Overeaters Anonymous- The Good, The Bad & The Crazy

Does OA work?

“I don’t eat no matter what… “


IDENMW as they say in certain OA and FA circles.  

I have an extremely complicated history and relationship with both Food Addict Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous, both as a clinician who treats eating disorders and as a past member. A lot of people ask me “Does Overeaters Anonymous work?” It’s definitely not black and white. It “works” for some but not for others- but you have to define what “works” means.  I want to share with you some of my personal history with it. 


My First Experience with OA

Back in the 1990’s,  when we were flannel clad teenagers, my friend Melissa and I sat in a field discussing when we would be able to go off our diets. We’d been drinking Diet Coke since our Bat Mitzvahs and trying to lose weight for longer than that. “Will we ever get there?” we wondered. Our mothers, both in their early 40’s at the time were still dieting. Thin, but dieting. Always dieting. When will it be done?  Doesn’t it seem like dieting should have some defined end? Like that you go on a diet for 6 months, lose your 10 pounds and then you’re not on a diet anymore? But no, we were always dieting, and our mothers- always dieting, and our mothers friends- always dieting and our Aunts and cousins and friends’ mothers – always dieting. It didn’t end.  And so when Melissa ended up dieting herself into a nasty bingeing and purging habit that lasted years, her therapist insisted that she join Overeaters Anonymous to cure her. “It worked.” I say it that way because it worked in the sense that she stopped bingeing and purging. She also finally lost the 10 pounds. Plus more. In fact, at 5’7″ she wound up weighing less than 100 pounds, losing her period and growing a nice coat of *lanugo all over her arms and legs.

I asked her if she was eating and she said, “Oh my god, I eat a ton! Lots of fat and oil and vegetables, and meat. It’s great.”

And then one day, after exactly 478 days of “abstinence”  she binged.

And it wasn’t just a binge- it was a binge that brought down the skies and the heavens and the thunders- one of biblical proportions where hours ran into days ran into weeks ran into months. She stopped answering her phone, she stopped leaving her house except at night to go to the 24 hour grocery store to buy binge foods, she stopped going to work and to school…  It was a binge that cost thousands of dollars,  that clogged her toilet with vomit and it was a binge that hit her with a force that felt unbeatable. She was crushing under the weight of it. She couldn’t stop bingeing, she couldn’t stop purging, she couldn’t stop running to the store to buy more binge foods. She put on 70 pounds in 6 weeks.  “Fuck,” she told me, *”I need help.”

That’s where her relationship with OA ended. Her friends and sponsor dropped her, she couldn’t get back to where she was and she hated herself. She wound up back in treatment but this time without OA. 

My next was sometime right after college.  Although I was no longer dieting, no longer restricting, no longer controlling my food, I still felt trapped in thinking too much about weight, body image and calories. It was making me crazy and I wanted it to stop. I longed to feel peaceful around food and embrace my body. A friend of mine who I respected enormously told me that she had found deep recovery in FA, that she no longer had any desire to count calories, hadn’t binged or purged in over a decade and really felt comfortable in her body. She said she just didn’t worry about anything food related. I wanted what she had. So, together, we went to her home meeting where she  introduced me to  my new sponsor, Kate. When Kate first met me, she looked me up and down, sneered and said, “you’re not fat, why are you here?” I explained to her that I wanted peace around food and my body image. I didn’t want to worry about calories and I was sick of unintentionally doing math in my head all day long- that it was stressful and I just wanted to be free. She gave me a food plan and she assured me that it would cure me but said that  I had to buy an electronic food scale, an electronic human scale, weigh and measure every morsel that I ate and call her at 6am each morning and report my weight and my food into her. I explained to her that I didn’t want to be on a food plan and I didn’t like to weigh myself. She told me that this was the way that I could have the recovery that I wanted without being willful or being stuck in my disease. She said that the food plan was the way out- but that I had to follow it perfectly otherwise it wouldn’t work. She told me that there was a line of people waiting to be her sponsee so if I didn’t want help and I didn’t want to recover and if I wanted to spend the rest of my life a compulsive overeater that it was fine, that I should leave.  I felt ashamed and embarrassed. Rather than finding a different sponsor (now I know) I  decided to work with Kate, because after all, it was the only way and she had lines of people behind me begging her to be their sponsor. She must be right. 

The first day on my meal plan,  I was so hungry that I ate an extra apple between breakfast and lunch. Kate scolded me and told me that it showed a defect of character. If I was hungry I needed to drink black coffee, black tea, diet coke or chew sugar free gum.  Each night I went to bed feeling starved, with my hands on my belly feeling my ribs for inspiration and saying “I don’t eat no matter what- I don’t eat no matter what…” as I tried desperately to go to sleep. My eating disorder hands and eyes were reactivated as I felt the outlines of my bones and stepped on the scale every morning. The obsession was familiar and it was easy. It was easy to get pulled back into that vortex. Only this time, my Eating Disorder wasn’t inside my head- it was Kate. I’d allowed her to be the voice of Ed- dictating my behaviors for me and shaming me if I went off program by taking a bite of a carrot while I was prepping my lunch – and sending me back to day 1. I felt like Sisyphus.

I drank gallons of diet coke each day and chewed packs of sugar free gum. My stomach swelled up from the aspartame and carbonation- I wasn’t able to run or swim or exercise at all- I found myself breathless,  my thought process was often slowed down and to be frank, I hated my sponsor.  It was this one day that I was sitting there and more than anything I wanted to put some milk into my tea. My stomach was so bloated and I was so hungry. I called my sponsor to tell her how stressed out I was- how I wanted to go for a run but I had no energy, that I wanted to hang out with my friends but they were going out to a cafe and I couldn’t sit around all that latte’s without wanting one,  that I was depressed, that I hated the way I felt. She told me that I should be grateful for being abstinent, that I shouldn’t think about running or socializing or exercise, that it was the time to figure out my food shit, to go to a meeting, that my complaining was showing a defect of character. I just wanted to put some goddamned milk in my tea. And that’s when I realized it, this group was insane and it was driving me crazy as well. I knew that putting milk in my tea wasn’t worse than drinking liters and liters of diet coke a day. Yet in this sect of FA- putting milk in my tea meant I had a character defect, but drinking liters of diet coke every day was okay- chewing gobs of gum was okay.  Honestly – there wasn’t much payoff for me- Besides an initial couple of pounds, I wasn’t losing much weight at all- which in retrospect, I understand was a good thing- my body was at a healthy weight and my metabolism had slowed way down to compensate for the restriction of calories- the numbers in my mind had only gotten worse. I called Kate and told her that was leaving the program that moment.

