How Much Saner About Food "Should" You Be By Now?

Keep stepping toward food-sanity. Yep, even if you trip a bit once in a while!

I feel so lost and pathetic. I should be a lot better by now.

That’s what HealthyGirl.org reader Hope, 18, wrote to me in an email recently. The first time we met Hope was four months ago when she first recognized that something was up with her relationship with food. She felt like she was at rock bottom, was stuck in a vicious cycle of starving and bingeing, and felt pretty sure that she was dealing with an Eating Disorder Not Specified (EDNOS). I and several commenters encouraged her to talk to her parents about what was going on and tell them she wanted help.

She’s reaching out to us for some support again—yes! I love these brave girls!—so, take a read and please feel free to weigh in. From Hope:

Q: Bingeing is a way of self harm to me, and it’s grossly addicting. Whenever something is bothering me I binge until I phsyically hurt, to make the pain real, like a cutter might describe the disturbed euphoria derived by cutting. I try to purge but I always give up and decide I’ll fast the next day instead. When that doesn’t occur (and it usually doesn’t, because there is lingering disappointment in myself for bingeing the day before, which just triggers the cycle to continue) then I feel even worse about myself, and when I notice weight gain I get so discouraged I can barely stand it. This is so disgusting. I always want to hide. I never want to remember this year of my life and I don’t want it to continue for years to come. I just want a normal college experience. After all, I’m only a freshman. I’ve barely met anyone because I isolate myself. I can’t focus on anything when I hate my body. When I was at my lowest weight, my family was concerned that I was getting too thin. But now that I’ve put on weight and maintained it, nobody is worried because I have an average body. But all I see is fat, and I feel less healthy than ever. I don’t know what else to say. I don’t know where to go from here. Every attempt at losing weight backfires when I feel displeased with my body…which is always.

A: Hi again, Hope. First, let me give you a high-five for reaching out again. It takes guts to put yourself out there, even over email. And let me tell you that you are NOT crazy or alone. Reading your email was like being in a time machine and being swooped back into my own life when I was a teenager. I never got to such a low weight that my family got worried, but I was thoroughly stuck in a cycle of starving/dieting and bingeing—even after figuring out that I had an emotional/mental problem with food that had nothing whatsoever to do with weight.

Now, let me tell you to give yourself a bit of a break. Four months is NOT a long time, especially when it comes to getting sane about food and your body. A lot can happen in four months when you’re on the right track, yes, but especially right in the beginning, it usually takes a while for people to get started. Change is scary and hard. You can’t rush this kind of growth—we’re all on our own personal timeline. I know it feels like you should be able to just fix this. You’re smart, probably pretty independent. You’re strong. So why the hell can’t you stop bingeing, right? Yeah, I’ve been there. It just doesn’t work like that. This food stuff is real. And serious.

That said, if you really want something to change, you have to do something different than you’ve been doing thus far. You said you feel stuck, right? That’s because you kind of are. Focusing on weight and body size has never worked for you or helped you feel saner, and it’s not suddenly going to start working now. You said you sometimes feel like your bingeing is like cutting. Think about that for a moment: Would you expect a cutter to just be able to up and stop? Just cold-turkey quit something that has been helpful to her in regulating difficult feelings? No! You’d probably advise a friend of yours who was cutting to…what? Get help, right? Well, that’s what I’m urging you to do, too.

The kind of “help” you choose is totally up to you—just do whatever you are ready for. I started with books.Then I moved on to therapy, then a small support group at my college psychological services center, then a little more therapy, then eventually another, big support group in my late 20s. I wanted to be sane and all better instantly, but it doesn’t always work like that. Still, with each little step I took, I got saner, and felt less self-loathing, less sadness, less hopelessness, and eventually I was completely recovered!

Now that you are in college, why not check out your school’s psychological services center? They often have free or wayyyy discounted therapy session and group sessions students can go to. Food issues are just as major and important as cutting or drugs or depression or any other problem that people have. A long time ago,I thought I could “will” or force myself to just GET NORMAL ALREADY. But I got tired of trying and failing and eventually reached out for a lot of help. I’m so glad I did, and I think you will be too.

Small steps, even tiny steps, are fine. Just…step! Please don’t be a stranger, and no matter what you decide to do, let us know how you’re doing. xo…Sunny

To the rest of the HealthyGirl.org community: Do you relate to the impatience Hope is feeling? Do you still feel impatient?

