How Do You Describe Your Issues With Food? [HealthyGirl BookClub]

How do you label your issues with food?

Welcome to week 2 of the BookClub featuring on my book, Food: The Good Girl’s Drug! I wanted to talk about something in Chapter 1 again today—but I promise next week we’ll move along to Chapter 2. (For those of you who haven’t had a chance to get a copy you can read most of the first chapter in these excerpts here, here and here. And if you want to get a copy of the book, you can do that here.)

What I want to talk about today is labels: How you describe your relationship with food.

Labels and diagnoses can be helpful—both in getting medical or psychological help, and just in getting clarity in your own head about what’s going on with you. I remember when my first therapist told me when I was 16 years old that what I was doing with food had a name (“compulsive overeating” he called it), I felt immense relief. It was real! It wasn’t in my head! I wasn’t crazy! Well, maybe a little, but at least it was in a way that lots of other people were crazy too, you know?

So, let’s talk about the terms for the weird things we do with food and see which one(s) you relate to most:

Emotional eating: There’s really no official definition, but to me, this means that a person turns to food when upset or bored or when feeling any emotion that shakes them up. This person probably doesn’t have a full-blown eating disorder, but they rely on food often enough to work through stress or anger or other feelings that it’s upsetting.

Stress eating: See above

Loss-of-control eating: Experiencing a feeling of losing control when eating certain foods—you feel compelled to eat, eat, eat and often finish off much larger portions than you meant to. You feel as if you have no control over whether to stop or not.

Eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS): You struggle with obsessive thoughts and behaviors about food and your weight, but don’t have all the symptoms of anorexia or bulimia. Things like purging after eating small amounts of food, or bingeing then severely restricting, chewing and spitting, etc. Basically any disordered behavior that doesn’t neatly fit into one of the other eating disorder definitions.

Compulsive eating/food addiction: Bingeing on large amounts of food and feeling out of control while doing it, feeling compelled to eat by an urge that is almost too strong to fight.

Binge eating disorder: Frequently (at least a couple times a week) bingeing on large amounts of food, and feeling out of control while doing it, feeling disgusted, guilty, and distressed about the behavior afterward. Often paired with depression or anxiety (although not always), and often (although, again, not always) causes weight gain.

I think these labels and terms can be helpful in helping people realize that what they’re going through is real and helping them determine the right next steps to take in recovery. But at the same time, getting too hung up on words can be a distraction: Whether you meet the criteria for an official eating disorder or not, or whether you relate completely to any one of these above terms or all of them, if your overeating and food/weight obsession is causing you pain and problems in your life, you deserve to get better!

Do you believe you have binge eating disorder or EDNOS? Or are you an emotional eater? None of the above? What terms would you use to describe your personal issues with food? I describe mine by saying I am recovered from binge eating disorder. xo…Sunny

See you next Friday for BookClub! Moving on to Chapter 2. (If you have been reading the book and have any suggestions for particular sections or topics you’d like me to discuss here, please leave a comment or email me.)

[photo via briankennedy]

21 Responses to How Do You Describe Your Issues With Food? [HealthyGirl BookClub]

  1. Ashley says:

    Very helpful info! I am proud to say that I am none of the above. I eat when I am truly hungry.

  2. Ashanti says:

    Definitely an emotional overeater and loss of control eating. I still have my binges but I try to avoid them at any cost. It’s so exhausting to obsess over food the way I do and I hate talking about food and eating in social settings.

    • Ashanti says:

      I have my good eating days (where I eat when I’m hungry, stop when I’m full) and my bad eating days (weekends/family dinners/stress) and for me its more about me being aware of my eating and why I crave certain foods even when I’m not that hungry.

  3. Heather says:

    I think when I first realised I had a problem with food, I wouldn’t have fit any particular label, and therefore might have fallen into the EDNOS label. Looking back, anorexia was probably the closest fit.

    I wore that label with some pride for a long time afterwards - I had been anorexic. I had been THIN. I wore that label well into my time when a more accurate one was BED. I began bingeing for a period, and then just generally over-eating, with periods of bingeing.I felt far more comfortable identifying as a former anorexic because it allowed me to disown the body I was then living in. I hated it and I hated me even more for ‘letting myself go’ again.