Being an FA drop out was a no-brainer for me. But it’s not like that for everybody. 

I have seen people go in and lose 100’s of pounds for the first time in their lives- and then feel like they owed that organization their life. But when they decided to go off plan or put weight back on (which lots of folks do) all the people who supported them, the most important people in their lives turned their back on them, shamed them. Made them feel like they were bad people. Because they ate cake or because they wanted something different. I’ve seen women who haven’t had periods for years- and have that be supported by the group, with many women telling them, “yeah, that’s normal, nobody here gets their period…”  In some cases of OA- eating disorders are supported and it just becomes a huge support for ED under the cloak of recovery. 

And that’s part of what makes OA and FA so confusing. 

My next experience with OA was when I was a graduate student in Psychology learning how to treat Eating Disorders. I interned at an Intensive Outpatient Treatment Center for women with Eating Disorders. The protocol was that every client needed to go to 3 OA meetings a week- no arguments – or they were out of treatment. It was rough. Although many clients were  getting amazing recovery, finding lots of support and fellowship in the rooms,  some were feeling traumatized, pained and so wounded by the program, but they couldn’t leave otherwise they’d be kicked out of treatment and then where would they go? It was definitely extremely difficult to watch and be a part of. I knew how wounding OA could be and I saw that their choices were being taken away from them. Sometimes in recovery, taking away choices is liberating- that way the patient has nothing to focus on except themselves, but other times it is extremely harmful. No two people or recovery stories looks the same so you have to find what works for you – for your mind, body and spirit wholly. 

My own personal experience with FA had really skewed my feelings about the fellowship. The problem is that FA and often Overeaters Anonymous tells people how to eat and teaches them not to trust their instincts. And that’s really the concept that they are coming from, “you are a compulsive eater and so you can’t trust your instincts because your instincts will always be to overeat.” This is a cognitive distortion known as emotional reasoning.  You believe something to be true and so it is.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”
Henry Ford

You believe that you cannot stop after one bite of chocolate – or that if you eat flour or sugar- it will lead you to binge eat and you’ll never be able to stop, so the best thing to do is not eat it at all. This belief triggers black and white thinking for most.

In OA- where people count days of “abstinence” from their drug of choice (food), they have to start their day count all over again if they eat even a cracker or a slice of white bread. So, let’s say you were in OA and you had 100 days off of sugar and flour. Then one day you had a small bite of birthday cake. You would have to start on day one the next day- so you ruined your abstinence already- why wouldn’t you go to the store and buy a gallon of ice cream and cake- you’ve ruined your abstinence and have to start on day one tomorrow anyway. OA is a huge setup for binge eating. They will tell you that you cannot eat birthday cake because it will trigger a binge for you. You then believe that one bite of sugar will trigger a binge for you and so it does. And it should because your belief is that your day count is ruined and after today you won’t be able to have any cake again, so you might as well binge on all the cake you can. See what I’m getting at? Certain sects of OA keeps people in huge diet mentality and shames them (it’s a defect of character) if they eat off program. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. You think that one bite of white bread or a bite of birthday cake will lead to a gigantic binge and so it does- and all the parameters for that to happen are set up in the OA infrastructure.  And then, a binge eating habit or disorder gets activated.

I’ve had hundreds of clients over the years come in both damaged and traumatized by groups like OA, Greysheets, HOW, and Food Addicts Anonymous. They are in a place where they can’t stop bingeing and they are feeling shamed and angry at themselves. They just want to get their abstinence back- but they can’t. They can do 10 days or 2 weeks – but they seem to just not be able to get to that multi-year abstinence that “everyone else” has. Oh yeah, that’s the other thing- they somehow believe that they are alone in their struggles with OA.  They believe that they are the only ones and that they are bad. The feel ashamed. OA then becomes their own inner critic and often takes the place of their own over-critical parent.  It’s retraumatizing. They’ve given their own inner critic an office and a team. And the worst part is feeling totally alone, without your tribe, your village.  If you are someone who feels  this way, you are not alone. I see multiple OA/FA drop outs each year who have scars and trauma from the fellowship, who have been rejected by this “family” because they cannot get their abstinence back. You are not alone. If you are not comfortable with the group and you have an instinct that something is wrong, their probably is. 

But is there any good to OA? 

YES! Definitely. OA is a fellowship where you can find other folks struggling with the same issues that  you are. One of the best things that you can do for recovery is get support and OA definitely has support. There are some amazing OA groups out there- where you will find smart, kind people who want to help you recover spiritually and not make it all about the food.   There are some people who have life long amazing recovery in the rooms.  Though I’ve seen people find pain in OA, I’ve also seen people find amazing recovery. There are some really amazing fellowships out there that don’t rely on food plans, or rigid rules. You have to find what works for you. As they say, take what you need and leave the rest.

If you want to find some recovery in OA here are my suggestions- this is what I’ve seen that really helps people recover in OA.  

1. Don’t define your abstinence as abstinence from a food. Define it as abstinence from a process. For example: Abstinent from obsessing about food and calories. Abstinent from dieting. Abstinent from bingeing. But never abstinent from flour or sugar or anything like that. That puts you right back into diet mode. 

2. Find a sponsor who will work on you with your steps – but not with a food plan- don’t call your food into anyone. If you need a food plan for recovery- please see a registered dietician who specializes in treating eating disorders. Find one here or here.

3. Find like minded people who report a recovery of self love, kindness and  a mind body and spirit connection. Try to stay away from the weight loss and dieting parts of OA. 

4. Go to several different meetings until you find one that really resonates with you. 

5. Consider eating disorders anonymous as well. Their principals are more aligned with eating disorders as a process and dieting as part of that process.

