Abusing food

Many of you know that I have struggled with anorexia in the past and many many years of severe bulimia.  Many of you have heard of these ‘real’ eating disorders.  But I also hear and see so many more people struggling with the condition of binge eating, or of the less discussed disordered eating.  Because it is totally possible to maintain a weight within the ‘healthy’ range, or laugh it off as just “loving food too much” sufferers are often able to conceal their issues for years and struggle with the destructive behavior in pain and isolation without ever getting help, or even realizing that there is help.

What links all of these conditions or disorders is that there is almost always a preoccupation with food that can become an obsession.  We think about it all day, dream about it at night, plan out our next meal before we’ve started to digest the one we just ate.  When I was severely restricting my food I would find myself wandering around the aisles of a supermarket, just staring at the displays of food for literally hours.  When I was actively bingeing and purging I would be sitting in class plotting what I was going to buy from each of the different shops on my way home (so the shopkeepers wouldn’t think I was weird for buying enough baked goods to feed the 5000 in all one place). 

Even now I would be lying if I said that in moments of high stress it never occurs to me to order in enough takeout for a small army and go to town.  I’m not sure it will ever completely leave my consciousness. But I do know that I no longer live in fear of food (Too much?  Not enough?). I do know that I’m able to have a real loving and truly intimate relationship with someone other than FOOD.  Because it’s hard, almost impossible to properly love and be loved; to be fully present and honest with someone when you’re hiding food wrappers, or sneaking off to the bathroom to throw up, or endure the agonizing results of the box of laxatives you swallowed earlier. 

I also know that I couldn’t have rebuilt my relationship with food, and my body; couldn’t have recovered to the extent that I have on my own; without help.

“It’s just food, I should be able to figure it out!”  “I’m embarrassed, I’m SO weird about food; people will think I’m a freak.” “I’m fine, I just have a little willpower issue.”


We all have ingrained patterns of behavior; I bet you brush your teeth the same way every morning.  With food, as with anything else we have to learn new patterns, new habits.  And food affects the body similarly to drugs.  That might sound extreme but too much food, or not enough can give us this strange ‘high’, where we feel insulated from our feelings.  And that is the part of the pattern that’s hard to break free from.  That’s the factor that pulls us back into the destruction time and time again. And that’s the part that needs help and support.

I went to therapy.  I went to Out -Patient rehab.  I was very sick and pretty desperate by the time I gave in to the concept of getting better and was prepared to do anything.  And I also went to Overeaters Anonymous (O.A).  I’d like to clear up the common misconception that it’s only for obese, weird people, or for those who “overeat”.  There are people of all ages, sexes, and sizes.   There are teenagers, high-powered lawyers, glamorous fashionistas, stay-at-home parents; those of us that have issue with food run the gamut of society.  It wasn’t until I started going to these (free) meetings that I really realized that how you look, or how successful you are has NOTHING to do with your real relationship with food.

I needed all three support systems to recover as much as I have, but it was the support and understanding of my peers in these meetings that really changed my views on what it was to allow food to make me so secretly unhappy and isolated.  I’m not saying they were fun, but they helped me and I needed and wanted help.

If you are struggling in secret please know that there is support out there. If you have a therapist but have resisted talking about it outside of their office then please consider a meeting.  Try therapy, try out-patients, try OA; try all three!  But please try SOMETHING.  Because if I have learnt anything over my decade plus of self-inflicted food/body misery, it is that it doesn’t just stop.  It isn’t just a case of “doing better tomorrow”, or that extra hour in the gym.  Please don’t carry on suffering in secret, and reading a model’s blog and feeling like it’s YOUR fault because you can’t not binge and eat the way she says she eats. 

I had to learn this life that I have.  I had to be helped to get to this point.  Yes, I’ve worked hard, and I have willpower and I really WANTED to get better. But I still needed help to get here.




13 Responses to “Abusing food”

  1. 1 Eneb
    October 1, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    Wow, I always thought about eating disorders as an health obsessive issue, but I never thought about it as someone’s relationship with food. Or the isolation that comes with it. But it makes a lot of sense because relationships are whats hard to break not the specific food taste or specific size you want to be. I have a family member who I’m pretty positive is dealing with one of those eating disorders you listed (maybe more) but she’s at very sensitive young age (15) where I feel limited in what to say and when to say it for the sake of making her feel worse. In the beginning it seemed that it had more to do with her parents allowing just bad diet for all their kids which cause her to be overweight almost her entire childhood, but know it seems to have evolved into something a lot more than just bad diet. This information has helped. I’m definitely thinking about it from a whole new perspective (basically from scratch at this point). If you don’t mind this ? how did your family respond to what you were going through during this time?

