The Fleeting, Powerful, Feeling of Control

Your whole life doesn't have to revolve around dieting or restricting. Trust me!

I got an email from a 17-year-old reader named Hope a couple of days ago that reminded me of how powerful the feeling of controlling your food can be.

I remember the sense of relief I used to feel the moment I even decided that I was going to fast or start a new diet. It was like the promise of a new me, a new day, a new victory over food. But that high never lasted long, did it?

“I’ve slowly begun to acknowledge my eating disorder, which I’m not sure I’d describe as BED.  It’s more of an EDNOS,” Hope wrote me. “Binge one day, fast a day, binge, fast or restrict, repeat. I feel in control on my fasting days, and then lose it the next.”

Every time we lose that battle, it makes us feel worse, and worse and worse about ourselves, doesn’t it? Before I stopped dieting for good, I’d gotten to a point where this constant “failure” of mine to stick to a diet made me feel like I couldn’t be trusted to do anything right.

“Because I set unrealistic goals for myself (stop eating for as long as possible), it is consequently very simple not to reach them.  As a result, when I fail to live up to my own expectations, I feel weak and undeserving,” Hope wrote. “I punish myself by eating, and eating, and eating. It’s a vicious cycle.”

Here’s the crux of Hope’s question, and I was hoping that other members of the community would weigh in and tell her what they think or what they did to get help: “My parents are constantly covering costs for all kinds of opportunities for me, and I don’t feel right burdening them with my health issues and giving them more to worry about, and more costs to cover if they feel a nutritionist or psychiatrist is necessary. Any advice? I feel I have hit rock bottom.”

OK, Hope, here’s the deal: I don’t know your parents, but I know my parents, and I have friends who are parents, and I hope to be a parent someday—and I would bet my life that they would want to know what you’re going through. They have given you opportunities because they love you and want you to succeed and be happy. But how can you succeed and be happy if you are unhealthy physically or mentally?

Becoming well—no matter how long it takes—is that most important thing that you can do for your future, and I’m sure they will understand that. Treatment and help for what you’re going through doesn’t have to be some super-expensive inpatient thing,  it could start as simply as a few appointments with a therapist or a nutritionist who specializes in working with disordered eaters and then working on things yourself for a while with books or in free support groups. All of us have a different recovery journey.

But, like I wrote in my answer to Yuki, who’s a couple years younger than you, telling someone close to you, like your parents, and reaching out for support, really is the first step in getting over this stuff. It’s too important to keep to yourself.

I’d like to open it up to other HG readers to weigh in now, whether you want to talk about your own feelings of controlling food or with some insight for Hope. And, Hope, please let us know how things go. xo…Sunny

10 Responses to The Fleeting, Powerful, Feeling of Control

  1. Victoria says:

    Hey H, I can completely understand what you’re going through. I think talking to parents is a really hard thing to do. For me, it was the hardest thing of all, because I thought my parents only wanted a successful daughter, not one who was out of control and a bit all over the place.

    Actually, it wasn’t that hard to do in the end, because the words come out of your mouth so quickly, and then it’s all over. But it was hard to deal with the consequences, because my mum (bless her!) was very concerned for a couple of hours, and then seemed to think everything was sorted and forgot about it!? I think she just couldn’t understand.

    On the other hand, telling my partner was also extremely hard, but he has been very understanding and supportive, and now I find myself telling him when I’m going through a rough patch, and it helps him understand that - for a little while - this is overwhelming me and I am not my normal self. At times like this, he tells me, “It’s going to be ok”, and that is the most beautiful thing anybody has ever said to me.

    So I guess I would definitely recommend that you tell somebody about what you’re going through. Partly, it’s about being honest and bringing the problem into the open, and partly it’s because they can give you so much support and help. If you tell someone who loves you, they won’t stop loving you. Although we get into the habit of valuing our self-worth based on how much we weigh, other people don’t - they value us for the people that we are. But look after yourself, and if somebody doesn’t give you the support or understanding you need, try to protect yourself and find somebody you can trust with the information.

    Best of luck, thinking of you!! xx

  2. Hi H, just talk to them. As someone old enough to be your parent, I wish there was the kind of support and understanding of eating disorders when I was growing up. Please help yourself now and save yourself from a lifetime of this viscous cycle. Whatever the cost, whatever the expense I’d move heaven and earth to save my child from going through what I’ve gone through in my life.

    Take very good care of yourself


  3. Angie says:

    Hi H - Thank you for sharing your story. I feel like you could be my identical ‘eating’ twin as my patterns mirror yours. I have been where you are - a teenager with a problem trying to decide what to do. For me, I started to have health problems that clued my parents in. They found that their insurance covered care for me so that started my program of recovery.

    Fast forward 15+ years… I relapsed about 3 years ago and am working back to health. I also have a 7-year old and a 5-year old. Now that I am a parent I realize that I would do anything for my children. I can also forgive / accept anything. I just want them to tell me what is going on so we can work through things together. I remind them that I am on their team and if they have problems with school or friends or anything else, I’m here to support/guide them. As long as I am alive, no matter how old they are, I will do that for them. Yes, sometimes tough love is required, but I believe most parents are motivated to do what is best for the child. I know there are exceptions to this, but I hope my children would always come to me with their problems. I might not be able to solve the problem, but just talking can be helpful. I try to remember that they might not need me to do anything - that sometimes having a non-judgmental audience that offers unconditional love is the best thing. I also tell my kids that I am not perfect so when I don’t handle things well, just remember that I’m doing my best and hindsight is 20/20.

