eating disorder?
November 19, 2007 12:21 PM   Subscribe

I think I have an eating disorder, and I am not sure what to do next...

Basically, I am obsessed with food. I've always enjoyed cooking, reading and learning about food, and eating of course, but now I think that a former drinking problem has kind of transferred itself into an obsession with food and chronic overeating.

I was never a full blown alcoholic, but I kind of lived for the next social occasion where I could drink and I never really knew when to stop. Increasingly vicious hangovers (and graduating from university) curbed the drinking, but now I am teetering on the edge of clinical obesity and I think I need help. I am constantly thinking about my next meal, whether I am hungry or not, and I anxiously worry that the meal won't live up to my expectations. When I do eat, I always empty my plate no matter how large the portion, and if I am at home I will often snack immediately after a meal.My husband actually commented on it the other day for the first time and I was so embarrassed I started crying. The other day I was out with workmates and everyone was drinking and having fun and no one seemed particularly interested in organizing the three-block walk to the restaurant where we had reservations, and as the time of the reservation got closer I was so irritated and nervous that I just went home (picking up a large takeaway on the way, of course).

I know that a lot of this is based on my loneliness and alienation - I emigrated to the UK from the US last year to be with my husband, and I still feel lonely and out-of-place. I have never been to any kind of therapy, and I can't find much info about whatever eating disorder I might have (bingeing without purging, and general anxiety about food in general). I'll be seeking therapy through the NHS, so any advice about that will be appreciated as well.
posted by cilantro to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I have a family member who struggled with compulsive overeating, and it sounds fairly similar to what you're describing. She found it useful to attend Overeaters Anonymous meetings; I can't vouch for them as all I know is the limited amount this family member shared with me, but perhaps it would be useful for you attend a few meetings and see if it resonates. (Doesn't seem like you have much to lose by doing some information-gathering, at least.) It appears that they have meetings in different countries that you can search for here. Good luck.
posted by iminurmefi at 12:29 PM on November 19, 2007

Best answer: I cannot use hormonal birth control without behaving in a very similar manner (a pattern I never would have noticed had I not gone off for about a year and then back on; 4 days later I couldn't sleep because I was worried there wasn't "anything" to eat in the house). It would probably be in your best interest to see a physician and/or gynecologist and get a standard blood panel to test blood sugar and thyroid, as well as discuss your birth control if you're on it. That's not to say you shouldn't pursue therapy, simply that it will not do you as much good as it can if you are chemically driven to obsess over food.

The hormones were contributing fairly heavily to depression as well. A lot of people respond really well to lower doses, but I wasn't one of them.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:52 PM on November 19, 2007

it may not necessarily be an eating disorder as much as an anxiety disorder that you used to medicate with alcohol and now medicate with food.

but certainly, compulsive overeating is an eating disorder. i just think that if this is a new behavior to deal with an old feeling, then something else might be going on.

i would get an evaluation with a general psychiatrist. you don't have to seek out a specialist right away--just talk to an expert and they can help you get organized and go from there.
posted by thinkingwoman at 12:57 PM on November 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Have you gotten checked for diabetes?
posted by selfmedicating at 1:12 PM on November 19, 2007

Best answer: Firstly, you have my empathy. Here is what I did when facing a similar situation with food. IANAD, YMMV and all that stuff

I agree with everyone here that finding a good therapist is the first step - but be aware that you will need to ask them up front how they feel about food-based behaviors - I had a therapist once who didn't recognize them as a problem. But talking over your feelings about food can help relieve a little of the pressure you are feeling, as well as identify underlying causes and triggers. And it's great to talk to someone who doesn't expect anything back from you.

Next, I would go see a doctor - amen to Lyn Never's experience with BCP - I can't take them either because of how anxious and depressed they make me. Also, it would be good to make sure nothing is going on with your blood sugar or thyroid.

I dealt with my food addiction by cutting sugar out completely. Within 2 weeks, I had what I didn't think possible - a normal relationship with food. It's good, we have to eat it, we should enjoy it - but we should not feel controlled by it. It's a year and a half later, and I have never felt better. Wasn't easy, but it is doable. There are several good books out there detailing the sugar cycle and how it feeds into obsessive behaviors with food. I'll look some titles up and try to get back with them.

