Using Running as a Form of Purging?

By November 7, 2012

Until now, I thought that my disordered eating was just a part of my life that I could work out like everything else. But it has crossed the line between irregular college-girl behavior and an overwhelming disease that is controlling my life. I eat. I run. I starve. I don’t run. I binge. I run excessively. At any given time, a certain combination of these statements is the story of my life. I have been in heavy binge/run mode, starve/run mode, starve/not run mode, and binge/not run mode. These are behaviours that are my own, that only I can change, and yet they are the behaviours in my life that I am most detached from and unable to control. The problem started back in **th grade, when I rejoined my track team after an injury. I restricted my diet for a couple of weeks, and then went back to normal. But something had changed in me, a realization that my emotions could be affected by changing my eating and running. I went to boarding school and stopped running for about two years. During that time I went through a serious binge phase (about 5 months) in which I gained about ** lbs. Then I came home, started running again, and ate relatively normally (the occasional binge). I lost about ** of those lbs. Now I am a college freshman, and I have experienced drastic swings in my eating/running habits over the past 5 months. I have fluctuated about 10 lbs, about 10 times. I have been through phases of running 50 miles a week, not running for 4 weeks, eating 600 calories a day, and eating 4,500 calories a day (for weeks in a row). I have joined, and quit, the varsity [sports] team. I have also had * therapy sessions, but they did not focus on this issue which is now central to my life. I feel extremely alienated and misunderstood. I am 5’9 and averagely weigh ***lbs. I am reluctant to seek professional help or even talk about my problems because people immediately assume that I am borderline anorexic, bulimic, or a strict dieter. These are simply not true. I would say that the part of this cycle I suffer most from is the binge eating, and I am in binge mode much more frequently than any other mode. I do not purge. A binge to me is 2,000 calories or more in one sitting, or over 4,000 calories a day. No one believes that I eat this much without purging, for weeks at a time, and still look thin… I cannot stop. I think I can stop, but I cannot. I need to get to the root of this problem and solve it soon, or else I will continue to function as a human being. I don’t understand why I am doing this to myself, and I cannot fathom how I can make myself stop now that it has become so engrained in me. Right now, I am about *** lbs. I have only been running 2-3 times a week, and I have been eating about 3,000 calories a day. I have also just gotten my period after 3 months of missing it. I feel awful and out of control, even though I know I need to get my period to be healthy. However, my statistics are not what seriously bother me, especially since they change so often. I am uncomfortable after eating so much food, gassy, unsociable, irritable, and in physical pain. I cannot go on like this, and again, I feel misunderstood. If there is any advice or comments you can make regarding my feelings and behaviors, please help me. – anonymous

Dear anonymous,

Wow. You are really struggling. Sounds like you are very down on yourself and feeling helpless. I think you have done the best you can to take care of this eating disorder on your own, but you really need someone on your side who understands what you’re going through and can help you find your way out. I do understand that people seem to want to label you as a “bulimic” or “anorexic,” but what you told me is exactly what you need to tell others. You are honest, and that comes through loud and clear. If someone is listening, they will get it. And if they don’t, go find someone who does “get it.”

I am wondering if at times you use running as a form of “purging?” I know you don’t do it all the time though. So I understand why you do mostly suffer from binge-type eating. And yes, that leads to stomach problems, gas, irritability, social withdrawal, etc.

Those around you may be particularly confused because you have times of “restricting” also. You are able to go back and forth. Many binge-eaters are unable to do that, which is why so many are significantly overweight. The fact that you can binge and stay thin probably makes people wonder even more.

That said, regardless of what someone wants to label you as (I don’t like to use labels), you clearly suffer from “disordered eating” and it is clearly consuming your life.

I understand you are reluctant to seek help; however it seems as though you have reached a wall, and you need a little help busting through it. Have you tried the counseling center at your college? Or the Student Health Center? I strongly encourage you to find a therapist who specializes in eating disorders. You need to get to the root of your need to binge. You need to find a therapist that you “click” with. The most important aspect in recovery is finding a therapist that you can trust. You might also want to seek out a Registered dietitian to help you with meal plans. However, first, find a therapist. That is very important. For info on finding therapists in your area, please visit our articles “Finding Treatment” and “Finding a Nutritionist.” And please make sure you get a physical, especially since your periods have not been regular until recently.

Whatever you do, please ask someone for some help. Binge eating behaviors are very treatable with therapy. I think you would really benefit from counseling.

Good luck and please take good care of you.

Nicole Bourquin,M.S.