6. Understand that everyone is doing the best that they can– have compassion for everyone around you and honor their process. Don’t judge people’s choices in OA nor their relapses, it’s always important to have oodles and oodles of compassion for yourself and for those around you. Honoring your own process might mean that your needs change at different times.  

The situation is not black and white. There are many people who have found complete peace with food and their body image in OA- however there are as many who have not. If it feels right and good and your are happy- stay. But if it feels bad – listen to your instincts. You have everything you need inside of you to know what you need. 

Articles about OA worth reading.

Why OA Doesn’t Work

Why I left Overeaters Anonymous

Inside Overeaters Anonymous

Power, Control, & Overeaters Anonymous

How Overeaters Anonymous Saved Me

Using OA after Bariatric Surgery



*Lanugo is soft light blond peach fuzz that grows on women who have anorexia

*After years of treatment, both in patient and therapy- her bulimia is in full remission, she is on the other side of recovery and she’s a successful surgeon.

Dealing with Deeply Ingrained Beliefs

why do i feel so worthless

I was talking to one of my long-term clients yesterday who is just SO. DAMN. TIRED. And she feels like the only thing she can do is stand in front of her refrigerator and binge eat. Of course she is tired, she has a part-time job in the healthcare field and she has a 6-month old baby at home. In discussing ways that she can delegate and get some rest sometimes, what came out is that she is afraid to delegate. She doesn’t want anyone holding her baby, doing her charting, washing the dishes, cleaning her house, anything else. Why? Not because she has control issues, but because she wants to be seen as indispensable. She is afraid that if she were not “pulling her weight” and being the best she could be, that she would be replaced. That she would be fired and replaced at work, that she would be left and replaced by her partner and that she would be rejected and replaced by her baby.  Meanwhile she’s in so much physical pain that she can’t walk and she’s so stressed out that she finds herself bingeing constantly. It’s not rational, right? Obviously her baby isn’t going to find a new Mommy if she lets someone hold him and rock him while she takes a bath. Obviously her partner is not going to leave her if the house isn’t perfectly clean. Obviously as a top provider in her field, she’s not going to be fired if she takes a lunch break.  But core wounds are not rational. This woman’s Dad left her and her Mom, and replaced them with a new family. He did that again to his new family, and he did that one more time. So, somewhere in her brain she felt that she was easily replaced. Clearly this was her Dad’s issue, he was the problem- he was nomadic, didn’t know how to stay put, didn’t know how to be close to those who loved him. But it’s incredible how one person’s problems set off a chain reaction, isn’t it? Even though him being a chronic abandoner had nothing to do with her, in her little girl brain, she believed that it was her fault which somehow made her into a hyperfunctioning adult who has a million balls in the air and never allows one to drop. To the detriment of everything inside her. And obviously this takes a toll not just on herself but on those around her. No one wants a stressed out Mama or wife. Even though she felt like getting a massage would be selfish and taking care of herself and delegating responsibility to others  would be selfish and risky, she has come to understand that it’s not true. It’s her core wound that is telling her that. In reality, if she were to have some self-care rituals, she might alleviate the stress and have more ease to her life. The people around her might also feel more ease. 

So what about you? What core issues do you have that are keeping you from living your life in a more comfortable way? What is your “original myth?” Hers was “I am replaceable…”  
or “I have to be better than everybody else so that I’m not abandoned…” Other original myths I’ve heard are:
“Who I am is not loveable, so I always have to do more. I can’t be a human being, I have to be a human doing…” or
“I am worthless…”
“I don’t have the kind of money that other people have and never will…” 
“No one will ever love me…”
“I am too needy…”
“I am too much for people…”

What we have to remember is that these original myths were formed when we were children because of something that was going on around us that had nothing to do with us. But as children, we can’t step outside ourselves and analyze our world. We see everything as an extension of ourselves and then the stories become ingrained. 

Questions to ask yourself:

“What around me stressful when I was a child?” 
“Who was anxious?”
“Who was angry?” 
“Who said or did hurtful things?” 
“How did that stay with me?”
“How did that create my original myth?”
“How is this still with me?”
“How can I remind myself that it’s not real?”

As you ask yourself these questions, you might come to find that you are able to loosen your grip on certain behaviors that keep you tired and stressed out. 

Ten Myths About Binge Eating Disorder

Ten Myths About Binge Eating1. All binge eaters are obese

Completely untrue. In fact most of the people I see in my practice are considered a “normal weight.”  Food is their drug and bingeing is something they do in private and something people will go at lengths to hide, including maintaining a normal weight. In fact, I’ve  had clients who were downright skinny but who binged on food often and felt completely out of control with it.

2. All obese people are binge eaters

Actually, binge eating affects 8% of the obese population. Which means that 92% of obese people are NOT affected by binge eating.  In fact, despite the media’s belief that all fat people are unhealthy, there are many, many people who are both fat and fit. 

3. People who binge eat need more will power and self-control

People who binge eat usually have incredibly amounts of will power and self control. And though this is not true for every binge eater, for the most part, people who binge eat tend to be extremely high achieving and controlled in many aspects of their lives, including controlling their food. It’s this control that tends to sometimes backfire causing an all out rebellion against  the person’s inner critic. What a person who binge eats actually needs is more self compassion and support, not more rules and self control. Learning to support oneself in a positive way, not in a pejorative way will empower the binge eater feel more comfortable around food and less likely to be overpowered by an all out binge.

4. People who binge eat purge by vomiting

Not everyone who binge eats purges by vomiting. Some people compensate by over exercising, some compensate by fasting, some compensate by dieting, some compensate by taking laxatives, and some don’t compensate at all.

5. Binge eating is a bad habit and not a true disorder

Binge eating is more complex than simply a bad habit, it’s actually an impulse control issue, although it is not technically classified as and impulse control disorder.  However, using similar techniques as are used in certain other ICDs (like compulsive shopping) binge eating can be healed.  I’ve seen wonders done with DBT and mindfulness training.

6. Men don’t binge eat

Actually, Binge Eating Disorder affects 2% of men.  However, men don’t tend to get help as often as women. In fact, it’s stigmatized as a woman’s issues, so men tend to shy away from support and feel that they have to just stop or do it alone. In his blog about healing from binge eating, Alan Standish says, “Guys, Binge Eating Disorder affects us just as much as it does women. Don’t be embarrassed.”