    Today, I binge extremely rarely and what I characterise now as a binge for me, wouldn’t necessarily look like a binge to other people. I would say that I over-eat and struggle with food sometimes, but it doesn’t have the same power as it once did. I am still not comfortable or happy with my body, but I know I can’t diet because it’s not healthy for me either. My body is over it’s natural weight, but it is probably not a million miles away.

    I am working out where the middle ground is and how to get there. My happiness and mental health is more important to me than how I look, though there are times I forget this and need a reminder.

    A label doesn’t feel all that comfortable now because I am working on moving forward from disordered eating.

    I’m not working towards recovery; I don’t like the label. It suggests, to me, that that’s it. I’d be done with it and it’d never happen again. I feel like this is an unrealistic, all-or-nothing goal and I’d rather accept that this is a work-in-progress and it’s something I may be susceptible to at times, but that it is okay because I will keep on moving on.

  4. karie says:

    Hi there! I’m new to this webiste. I have been dealing with binge eating for the past 10 years. Actually I just binged last night and I feel pretty bad right now. Anyways, I binge over so many different reasons. I’m an emotional binger where I eat when I’m sad or lonely to try and escape those feelings. I use food as a means to control whats going on in my life. I limit calories and types of foods and stick with a strick exercise regimen as a mean of control but I realize that i’m not in control.

    When I eat the slightest bit off of my routine, it sends me into a panic and I binge out. For a few minutes I feel free and binging is such a release but then the guilt, sadness, regret, fullness sets in and reality and all of those feelings I was trying not to feel come back. I’m currently amazed at how I can relate to so many of the stories in your book. Its nice to know i’m not alone. I’m so sick of food controling my life. It takes so much energy. All I think about is what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat. Sorry, I’m rambling but I just need to vent. I really feel like i’m a little of all of those categories in one way or another. I really just want to be normal again.

  5. Nicole says:

    I would definitely categorize myself as having a loss of control while eating and being a compulsive eater.

    My binges are erratic and often I can’t ID exactly what’s bothering me but the urge to binge is so strong that to just give in brings a huge sense of relief. As I learn more (from books like yours and others) my binging has become less frequent because I can take a second to ask myself what I’m doing and what the outcome will be. That has helped immensely. Deciding to accept my body for what it is has also taken the pressure off to be perfect.

    I believe that all of these things will one day come together to end the urges to binge entirely.

  6. Jen says:

    Oh, binge eating disorder for sure. I started to read the book on the airplane to and from a blogging conference. I am really enjoying it. I started with stealing cookies as a kid and it escalated from there.

  7. Danielle says:

    I kind of feel like I could be any and all of the above descriptions. I binge at times in response to emotion or to block them out, at times I feel compelled to eat. Then I can be obessesive about healthy food. I am either the Take-way Queen or the Food Nazi, from pizzas and currys to raw food vegan. It’s insane. Whatever the label is, all I know is that my eating is disordered and I am tired of being like this. I am tired of food being my whole life and at the same time feel terrifed at the idea of not having my binge food to support me going forward. The insanity we put ourselves through as women, it’s just crazy.

    I truly wish I could accept and love myself no matter what my size, and eat food because I’m hungry and not because it is ‘good’ or ‘bad, but right now that seems a long way off.

  8. Lauren says:

    For me, I’ve always had an obession with being thin. I’m a perfectionist and I associate being thin with being perfect. I don’t think I’m good enough or even worthy enough if I don’t meet my ideal standard. In high school, I remember always restricting what I ate, but never to the point where I could be considered anorexic. I did it to maintain my weight. I do remember having a few episodes where I had small binges (although I didn’t know what that was at that point) but those were because I was hungry and I had deprived myself for so long.