Best of luck to you!
posted by dirtmonster at 1:33 PM on November 19, 2007

There was an excellent, excellent episode of Frontline that dealt with dieting, obesity, and eating. We have a very hard time losing weight and sticking to diets because we are biologically programed to consume as many calories as possible (according to Frontline). And we have so many memories associated with comfort foods and childhood that it is very hard to change eating habits.

I recently lost 40 lbs. after gaining weight during grad school. I don't think I was compensating for a lack of something with food. I just loved the taste of rich foods and it got a little out of control. I read food blogs, food memoirs, and cookbooks religiously. Maybe I should stop because they fill me with too many ideas.

Here's how I lost the weight:
I began drinking a lot more water. Drink 8oz every hour and a big old glass 10 minutes before I am going to eat. That fills me up a lot. I left my debit card and cash at home when I went to work so that I wouldn't be able to buy shitty fast food during my lunch break. I brought things like sliced vegetables and soy beans to work to snack on. Then I began substituting a salad (with only a tiny bit of dressing and no cheese, croutons, bacon, etc.) for one meal a day. I also began to use an elliptical machine everyday, which is very easy on the joints and muscles. The calories just melt off when I'm that thing.

If you cheat on a meal, don't kick yourself for it. Just start over right away. It won't kill you if you eat a piece of cheesecake during a moment of weakness.

One problem I still have is starting over. What I mean is that if I cheat at lunch on Thursday, I'll just say to myself, "OK, today is ruined so I'll start over on Friday." Then I'll wake up with an urge to eat quiche that I can't suppress. So I'll eat it and think that since I ruined Friday, I may as well just start over again on Monday. If you fuck up, start over right away. That's my advice.

It does get easier after some time passes, but it's always a struggle. I think what makes dieting hard is that food gives instant gratification, whereas dieting takes much longer to yield visible results.

Good luck to you. It sounds like "liking food too much" isn't your main problem, and that there are some very serious psychological factors leading you to overeat. Therapy would definitely be something I would look into if I were you. T

A friend of my mother once told me that nothing tastes as good as being thin feels. I try to tell myself that every time I open the refrigerator door and am tempted to eat something bad. Once you do begin to lose weight, you'll feel so positive. I feel like a new person and get so much more pleasure out of life now. It's hard to eat veggies and shit like that, but it is SO worth it once you begin to see a measurable difference in your weight and appearance.
posted by HotPatatta at 1:34 PM on November 19, 2007

Here is my response to a similar question from a while back.
posted by essexjan at 1:35 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

And wherever you can, use Splenda instead of sugar to sweeten foods and if you can't live without some rich foods, buy something semi-comparable that is sugar free, low sodium, or fat free (e.g., sugar free cookies, fat free milk, etc.) Eat baked chips instead of fried. Don't eat dip with anything. DOn't drink juice or soda, have water or Crystal Light instead.

3500 calories = 1 pound. Soda and juice are about 150 calories each. If you cut out one soda a day, you'd lose more than a pound a month! Start thinking of food in those terms. Little changes can make a big difference.
posted by HotPatatta at 1:39 PM on November 19, 2007

You might take a look at Aimee Liu's website. Hideous design, but lots of good resources.

She's dealt with her own eating disorders for 40 years and in her most recent book, argues for a fuller, better understanding of yourself generally, not just how you react to food issues.
posted by dogrose at 1:46 PM on November 19, 2007

Best answer: I'm not terribly familiar with this particular end of the spectrum of eating disorders, but what you describe sounds a lot like what I heard in group therapy. It does sound as if you are a compulsive overeater, which can put a lot of strain on your body the longer it continues. From what you've said, it sounds as if food has become your friend - it's always there when you need it, no ice breaker necessary, no worries on what it thinks of you. It went with you from home to the UK, and makes you feel better.

Anxiety plays a large role in eating habits. Evaluate how you feel about food, and when you eat it - do you feel out of control when you eat? Would you feel the same if you overate on broccoli rather than takeout? Do you do this daily, all day, or only on bad days? Ask yourself similar questions and discuss them with your therapist.