7. Binge eating is incurable

It’s really not as grim as it’s made out to be. In healing from binge eating, you really heal your life in so many different ways. You become more organized in your thinking and more thoughtful and mindful. You can come to a place where you are able to let go of your feelings and fears about food. Food becomes nurturing instead of the enemy. I’ve seen it happen over and over again with my clients and that has certainly been my own experience.

8.Binge eating is caused by chronic emptiness

Just because you are binge eater, it doesn’t mean that you are broken. It doesn’t mean that you have a bottomless pit that you will never fill. However, having binge eating disorder can feel hopeless and you might feel as though you are totally out of control and a total mess. But you’re not. You need support, you need compassion and you need some help to get you passed it.

9. Drinking a glass of wine can help curb binge eating

Sometimes people will have a drink in order to calm down the urge to binge eat. But it often backfires. This is what I call “the solution becoming the problem.” If you drink to feel more in control, your problem might then become the drink. And more often than not, people wind up bingeing if they have drank too much- if not that night, then certainly the next morning to deal with a hangover and the shame that often accompanies it.

10. Quitting carbohydrates can help stop binge eating

No. It doesn’t. It really doesn’t. I’m very much a proponent of eating whole foods as much as possible and eschewing processed foods for the most part. So, eating lots of foods out of a box, probably not the best idea for overall health, however, unless you have sugar issues (as in hypoglycemia or diabetes)- it is not advisable to give up fruits and vegetables- even yams and potatoes. Your body runs more efficiently when you are eating a variety of whole foods. If you wind up on a very low carb diet, it’s likely that you might find yourself bingeing on carbs. It’s not because you have no lack of control, it’s because your cells are screaming for glucose and your body will push you into getting what it  needs for survival!

How to Stick to New Year’s Resolutions

In a session today, a client said to me, “Every year I make all these great New Years resolutions, and every year I fail at them. What am I doing wrong? Everyone else knows how to stick to their new years resolutions, why can’t I? I feel like a loser.”










Does this feel familiar? Does anyone else deal with this?

First off, everyone else definitely does not know how to stick to their New Year’s resolutions. In fact, according to Wikipedia, “52% of participants in a resolution study were confident of success with their goals, only 12% actually achieved their goals.”

I think that many people don’t really know how to make attainable or realistic New Year’s resolutions. What I see often are people creating very rigid black and white New Year’s resolutions that are set ups to failure.

New Year’s resolutions are great! They are a way to reflect on the past year, think about what worked and what you want to bring of into your life and a way to think about what didn’t work so well and what you want to let go of in your life.

People often make resolutions that sound something like this:

  • Lose 10 pounds.
  • Be more confident
  • Stop eating sugar
  • Quit drinking alcohol
  • Make more money
  • Go to therapy every week and never miss a session 😉
  • Get a boyfriend/girlfriend
  • Quit smoking
  • Stop wasting time on the internet
  • Quit drinking diet coke
  • Go to the gym every day
  • Save more money

But come January 4th, when you’re back at work and stressed out and that guy walking down the street puffing on a Camel light passes you, and you compulsively bum a cigarette off him, well then you’re screwed. 2011 is ruined. You now have to wait another year to quit smoking. Okay, that’s extreme, but often that’s how black and white it can be with resolutions. A better way to make resolutions is to try and create more of a life that you want by integrating more of the kinds of behaviors that you have seen worked for you in the past.

For example:

  • I will work on decreasing my binge eating by calling supportive people when I know that I’m heading into a challenging situation and by eating three meals a day and by getting enough protein.
  • I will join Quitnet to get some support in helping me quit smoking.
  • I will try to be kinder to myself. When I notice that I’m being mean to myself, I will take a breath and promptly stop.
  • I will decrease the amount of processed sugar that I eat by integrating more fruit into my diet and letting go of processed sugary snacks.
  • Rather than drinking 6 diet cokes a day, I will drink water, kombucha, green tea, and allow myself to have 1 diet coke each day if I choose.
  • I will set a timer to allow myself 20 minutes twice a to waste time on the internet.
  • I will let people know that I am interested in being introduced to a potential partner or start dating online.
  • I will decrease the amount of alcohol that I am drinking. If I find that I cannot do that, or if it is a major problem for me,  I will consider my treatment options.
  • I will prioritize my therapy appointments, though I understand that things come up at times that are beyond my control.
  • I will look for jobs or think about ways to increase my earning potential by talking to people who have skills that I admire or by going back to school or being open to suggestions from other people.
  • I will find an activity partner to go hiking with or I will join a run club/tri-club.
  • I will bring lunch from home twice a week and take the money I save and put it in a savings account.

Resolutions should be flexible and malleable. Not rigid and fixed. They should have wiggle room and the ability to grow and evolve. Integrating small changes can have a snowball effect.

Rather than expecting to be one person acting one way on December 31s and an entirely different person on January 1st, think about yourself as a small snowball. As rolls down a snowy hill,  it picks up more snow, gaining speed, power, strength, mass, surface area and momentum. Eventually it becomes a gigantic ball of snow.  You can create a snowball effect by implementing small, doable changes that become very large grandiose changes.  Start small, implement more changes, get some momentum and let it take on a life of its own.

What kinds of things worked for you in 2010? What didn’t work for you? What do you want to bring in more of? What do you want to bring in less of?

Telling people about your resolutions and talking about the changes you are making can be helpful in growing them. Joining with people who have similar goals and resolutions can also be helpful.

What kinds of resolutions do you have and how do you plan on implementing them?

Do you have a question about binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, or anything associated with eating disorders? Send an email to bingeeatingtherapy  at gmail dot com. All questions will be kept confidential. Include your first name or the name you want to be referred to as and your location.

Try talking to your food!

natalie dee drawing archive: aug 2006

What if instead of being afraid of food or trying to control food or yourself, what if you made friends with food? What if he who was once the enemy became your friend?

