Recovering from Anorexia – Afraid of Bingeing

By October 12, 2012

I’m in the middle of recovering from anorexia, and having to gain weight back is so difficult. Not only is it emotionally and physically hard to eat more, but it’s so easy to binge as well. I’m still dealing with the constant torment of thinking about food and eating, and whenever my favorite foods are around me then I get so scared and nervous about them. I’m afraid that if I have one bite, then I’ll have 50. That fear and anxiety causes me to not only eat to try to get away from it, but to overeat and get close to a medical binge. I’m so afraid of bingeing now, that I end up doing it because the fear comes whenever food’s present. Is there anyway to prevent bingeing? What’s the worst is while I’m eating, I’m not thinking about anything but eating, and I can’t stop. How can I get myself to stop? Please help, it’s very scary and causes a lot of guilt. – Cate


We are glad you asked your question. You’re so right that you are in the middle of a scary time. Ultimately in recovery you’ll have more trust in your choices. You’ll also think less about food and you’ll be able to cope with feelings without using food.

In the meantime, therapists recommend many tips for avoiding binges. One of the most helpful ways to postpone or stop a binge is to journal instead. Journaling about the feelings you may be trying to avoid really works. And the journaling doesn’t have to be fancy – it can just be a few words like, “I feel really ANXIOUS.” You can then list positives, gratitudes or affirmations.

You can also pick up the phone and call someone. You can postpone the compulsive eating 5 minutes at a time, telling yourself “If I still want to eat that in 5 minutes, I’ll reconsider.” You can practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing in order to reduce fear and anxiety. It’s important to be calm, be aware and be “present” instead of eating mindlessly. It’s hard to be mindless or compulsive when we are relaxed.

Also, please remember the cycle of intense guilt (shame) generally makes us more vulnerable to continued compulsive eating. In other words, being mad at ourselves leads us to more overeating. We tend to think, “Well I’ve blown it. I’m such a failure. I hate myself. I’ll starve tomorrow.” None of these kinds of thoughts encourage us to change.

Instead, try saying, “I wish I hadn’t eaten that, but I deserve to forgive myself. I’m worth doing something different like calling a friend.” Help yourself with encouragement, not shame.

And finally, remember one way to avoid overeating is to avoid getting too hungry. Depriving yourself of food, skipping meals and dieting lead to compulsive eating.

I hope some of these tips help. Please be kind to yourself.



(and from Ann…)

Dear Cate,

You are very articulate at expressing your fears and struggles, which countless other people also share. Recovery is hard work, but determination, persistence and prayers will carry you through.

I want to explain some of what you may be experiencing physically, which could be making eating more difficult at this time. When a person practices restrictive eating (as with anorexia) and consistently ignores their body’s hunger and fullness signals, over time, they do lose physical sensitivity to them. If this is the case for you, it’s adding to your confusion and lack of confidence regarding how much food to eat and when to stop. It will take some time and patience for your body to readjust and regain those sensations, but you will reach a point at which you will be able to listen to your body when it calls for fuel, and then know when you’ve eaten enough. Read the article “Understanding Hunger and Fullness Cues” for more insight into this issue.

Regarding your worries about bingeing, I want to refer you to another article, “Eating Treat Foods Without Guilt.”  Practical goals are outlined to help give you confidence in incorporating some of your favorite foods. The bottom line is that ANY food can be included as part of a healthy eating lifestyle. Nothing is evil or forbidden; when we categorize certain foods as “bad,” and try to avoid them, we are more likely to feel like we can’t control eating them after taking that first bite. I have one more article for you to read, “What is Healthy Eating? ,” to help give you a balanced perspective on food—and some positive goals for which to strive.

I hope as part of your recovery process that you are working with both a therapist and a nutritionist (See “Finding a Nutritionist“).  I’ve given you some “homework” to read as foundational information, but you will flourish under the individualized, gentle guidance of professional counseling.