It's excellent that you are seeking help, and certainly therapy will help you come to terms with what you are experiencing. But definitely see your physician as well - there may be an underlying reason for it, such as birth control or thyroid, as others have said, and also to ensure you haven't done any major damage to your body. Your next step after the doctors is to address the questions above to identify any triggers you may have to overeat, and try to eliminate them. Find ways to reward yourself and make yourself feel better that do not involve food - new pair of shoes, spa day, etc.

HotPatatta, please do not buy into the "nothing tastes as good as thin feels" mentality. Anorexics use that mantra to justify what they do, too. It's the easiest downward spiral of them all.
posted by sephira at 1:51 PM on November 19, 2007

Best answer: Oh, and tell your husband. It's okay to have support, and I'm sure he's concerned, considering what you wrote. It's not necessary to overcome this alone.

Best of luck to you. Email is in the profile if you need to talk to someone.
posted by sephira at 1:59 PM on November 19, 2007

Try the Shangri-La Diet. Seriously, nothing reduced my food obsession like a couple tablespoons of flavorless oil each day.
posted by kindall at 2:00 PM on November 19, 2007

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for all the responses! I actually have wondered about the birth control thing - unfortunately, without it, I have wildly erratic, incredibly painful periods that can last for 3-4 weeks. I've also wondered about diabetes - it runs in my family (mom, grandad, and aunt).I do love water and I drink tons of it- at least 8 pints a day, sometimes three pints with a meal if it's spicy- and it doesn't begin to affect my hunger. The only thing I ever drink besides water is the VERY occasional cup of black coffee and red wine when I go out which is pretty rare these days. Anyway, excessive thirst, excessive appetite, peeing all the time, all of those things are classic symptoms. I was tested a few years ago because of my thirst and peeing (before the eating became an issue) and I was fine, but I will definitely be tested again.

I also think I might try cutting out some foods to see if I have any of the 'triggers' that people are mentioning. I don't care for sugar, but I do love salty, crispy, vinegary things, fried food, pasta, and toast. Man do I ever love toast. I think the fried things need to go first, and then maybe the carbs (luckily I love vegetables, albeit vegetables smothered in butter or oil, so maybe it won't be too terrible).

I've actually considered Overeaters Anonymous as there's a sign for it at a nearby church, but as a rather, um, militant athiest,I don't think I could take any appeal to a higher power seriously at all, no matter how ambiguously it was defined. Not trying to start an off-topic argument about faith or twelve-step programs, just pointing out that I don't think it would be a good option for me.
posted by cilantro at 2:15 PM on November 19, 2007

I am a secret eater and compulsive eater as well. I have learned that there are whole aisles that I cannot walk down in food stores. I refuse to buy anything I might binge eat unless it's for a party, then I buy it that day and put it out about 15 minutes before the party starts. Even so, I struggle constantly with my weight and have been about 10 lbs. overweight my entire life, even when exercising on a daily basis.

One trick you might try is brushing your teeth every time you're hungry. It helps. I struggle with food myself on a daily basis and would give up several years of healthy life to feel "normal" like everyone else does about food... so, you know, if you ever need to talk, email me.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 2:16 PM on November 19, 2007

Best answer: cilantro, don't write off your bc just yet - just open that dialogue with your doctor so that s/he knows you need to know all your options. There's such a wide range of formulations available, you might not be on the best thing for you. Additionally, if you have erratic difficult periods plus the kinds of food obsessions that are not unusual to insulin resistance, you may need to pursue testing for PCOS. Doctors sometimes don't think about it until you show up with fertility problems, but the health implications are far broader than just that. Treatment sooner rather than later can radically effect a later diabetes diagnosis.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:35 PM on November 19, 2007

It sounds like you have a tendancy to be addictive - as you said, first alcohol then food. So you would definitely want to help from a therapist with learning to deal with that tendancy (it may have a genetic factor which means it will be hard work for you to get control over it.)