  4. Olivia says:

    Hope- I’m pretty much in the exact same situation as you, since I’m only one year older, but other than that, your e-mail reflects exactly what I’m going through. So basically, I’m in no way qualified to give you any advice.. But I’ll agree with everything said by Sunny & the other commenters. And I’d like to just wish you good luck with everything. Hold on & have hope. =)

    But I do have one question for you guys. I live with my mother & two brothers, and none of them know about my BED. I’m not overweight and I almost only binge late at night, so it can pretty much go undetectable. I’d like to tell my mother about it, but one of my biggest concerns is (other than the fact that this is a very stressful time for my family, especially my mother, and I don’t want to give her more problems) that if I tell her, she will constantly moniter my eating, and I’ll feel even more ashamed when I binge, because she’ll know what I’m doing. Has any of this happened to anybody? To those of you who told your parents while you were living with them- how did they react?

  5. hope says:

    thank you all so much for your replies. they mean so much to me. i will try to talk to my parents about it…I am just afraid they will handle it similar to how Victoria’s parents handled it. The disorder is so difficult to understand for those that don’t have it, and it sounds ridiculous when you try to explain it to others. They make it sound like it’s easily curable , but the mental factor make it much more difficult than one would assume to just stop bingeing. anyways..I appreciate all the comments, once again thank you so much and I will take everything you all had to say into consideration! :)

  6. Angie says:

    Hi - I thought about how my parents handled my eating disorder some more today. I would say that after people learn that you have disordered eating, it seems like there is more attention paid to the food on the plate. I have a hard time with this attention. That said, I cannot control other people and I know that finding help through sharing has been worth any looks at the food I eat or pass by. Hope this helps - A

  7. jane says:

    hey hope.

    another thing to pursue would be some sort of family therapy - whether that means meeting once in a while with a parent, or having them also talk to someone about how is best to you. i’ve been very open with my parents about my eating issues (first slipping into anorexic tendencies, then BED) and they have been incredibly supportive about helping me find help (i’m seeing a therapist now, who is helping a lot, but am still far from being “recovered” fully). but looking back, having someone “coach” my parents through the process — since this is really so foreign to them — would have probably made a big difference.

    my mom has mentioned many times that she’s unsure exactly what she should say or how she should react. when i first told her about the binging, for example, she expressed relief that at least calories were getting into my body (all she was seeing was the restricting i did in public). that, along with things like family members crying “you’re sooo skinny!” after i stopped restricting didn’t help either; they just triggered me to justify binging, rather than get in touch with my body. i know she struggles, as i do, with matters such as addressing my binging when she sees it in action, like eight pieces of cake at a holiday dinner. should she say something? or will that make things worse?

    to olivia’s question-when i’m mid-binge, i do feel like i need to be even more secretive, i feel even more guilty and like i’m being judged, like i’m lying to my parents. at times, when i’m in my zombie-like-nothing-will-stop-me states, it feels like she is just intruding. i wish i could get to the place where i’ll want my mom to help me stop my behavior. i almost wish she would be more “harsh,” like punishing me for overeating or something, even though that’s obviously counterproductive and something she would never do. sometimes if i tell her i ate two jars of peanut butter, she’ll say “okay, so try to just have one tomorrow.” it makes me smile, but just drives home how much none of us really know how we’re supposed to act in this situation.

    the other thing i’ll mention is that you should not be afraid of telling your parents. to be honest, this experience has made my relationship with my mom much stronger; it gives us something to talk through, to laugh about, to support each other over. i’ve always been a perfectionist, trying to hide whatever was wrong; in high school, that meant shutting myself off from my parents, trying to convey that image even to them. but now, i understand how valuable they are in helping me better understand myself and overcome this.

    and, i think they’ll realize, this kind of cost is worth covering. as this continues to spiral further without the help you need, you won’t be able to fully enjoy all the other opportunities they’re providing you. i feel a little silly writing this, because it’s something i haven’t mastered yet (with all my “but do you reaaaallly wannt to stop binging?” self talk) — but if you want to get better, make this your priority. hopefully any of this is helpful!

  8. Lauren says:

    Jane- your story sounds so similar to mine! I’m recovering from a combination of bulimia and binge-eating disorder. I’m a freshman in college this year and I think that living away from home this year made my eating disorders worse. I finally told my parents while I was home for winter break about my issues and although they have been very supportive, I don’t think they quite understand. Everyday is a struggle, but it is definitely getting easier. I started seeing a therapist here at school which has been a huge help.

    Hope, you should definitely come clean with your parents. They’ll be able to help you, I promise! I’m sure that they would rather know about your disorder than not, and I think it’ll be easier for you to cope with it once it’s out in the open. Seeing a therapist has really helped me to put things into perspective too, and I’m sure it would help you as well.

    Just my thoughts on the issue! I hope this helps.

  9. hope says:

    Jane- I can relate to what you said about the skinny comments. When I was thinner, the compliments I received triggered my urge to binge, although many would think it would have the opposite effect. Olivia- I have the same concern about my parents watching my eating habits more attentively, but in some instances I think that may be for the best. It will deter me from finishing off the box of crackers because I know they’ll notice and know exactly what’s going on. Also, in my case, it may be beneficial because I often skip dinner with my family due to my earlier binges. If my parents knew I was bingeing, they may force me to eat dinner with them, as an incentive to skip the binge earlier in the day (as if it’s that easy). Regardless of how difficult it is to tell them, I know I will benefit from it, I just have to build up the courage to do it. Thank you all for your encouragement, I will try to talk to my parents soon. I hope they are as understanding as you all are!

  10. [...] what reader Hope, 18, wrote to me in an email recently. The first time we met Hope was four months ago when she first recognized that something was up with her relationship with [...]

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