Do I still have an eating disorder?

By Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

I’ll be 26 next month. I used to be bulimic. I’m not sure when it started but I know in the 7th grade I picked up smoking specifically because I heard it was an appetite suppressant. So it had to be before that. Through high school I would exercise compulsively before and after school vomit abuse laxatives and even went through a period of straight binge eating. Then I did nothing to compensate. I would hoard food all over my room and from the moment I got home from school I’d just sit in my room and eat until it hurt like hell and I fell asleep. In my first and second year of college I was still actively bulimic. Getting up in the middle of the night when my roommate was asleep to eat stashes of food and throwing it up. Periods of over exercising or compensatory strict dieting eating nothing as long as possible. I reigned myself in and stopped for the most part with a few periods on and off.

To bring it to the present. There are thoughts and behaviors that I have always continued weather I am eating normally or not. I have never stopped weighing myself countless times a day. I keep the scale in the living room so that I can easily do it over and over again. I always count calories and know the calories that are in what I am eating even if it is a normal intake. I am constantly displeased with my body uncomfortable in my own skin comparing myself to other females desiring to be thinner weather I am engaging in it or not. These things and others have never stopped even if and though I am eating normally.

Last year at 5’4 I was 135 last month I was 110 last week I was 114 now I am 117 shooting for 110 again and in my mind, though it is a desire I don’t think I will act on, Id like to be 100.

Being actively bulimic for so many years the running train of thoughts in my head and certain compulsions are permanent. But now I don’t know weather I still have an eating disorder or not as besides these left over things I go through periods of time where I compulsively exercise, severely restrict my food intake 1000 calories or under with or without binging depending on the time. Where I binge with or without compensation. Where I binge and purge or chew and spit so I don’t have to purge. But generally most of the time periods where I do nothing abnormal. Where I eat like any other average Joe and do not care to do anything about or because of it despite the regular thought processes the calorie counting and the number on the scale.

These times are rare now. They run the gambit from binge eating to bulimic to strictly anorexic. They last for weeks to a month or two or three and I stop. Overall I am relatively speaking a normal eater. And I don’t know if I should do something about these “flare” ups or even classify myself as having an eating disorder still because although I have no control over when it rears up I can reign it back in and act and be normal with food for long periods too. Currently I am coming back out of normal ie 110 back to 117 and about to start “managing” again to get back to 110. People can’t turn these things on and off like this and still have an eating disorder can they. Can you have an eating disorder and be relatively normal most of the time?

Do I still have an eating disorder? If so, what? Is this just unresolved thoughts from the years of being bulimic? What do you make of this?

A: I think it is a good thing to question yourself about your behavior around eating. Your history and struggle with food and body image and weight are the classic problems with eating disorders, and I think it would be safe to say these issues are still active in your life. One way to appreciate what happens in any recovery process is that the frequency and intensity of the symptoms are reduced. This seems to have happened in your situation, but the struggle still remains.

My experience in working with people with eating disorders has followed a two-fold process. First is to establish a foundation of support for the individual. This often means for them to be involved with Overeaters Anonymous, Food Addicts Anonymous and learning more about their condition. Ongoing support and knowledge are the two biggest weapons against these disorders.

The second part has to do with redirecting their concerns toward positive thought and behavior patterns and developing more joy and interests — in other words, developing a plan for a direct counterbalance to the obsessive thoughts surrounding food, body image, and weight. Some places to start with positive behavior change can be found here, as well as a list of therapists who may be able to help.

In the words of Julia Child, “Life itself is the proper binge.”

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Apr 2010

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2010). Do I still have an eating disorder?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/04/06/do-i-still-have-an-eating-disorder/