If you have an eating disorder, you probably notice that a lot of what you deal with is fear. Fear of food, fear of parties with food, fear of being out in the world,  fear of what people think of you, fear of how you look or how other people see you, fear of being liked or not being liked, fear of being good enough, fear of pain or emotional hurt, fear of gaining weight, fear of losing weight, fear of fat, fear of eating, fear of not eating…

But what if you disempowered the fear of food by making friend with it?

The other day, a client of mine was telling me that after every public speaking event that she speaks at, she sits down alone  and eats an apple because she is so revved up and the apple helps her calm down. She said, “I know it’s just an apple, but still, I’m using food to dampen my feelings…”  But here’s the thing. Food IS nurturing.  It keeps you alive and nourishes your body. I asked her what it would be like to smile at that apple and say, “thank you for sitting with me and helping me to decompress after my event,” and then enjoy the apple.   We then took that a step further and discussed what it would be like to talk to her food all the time. Like say, “hey brownie, I really want to eat you, but I’m afraid you might lead to a binge…” and then listen to what the brownie had to say. Maybe it would say, “I think that today I’m going to lead you into a binge, so maybe you should just avoid me right now,” or maybe it would say, “Yes, sit down and eat me slowly, I’m not binge food today,” or maybe it would say, “Eat half of me now and half of me later!”  Or whatever it is.

This is obviously another exercise in mindfulness and intuitive eating, but it’s a fun way to embrace your food rather than fear it. It’s a way to think about what you’re putting in your mouth and a way to learn to create limits and boundaries around food.

So, next time you are ready to eat, sit down and check in with your food, “are you what’s healthy for me right now? if not, what do you think I need?”   Food is something that is here to sustain and love you. Your body deserves love and the food that you eat should be loving.  Try it!


A recovery story

I’ve been seeing *Emily in therapy for four years. She has written her recovery story and agreed to have it posted.

I actually remember the first time I binged and purged. I was in eighth grade and we were at Thanksgiving dinner at my grandparents’ house. My grandma used to make these huge elaborate meals, with like 5 or 6 different pies and all sorts of mashed potatoes and stuffing. My cousin Jenny, who is a year older than me, was there. She was like, everyone’s princess.  Everyone was soooo excited because Jenny had  made the cheerleading squad at her high school and she was in the homecoming court. Up until that year, me and Jenny had always sat there during Thanksgiving and giggle and eat all the pies together. But this year, she barely paid attention to me.  She wore these tight  jeans and kept her portions small. She was like a real teenager.  My mother looked at her admirably and said she was so proud of how beautiful Jenny had become. She also said that it was smart to watch her figure now that she was no longer a little girl. My mom then looked at me and said nothing as I scarfed down my third piece of pie. I had never really thought about it before. I mean that’s what we did on Thanksgiving. We ate my Grandma’s pies. Even my Grandma turned against me. “Eat less pie Emily! Be more like Jenny. Look how thin and gorgeous she is now!”  I felt horrible. My own (not name brand) jeans were unbuttoned to make room for my swollen belly and I felt how greasy my hair and skin had become.  After dinner, I excused myself to the bathroom and I don’t know how or why, but I began searching through the medicine cabinet. That’s when I saw the chocolate ex-lax. I knew what they did and I knew that I could use them to get rid of the pie. I don’t know how I knew to use them. I guess I’d heard of it somewhere… and so I took three pills. I remember thinking that I should take more than it said on the back, but I didn’t want anyone to notice that they were gone.  The laxatives kicked in that night. I sat up all night running to the bathroom. And although my stomach felt ravaged and I was in terrible pain, after my bathroom  trips, I would step on the scale and see how much weight I’d lost. It was amazing to me that the pounds were just dropping off. And that’s how it started.  Later that week, I made myself throw up after eating a milkshake and onion rings from Burger King.

And that was my descent into the dark years of bingeing, purging, taking laxatives, and starving myself. I kept trying to be more like my cousin Jenny who showed up at Thanksgiving every year more and more beautiful, with perfect grades, the captain of cheerleading, with a football player boyfriend. And me, I became more and more isolated. I had put on a lot of weight and I wore all black, smoked cigarettes and had kept my hair dyed black and pierced everything I could. I didn’t really have a boyfriend, though I did sleep with a lot of boys, but no one wanted to get serious with me. I kidded myself into thinking that I didn’t care. But I was depressed. Really depressed. I used to cut myself on the arms and legs sometimes, just so that I could emote because I felt, I believed that I was completely alone. My grandparents seemed to tolerate me, but didn’t have a lot of interest or pride in me. And my mother sort of seemed disgusted by me. She knew about my activities with boys and told me that I had no self-respect.  Food was a lot of what comforted me. I would eat full pizzas on my own after school and wash them down with diet cokes. I’d go days eating nothing, just drinking coffee and diet coke and eating pixie sticks to keep me going. Then I’d collapse, cut school and go to the donut store and eat a dozen donuts in the parking lot, wash them down with diet coke and laxatives, then throw up in the bathroom of the gas station, and then drive around town buying food to binge on and find gas station bathrooms to purge in.  I just wanted to be normal. I wanted to be like my cousin Jenny. I wanted people to love me and I wanted to be beautiful and cared for. I thought that if I could get thin enough, I’d be okay. But my bingeing and purging  continued all through high school, and shockingly, I still was able to get good enough grades to get into college.

I stopped purging in college, but became addicted to diet pills, marijuana, and sometimes even cocaine to keep me from eating. I finally lost all the weight I wanted to, but my body was breaking down. I suffered three fractures by the second semester of my sophomore year. I realized then that I had to stop with my eating disorder. But I couldn’t. I had no idea how to eat normally. I tried to eat three meals a day, but it always ended with me bingeing. I managed to stop purging, but I was still bingeing and then restricting. I did manage to graduate from college, but my grades really weren’t very good. I barely went to class and when I did, I didn’t pay attention or get much out of my classes. I really wasted my mother’s money.

