Can I eat?
December 16, 2011 1:33 PM   Subscribe

YANMDoT, but I think I may be developing an eating disorder. Potentially triggering description inside.

Um. So. I'm female, 30s, BMI-obese. In the last almost-two years, I've lost somewhere around 50 pounds. My goal is to lose 30-50 more. (This would put me in the low end of overweight/high end of normal BMI, so it's not a disordered goal.) Recently, I've fallen slightly off the diet wagon, then Thanksgiving came up, and I dove off the rest of the way.

I'm eating things I know will make me gain weight. I can't stop myself-- I eat and eat and eat. And not the good stuff. I like very few vegetables, and I find eating veggies and fruits unsatisfying. I miss eating whatever the hell I felt like, even though it made me fat. At the same time, I'm scared of all the eating I'm doing. I feel like I can't control it, because "hey, it's the HOLIDAYS" and I should take this opportunity to indulge before it goes away.

I'm having unhealthy impulses, such as denying myself meals after stuffing at lunch. Yesterday I started researching ways to make myself throw up, because finger down the throat has never worked for me. I am avoiding the gym because HOLIDAYS and because I can't meet my exercise goals, and I am frustrated.

Today was our holiday lunch. I had a chicken Caesar salad with a medium amount of dressing, which looked like the healthiest choice. (Despite my hate-on for green leafies, I love Caesar salad.) Then I ate dessert, which was mostly sugar. Now I'm full, and I'm scared to be full. I have a family dinner coming up tonight, and I'm contemplating not eating at all, even though it will be commented on. I have the impulse to purge, and if I had a way I knew would work, I would.

I am on an antidepressant and a mood stabilizer already. I had an anxiety episode that lasted a good portion of 2011, and only in the last few months has stabilized. I was diagnosed as bipolar at the beginning of the year, which was new. I need to start therapy for other weight-related anxiety (fear of losing too MUCH weight and no longer recognizing my body) but now that this new urge has popped up, I don't know what to even begin to address. I'm scared and confused and all I know is I don't want to gain all that weight back, but eating is wrong and not eating is wrong and any middle ground seems impossible to achieve given my fruit/vegetable issues. I don't know what to do.

If you have advice that you don't want public, please MeMail me. Thanks.
posted by corvus agitator to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You should talk to your doctor/therapist sooner rather than later, especially if you think or suspect that things are escalating.
posted by jquinby at 1:37 PM on December 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's ok not to eat if you're full. That is totally normal and your family can shove it (in the nicest possible way of course). You are under NO obligation to eat until you feel sick so your mom stops tut-tutting at you. Really. My mom does that too but if you say no 1700 times she gets it.

What you describe sounds pretty normal to me, honestly. Most regular weight people eat to the point of uncomfortable fullness over the holidays and everyone pushes food on everyone despite that. An urge to skip a meal after a huge holiday lunch puts you totally, 100%, slap bang in the middle of the normal healthy person way of doing things. You are not a freak.

If you are actually considering learning to purge to deal with one meal with your family because otherwise they will "make comments" you should take a big deep breath and think about what the real issue is. If you can articulate the problem I know people here will walk you through good ways to cope. It's only a few hours.

You can always fake illness, that's what is do because my mom is pushy.
posted by fshgrl at 1:52 PM on December 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, fshgrl. I started considering learning to purge last week, not just because of one meal, but because of all the meals that have come before and the ones that will come after. I can deal with my family-- I've been handling their weight issues for years. (Why aren't you eating? Just one bite! No, don't eat THAT! I think it's wonderful you're losing weight! Come on, eat something!)

It's my partner's birthday tonight, so no faking illness allowed.
posted by corvus agitator at 1:59 PM on December 16, 2011

Don't learn to purge, learn to tell the people you have meals with to mind their business. You should never comment an anyone else's food except to say "that looks delicious!". Anything else is ill mannered, ignore it.

