"I Eat Until I Hurt and I Cannot Stop. Help!"

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 HealthyGirl.org 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

29 Responses to "I Eat Until I Hurt and I Cannot Stop. Help!"

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

    • Sunny says:

      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. Sarah says:

    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. 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. 2fatgirl says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

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

  9. Princess says:

    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!

    • Sunny says:

      I appreciate your input—as I do everyone’s in the HealthyGirl.org 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 says:

        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.

        • Sunny says:

          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

        • The Baronessa says:

          Would you tell an alcoholic to go out and drink whenever he wants and however much he wants? This is someone with a severe addiction, hun, not someone who was locked in a closet for 3 weeks without food.

  10. Nina says:

    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.
    Nina

  11. Nina says:

    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
    Nina

  12. Chelsea says:

    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.

  13. H K says:

    i just came across this blog and your one commenters had the right advice. i am actively recovering from anorexia athletica and binge eating is a part of recovery, as is active weight gain. i realize that this response is a year after this initial post, but i think it is extremely important for people to have the right advice on this rather then continue to be told the wrong information and then get stuck in quasi-recovery. you should check out the following blog for more information…

    http://www.gwynetholwyn.com/blog/2011/9/13/phases-of-recovery-from-restricted-eating.html

  14. Joy says:

    Hi there, I searched up ‘eat till it hurts’ and found you guys. I’m all the way over in New Zealand.
    this is me right now, hurting because i’ve over eaten, something I do on a regular basis – self control zero. Good to read about others with similar challenges.
    Didn’t realise it could be an addiction.
    Think mine is related to emotional loss, grief and trauma, question is how do I get out of this nasty cycle. It’s night time here and I can’t sleep my tummy is so full, I’m uncomfortable, and sore from eating with no awareness
    So angry and so over this continual battle
    I’ve gained nearly 35 pounds over the last year, never been the size I am for a long time. Don’t know how to approach this. I tend to have really black and white thinking, it’s all or nothing, can’t seem to find a balance.
    Any suggestions

    Thanks.
    J

    • Lauren says:

      I’d be happy to talk with you guys; am going through something similar.

    • Claire says:

      Hi guys, I’m also going through the same and really struggling lately, my self esteem and body image and confidence has been ruined by my binge eating disorder. I’d love to talk and try and beat this together, it is the only comfort I have knowing other people have this too, do the same things I do and have trouble confiding in friends and family- the shame of my disorder overwhelms me. C xxx

    • marlene says:

      J I am in N.Z also and have been looking for a forum over here to talk. I am 76 and having the same problems. Rose

  15. Silvia says:

    Hi!!! I am in the same exact boat as you right now!! Today was my day off from work and what did I do all day? Sit at home and binge my heart out! I am now so full and I feel so disgusting! I also searched online and came Across this website! I am slowly gaining weight as well! I started at 158 pounds ( I am 6’1) and now and close to 180! I don’t want to gain any more weight! I would love to you talk to you and maybe we can help each other out?? I don’t have anyone to talk to about this! My husband knows about my binge eating but he doesnt understamd how painful it is to me! Please email me and maybe we can exchange numbers? I feel like you are in the same boat as I am!! My email adress is silviarahim90@gmail.com
    Let’s support each other!!

  16. Lauren says:

    Hey everyone. Am new to these forums, but I recently found Sunny’s book at my university library. It’s an enjoyable and comforting read, especially for someone with an erratic eating pattern. Lately though my binge-eating is explosive, and I’m not sure what to do. If anyone else is going through the same thing and could maybe offer some advice, I’d be delighted if you could read on.

    When I was a teenager, my scale tipped at around 220 pounds. When my sister gained custody of me during my junior year of high school (long story short: My family life was chaotic), I lost a lot of weight in my new environment. (That isn’t to say I was starved in any sense of the word; the food was just so much better.) I left for college at around 160 pounds, and yo-yo’d for awhile. I discovered hard-core binge-eating in Freshman year, and polished off pizzas by myself. The cafeteria became my personal living hell, and I discovered purging via vomiting or laxatives. I never could openly discuss these things with my family, who would’ve responded with a lot of frustration and anger. On the occasions I hinted about my eating concerns the atmosphere became very terse. I’m terrified to tell them that lately my life revolves around food, although I think they now suspect something after my recent weight loss.