10 Responses to How Much Saner About Food "Should" You Be By Now?

  1. amanda says:

    I am so in this boat right now!!! I started my journey towards recovery back around June this year and it feels like my progress has been minimal. I have however improved other areas of my life that have helped my binging. For example, I try to actually love myself. Meaning I try to keep those negative thoughts in mind and replace them with positive ones. I don’t beat myself up if I binge. I try to get away from that all or nothing thinking. I really wish I didn’t binge or have exercise compulsion. I have stopped the major restrictive eating though. I also look at how long I was on my destructive road of binging and restricting. I did that lifestyle for over 4 years. How can I expect that in four months to be cured? I can’t! I try to live one day at a time.

    • Heather says:

      Moving forward and taking positive steps in other areas of your life will help you with the food issues. It’s just that if food has been your coping strategy for so long, it’s the last thing you’ll be able to let go of! Believing and trusting in that took the pressure off for me and the results are starting to show.

    • Sunny says:

      Letting go of the guilt was definitely one of the first and most important steps for me. It made everything else possible. Go you!

  2. karlie says:

    Sunny made such a good point in this article. In the beginning of the year, I thought I could recover on my own and noone would ever have to know about my eating issues, but you need support, even if it is hard to admit to loved ones your issues.

  3. LovesCatsinCA says:

    Hope,

    Please be gentle with yourself. I binged and starved when I was 17, 18 too… and then I had full on bulimia through my early 20s. Now I managed to stop purging with laxatives and bingeing huge amounts one or more times a day when I was around 24 thanks to therapy and discovering I was depressed and needed meds–but 22 years later, I am STILL reading this type of thing and learning. I am STILL reaching for food when stressed or overwhelmed sometimes, but not all the time–only I can STOP IN THE MIDDLE now, at least some of the time. The main thing is, I have realized this is a process. I’m at a point in my process. You’re in a point in yours.

    Did you wake up one day totally feeling bad about your body or just suddenly decide to use food to handle your feelings? No–both the concern, and the coping mechanism, evolved over time. So too will the tendency take time to recover from.

    I say ditto to the student health services suggestion. I also recommend two books:

    Geneen Roth’s Women Food & God which I devoured (no pun intended)
    Marianne Williamson’s A Course in Weight Loss which I’m currently reading

    You see, I think that part of this food and weight thing is about seeking meaning. These issues often develop when we’re about to go to college or in college, and we’re trying to figure out who we are and why we’re here and what we should do with our lives. And when we don’t know, it’s uncomfortable so we eat–or don’t eat. At least that was the case for me.

    I think both books address this, in ways that are spiritual, but don’t demand that you switch religions or acquire one. Geneen Roth comes from a more Buddhist/mindfulness being aware viewpoint. Marianne Williamson healed her compulsive eating when she started to study a Course in Miracles.

  4. Hope says:

    Thank you all for your advice, it is both reassuring and unsettling to know that others are going through the same thing as I am. I hope you all the best on your recovery as well.
    And LovesCatsinCA, thank you for your book recommendations! I will definitely try to find them.
    I appreciate this all so much, thank you for the post Sunny.

  5. Heather says:

    Being aware of what’s happening and what’s going on for you is the first, important step to moving forward.

    Acting on it – and making difficult changes – is the next step. For a long time, I think I didn’t act on my awareness for fear of making a mistake or making a bad situation worse. Now, I am trying to just DO something. And you know what? It’s never as hard as I thought it would be.

    Coming up to a year ago, or maybe longer, I decided I had had it with my issues with food and myself. Prior to that, I’d spent maybe three years knowing what was going on and not feeling able or willing to act on my bingeing. A year or so before that, I’d been anorexic.

    Since making a concerted decision to change this situation for myself, I’ve read many books, been to therapy, been to groups, set up my own group with people I did a self-esteem class with and made lots of little steps and taken lots of little risks to do something different.

    It is nearly a year down the line before I can see the change reflected in my food:

    – I now eat a wide variety of foods and am not afraid to try new ones
    – I am more relaxed around food and around other people eating
    – I’m not scared of supermarkets anymore

    And best of all, very, very recently, the ‘intuitive eating’ or basically waiting until I am hungry, eating what I want to eat and stopping when I am full, has kicked it. It feels like it’s come quite out of nowhere, but I know that it is likely the result of all the reading and other work, and trusting it will happen.

    I also think it’s important to say that there will probably never be a time where we can rest assured that we are ‘recovered’ or ‘fixed’. I think it is important to remember that there might be occasional times in the future that we need to do a little work and check in on ourselves, so don’t pressure yourself to be ‘better’. Working towards feeling happier is generally the path to other things – like food – settling down.

  6. Hope says:

    Thank you, Heather. Your response means a lot to me.

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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.