Teen Unable to Stay On a Diet

By October 1, 2012

I am 18 years old, 5’8″ and weigh 220 lbs. Recently, I dropped 15 lbs. by way of Atkins. However, since then, I have not been able to stay on the diet. When I’m frustrated, extremely bored, or have to face strong undesirable emotions, I give in and eat.  I’m conscientious about the foods I eat, but if I so-called binge a meal, it’s like I can feel the food making me unhealthy, so I find anything else I may want to eat/drink, and when I’m satisfied or sick, I purge. I even purge on healthy foods when I eat too much of them, then I go back and eat the right amount. Most of the time when this happens, I am either really hungry or really sad. I believe that I am borderline depressive. I would love to be able to exercise and be active, but I have really low energy. At the end of the day I feel very drained. In the morning, if I don’t have to go to school, I just wake up and go back to sleep until I think of something I can do besides clean up or cook. I made a workout calendar, and I may follow it for a few days, but I really lack motivation and support. Then at times, I’ll start exercising during the evenings and workout until the morning, I just can’t seem to get consistent about it. Please give me any tips or advice you can. – S

Dear S.,

I hope you can lighten-up on yourself and be more gentle and loving in what you expect of yourself and your body. You CAN learn  to eat and exercise in a way that will give you the most energy and health. Much of your overeating seems to come from not having eaten enough earlier in the day. Our bodies need a balance of carbohydrate, protein and fat regularly throughout the day to keep our blood sugar steady and our energy high. When our blood sugar drops, we feel more anxious and irritable, and our ability to cope decreases. The body actually has a system that signals us to eat more carbohydrate when we need it. When our carbohydrate stores (glycogen) are low, NPY (neuropeptide-Y) is released and stimulates not only hunger but a craving for carbohydrate.

Honor your body’s need for food by giving yourself a protein, starch, vegetable and/or fruit about every 4-5 hours during the day. This combination acts like a time release formula providing a steady supply of sugar. Be sure to include a sweet food with your meal combination when you want it. A trap we can easily fall into is believing there are “good” foods and “bad” foods. “Bad” foods become “forbidden” foods, and then become binge foods. A healthy diet includes some sweet foods.

Respect your body’s request for more moderate exercise. When you don’t feel like exercising it’s your body’s way of begging you not to push yourself so hard. When we exercise too much we break down muscle, not build it up.

Be gentle, kind, and most of all, have fun with the activity you choose.


Dear S.,

Adding to what Emily has said, often the feelings that result from a strict diet only add to feelings of emptiness, boredom, anger, fear, and sadness. There are other, more fulfilling ways to deal with our feelings. Writing, praying, and connecting with others are some very effective ways to be so much MORE happy than using food. Of course, learning to use these other ways can sometimes take a while and it certainly helps to have the support of a counselor, friend, family member or advisor who has experience in overcoming a disordered relationship with food. You deserve to break out of the punishing cycles you feel caught in. Exercise and eating can be joyful parts of our lives. There are really cool experiences outside the cage of disordered eating, just as Constance’s story proves. Set very small goals, like looking up counselors. Then reward yourself by calling one of your favorite people for an “Atta Girl”!

Consider that said, in advance, from me! Take Care.