Teen Vegan Stuck In Cycle of Under-eating and Overeating

By September 14, 2012

Ever since I can remember eating has been an issue. I can remember being teased about my weight as a child and binging as young as 8 years old. Since then I have become a vegan (this is purely moral and healthy; I am being 100% truthful when I say that my being a vegan has NOTHING to do with my eating issues. I still eat fattening vegan foods, anyhow) and have become interested in exercise. For awhile I cut down to 1200 calories, while exercising moderately – this was hard on my body and my mind. I constantly felt hungry and eventually became too run down to continue on this way. I tried to take it up to 1500, but much of the time I was at 1700 – this felt like a death sentence. The first time I ate 2000 calories was so incredibly scary. At this time, I wasn’t binging as much, but I was constantly hungry, and worrying about food. I lost twenty pounds. I am still horribly obsessed. We went on vacation and I let myself enjoy a little too much, now I am back to overeating and binging although I am exercising heartily (6 days a week, 1 hour cardio, 3 days of weights). I love exercising and I am doing it more in the interest of training, although weight loss and maintenance is an added benefit. My problem here is FOOD. I am obsessed with it. I am obsessed with when I am going to eat and what I am going to eat. I binge, I try to starve. The other day I caught myself gagging myself, although I ran away from letting myself go all the way with it. I DO NOT want to be any more out of control. I am kicking and screaming and trying HARD to regain control and balance with food. I am 5’3, 140 pounds or so….terrified of gaining. I promised myself I would NOT regain my weight, and I am not sure why I have lost control. I am desperate to regain my sense of balance. Every day I decide that tomorrow is a new day and I will start over, and I will not stop trying. Tomorrow IS a new day, and tomorrow I will wake up and do better. I am determined to do this. BUT ARE THERE ANY WORDS YOU CAN GIVE TO HELP ME?! My Mother (oh yeah, I am 17) has suggested I begin therapy once again (I went for an anxiety disorder in the past) and I am going to heed her suggestion. I am also thinking of going on a diet plan so that I can just follow someone else’s guidelines for eating, and lose some weight. I would like to get down to 112. Could you please….HELP ME! Struggling for personal power.

Dear Disgruntled Eater,

You seem to be caught in a very painful cycle of under-eating and overeating. When you overeat you starve to compensate but that only leads to more hunger and more need for food. The body has a great system for getting us to eat what we need. Enzymes and hormones are released (such as lipoprotein lipase and neuropeptide-Y) that stimulate hunger and food cravings. When this happens we think we’re out of control but really we’re responding to our body and giving ourselves the food we need after a time of starvation.

The first step to getting back in balance is to stop under-eating (starving/restricting), as it will only trigger the body’s natural response to protect us from starvation. Start by eating three balanced meals a day and you will probably need 2-3 snacks depending on the amount of exercise you get. Balanced meals are a key issue also. A combination of protein, starch, vegetable and/or fruit and some fat will satisfy hunger the most and for the longest period of time.

As a vegan your protein sources are limited. Including about 15-21 grams of protein at each meal and 7-8 grams at a snack is generally a healthy amount of protein. Protein sources could include dried beans and peas (legumes), soybeans (cooked fresh beans, tofu) and peanut butter. Protein powders are absorbed faster than protein in its natural food form and don’t satisfy hunger as long. If it wouldn’t contradict your moral standards you might consider adding dairy products. Cheese can satisfy hunger for several hours when part of a balanced combination.

Eating can be normalized (the starving and bingeing stopped) the fastest if you can first allow your weight to remain stable while you break the starve-binge cycle. Then you can consider a food plan that will allow a slow weight loss, if it’s needed, that won’t trigger the starvation response. I highly recommend you contact a registered dietitian with eating disorder experience in your area for help with this. Guessing at the amount of calories you need or taking diets off the internet won’t give you the individualized guidance and support you need. Go to the article: “Finding a Nutritionist” to help you find a qualified registered dietitian to help you.

The amount of exercise you get will further increase the effects of the restricting. When someone doesn’t eat enough and exercises, muscle is broken down which triggers the starvation response. You can get exercise information that will support your goals and your meal plan from the registered dietitian. She or he may have a trainer they’re connected with that can give you healthy guidelines also.

There can be so many reasons we get caught into diet cycles like this that getting help from a psychotherapist is also a great support. The dietitian will probably be able to refer you to someone with eating disorder experience.

I wish you well on your journey.