  2. 2 coffeebuzz
    October 1, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    Thanks Jessica… I’m currently 22 and in my 9th year of what I’d consider disordered eating. I’ve been 20 lbs underweight, I’ve binged and purged those 20 lbs back on, along with an additional 10. I’ve tortured myself in the gym. I’ve stayed up till 3:30 planning my meals and workouts for the entire month, only to disband them 12 hours later for the sake of stuffing away tears in my chocolate cake.
    It’s not easy. I’m doing a hell of a lot better these days- normal weight, much more normal relationship with food and myself, no more anxiety if I happen to have an “off” day. This only came when I focused on my health- looked at my body as an instrument that needed to be used and used properly. I healed a lot of physical issues through a personal trainer, and with this came a whole new holistic way of thinking- thinking about making my body better physically made me want to eat in ways that were more in line with that, which made me look at myself differently– no more “you’re disgusting and fat,” but instead, “look at how much this body can do! No one’s perfect, but everyone’s a work in progress.”
    It’s not easy. When things get stressful, I still find myself fork-deep in chocolate cake and sometimes crying a little afterwards. And then freaking out about my horrible feelings coming back. But ya know, that used to be the norm. That’s now the exception to the rule.
    It won’t happen overnight. And when it does “happen,” it most likely won’t be permanent. Just like there’s no “cured” alcoholic, those of us with food issues will probably always have a slight anxiety with these issues.
    Sorry for the SUPER long post… it’s obviously something I have many strong feelings about.

    Congrats, though, Jess. It takes a LOT of hard work, effort, passion, and patience. and love.

  3. 3 anon
    October 1, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    Id be careful dolling out medical advice without license or credential. Even disguising it as personal experience, even though some may find it helpful you are dancing a dangerous line.

  4. 4 jessica clark
    October 1, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    I agree that I have no place “doling out medical advice”.

    I take that very seriously and as somebody whose certification as a Nutritional Consultant is currently pending, I have done the relevant research as to what can and can not ethically be said as a lay person.

    I do not believe that I have given medical advice in anyway. I do not offer a diagnosis, I don’t suggest ways to ‘cure’, ‘treat’, ‘heal’ or ‘fix’ anything. There is an established precedent of sharing personal experience on a whole range of issues, not least the subject of eating disorders. An example of that is “My name is Caroline” by Caroline Adams Miller, this is one of the first published books about surviving bulimia, first published in 1988, and now translated into languages around the world, with many others like it now available. Another amazing book is “Life without Ed” (Ed as an acronym for eating disorder) written by Jenni Schaefer a singer/songwriter. Caroline Adams Miller also had no medical degree, license or certification, and still doesn’t, although she did then go on to become a certified coach, as she discovered her passion in the process of communicating her experience to help others.

    It is not something I am hiding behind or “disguising” as personal experience, it IS personal experience.

    I do not profess to have a license or a relevant certification and the only suggestion I make to anyone reading is that I believe that there is appropriate professional help and support out there and I urge anyone who feels that they may be unhappy or endangering themselves to seek out that help.

  5. 5 Gravity
    October 1, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    How old are you, Jessica, if you don’t mind me asking? You look like a fairly young person (late 20’s early 30’s) on your pictures; but your life experiences are those of a much older person. I’m 23 years old and I’ve struggled with my self-image for the past five years, having been diagnosed with hypothyroidism. In all my struggles I have learned that I will never be the thinnest of my friends anymore, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t treat my body with love and respect.

  6. 6 Rebecca
    October 2, 2008 at 1:25 am

    I am addicted to diet pills and laxatives in secret. Sometimes I am so scared that I will drop dead. How can I stop?

    Can you please define – Out -Patient rehab?

  7. 7 Sasha
    October 2, 2008 at 6:55 am

    To anon – Jessica advised readers to seek out professional help if they have a problem with eating – how is that “dolling out medical advice”? Surely advising people to get the appropriate help is about as responsible as it gets when it comes to this kind of topic?
    Congratulations, Jessica, on your honesty and on your mature approach to food and fitness and life in general.

  8. 8 jessica clark
    October 2, 2008 at 11:32 am

    Thank you for all your honest and open responses. To answer some of your questions;

    Eneb: Honestly I suffered very much in secret and did everything in my power to ensure that my family did not know. My mother always seemed to see food as an expression of love and nurturing and it caused/was symptomatic of a codependent and then estranged relationship. I left home at 16, I didn’t go home for Christmas the years that I was dangerously thin because I knew that she would not be able to ignore the issues and I wasn’t ready to be honest. We are now at the point where I’m more honest but it took me going into recovery for that to happen. I understand that it is difficult to approach a family member about such things, and it’s difficult to advise because each situation is personal to those in it. I will say that working on building trust and open communication is very significant, and letting them know that if they ever need to talk that you are there. Also I think that it is worth talking to a family therapist, even if it is without the person you are worried about, or their mother. I say this because recovery at 15 involves the whole family and it may be very helpful for you to talk out the dynamics of the situation with a professional trained in this. I wish you luck and commend you for wanting to help.