    Towards the end of last year I managed to come back to 160, but was unhappy at that weight. I think I was convinced something magical would happen if I went lower on the scale then I’d ever had, and became absolutely fixated on the number 140. I would write it in my notebooks every day, trace it on the tables I bussed. After two months of alternating restrict-and-binge behavior, I got to 140 pounds in time for the holidays. I’m 5’11 and at a healthy BMI, but I gained a lot of weight Thanksgiving and Christmas. Two of my grandparents passed away during the season and my sisters kept on feeding me. I recently managed to get back to 140, but resorted to some bulimic habits to do so.

    When I binge, it’s worse. Binging is not fun. It’s characterized by helplessness and resignation and despair and anger. The taste of food I’m eating is contaminated. But I want to keep eating, keep eating, keep eating. What’s so painful and frustrating is that I don’t know whom to tell; I can’t reach out to my family, nor to my friends. I have difficulty making friends. Though I love people, I have difficulty relating to them. The few friends I have are very dear to me and I’m terrified to scare them off. While one friend does know about my eating struggles, she is away at college in another state. While she is my best friend, I do not want to alarm her. She’s surrounded by people whom adore her (rightfully so), and I am probably not her best friend. I don’t want to be too needy, or too clingy (family members have avoided my phone calls in the past because as you’ve probably figured from this post, I am emotionally exhausted). But I just ate a 1000 calorie meal, and want to keep binging.

    I have binged on ice cream to the extent that I can’t move, that I’ve felt like falling over to the side of the road on my way back home so that I can throw up. Sweets are my hardest point. I know better than to try and keep them in the house, but now my BED habits have spun so out of control I can’t keep any food of any kind in the house. I can’t get more than once-a-month therapy at my school, but is there anyone else going through the same thing that I can talk to? I promise I will listen fervently to you. Let’s beat this together. :)

    • Lindsay says:

      Hey Lauren!

      I am going through a very similar situation. Would love to be able to talk about it with you. I also feel like I can’t have any normal food in my apartment. I’m crazy about restricting for days and then bingeing into oblivion. I feel like I don’t have control over my body and it’s making me go crazy.

  17. Steph says:

    Hi All,

    I recently admitted to myself that I have a problem with food.

    I have been binge-eating for about 5 years now. It started when I went away to college my freshman year. I ended up not liking the school I was at and had a hard time making friends that stayed on the weekends. So instead of going out and being social, I stayed in my dorm room with my boyfriend and ate. About every weekend we would get a large pizza and a pint of ice cream and by morning there wouldn’t be any leftovers. He has the same addiction as I do.

    From there it progressed. A lot of my binges come from failed diets. I have always hated my body and the way I looked. I have tried juice diets, fasting, and any diet pill out there. Each of them ending in binges. Since college, I have gained a total of about 40 lbs. Last Spring I lost about 20 lbs and was feeling great. One weekend away led to a few weeks of binging and not exercising. I gained that 20 lbs back plus another 10. I am now the heaviest I have ever been and can’t seem to find a way to free myself. I find reasons and excuses not to go out and do things with friends because I’m ashamed of the way I look. Instead I stay home and eat. I have stolen my roommate’s food only to have to go out and buy more to replace it so she wouldn’t notice. I have snuck food in past my roommates, ashamed for them to see the amount I can eat. I have no willpower to stop eating once I start.

    Over the weekend I bought Sunny’s book. It was eye opening and made me realize that what I’ve been doing isn’t good for myself. I also learned that although I had felt like I was forever, I am not alone with this. There are tons of other girls who feel the same way I do. Every binge I had lead me to feel guilty, disgusted with myself, and ashamed. I no longer feel this way. I know that the relationship I have with food is an addiction. It controls my life. I want that to change in the worst way. It is freeing to know that I’m not the only one and there are others out there for support. It makes me feel like less of a freak.

    I am starting out on this journey and I am a little afraid. I’m worried that in a few days, I’ll want to binge and I’ll forget all about this book. I won’t care and my motivation will be gone. I can’t afford to gain any more weight. I already have stretch marks across my body and none of my clothes fit anymore.

    I am welcome to any advice people may have who have been through this or are going through this.

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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.