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?