Don't ever punish yourself to teach other people to be nicer to you. It won't work.
posted by fshgrl at 2:05 PM on December 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

Wanting to become healthier and break the disordered-eating cycle is a huge, huge first step.

The other crucial part of this is forgiving yourself. No matter what you do, no matter how much or how little you eat or how you try to compensate for it, you didn't fail and you're not fucked up. Eating disorders tend to make your thinking black-and-white and harshly judgmental. Learning to view food and your appetite without judgment is a long process, but it's crucial.

A therapist will help you immensely. Make sure you see one who has experience with eating disorders, and who doesn't make you feel like you're being judged. If you're worried about what issue to tackle first, it's okay - go and start with the first thing that comes up, and the rest will fall into place.

In the short run, though, the holidays are hard. So much food, and if you have a regular workout schedule it usually gets all messed up from the traveling and partying. I'm not looking forward to navigating those waters, either. It helps me, though, to keep in mind that if I gain a few pounds over vacation or get out of the exercise habit, I'll be able to get back to my old self in a couple weeks if I go back to doing what I did before. There's no need to go on any sort of crash diet or start making insane New Year's resolutions, just go back to your normal ways and things will even out.

Good luck. Be kind to yourself, and enjoy yourself!
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:11 PM on December 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

Don't ever punish yourself to teach other people to be nicer to you. It won't work.


And honestly, although you have food issues your post reads to me as though anixiety/OCD are using the diet and exercise worries as a way to blow up.

Don't be defensive - your goals sound just fine to me and your goals are your goals and no one's business.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 3:29 PM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

And honestly, although you have food issues your post reads to me as though anixiety/OCD are using the diet and exercise worries as a way to blow up.

This is what I wanted to say. I don't really have food issues but when I have anxiety anything is possible. I've definitely lost weight from not eating due to anxiety, got weird about what I ate and made weird rules about it due to anxiety, and everything else. Due to anxiety.

However, I'm not a therapist or your therapist so it's not at all a bad idea to consult with one to sort this out.
posted by sweetkid at 3:38 PM on December 16, 2011

I don't think that these thought are that far from normal for most people trying to lose a lot of weight. Everyone I know that is trying to lose weight thinks these things sometimes. Losing weight is hard work; that's why there are a hundred weight-loss infomercials on everynight. We all know having black coffee, dry toast, a piece of fruit and a boiled egg might be a healthy breakfast but pancakes with syrup and bacon is a delicious breakfast. Same with lunch, a nice salad with chicken and fat-free dressing, good for me, a pastrami reuben, not so much, and it's the same with dinner. Trying to be good, trying to have occasional treats, wanting to join a friend for drinks or dinner - it's a struggle to balance it all. Accept that.

You can lose weight on any plan, weight watchers, jenny craig, nutrisystem, and many more IF you can stick with it. And that's the rub, sticking with it. Accept that it's hard and that there will be good days and bad. Do you have a weight loss buddy you can talk to when things get difficult? Consider Overeaters Anonymous and Weight Watchers. WW has online message boards that can be helpful for encouragement and of course there are meetings.

You already know purging is bad news. It's dumb, dangerous and won't help you lose weight. Consider working with a nutritionist or dietician to learn interesting ways to have fruits and vegetables, for instance, broccoli, spinach and other veggies can be pureed in pasta sauce. Consider ethnic foods, like Indian or Ethiopian, for new ways to prepare veggies.

This time of year is hard and going through a bad patch doesn't have to negate all your hard work. This is the eating season, it starts with Halloween. Then there's Thanksgiving and then food starts showing up at the office as Christmas looms, you eat out when shopping, it's year end and work is busy, all sorts of things like this. Try not to go overboard, drink lots of water, maybe find one thing you can consistently do, healthy breakfast or but don't make yourself crazy. Do your best but don't beat yourself up. Work out even if you aren't meeting your goals. Don't make it all or nothing. You don't have to be perfect.
posted by shoesietart at 3:48 PM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Ancel Keys starvation study showed that people develop somewhat eating disordered thoughts and behaviors (everything from eating really slowly and hoarding cookbooks to purging) from restricting calories and losing a decent percentage of your body weight. While I'm not familiar with further studies that prove my intuition, I think this holds even if you are starting at a higher weight than the "normal" the subjects were.

