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