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Teen Stuck In Disordered Eating Cycle

By February 22, 2013

Hello, here is my story. I am 16 years old and have struggled with a disordered eating cycle since I was in the 6th grade, and before that, I did not have the best of eating habits, nor diet. The shortened explanation of my dieting background is this: I was overweight. I lost weight by counting and keeping a record of my daily calorie intake. I knew the calorie intake of all that I ate, even when eating out. This habit lead to years of disordered eating, from anorexia to bulimia, to where I am kind of stuck at this point. My diet now involves me counting the number of calories I eat everyday and keeping a record throughout the day in my cell phone notepad. Usually I will only eat something if I know the number of calories are in it (sometimes I will take a guess). I do not eat regular meals, I just go by my restricted calorie intake (when I want to lose weight I’ll restrict myself to 1,200…maintain weight 1,600). Once I meet this number, I will not eat anymore for the rest of the day so that I do not gain any fat. About a month ago, I was struggling with dieting and compulsive eating cycles (eating until I cried I was so full) and exercise addiction. My grades sucked, I no longer ate meals with my parents, I gave up all that I enjoyed doing, I would get stuck in situations where I could not go out to movies or hang out with my friends, I got distracted from my relationship with God, and I even quit texting/talking/keeping in touch with friends and the people in my life I dearly love so very much. It’s still kind of awkward talking to friends and family, because of the walls I built so high. I still do exercise, I just love to stay active. I dream that I would be good at sports, or was an athlete, however it has never happened. Ha-ha! I was working out every single day, but now I’m only doing it 5 days a week. I love power walking and working out on my mini trampoline while listening to my iPod as silly as it probably sounds. I’ll find workouts in magazines for different things, and I’ll do those. This has also been a problem with me. However, I’ve gotten to where I no longer hang my head in shame the next day or freak out if I miss a workout. Last night I decided to “dare” myself to eat one of my dad’s (which means seriously calorie overloaded) chocolate chip oatmeal cookies that he had made. I did and it tasted so good I the whole plastic bag, and I didn’t freak out about it, nor am I hanging my head in shame today, I’m still alive and living and thankful for even having that privilege to eat dessert. I can not say that it’s 100% not bothering, because I did take a rounded guess on the number of calories I probably ate yesterday, and the number is still kind of haunting me. I know I’ll probably be gaining about 5 lbs (at the most anyway) and I have a big reunion with my friends in a little less than 4 weeks from now, so yeah it’s bothering me just a little bit, but I’m not freaking out or planning crazy diet antics. I have been and am seeking to find balance and peace and a break from all of this (having to count those calories everyday, it just does not feel right). It’s what I want more than anything right now. It is not easy, and it has been taking some time, and lots of prayer. My question though, do you think it would be a good idea to eventually seek a nutritionist to help me learn and help me with eating? My mom has been helping me already. It’s self control that I guess I’m battling with right now…I think…I’m not really sure…it’s all really frustrating. If you have any advice at all or anything, please help me. Thanks for everything! I love you all God Bless all of you! And Constance and her book (I’m reading right now).  – Natalie

Dear Natalie,

I am so glad that you wrote to us seeking advice. You are young and obviously very bright. There is a future ahead that will be interesting, purposeful and free of disordered eating.

Your story is very typical of those who struggle. When a young person starts to diet, they significantly increase their risk of developing disordered eating. You know all too well the feelings of obsession, fear, depression and social isolation. You developed an “all or nothing” mindset, swinging from very restrictive eating to bingeing.

I am so proud of you for taking steps toward finding balance and peace. Even though you may feel awkward at times with your friends and family, keep spending time with them and it will get easier. I definitely think you would benefit from seeing a nutritionist who has experience counseling those with disordered eating. He or she will help you learn to eat healthfully—without obsessive calorie counting. This person could also guide you as you try to find balance in your physical activity. See “Finding a Nutritionist” for suggestions on how to locate someone in your area. In the meantime, you would also get a lot out of the book HEAL by Allie Marie Smith and Judy Halliday.

(Just as an aside, I think you greatly overestimated the weight gain that might have occurred after you ate the bag of cookies. Again, a nutritionist who is a registered dietitian could clear up any misconceptions you might have, as well as help you find that middle ground where you can learn to enjoy a cookie or two, without eating the whole bag.)

If you are not already doing so, I would also recommend that you see a therapist who specializes in eating disorders, to get at the root causes of your thoughts and behaviors. You are making some positive progress, but a professional can help you work through your lingering frustrations and worries, so you can truly break free. See “Finding Treatment” if you need direction.

When we are in the midst of disordered eating, we can feel distant and alienated from God. Know that He is always with you—and wants to heal you. Following the above suggestions will allow Him to do just that. Keep praying and walk in faith.

Blessings,
Ann

Proverbs 3:5-6