My advice would be to take a break from weight loss until 2 weeks into the new year. So many reasons! First, an e/d thought is usually one big red flag to pause - listening to it will only compound the issue. Second, dieting over the holidays is terrible. Third, if you find yourself currently overeating, you will probably eat less overall if you take the "diet" mentality off and don't feelings surrounding all of the food in front of you. Fourth, weight loss is about the long term behaviors, not the short term "mistakes", as long as you pick yourself back up. You can take a break, a long break, and maintain or gain a few even and still stay on track. Finally, if your body is a bit freaked out by having lost so much recently, a month of eating more calories will do some work to mitigate that. I say 2 weeks into the new year also just because so many people get into that mentality of "must start Jan 1" and then get freaked out that it is not as natural a starting point as OCD number obsession would suggest.

As for your question, is this an eating disorder, I agree with people that it seems more like an obsessive thought, because an eating disorder diagnosis is usually about a long term pattern of behavior that a person can't stop. But I would urge you not to get hung up on diagnostic labels here. Overeating in an out-of-control way can be disordered eating; it's not necessarily a full-blown eating disorder, but it's on a continuum of disorganized eating and could lead to further issues especially if it's in an unstable context like a diet. Your thoughts are a concern for future problems only if you choose to act on them. I mentioned that acting out eating disordered thoughts like purging compounds them. Purging will lead you to want to eat more which will lead you to want to purge...and that's when you're really stuck. It rarely ends up being very helpful for weight actually. It's not sustainable and the health problems associated with it suck. You end up stuck in this little eat-puke world.

Lots of good advice here. The stuff about not having to be perfect and not being all-or-nothing and forgiving yourself were so integral to finding my eating equilibrium. I hope you can enjoy or at least cope with the rest of "the eating season".
posted by decathexis at 4:22 PM on December 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

This may seem like a stretch, you have any problems with seasonal affective disorder (feeling down in the winter)? I do and one of the symptoms I get is being unable to stop eating, mostly bad food like carbs.
posted by unannihilated at 5:07 PM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

You say that you need to start therapy for earlier eating issues, and that's true. You also need to start therapy for these new out-of-control anxiety eating issues, too. So, really you DO know what to do. Start therapy for eating and anxiety issues.

While I agree with folks that some of these feels normalish because I've been thinking the same way this week, I also know it feels really, really crappy. You don't need more crappy. Talk to your GP or psychopharm or Somebody about finding a therapist sooner rather than later who has experience with ED. You can feel better!
posted by ldthomps at 5:38 PM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

One thing that helped with my self-injury issues (and to a certain extent, other ones as well) is that this is not a restart, or destroying everything that came before. It is a relapse. In my case I reframed the incident as 'one rrelapse in eight years' rather than 'destrtoyed four years of work, had to start over'.

Holidays suck for food related things. I love love love food, but the holidays makes it hard to maintain love rather than obsessive consumption. I have decded to control what i can (eat as healthy as possible at home, and brown bagged liunch) but let the rest slide. It isn't ruining anything, its just a small relapse.
posted by geek anachronism at 7:25 PM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

> I'm having unhealthy impulses, such as denying myself meals after stuffing at lunch

I hear what you say that maybe this is a self-punishing impulse and thus unhealthy in risking patterns of disordered eating, but on the other hand I think, well, maybe that isn't unhealthy, just like maybe skipping breakfast isn't unhealthy. Maybe you could skip meals earlier in the day and enjoy your big meal later. I recently switched to something called intermittent fasting, which is a thing that goes along with strength training and fat loss (I posted about it recently on the blue), and I feel great (and losing fat!) because I don't obsess about food most of the day, and then I get a couple of big and rich meals. Maybe such a program would work for you. Not if you don't like meat, though. Maybe you have cravings from having a restrictive diet for quite a while? The binge urge is normal evolutionarily it seems, but eating differently can help manage it, I find. (Strength training also gives a killer endorphin boost and helps you burn extra calories as well, if you want to add that into the mix.)