After college, I tried a variety of things to help me lose weight. I tried different diets, I tried nutritionists, I tried a 12 step group with a food plan. But all of those things made me just binge when I fell off my food plans or diets.  Eventually, I decided to start seeing a therapist. I knew I had an eating disorder and was ready for help. It was really hard at first because I felt like my therapist just couldn’t help me with the thing I most needed help with– I wanted to lose weight, I wanted to stop bingeing. I told her to just tell me what to do and fix me. She gave me lots of assignments, many of them were about eating 3 meals a day, whatever I wanted, but I had to eat mindfully. She sent me to a nutritionist who specialized in treating eating disorders, and she also recommended that I see a psychiatrist to help me get some meds that might help with my depression.  I spent a lot of money. A serious amount of money between all those specialists. But I was desperate. 

Talking to my therapist really felt like a relief. We talked through a lot of the pain, depression, and through a lot of my childhood.  I realized that a lot of my eating disorder wasn’t about the food and it wasn’t about me getting thin. It was about me feeling really badly about myself. My Dad left my Mom and I when I was 5 years old, and I always thought it was my fault. The more I began to understand how I felt completely flawed my whole life, the more I understand that it was a myth– a story that I told myself. And that through that myth that I had conceptualized in my 5 year old mind, I began to act the way I believed I was. I tried desperately to get love and attention from men, but ultimately, I felt so worthless, that I let them treat me like crap– letting them have sex with me then ignore me the next day. My mother said I had no self respect, and she was right. But she never taught me how to respect myself. She never quite let me think I was worthy of love and admiration. I wasn’t any less smart or less beautiful than Jenny, I just believed I was. She had a mother and a father at home. I had no Dad and a Mom who was angry and felt rejected and resentful. She came into therapy with me several times as we discussed her own feelings of being worthless after my Dad left her for a much younger woman.   As I began to understand my own sense of worth, I started to try and take better care of myself. I learned to sit with my feelings, I learned to HOLD myself with respect. That was huge. I didn’t have to be super witty, nor did I have to do everything for everybody to make them like me. I didn’t have to be anything. I just had to respect myself. And so as I did, my eating disorder began to have less of a hold on me. As I talked through all those things, I realized that the drive to be thin was really just a drive to be accepted. So I learned to accept myself. It has been really hard for me to accept all those lost years, it’s like my whole teen years and most of my 20s were stolen by my eating disorder. But in learning to accept, I’m just trying to respectfully mourn those lost years.

I’ve been 100% free from any eating disorder behaviors since September 18th, 2010. That was the day before my 28th birthday. I am not afraid of Ed any longer. I know that I have the tools to work through whatever life should hand me. And if I do relapse, I know that I can’t lose the recovery that I have. 

*Name has been changed.

If you have a recovery story that you would like to be published, please send it to bingeeatingtherapy (at)

Eating Disorder Therapy

therapy for eating disorderWhat exactly happens when you go to therapy to heal from an eating disorder? What is therapy anyway?

This is the first of a series about different levels of treatment.

Unfortunately, most people who suffer from eating disorders don’t get treatment, either because they don’t have the money, the time or they feel that they should be able to heal from eating disorders all on their own, or that their particular issue isn’t severe enough to warrant treatment. What is important to remember is that it’s always okay to get help. Your eating disorder thrives in isolation and reaching out and getting help is what will heal it. Trying to work through it alone often perpetuates the issue. It doesn’t have to get to the point of totally unmanageable before you ask for support. You don’t have to hit bottom. You don’t have to be vomiting all day long, or starving yourself down to nothing or eating constantly all day to get help. It’s really common for someone to come in and feel embarrassed that they’re asking for help because they feel that they’re “not sick enough” or even “not skinny enough” to qualify for an eating disorder. If food feels hard for you, if you find that you’re simply overthinking eating, if you’re uncomfortable in your body, or you just want someone to talk to in order to suss out your situation  and figure out if you even need help and what kind of help you need, it’s okay to call someone. Going to therapy or to treatment doesn’t mean you’re crazy or that you “need help.” Therapy is a place for you to take care of yourself. It gives you time and space to think about your needs and to act on them. It’s a way to take care of yourself.


You can choose to see a Psychologist (Psydoc), a Licensed Social Worker, (LCSW), a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, (MFT) or a Licensed Mental Health Professional (LPC) or a Psychiatrist (MD).  Psychiatrists are the only ones who can prescribe medication, but many psychiatrists don’t do counseling. If you need meds, your therapist will usually consult with your psychiatrist, so that you are getting med management one place and therapy elsewhere.

Before a therapist becomes licensed, she or he must see patients a certain amount of hours (usually 3000) and then take some exams in order to be licensed in their state. This process can take anywhere from 3-6 years after finishing from graduate schools. Before getting licensed, these interns are supervised by licensed professionals while seeing clients. If you would like to see an intern, they usually charge much less than those who are licensed.

When you go in for eating disorder treatment with a therapist, they will often want to treat you along with a nutritionist and sometimes a psychiatrist.

So what happens in therapy? That’s difficult to say. First off, a therapist will not fix you. Therapy isn’t a magic cure, but it’s an open space that gives you the opportunity to think about your situation and strategize ways to improve it. There are a million different ways that therapists work to heal eating disorders. My own personal brand of therapy is eclectic integrative, which means I draw from many different modalities of psychotherapy to create  my own brand. I most often utilize a mixture of psychodynamic therapy  – which is more of the classic Freudian approach- where we discuss your family dynamics and past events in your life and how they have contributed to your current ways of existing in the world. This is incredibly helpful because it makes the unconscious conscious. It allows you to understand why you are behaving in ways that you’re behaving rather than purely reacting as you always have. It gives you some perspective and the ability to step outside of yourself so that you can make better choices about your behaviors. This goes well with cognitive behavioral therapy– which then takes your unconscious that you have now made conscious and enables you to make a choice by giving you options of different ways to think about your situation and react toward your situation. I also utilize somatic therapy and mindfulness which both make you more aware of the feelings that you are holding in your body so that you can work with the actual feelings that you are having rather than hiding from them by acting out with food. I also utilize hypnotherapy which is another way of increasing mindfulness and making you aware of your behaviors and the choices you have.

