"Sometimes I starve, sometimes I binge. What's going on?" —Sam, 16 years old

Body and food freakouts tend to hit women when they're in their teens. When did yours begin?

Sixteen-year-old reader Sam wrote in the other day with this question. Here’s my advice to her, and any young woman who finds herself swinging from starving to bingeing and back again:

Q: A year ago I was a little overweight and people were making fun of me, so I went on a diet and lost 30 pounds. Everybody said that I looked perfect, but I still thought that I wasn’t thin enough. I lost 10 more pounds, but then my mom and grandma started worrying about my health. I wanted people to stop complaining and talking about my weight, and knew I had to do something. So at night I sneaked in the kitchen and ate as much as I could. I felt horrible, but the next night I did the same thing.

I continued doing this for a few weeks, and my appetite grew bigger and bigger. I hate binge eating. Sometimes I have it under control and sometimes I can’t control it! What can I do? —Sam

A: Oh, Sam! My food issues started to get hardcore when I was 15, so I know what you’re going through. It hurts so much to feel totally out of control that way. I never got too skinny or restricted as much as you seem to have done, but I definitely starved, fasted and dieted to try to try make up for the bingeing I was doing.

My parents sent me to a counselor for general talk therapy to help me deal with their divorce and some of my eating issues—it did help me understand what was going on, but it wasn’t enough. What I really, truly needed—and what I think you’d benefit from, too—was eating disorder treatment. I’m not necessarily talking in-patient stuff at a clinic, I’m just talking face-to-face therapy with a specialist in eating and food issues.

What a lot of women don’t understand is that you don’t have to be at a dangerously low weight, or at a morbidly obese weight, to need help. There’s a disorder called Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) which pretty much means that a woman displays behaviors from some or all of the other disorders, at varying severities. The issues you’re dealing with are major, and important. And they’re tough—especially for someone who’s also just trying to make it through high school. You know what I mean?

I spent years of my teens and early-20s life miserable because of my obsession with food and my weight. Don’t be like me, Sami—get help now!

Obviously, your mom already knows that there’s something up in this area of your life, so do you think she’ll be open to talking about this with you and helping you find a therapist or support group? I bet she would be. If you’re not ready to do that yet, call the National Eating Disorders Association hotline (Monday-Friday, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, Pacific Standard Time: 1-800-931-2237) to talk to someone about where to find treatment or a support group. It’s scary to reach out for help, but you can do it. You’ve already taken that first step in reaching out to me.

In the meantime, keep coming back to HealthyGirl.org and joining in the conversation. Getting support from other women who deal with the same stuff as you do is absolutely priceless. Please let me know what you decide to do, and update me on how you’re doing?

xo…Sunny

To the rest of the HealthyGirl.org readers: Got a question you’d like answered? E-mail me and I’ll try to either answer it myself, or get an expert to weigh in.
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[pic: Migraine Chick]

6 Responses to "Sometimes I starve, sometimes I binge. What's going on?" —Sam, 16 years old

  1. hlthygrl says:

    Happy update: Sam says she’s going to call someone for help! Hooray!

  2. Catie says:

    Everything Sam said is almost an EXACT picture of my life! I’m 16, and I just found a support group today because I saw this. Thank you so much!

  3. hlthygrl says:

    Really, Catie? That is fantastic! Congratulations for taking that step–you’re on your way to getting sane about food. :) Let us know how it goes! xo…Sunny

  4. Veronica says:

    I am glad to hear that she is seeking help!! = )

  5. […] this stuff in high school, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. Like I told reader Sami, who wrote to me about her own bingeing and starving: What a lot of women don’t understand is that you don’t […]

  6. […] entry in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Like I laid out for reader Sam, there are lots of ways to start getting better. Take a read, and remember when you start downplaying the seriousness of what’s going on with […]

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Sunny Sea Gold

About the Author

Sunny Sea Gold is a media-savvy advocate and commentator specializing in binge eating disorder, cultural obsessions around food and weight, and raising children who have a healthy body image.