more. Freshman year I became very concerned with eating only healthy foods. All natural and only water to drink.

I still remain obsessed with food but within 6 months I have gained about 30 pounds from binge eating. It is like I went from CRAZY healthy to CRAZY eating machine. I will eat until I hurt and feel like I cannot stop. It is horrible. I feel embarrassed and ashamed. I used to love running and was very athletic. I have avoided football games, movie nights with friends, and many other events because I feel fat and worthless. I normally just stay home and binge.

My social life, confidence, relationships, health, and school is suffering greatly. And finally I just don’t know where to turn. I am like one of the top students in my class, so the pressure is on to study and make the best grades. When I freak out about an upcoming test, I eat. And so on. You know the cycle. I try all sorts of diets and fasts, but no matter how good and how much weight I lose. I fall back into the same cycle. Comforting myself with food. Stuffing myself to numb the feelings when I am scared or worried.

What do I do next? I feel like I am barely hanging on. I don’t know what to do. I’m scared. Food is sometimes all I can think about. I want to be set free. —Anonymous

A: Oh, man—I relate to what you’re going through so much. I went on my first diet in elementary school, too, and was also stuck in a nasty binge and restrict cycle that started when I was about 14. I was a top-level student, too (it seems lots of people with eating issues are), and felt desperate, scared, and hopeless.

But you, Anonymous, have a leg up on me. You are so much more aware of what’s going on than I was back then! You already know, although you didn’t use the term, that you dealt with a bout of anorexia in elementary school; you know that you are now using food to comfort and distract yourself from difficult feelings; you know that what you’re dealing with is a mental and emotional issue, not a willpower problem; you know that you’re not alone, and you reached out for help. That makes me so hopeful for—and even though I don’t know you, proud of—you.

You have asked the absolutely key question: What do I do next? You have several options—and don’t worry about picking the wrong one, there are no wrong choices when it comes to getting better. Any healthy move you make at this point will move you forward and closer to freedom.

So let me tell you what I did: First, I told my mother what was going on. She knew I was constantly dieting, and crying about my weight, but she had no idea that I was binge eating and felt so out of control. She had never heard of binge eating disorder, and didn’t know much at all about other disorders, but she knew enough to make a few appointments for me with the family counsellor she had been seeing while my parents were getting a divorce. (Read more about why it’s so important not to keep your eating issues a secret.)

Then, I started reading self-help books. The counselor recommended the first book I ever read about compulsive eating, Feeding the Hungry Heart by Geneen Roth. It’s not necessarily written for teenagers, but it was a huge help for me, even at age 15. I think books are super important for getting better, and I have read a bunch of them. That’s one reason why I wrote my book, Food: The Good Girl’s Drug. It’s not out until April 5, but keep in touch and I can send you one, OK? It’s especially aimed at women in their teens and 20s. (But don’t wait till then, start reading something else now! Geneen Roth is awesome.)

Later on, I went back to therapy—not just for the food issues, but for depression and general life stuff. It helped me build self esteem and the bingeing and body obsession got less and less for me. But I didn’t kick the disorder for good until I went to a support group. I attended weekly meetings for three and a half years, and the support and tools I learned from the people there were priceless.

You want to be free, you deserve to be free, and you can be free. Just take a step forward.

Now, to the rest of the community, please share a couple of steps you took toward getting sane about food. Let’s show Anonymous that there’s hope and just how many options she has. xo…Sunny

18 Comments leave one →
  1. January 25, 2011 10:50 am

    First step was I had to realize that it was a problem. I was only hurting my body and I needed to regain peace and balance with and within myself.

    Another step I took was to realize every cell in my body requires energy — if you have an imbalance with just one nutrient (calories/energy included), it wreaks havoc in my body. I had to realize that my body requires energy to thrive. I just didn’t want to survive; I wanted to feed my body what it wants — what it needs to run its best.

  2. January 25, 2011 1:33 pm

    I think she should see a doctor, someone with professional training and medical experience in this area.

    • January 25, 2011 2:43 pm

      Yes, I agree that talking to a medical or psychological professional is a very good idea. Especially when disordered behaviors start so young. That’s one reason why it’s important for young women not to keep this stuff a secret from their parents.