When you start with a therapist you will begin by education your therapist about your specific eating issues, how long you’ve been suffering, what your behaviors are and the severity of them. They might take your weight and find out how many times a day, week, or month you’re bingeing or bingeing and purging. Understanding the severity of your eating disorder is key to understanding what kind of treatment you will need. You might need weekly therapy sessions as well as sessions with a nutritionist and/or group therapy and a psychiatrist, or weekly sessions might be enough. It’s also possible that  you might need a higher level of care, such as an IOP, a PHP, residential treatment or hospitalization. But your therapist can help you to assess that. Sometimes, if you don’t seem to be on track with your healing, you might need a higher level of care as therapy goes on.  With eating disorder treatment, the first course of action is working to reduce the behaviors, as those decrease, you then begin to work on the feelings or the issues that trigger the behaviors. Often, as the symptoms decrease, challenging feelings increase.  I personally believe that it’s very helpful to stay in therapy after the symptoms (eating disorder behaviors) end in order to work deeply on the underlaying issues. This helps to prevent relapse and also helps you to continue moving forward in your life and achieve the things that you couldn’t before because your eating disorder was taking over.

To find a therapist who treats eating disorders, you can look on ED referral, Something Fishy, or  NEDA.

You can also search on Good Therapy or Psychology Today. Look for someone who specializes in treating eating disorders.

It is possible to find low-fee therapy. You might want to call a University near you that probably has students and interns in counseling centers. You might call a local hospital or mental health agency. If that fails, call a local therapist who probably knows where to refer you go.

Next up: IOP (intensive outpatient treatment)

Anger and Binge Eating

couple having breakfast, guy talking on the phoneThere is a theory that many people binge on crunchy food, such as cereal or chips when they are trying to process unconscious anger.  Anger is a  challenging feeling for many women to feel. When rage and anger goes unexpressed, it turns inward and becomes depression. What’s important is to learn how to be in touch with your feelings so that you can recognize anger when it occurs. Perhaps someone cut you off when you were driving, or someone at a store said something rude or insensitive, or your boss upset you. Lots of women internalize that and believe that if someone said something mean or rude or insensitive to them, that they probably deserved it. But the truth is, no one should ever treat you with unkindness or disrespect, even if you mess up.  If they do, it is a character flaw within them.  In my opinion, being kind, being compassionate and holding yourself in integrity will get you far in life. And everyone deserves to be treated with kindness unless proven otherwise. When someone treats your poorly, it’s their fault, not yours.  When a binge eater is mistreated, rather than either standing up for him or herself or processing her anger, she will eat over it. It’s ironic. Someone hurt you and your response is to hurt yourself. When you begin to choose recovery, you will notice that your feelings are more apparent to you. When someone makes you angry, either talk to them about it (if it’s safe). If it’s not safe, write an angry letter and put it in a bottle and send it out to sea. Don’t let that anger fester inside of you to hurt you. Don’t stuff it down, get it out. You can talk to a close friend about it, you can punch a pillow, you and put on heavy boots and clomp up a hill.  It’s not easy to recognize when your default has always been to eat as soon as you even begin to feel anger, but if you can stop yourself and ask, “what am I feeling?” you might find that you are able to save yourself.

Your Rewards are on the Other Side

It’s really hard to not binge when you want to binge. It’s really hard to go out for a run or to the gym or for a walk when you want to sit home and sit in front of the television and binge. It’s really hard to sit down for 20 minutes and meditate when you’re sitting in front of your laptop staring at Facebook. It’s really hard to go to a yoga class when your couch is so comfy. It’s really hard to go to the DMV or the post office or to clean your house or do dishes or straighten things out with your insurance company or any other mundane task that has to get done when you can put them off for another day.

It’s hard but it’s not really. But it is all at the same time. I mean, really, how hard is it to walk out of your house or apartment and talk a walk or a jog around the block. It’s easy. How hard is it to close your laptop or turn off your TV and go do your laundry? None of it is really hard. But it feels hard. It’s that resistance to doing that can feel so challenging.

Waiting for the motivation to study or to do art or to work on your novel or sit down to meditate or to go to the gym often doesn’t work. Sometimes we have to fight through our own resistance. This is a practice. It’s about understanding that you don’t want to do these things but doing them anyway. The reward is on the other side.

For instance, if you know that you really, really want to binge, it takes a great deal of effort not to. It takes more effort to call a friend or to write in your journal or to do something different. However, think about the future. Take a few moments to think about how you will feel if you do give into the binge. What will you be feeling later? Tomorrow? What if you choose not to? How will you feel then? When you are addicted to bingeing, you associate the binge with pleasure. The idea here is to create new synapses in your brain so that you begin to associate not bingeing with pleasure. So that you begin to find not bingeing more effortless. This is the same with doing things like menial chores that you don’t want to do or things that would be good for you like yoga, meditation or exercise. Try to think about the future. “If I meditate for 20 minutes, I will feel great later. If I go for a 1/2 hour walk, I will feel great afterwards.” As you begin to push through the resistance, you will find that getting things done takes much less effort because you begin to associate productivity with pleasure.

As you practice this, you will be rewarded by having a bed that’s always made, clean dishes, no bills or debt piling up. You will find that life just feels easier. The resistance isn’t necessarily real, it just is. You don’t even have to fight the resistance. You can bring it with you, put it in the car next to you and bring it to the DMV (it will certainly have lots of company there)! This can be so empowering as you begin to take responsibility for your own life and begin to meet your own needs.

If you find that it feels impossible to move through your resistance, you might want to begin to ask your resistance why it’s there with you and what purpose it serves. As you begin to understand why it’s there, you might find that you don’t have use for it anymore. Motivation is hard to muster up, but don’t wait for it. Bring your blase’ attitude with you on whatever you do. You don’t have to say, “I’m going to meditate for 20 minutes” but you can say, “i’m going to meditate for 20 seconds,” and let yourself sit for just a moment. You don’t have to go to the gym for 45 minutes, you can take one quick walk around your block. You don’t even have to do that, you can take a walk out your front door and walk for exactly one minute then turn around. Sometimes, the idea of having to do something can be so overwhelming that it stops you. Don’t make it into an event. Just do whatever you can. You might find that once you get started you can continue longer than you planned. Maybe not. Even just a bit will find your rewards.
Rather than completely resisting a binge, tell yourself that you’re going to put it off for 20 minutes.

