Not Thin Enough

By October 2, 2012

I am a thirty one year old woman who is not overweight and not underweight. I feel obsessed by weight, the scale and food. It controls my life. I use exercise to “burn” off any unwanted calories. Food that I eat that I don’t deem safe, has to be gotten rid of. I really have a hard time purging, so I use exercise to try to get rid of my extra weight. I work out once or twice a day for one to two hours at a time. This doesn’t seem like enough to me, but often I am too sore to go on. This is becoming all consuming to me, and I can’t get past it. I have two daughters, and am terrified that this will be passed off to them. Sometimes it doesn’t seem that bad, and I think I may not really have a problem, but most times it takes over. I avoid places and parties that have a lot of food, because I’m afraid I will lose control and binge, and then won’t be able to get rid of it all. I am afraid to go on vacation with my husband and children, because then I have to wear a bathing suit. This obsession is taking over my life, and I don’t know how to stop it. Please help. I am already thin, just not thin enough. If I lose control, then I may starve myself for a few days to ensure I counteract all the binging I did. This is such an unhealthy thought pattern, and I don’t know how to stop. – T.L.

Dear T.L.,

You have well described the frustration of COMPULSION – “It’s never enough.” We never feel thin enough or that we do enough (exercise, for example). Here are some important things to remember in response to your situation:

First, there is now a lot of excellent research to show us the negative effects of over-exercising. I bet you’ve heard that “no pain, no gain” is considered a very outdated philosophy. If you are sore, that is definitely a signal from your body saying “too much.” It really hurts me to work with so many young people (in their 20’s, for example) who are now suffering physical pain and limitations from overdoing exercise. They greatly regret losing strength and good health. I’m sure they would urge you to get help and exercise only in moderation.

Secondly, as we recover from disordered eating, we learn there are no “good” foods vs. “bad” foods. Our bodies need – and can process – a wide variety of foods. Some foods may be difficult to eat in moderation at certain points in our journey, but ultimately we can stop labeling foods with moral judgments attached. We tend to label ourselves with those same judgmental labels when we eat those foods. And guess what? If we think we are bad, we punish ourselves with more weird behavior.

Lastly, I’m sure you know how blessed you are to have two precious daughters. You’re right that they are very sensitive to your self-image. Children learn from what they see more than what they hear. We can tell them they are perfect, but if we hate our body, that’s what they will learn. I remember when I was very little, seeing how my Mom would not wear a bathing suit because she was ashamed of her body. Although she told me I was beautiful, I decided that when you’re a grown up woman, you can’t have fun unless you’re perfect. I also felt very sad and angry that how she felt about herself kept my Mom from splashing around with me.

Please begin your journey of change now, not only for yourself but for your wonderful family. The chances for family memories pass so quickly. Give yourself and your girls the gift of balanced living. You can do it.