For many people with food and body issues, the holiday season can feel like a minefield. Rather than just enjoying being with your family and friends, and nibbling on some of your favorite seasonal foods, you’re stuck in a cycle of bingeing and guilt, or fear about being surrounded by food and emotionally triggering family members. That’s where Jackie, 19, is now. I’d love your help giving her some hope for this holiday. Here’s her email, plus some initial responses from me. Please weigh in at the end!
Q: I have been reading HealthyGirl for several months now and I desperately want to overcome my eating disorder! I am a recovering bulimic and for several months I have been suffering from binge eating disorder. I am so thankful that I no longer purge, but I really want to stop the bingeing. I hate how it makes me feel…I hate that I eat when I’m not hungry, I hate eating in private, I hate hiding my disorder from my friends and family. I have opened up to my parents about my disorder but I am too ashamed to tell them everything. My parents have been very supportive but they don’t understand what it’s like to be a binge-eater! I have asked my mom to help me stop the binges and sometimes she is very helpful but other times she inadvertently makes me feel worse.
I am a college student and I have found that being at school is very beneficial in controlling my eating because I am not always surrounded by food. However, at home it’s another story! Being home is difficult because I feel as if I have unlimited access to food. Even worse, I have made a habit out of bingeing at home and it seems as if every time I go home I binge no matter the circumstances. It’s awful because I love being home and spending time with my family, but I have this awful fear of bingeing. I think that having this fear is contributing to the binges, in that I am so fearful of a binge that I almost anticipate and expect it to happen.
Do you have any advice or any thoughts? I really want to overcome this disorder and be happy and healthy. Bingeing makes me feel awful! I feel wonderful when I go even a few days without bingeing or other disordered behaviors. I just want to put an end to the bingeing and live the rest of my life disorder-free. Please help! —Jackie
A: Jackie, first a big hug and congratulations on letting go of the purging. That’s a huge first step for your physical and mental health. How did you manage to get to this point? What tools did you use or what kind of help did you get to stop throwing up? The same kind of tools can also help you let go of the bingeing.
Perhaps you did it on your own, through self-help and just becoming aware of the issues you were having around food and your body. If that’s the case, now to go even further and kick the rest of the disorder you’re dealing with, you may need to take it a step you’ve never taken before. Try something new for your recover, whether it’s books, support groups, inpatient eating disorder treatment, or therapy. Your mom, as much as she loves you, can’t fix this (especially since you haven’t even told her the whole story!). Believe me, my mom tried to help, too! But ultimately, I had to enlist the help of a therapist and support group, and read and journal on my own. The best thing my mom ever did to help me with this disorder is make an appointment for me with the family counselor she was seeing at the time.
In terms of bingeing at your parents’ house, like you, bingeing at my mother’s place had become sort of a habit. I found that a big part of that habit was staying up later than everyone else and watching TV on the couch. Being alone, and zoned out on TV always led to eating. I would lie there half watching, but half waiting for everyone to fall asleep so I could get up and rifle through the fridge and eat all the things I hadn’t eaten during the day.
I remember vividly the first holiday trip to my mom’s house during which I did not binge. I had been going to my binge eating support group meetings for several months, and had a “food plan” in place that was really liberal and enjoyable, but didn’t include midnight marshmallow-and-peanut-butter binges. I called my mentor from my group for extra support, read motivational quotes in the mornings, and made sure I wasn’t the last one on the couch at night. It was the first time I’d ever felt safe from bingeing during the holidays, and it felt amazing.
As you’ll notice, it didn’t just happen. I had laid the groundwork for it, like I’m sure you’re doing now. And I used all the tools I needed for my recovery—reading, journaling, support—every day while I was away. A holiday from work didn’t mean a holiday from my recovery from binge eating. (Once, when I was on vacation in Iceland, I even rented an international cell phone just for the purpose of calling a support group member each day to leave a message about how I was doing. It was what I needed at the time, and it really helped.)
All that said, don’t let the guilt monster attack too much if you do end up bingeing this holiday. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure, it means that’s just where you are in your journey. I tried and failed lots of times before I was healthy enough and had the right combination of support to break the holiday bingeing habit for good.
Now, to the rest of the HealthyGirl.org community, what experience can you share with Jackie? And, do you have your own concerns about bingeing this holiday? xo…Sunny