    Gravity: It sounds as though you too have come a long way at a young age too. I am so proud of you that you have been working to come to terms with your own unique body. I am also only in my twenties, but my struggles started when I was pre-teen which is why I may sound much older when I talk about this subject. “I will never be the thinnest of my friends anymore, but that doesn’t mean I can’t treat my body with love and respect”. Hearing that makes me smile and want to cry at the same time. It’s the greatest gift that you will ever give to yourself. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    Coffeebuzz: Congratulations, when I read what you wrote I hear the journey and amazing progress of open and honest recovery. Please be so very proud of yourself. 🙂

    Rebecca: Thank you for being honest with us and yourself here. That is the very first step in recovering from any abusive addiction. Out-Patient rehab is a program for recovery from an addiction. There are programs that specialize in food, drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling etc. I was in a program for my ED. You are admitted and monitored by medical professionals and my program involved part education on food and how different types of it affect our body and brain physiologically, and part group therapy. I was given a food plan, and as resistant as I was to eating regularly, what I learnt there truly started me on the life that I now try to live every day. The difference between Out and In-patient is simply that with Out, you go home at night, and are sometimes able to choose whether you attend a day or an evening program so that you can continue working as well. This can be helpful, as you may not feel as cut off from your life, and can also make it more difficult as you are not as protected from yourself as you would be in In-Patient.

    “How can I stop?” All I can say to that is that everybody I know that has to a greater or lesser extent recovered from their disorders used at least one of these three tools and often a combination of two or all three; specialized therapy, 12-step meetings and sponsorship, and/or a rehab program, whether In or Out-Patient. My Out-Patient program actually made it a condition of entry that I commit to going to the 12-step meetings as well, because they believed the additional support to be invaluable. If I was to make a suggestion it would be to try a meeting (just google OA meetings and your city of residence). They are a tremendous place to start and will be able to provide you with a lot of support and information about good professionals working in this area in your part of the world. I know it can be so terrifying to start the process, but with me it got to the point that the only thing more terrifying was either living in the food abuse for the rest of my life or worse….not living the rest of my life. If it was another person treating you like this it would be unacceptable. You don’t deserve to be treated like this by yourself either.

    Good luck to you, I am truly thinking of you all today. Thank you for sharing your stories and thank you for your courage.

  9. 9 Rebecca
    October 2, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    Jess, Thank you so very much for the info. I will research OA meetings and follow up.


    (Sasha, very well said I could not have said it better. Nothing like ones personal experiences.)

  10. 10 Jenny Joseph
    October 3, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    Jessica, Thank you so much for sharing your personal experience/struggle with ED. It is so helpful to hear other people’s stories because I think that so many people are out there silently battling eating disorders and they think they are the only ones that are weak enough to be controlled by food. All of these people need to know that it is not about weakness or even about food at all. There always lies a deeper issue that just manifests itself in you restricting or binging or purging or overeating.
    When I moved from Alabama to NYC for my first year of college I became anorexic and it controlled my life for at least 2 years causing me to have to move back home to get treatment. Once I “recovered” from anorexia it quickly led me to bulimia…and here I am 4 years later still fighting the whole it and back in NYC again. It is tough and sometimes scary to get healthy again but is it SO WORTH IT!
    As a trainer there is a lot of pressure to be the thinnest girl in the gym so others want to be trained by you. A lot of clients look up to us and want to do whatever we are doing to look the way we are…would I ever want a client to have to starve themself to be thin? Heck no! So why would I do it to myself? Strength is more important than thin and authenticity is more important than appearances.

    P.S. Life Without ED is one of my favorite books especially for someone with or who know someone with an e.d.

  11. 11 jessica clark
    November 10, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    Hi Jenny

    Firstly let me apologize for not having responded to your post sooner 😦

    Secondly, please let me applaud you for your strength, your continued determination, perseverance and your integrity in working to maintain your body healthfully to be a true and honest source of inspiration to your clients. Recovering from ED’s in such a body conscious environment as a gym can not be easy. You have my respect, as do you all who are reading this post, or who have commented so powerfully.

    Thank you all for sharing with me and please let’s all continue on our paths for the strength of our bodies, minds and souls.

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