By the way, I just want to say, even if you let it all slide for the holiday season and just pig out and gain weight, it's not the end of the world. Just love yourself and be kind. At the very least, enjoy a guilt-free rule-breaking indulgence once in a while.
posted by Listener at 7:40 PM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have, in the last two years, lost a quarter of my total body weight and am currently 10 lbs from my original goal and sub-20% body fat.

Along the way, I have sometimes had thoughts like yours; although I recognized in the moment that it was a bad plan, it sometimes felt like that would be better than continuing to digest the crap I had just put inside myself.

There were a number of things that helped me past it, in no particular order:

1. Acknowledging the thought - I told my husband about how badly I felt and didn't let the thoughts/food I felt guilty about fester by ignoring it. I also told him when I was craving and wanting stuff, and he helped me acknowledge it and 'wait', which usually meant it went away.

2. Nutrients - This article on food cravings from nutrient deficiencies was enlightening and very helpful. I eat a lot of sunflower seeds (Trader Joe's has them cheap, shelled) because they have plenty of nutrients. I also take fish oil, vitamin D, and B complex (plus some others including iron) because I feel way better when I do.

3. Tracking progress by measurements, not weight - this helped when I would gain muscle and subsequently freak out because the scale value went up. Getting body fat calipers helped a lot because then I could track fat and lean body mass separately.

4. Low-carb, high-fat

I'm a big fan of keto, having begun to eat along the ultra-low-carb ketogenic diet last April. Besides the fact that I eat delicious, filling foods without feeling restricted, the mood stabilizing effect of low-carb has done wonders for me. I used to be very anxious, but as long as I stay away from carbs, I am a lot calmer and more stable.

If you do this, keep up your electrolytes and salt. FYI, caesar salad (with full-fat dressing) is totally compatible minus the croutons. The fat literally melts off me whenever I follow it strictly.

I no longer follow it as strictly as I did early on; from May til June, I didn't follow it at all and stagnated in the mid-180s until I kickstarted it again. Luckily, the LCHF food is so tasty and filling that I actually get full and am almost never hungry (I used to get ravenously hungry).

Keep in mind that body composition is more about nutrition and less actual exercise. I haven't "worked out" in at least a month now, but my muscle definition keeps improving as my body fat percentage decreases.

A good couple of lines to keep in your pocket for social situations:

"Oh, no thanks - I'm not hungry." or "I ate not too long ago."

It sucks that you are surrounded by people with pushy, mixed messages. Definitely find someone to talk to - feel free to PM me if it'd help!
posted by bookdragoness at 7:42 PM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

And just rereading your post, I see you have fear about potentially not recognizing your body. I can totally relate to that. However, I have found that strength training puts me really in touch with my body like never before. If you can learn about the basics of strength training and do some (NOT TOO MUCH - 15 mins or so 3x a week is enough) then you can get a lot of security from that, as I have.
posted by Listener at 7:44 PM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

One thing I do when I want to eat something that's junk food is tell myself it's ok as long as I eat something healthy (fruit or veggie wise) first. I figure I'm probably going to breakdown and eat whatever I'm craving eventually but at least this way I'm getting something with more vitamins/minerals first. It helps me eat a little less of whatever junk food I'm craving (Looking at you, swiss roll with sugar cream so delicious that the cat wants some).
A lot of your thoughts are pretty common for people, especially for women during the holidays but wanting to purge is kind of worrying. It seems like your anxiety is kicking into high gear with all your worry about gaining weight. Therapy sounds like something you were interested in doing anyway. This could be a good time to go ahead with it.
posted by stray thoughts at 1:29 AM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Intuitive Eating might be something helpful to look into for you.

And yes, therapy.
posted by bunderful at 8:47 AM on December 17, 2011

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