  3. January 25, 2011 3:10 pm

    Aww, anonymous, I am so sorry that you are struggling. I agree with Ashley and Sunny that you should talk to a professional to help you. I’m in a similar situation except I’m a little older. I battled anorexia for over two years and just in November 2010 I started binge eating and have gained nearly 60lbs. Trust me, I felt miserable and disgusted with myself. But what I’ve realized that allowing myself to beat myself up everyday and burst into tears every time I look in the mirror has done nothing to make me feel better (actually I think it aided the binge eating). So I’ve started stopping the negative thoughts by focusing on the positive ie I haven’t binged in # of days…Go me! It’s incredibly hard but with the help of a therapist and a huge dose of self acceptance you can find your healthy! Treat yourself like you would treat your best friend (or mom or sister). Would you tell she’s fat and horrible from binge eating? No…so don’t say those things to yourself. Good luck! I believe you can recover from those stupid EDs and self doubt.

  4. January 25, 2011 4:00 pm

    As I have been working at not bingeing, I try to have a plan in place of something to do BEFORE I start to binge: walk, call a friend just to chat, fold the laundry, check e-mail, read a Healthy Girl post, SOMETHING. It only needs to last about 15 minutes. Often, not always, after that 15 minutes I don’t want to binge any more. If I still do, I pick another item off the list and do it, again about 15 minutes. It hasn’t made me 100% binge-free, but so much closer than I have been for years. The “mindless but active” nature of the activities on my list seem to let me think-without-thinking-too-much about what is causing me to want to binge and often I can sort things out first. Also, don’t make the activity last too long or you won’t want to try it. I can wait 15 minutes for food, but not an hour. Small goals followed by a check up: Do I still want to eat? Do I still need to eat? Could I try another activity first? It has helped me and might help you.

  5. January 26, 2011 1:09 am

    I’m having similar issues. Never dealt with anorexia or bulimia but I binge eat…all the time. I don’t know what to do.

  6. Angie permalink
    January 26, 2011 5:24 am

    I can relate to this situation. For me, trying to change things by myself was not effective. When I finally reached out to other people (who were also focused on healthy living and recovery), I found some reprieve from the food. When I was in high school, my way of reaching out was talking with the school psychologist and finding a way to attend a support group. I was also lucky enough to find a therapist. I know I was lucky to have transportation to the support group and therapist. If I didn’t have that kind of support, I’d have to rely on online tools. Reading books has also been a great tool for me – Good luck!

  7. Lauren permalink
    January 27, 2011 3:48 pm

    It’s so important to be opened about your disordered eating habits. For the first few months, I kept my disorder a secret. Looking back, it’s no wonder why I felt so alone and hopeless, because I felt like no one could possibly understand what I was dealing with.

    I finally opened up to my mom and started seeing a therapist almost a year ago. I’m still in the recovery process, but over the past year I have slowly been more and more open about the issues I am dealing with and it has helped immensely.

    A month or two ago, I finally told my mom and my family nearly everything! They were (and still are) so supportive, and that support has been very encouraging and has made me feel stronger. I recently opened up to my roommate too and she has been another source of support for me too.

    At least in my case, telling others about my disorder has been so freeing and I think it is a big step in recovery. It may be scary, but you should let your family (at least your mom!) know what is going on. Good luck!!!

  8. Lauren permalink
    January 27, 2011 3:49 pm

    Whoops, I meant to say ‘open’ in the first sentence! I clearly did not proof-read my comment, haha.

  9. Princess permalink
    January 27, 2011 6:51 pm

    I’m going to go against everything everyone is saying here. My suggestion is to eat the food! Food is your friend! When people spend a lifetime trying to control their body’s natural desire to satisfy their hunger, their body revolts and tries to make you eat because it thinks it’s starving. Being stressed about food is worse for your health than even eating junk food or too many calories. People who have been forced to starve become neurotic about their food and will binge given the opportunity. Self imposed dieting also has this affect. And usually when your body is starving it’ll make you crave the highest caloric foods so it can get what it needs the fastest way possible. Your body is trying to protect itself by slowing your metabolism down and by increasing your appetite because it thinks you’re going through a famine. The years of severe dieting have left you malnourished especially during your time of great physical development.