You will find that giving in (to a binge, to facebook, to procrastination) is much less pleasurable as you begin to find the joy in taking control of your life. Things just begin to get easier.

Friday Q&A- Do I have an eating disorder?

attractive young woman in bed binge eatingQuestion: Submitted via email by Dagny from Vilinus, Lithuania

Hi,I would be very happy if you could help me to answer one question. I am not sure if I have an eating disorder or I am simply eating in an unhealthy way. Recently I have started reading articles about it. Since then I suspect I have a bulimia: I have most of the symptoms but I never purge. Five years ago graduating a school and starting a University changed my lifestyle and in a short I put on 5kg. Being all my life slim suddenly I felt different and even fat. I decided to decrease the amount of food that I eat. But one day I started bingeing. The next day I started everything from the beginning but the story continues till now. I weigh more or less the same all the time and never got rid those 5 kilos (my BMI is the minimum normal). I am really lost now because I don’t really feel when and what I need to eat, I don’t really ever feel happy when eating and despite the fact that I try to control myself I am frequently bingeing. I have started a therapy as I have a depression but I don’t really know how to change my eating habits. There are times when I manage to eat three times a day without eating too much and I feel great! I also think that at those times I don’t eat enough and I simply started loving the feeling of hunger.

With a smile,
Dagny from Vilnius

Hi Dagny,
Thanks for your question.  So called “Normal” eating (not disordered eating) is the ability to eat when your hungry and stop when you’re satisfied. Of course everyone overeats or undereats at times, and that still doesn’t mean they have disordered eating. What distinguishes your habits as disordered eating are not just the erratic binges, but the intense distress that you feel around your eating,  your attempts to control your eating and feeling powerless against it, and the feeling of joy and excitement that you feel when you are  hungry. These red flags might indicate that you are dealing with disordered eating and possibly an eating disorder.  For someone who isn’t dealing with an eating disorder, hunger suggests that it’s time to eat. Nothing more. It’s a physical cue, not an emotional sensation. For the disordered eater, hunger can be a high, it can make one feel virtuous and good, or for someone on the other side of the spectrum, it can be very scary and incite terror.
So, what can you do?
1.)First off, I’m happy to hear that you are seeing a therapist for your depression. It’s always interesting to begin to examine how food and eating go with mood. For people with eating disorders, they are intrinsically linked. Do you eat when you’re stressed? Sad? Anxious? Happy? What is it that you’re really needing during those times, what can you replace the binges with?
2.)I also recommend seeing a nutritionist who can guide you toward healthy eating. It’s hard to know what’s right to eat. My own personal eating habits mostly center around whole, unprocessed food. Anything that grows. So, I eat a lot of fruit, dried fruits, vegetables, nuts,  and fish and chicken and some red meat. I also eat yogurt, cheese and sometimes, a couple of times a week, I will eat a cookie or a pastry or a slice of pizza or something else that is seemingly more processed  than what I usually eat. Because I’ve chosen to eat healthy most of the time but not restrict treats, I’m able to eat them without bingeing on them or without feeling guilty. It’s just food. Pizza is not a crime.
You have to find what kind of eating habits are right for you and your body type. No one plan fits all.
It’s great that you’ve noticed that when you eat three meals a day you feel good. That is exactly what you need to be doing, commit to eating three meals a day. Because right now you’re unable to recognize your cues for hunger and satiety, you might want to eat by the clock. Eat three meals a day with a couple of snacks in between. Eat breakfast within 30 minutes of waking.  Eat slowly and mindfully. Chew your food and notice what it feels like to eat, swallow, digest. Begin to allow yourself to notice the difference between eating for sustenance and binge eating.  Eat enough so that you are no longer hungry. You don’t have to be full and uncomfortable. A breakfast that I enjoy and feels nourishing to me is two eggs and a banana and orange juice and a cup of tea. That feels like enough food to tide me over for a few hours. What feels like enough food to tide you over for a few hours?  After your breakfast, allow yourself to really look at the clock and decide that in 2-3 hours, you’ll have a small snack. Usually my midday snack is something like a cup of yogurt or a handful of almonds or an apple and a piece of string cheese.  What kind of snack do you like?  What helps you keep going? For lunch I usually have either a fresh salad with chicken or tuna in it, or some hot vegetables such as brussel sprouts or a squash with some tofu or chicken to go with it, or I’ll have chicken soup or some other kind of soup– chili or hearty stock soups or stews are popular here too.  Later, I’ll have a snack, usually fruit and nuts. Dinner is often lots of vegetables and a potato and some kind of meat. Then, I usually have dried fruit for desert, or sometimes I’ll have ice cream or frozen yogurt. I might have a snack later or not. It depends on how I’m feeling and how late I eat dinner. This is what keeps me going for the day.  Sometimes dinner will be pizza, or chinese food or Indian food. Sometimes I’ll eat very large portions, on hungry days, and sometimes I’ll eat smaller portions.  You don’t have to eat the same things or the same portion sizes day to day. It’s about giving your body what it needs at the given time by tuning into your hunger and your needs for food. Though this is intuitive for non disordered eaters, it’s not for people with eating disorders. It will probably be challenging at the beginning to know when you are hungry and when you are satisfied.  It’s a practice to do this.  You might begin by taking a few weeks or months to train your body to eat at given times.
For example:
Breakfast- 7 am
Snack- 10 am
Lunch – 1pm
Snack- 4pm
Dinner- 7pm
Snack 10pm
You can create a limit for yourself that you are not going to eat between meals or snacks, but because you know that you’ll be getting another meal in a few hours, your brain knows it doesn’t have to binge. As you adjust to your new schedule, your hunger will begin to adjust as well and eventually you will find that you are hungry and ready to eat at certain times.
3.)Bulimia and binge eating have the pattern of ALL or nothing. What you’re looking to do here is normalize that. Rather than all or nothing, you’re trying to balance out your day of eating. This will get your eating habits to a more normal state.
Thanks for your question. I hope that the answer was helpful.
Do you have a question about binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, or anything associated with eating disorders? Send an email to bingeeatingtherapy  at gmail dot com. All questions will be kept confidential. Include your first name or the name you want to be referred to as and your location.