Do I Have an Eating Disorder?

By May 18, 2012

I am a 30 year old mom of 3 boys. All my life I have dealt with my weight. I come from an overweight family.  When I was 12 I became anorexic and lost nearly 100lbs in 9 months by not eating and over-exercising. My family stepped in and I saw a doctor and eventually I began eating normally. I did not have counseling though. I continued to exercise but not as obsessive as before. All through high school and college I continued this way. Then I got married and had 3 boys in 4 years. I gained weight with each child and did not lose the weight in between (who could have in that short of time!!) and I did not exercise. When my youngest was a baby I began to lose weight. I started by the hunger/fullness response. It worked fine and I lost 40lbs. We moved and I gained a little back. I began in earnest about 2 years ago to watch what I eat and exercise. I was about 180lbs.

I have kept a food diary and I feel I don’t let it rule me. We eat very healthy (five fruits and veggies a day, lowfat, whole wheat, lean meats), but its my exercise that worries me. I love to exercise. I always have. I’ve even considered getting certified to teach aerobics, but I know I have a tendency to become obsessed about it. I really feel I have lost my weight mostly in part to the exercise. I exercise 5 to 6 days a week for 40 to 50 min. I don’t really fear gaining weight, but I don’t want to do it either. I feel I am at a good weight for my frame (5’4″ 140 lbs) and wouldn’t mind losing 10 more lbs but I’m not obsessed with it. I feel like I am at a maintenance level.  Do I have an eating disorder? Do I need help? Thanks, Amy

Dear Amy,

First, I want to commend you for the progress you have made through the years—going from anorexia at a young age to truly seeking balance in your adult years. It sounds like you successfully broke a family pattern of unhealthy eating, and are working hard to model a positive relationship with food for your children. You are also trying to incorporate joyful exercise into your healthier lifestyle. You should feel proud of these accomplishments.

Upon reading your letter, it sounds like your issue probably isn’t obsessing over eating and exercise, so much as a fear of falling back into that mindset again. It appears you managed well in dealing with the extra weight gained during your pregnancies, but you need to ask yourself some questions.

  • In your quest to eat healthy, are you being overly restrictive in your choices? Read “What is Healthy Eating? ” to help answer this one.
  • In the same vein, even though you say it doesn’t rule you, why do you find it necessary to still keep a food diary? Food records can be an excellent learning tool, but over time, they can become a burden and make you become too food-focused.
  • Are you truly enjoying your exercise sessions, or do you find they are interfering with other things that are important in your life? From you letter, I think your answer to this would be “no.” You seem to be exercising a reasonable amount and like doing it, which is very positive.

The fact that you are asking if you have a problem or need help, is telling me that you need support and resources. First, have you read Constance’s book, Life Inside the Thin Cage? I think you would benefit from exploring disordered eating in more depth. You can compare your experiences and patterns with those described in the book. This will either give you confidence that you are on the right track, or tell you that you need to pursue counseling with a therapist. You want to be sure that there aren’t any unresolved issues carried over, especially since you did not go through counseling during your anorexia.

Once you are feeling confident and are sure that you are truly free from food, weight and exercise obsessions, then you will be ready to decide if you want to become a certified aerobics instructor. If you really love exercise as you say you do, it sounds like this could be a wonderful vocation for you.

Take care Amy!