    The actual bingeing didn’t really start until college and started as purely emotional eating. I started throwing up after I would binge but that would only make me feel slightly better. It never really helped. I would obsessively exercise after the binges and restrict for days until I couldn’t take it anymore, at which point I would binge again and start the cycle all over again. This fall I started taking ADD meds and I lost about 15 pounds in a month. I was bony and I loved how I looked, although I kept thinking that I just needed to lose 5 more pounds and then I would be set. I went off the medication a few weeks ago because the side effects were awful and now that I’m home for the summer, I don’t need it to concentrate in class. Going off the meds only made me binge and purge more.

    I’ve had all sorts of sports injuries and have gained weight as a result of bingeing and not being able to exercise like I used to. I’m not overweight by any means, but I hate how I look. I’m pressuring myself to wear jeans that I’ve had since I was 16 (I’m 20 now) and even though its totally unrealistic, I think I’m a failure because my hips are too big to fit into them. I’m really trying to accept my body and hopefully the bingeing will slow down once I can truly accept and love myself. It’s really hard though!

  9. Christina says:

    I would describe my relationship with food to be both emotional eating and binge eating. I started emotional eating at the age of 8, when my parents split up and my Mom would give me cookies or treats to make me feel better - because food made her feel better. From that point forward, I have been overweight and unhappy with my body. I eat when I’m happy, sad, angry, anxious, upset, stressed, etc; and I binge when I feel even more out of control. I just read your book while on vacation - and it made me realize that I need help and that I’m not the only person who does this. I am going to re-read the book along with your book club, and hopefully find a therapist to continue helping me.

  10. Eliza says:

    I would say I have a tendency to eat emotionally sometimes (often), though I’m working on that. Sunny’s book is helping, for sure! I’ve had a few episodes where I feel out of control when eating, not so much with the amount, but with my choice of what to eat. The feeling that I’m doing something I don’t really want to do but I can’t stop is scary. I think those episodes have happened more when certain foods are on my forbidden list.

  11. Camila says:

    I would say i fit in EDNOS more into bulimia than to anorexia. I hope this wont get any farther

  12. Amelia says:

    I definitely believe that I have an eating disorder, and pretty much everything you’re saying describes me. I couldn’t have found this site at a better time. I just read all the book excerpts and posts out here, and I’m about to order a copy of the book. I need help, and I don’t know where to get it. I’m tired of this. I’m 30 years old, and it seems like I have been unable to control the amount of food I eat since I was 8 or 9. The problem worsened in Middle School when I would eat and eat and eat to ease the pain I was feeling. As an adult, I have bounced between 240 pounds and 140 pounds! I am too exhausted to start another diet, and I almost feel like giving up on myself. I would describe myself as a chronic binge/dieter. It seems like I’ve spent my life either being GI-Jane on a gung-ho exercise regime and 1,200 whole foods diet, or a huge, lazy, powerless, weak slug - eating and eating uncontrollably huge amounts of food without the power to stop myself. Because of this problem, I feel that I’m living at about 20% of my potential. I am ashamed, scared, and alone.

  13. KLA says:

    I developed bulimia shortly after leaving competitive sports. A few years later, without psychological support, I stopped purging, but the obsession, feelings of guilt, shame and deprivation continued as well as episodes of binge eating.

    I finally got help last year. My cognitive therapist told me I have EDNOS. Which makes sense since I remained untreated for bulimia. I’ve known for a long time that there was something wrong with me, so its comforting in a way to confirm my suspicions. The fact that EDNOS is a catch-bucket label for various eating disorder symptoms doesn’t bother me (although I haven’t thought about it much).

    Up until last year, I thought I was an emotional eater, but I’m not. My eating issues stem from all the anxiety I have developed with food from two decades of serial dieting trying to control my weight and eating disorder.