    About 6 months ago I discovered RRARF – Restorative Rest and Aggressive Re-feeding. For 30 days you give your body what it wants – plenty of rest and plenty of unprocessed foods. The program suggests eating a meal whenever you’re hungry or even think about food. I ate 4 meals a day of potatoes, meat, salad and vegetables and plenty of coconut oil. I found the coconut oil especially helpful as it took away my cravings for high fat junk food. Eating lots of starchy vegetables like potatoes took away my cravings for bread and pasta. I ate till I was very full even over full. Even if you really crave junk food – eat it and enjoy it. Don’t feel guilty about eating. You don’t obsess about food when you’re not hungry and you know you can eat freely any time you want. And before you ask, no I didn’t put on any weight. In fact I lost a little bit. Some people do find they initially gain weight, but once their appetite is healed and the stress from dieting has been healed people tend to lose weight. Eating to appetite is often enough to help people lose weight. Even body builders will have a “cheat day” where they will eat anything and everything to make sure their metabolisms don’t slow down and to boost weight loss.

    Check out Matt Stone’s health blogs. He does sell some E-books but he also gives out plenty of information freely regarding the science behind weight gain and loss and about RRARF. If you take anything away from this, let it be this – be kind to yourself and just eat the food, your appetite will go back to normal if you do. Your body knows what it’s doing!

    • January 28, 2011 11:25 am

      I appreciate your input—as I do everyone’s in the community. I do think that Anonymous is dealing with a history of eating disorders, however. And eating disorders are serious illnesses of the mind and body that often require more than a dietary cure. Also, we try not to focus on weight loss around here. Weight’s not the point, freedom from obsession is. (Which it sounds like you’ve found, so good for you!)

      • Princess permalink
        January 28, 2011 3:03 pm

        I sincerely apologise if I came across as insensitive. It truly wasn’t my intention to trivialise this young girls condition. Nor did I mean to make it about weight loss. I would continue to eat this way even if there was no weight loss. I’ve been reading a lot of information from different sources that psychological problems like depression and eating disorders are caused by malnutrition and/or sugar sensitivity and subsequent hormonal imbalances.

        My brother and I previously had severe depression where we could no longer hold down employment or even get out of bed. By eating whole unprocessed foods and by eating 3 times a day, we’ve been able to come out of very dark places. I wouldn’t have believed it either if I didn’t see such a rapid improvement in myself and brother.

        There are also books out there like “Potatoes Not Prozac” and “The GAPS Guide” (Gut And Psychology Syndrome) on Amazon for starters that talk about the connection with food and mental disorders. The more I read about it the more I’m convinced that food can be our medicine (or poison). All I suggest is that you be open to doing a little of your own research into it.

      • January 31, 2011 9:47 am

        Thank you for your reply! I am also a big proponent of legalizing all foods and believe that foods affect our mood and mental health. Thanks again for your thoughts, Princess. xo…Sunny

  10. February 1, 2011 7:07 pm

    I completely relate to all of your story and struggle. It is almost identical to my story. I starved for years and then it just got completely out of control and I became a serious binge eater and bulimic. I went to inpatient twice and sought various methods to get help.
    I just want you to know that today I am COMPLETELY recovered from all eating disorders. I have not starved, binged, purged or dieted for almost 4 years. Full recovery is possible. First of all I had to believe that it was possible, then stop dieting and all of the other eating disorder behavior and then learn alternative ways to deal with my feelings.
    You are doing great by reaching out. I hope something resonates with you and you find a path that is healing. If you ever need any help you can always contact me just to reach out.

  11. February 1, 2011 7:08 pm

    Also Sunny is right – just keep reading stories of recovery until you realize that you CAN recover, it is possible for you just like it has been for so many others

  12. February 7, 2011 12:38 pm

    The point about you being ahead of the curve because you already know why you are using eating disorder behaviors is a good one. At your age I was going through my own ed but had no idea it WAS an ed, much less why I was doing it. Talking to a good therapist about what’s going on and how to better manage your stress and expectations (from both yourself and others) can really help.

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