I think you would also benefit from social support in your effort as well. Why not try Overeaters Anon and see what kind of vibe they have? It's right there so you may as well go a couple time s(not just once because each meeting will be a little different).
posted by metahawk at 2:39 PM on November 19, 2007

A question about disordered eating seems like an exceedingly bad place to post dieting tips.
posted by occhiblu at 2:44 PM on November 19, 2007

Response by poster: Yes, I should mention that I have tried a load of diets, including south beach and shangri-la, tried eating salads for lunch every day (I just ate more when I got home), tried writing down everything I ate to keep track of calories, and all it did was make me nervous and anxious to the point of panic, so I would binge to calm the panic, and then I would feel disgusting and sick of myself for days after. So, at this point, I don't know if diets are the best idea. The only reason I can see myself able to cut out certain categories of food for a few days to test the 'trigger' idea is if I don't try to restrict myself in other areas (I think I could live without pasta and toast for a few days as an experiment as long as I had plenty of salted peanuts and asparagus with pancetta and roasted chicken and so on and so forth-I think I am almost looking at it as an excuse to eat even more of those kinds of foods.)
posted by cilantro at 2:59 PM on November 19, 2007

cilantro, I think the "triggers" that people are mentioning are emotional triggers, not food triggers.
posted by occhiblu at 4:01 PM on November 19, 2007

Another thing to try is this: Everytime you're tempted to binge/eat silly snacks, see if you can hold off for 20 minutes, and just write something. Write about "gosh, this is so dumb, I'm so annoyed with myself and I know it's a bad idea" or "I had the best day at work" or whatever, but just try to take 20 minutes (or 15 or 10) to make yourself aware of what you're thinking. Then go ahead and toss that paper out, if you like, and try and get on with your life. Sometimes this may involve snacking anyway, but thinking about what's going on in your head can give you the room you need to actually make decisions on this front.

And, yes, tell your husband. Have someone you can complain to when your social events with food seem like they're not going as planned. Have someone you can tell about your horrible day of peanuts and pancetta and whatever, and have him tell you you're pretty anyway, and you're not a bad person when things go wrong. Also, it's helpful to have someone around who just eats like a normal person. It's easy to get very, very confused about what normal eating is like, but with help and effort and support, you can get through these things.
posted by matematichica at 4:05 PM on November 19, 2007

A possible resource for you in finding a therapist is this list of Fat Friendly Health Professionals; there seem to be at least some psychotherapists on the list. Someone with experience in helping people learn how to listen to their body (and who's not going to give you diet advice) would probably be helpful in this situation.
posted by occhiblu at 4:20 PM on November 19, 2007

I wonder if you could be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

As the days get shorter, sufferers develop symptoms of depression, but

Unlike classically depressed patients, most SAD patients develop ‘atypical’ symptoms of increased fatigue, increased sleep duration and increased appetite and weight. Not only do SAD patients crave carbohydrates, but also they actually report eating more carbohydrate-rich foods in the winter.

Also, unless you moved to the UK from Alaska, you are probably significantly farther north than you were in the States, and the seasonal variation in day length is therefore correspondingly greater and the symptoms of SAD more severe.
posted by jamjam at 6:12 PM on November 19, 2007

as a fellow atheist, i am wondering if you couldn't do OA and think of the higher power as your "higher self"--the self inside you that isn't layered over with all the accumulated junk we have that makes us overeat/drink/get depressed...

sort of like your "Inner Healthy Being."
posted by RedEmma at 9:24 PM on November 19, 2007

As you're now in the UK, I'd look at some of the resources that beat (formerly the Eating Disorders Association) has to offer. Viz your last paragraph, this page explains about eating disorders other than anorexia and bulimia.
posted by boudicca at 1:24 AM on November 20, 2007

If it is COE (compulsive overeating disorder) you can go here for support.
posted by mjao at 2:42 AM on November 20, 2007

You could be me (or I could be you!) from reading your post.

I have always loved learning about, cooking and eating food; but when I moved to the UK several years ago, I comfort ate out of loneliness, depression and boredom and gained 1 1/2 stone which I am still trying to take off. It is safe to say that I became obsessed with food. I often have a vague fear that people will meet me and be like "typical fat american!" and I really have to resist the urge to tell everyone about how I didn't gain weight until I moved here and started comfort eating from the stress of it.

I think I am finally on the right track for losing weight and better still, am starting to feel at home in the UK. It was a long road for me and I struggled with depression for quite some time, so I can understand how you might feel. If you want to talk to someone about losing weight and perhaps "buddy-up" to lose weight together, feel free to email me anytime. If you want to talk to another expat about what it's like to adjust to living in England, I know about that too.

In any case, I wish you the best, I know it's not easy.
posted by triggerfinger at 12:05 PM on November 20, 2007

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