  14. Julie says:

    Binge Eating Disorder is my label. I wish it wasn’t. But I feel that because I have such depression afterwards and I’m kind of out of it while i’m Binging, that this label fits me well. Just last week I had 4 gigantic cookies each close to 500 calories, in one sitting right after lunch at work. i hid one of the cookies at my desk and kept picking at it while hiding it behind my computer because our office has an open floor no door layout. i remember thinking, the guy who sits next to me probably is seeing that i’m eating this cookie (of which he didn’t know was my 4th of the 3 i had scarfed down after lunch just before getting back into the office). but the hiding of the cookie and the fact that it was only 1 cookie that could be seen or maybe not seen made me feel better since i had quickly shoved 3 of them into my face. i ran 6 miles and did a 45 minute workout with my trainer that evening. i didn’t eat dinner. i have been withdrawn from my husband. i told him that i stress ate this past week and that i feel pretty bad about my body. and that i’m so tired of myself that i wish so badly i would be paper thin and almost invisible. but then i also want to be strong and alive and engaged with life rather than consumed with food. i remember that what started the binge on thursday of last week is that i had bread and butter with my lunch as i went out to meet a friend who is so skinny she can eat a house and still be a twig. she was eating bread and butter and i just said “screw it” i’m eating that even though it’s a trigger food of mine. and then i just wanted the lunch to end so that i could go eat in secret, while walking, cookies or carbs or something that is my trigger because i was already a failure for having eaten bread and butter. this is me at 37 years of age. i am so disappointed in myself.

  15. melissa says:

    I feel I fit into many of those categories but Binge Eating would probably be the most accurate. I binge for so many reasons but a big one is being overwhelmed. I have three children, two of which are very young, and my husband and I are having a very hard time financially, juggling bills every month just to keep our heads above water.

    Additionally, I am a perfectionist, especially when it conerns my body. There is not a day that goes by that I do not criticize my body and all it’s imperfections.

    I am at a crossroads in my life. I am sick of beating myself up and being out of control with my eating. I want to get better and be able to enjoy life more. Most of all I do not want to pass this disease on to my children. I do not want my daughters to hate their bodies and waste precious hours obsessing over them.

    I just want to get better. I have started reading “Food: The Good Girls Drug” and I have to say, it feels good to know I am not alone. I feel like I am reading my own story. Thank you for this book, I feel it is the beginning of recovery for me and I feel there is finally hope for me.

  16. Mari says:

    I would say I have BED, although I have fallen other places on the spectrum depending on where I was in my life. Like many other readers have suggested, it is exhausting and I want to stop. I’m so sick of the cycle of feeling unhappy, binge eating and then feeling even worse. Some days I just feel I need a helping hand out of this cycle to get back on my own two feet again.

  17. Greta says:

    I’m 16 years old and think that I have an obsession with food. I think about it when I’m not eating it, eat it when I’m bored or emotional even when I’m not hungry, and sometimes will eat uncontrollably as described for the binge eating disorder. I feel like I’ve always suffered with these problems. My mother was anorexic when she was my age, but I could never give up the thing that I love the most :)
    You wouldnt’ be able to tell I have such a struggle with food by looking at me. I’m within a healthy weight range for my height, and don’t appear to be fat. That’s because once my body gets to a point where I can’t bear to look at myself in the mirror, I work out and eat less, but once I get my body back into shape, I go back right into the habbit of going to food for confort. I’m stuck in a loop, and as far as I’m aware, there’s no way of getting out.

    • Charlotte says:

      it sounds like we have the same problem.. I’m also in a healthy weight range so that no one would suspect anything but struggle the same way as you do. It’s so sad and so frustrating :( I want it finally to stop!!!

  18. Charlotte says:

    Dear Sunny,

    First of all I want to thank you. I’ve been reading your book and picking up some really helpful tips.. I am 18 and finally want food to stop ruling my life!!! I’ve had an eating disorder for 3 years, but I’ve gotten over the worst bit. Fought bulimia off myself (that’s over for over a year..). I think I suffer from black and white thinking, I feel like I don’t think I listen to my body and to my hunger signals. I constantly want to “control” what I eat, even when I’m binging. Just now I “binged” on a muffin, 3 cookies and 2 slices of cake. It’s like that I’ll remember precisely what I’ve eaten every day and scrutinise it. No matter if it’s healthy, or unhealthy, or too much or too little. I just want to stop thinking about food and I want it to finally stop dictating my life. What can I do? I know it has to do with having a perfectionist streak but I don’t know how just to let go ?! HELP :(

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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.