How I Recovered from Emotional eating, Exercise Bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorder
I was a very quiet kid: a daydreamer who loved books, dancing, and making art. I was always happiest off by myself with my nose buried in a book.
I suffered from terrible anxiety as far back as I can remember. When I had to transition from kindergarten to the first grade I pulled out all my eyelashes. I would also pick at my skin till it oozed. I was filled with performance anxiety. I was terrified that I couldn’t handle the work that was expected of me.
I was painfully shy, skinny, and wore glasses. The kids at school were really cruel to me. I’ll never forget their taunts. They called me “the 4-eyed toothpick.” Bullies were always picking on me.
The bright spot in my childhood was to go spend summers and weekends with my Nana and Grandpa. My Nana, who was my father’s mother, was Italian and very warm, loving, and nurturing. My grandparents shared my love of books and learning.
My Nana was an excellent cook. She was also a food addict and pusher. She would never take no for an answer. I learned to please her by eating everything she would push on me. I was able to eat enormous amounts of food and not gain weight.
It was with her that I began to equate food with love. All my happiest memories involve her and food. I remember summer mornings where she would take me outside and pluck figs off the tree and pop them, plump and juicy sweet, into my eager, waiting mouth.
I was addicted to sugar as far back as I can remember. At around 5 years old, when I was left alone in my parent’s house, I would climb up into the cupboards and open the boxes of brown and white powdered sugar and eat them with a spoon. I couldn’t get enough! The secrecy of my addiction was already in place.
Life got worse when I went to junior high school. My appearance changed drastically overnight. I ditched the glasses for some contact lenses, and a face of make-up, and transformed into a swan.
I became obsessed with my appearance, body and boys. People told me every day that I was pretty, yet it never seemed to fill me with any confidence or self esteem. In fact, I believed I was fooling people. I felt it was the make-up that made me pretty. If they only could see the real me they would know it wasn’t true!
I would look at the pretty popular girls, who seemed so outgoing and think, I could never be like them. I always felt like an outsider looking in. In reality – I was just as pretty as they were – but inside I felt like an alien!
I was overwhelmed by all the attention I was getting. I had mixed feelings about it. On one hand I liked the attention but it soon felt oppressive. I was an extremely private person, and now I was being scrutinized by all the girls and leered at by boys and men. I kept people at a distance. I was terrified of people getting to know the real me. I was certain if they got to know me they wouldn’t like me.
I did have one girlfriend. Our ritual was to go to the doughnut shop after school and eat a couple of éclairs and wash them down with huge cokes. Then I would go home and eat a full dinner! Eating before meals never stopped me from eating more.
I began to develop a critical voice in my head that would constantly tell me it hated me. This voice just never seemed to let up. I became really depressed. It quickly began to spiral out of control. I never told anyone what was happening. I didn’t think anyone would do anything to help me anyway. I cried every day. Life became a constant struggle.
At 16, the depression seemed to lift a little. I decided I wanted to be a model. I went to a local modeling agency and was told to lose 10 1bs. off my already slender frame. I became obsessed with weight loss and dieting. I would spend my lunch hours in the library reading fashion magazines. I would study all the diets in the magazines.
One day I read about fasting. I decided to fast on nothing but water for 5 days! On about day 3, I started to feel deliriously high and agitated. I managed to do it for the full 5 days. On the sixth day, I started bingeing like there was no tomorrow! This was the beginning of my binge eating disorder.
For the next 15 years I was either on a binge or a diet. I began to spend hours obsessing on the way my body looked. My butt was too big, my breasts too small, and my legs too skinny. I needed constant reassurance from others that I was pretty. I would look for the reflection of who I was in their eyes. If I couldn’t find it, I felt I ceased to exist.
When I was on a binge, I would drive all around town making my rounds. I would stop in at See’s and get a big bag of chocolates. After that, I would make stops at different fast food,joints, going to the drive thrus and bingeing in the car. Finally, I’d stop in at the grocery store and get a Sara Lee cheesecake to finish the binge off good!
After I’d eaten most of it, I’d throw the remains outside into the garbage and tell myself I wouldn’t eat anymore. I would dump garbage over it so I wouldn’t want it. I would wind up going out and snatching it right out of the garbage can! These episodes would fill me with great shame and self-loathing, but I couldn’t stop.
When the weight began to show, I would begin to starve myself, and exercise like a mad woman. Sometimes I would become seriously underweight and my periods would stop. At one point I didn’t have a period for a year and a half because I was so thin.
Once I got started gaining weight, the binge cycle would start up again. Sometimes I would use laxatives or vomit, but my main weight loss strategy was starvation diets and over exercising. I became a human yo-yo, gaining and losing weight over and over again for the next 14 years.
I went to college at 17 and absolutely loved it. Yet, I put so much pressure on myself to be perfect in every way that I wound up bingeing every day. Even though I loved school, I was an emotional wreck. I would eat all day on the weekends to help relieve the stress and anxiety I felt.
At the end of the year, I decided I couldn’t handle the pressure of school, so I quit and got a job as a facialist and make-up artist. I moved out on my own and felt terribly lonely. To comfort myself, I would go to Baskin Robbins at night to binge on ice cream.
At 21 years old, I moved from Sacramento to Hollywood. I got a job as a make-up artist on Rodeo Drive, in Beverly Hills. I went out to dinner just about every night. I began to eat my way through the city’s best restaurants. I was in heaven. I was now hooked on the gourmet stuff.
At this point, my body began to break down. I got sick with a strep throat that wouldn’t go away. My hair started to fall out. I became extremely fatigued and my joints were very painful. My glands were swollen. I was always running a low-grade fever. It wouldn’t get diagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome for another 10 years. It would take me many years to recover from it.
I decided to move to Marin County with my boyfriend. The move was good for me. It was a slower paced life with lots of beautiful nature for me to enjoy. I decided to go to a culinary school in San Francisco since I now had a gourmet food habit to support!
After I graduated from school, I got a job on a beautiful estate in Ross as a personal chef, cooking for a wealthy investment banker and his family. At the time, this was a dream job. I got to live in a restored carriage house on the grounds, cook in a state of the art kitchen, eat the whole day long and get paid. Best of all, I was alone with my drug of choice: food!
Unfortunately, my energy never fully returned. I became a full time seeker. I would go from doctor to doctor, and try many different therapists, antidepressants and alternative treatments with no real success. I was always looking for health, happiness and answers in things outside of myself.
At 28 years old, I began to seriously devour books about metaphysics, psychology, spirituality and Buddhism. I felt that these things held answers for me. Marin County is a mecca for spirituality and I spent a lot of time studying with various Buddhist and spiritual teachers and attended many retreats, lectures, and workshops. I also spent a lot of time walking out in nature. This seemed to ground me.
I would daydream of some day being an artist, therapist and writer. Then I would be filled with sadness because I didn’t possess the health, energy, or confidence to achieve those things. I always relegated it to “Oh well, someday.”
I began to attend Overeaters Anonymous. I found these meetings very eye opening as to the extent of my food addiction. In OA I discovered that food was my core addiction and that underlying it was anxiety and depression. I was eating to help numb my fear and anxiety. I didn’t stay in Overeaters Anonymous for very long though. I really wasn’t comfortable around groups of people at that time in my life. I also didn’t agree with some of their ideas. I do give it credit for helping me along my path.
I started to meditate and began to pray and ask God for help. I knew I needed it. I began to use my daily nature walk as a mindfulness meditation. I stopped dieting and began to eat regular meals, and that helped slow down the bingeing. I was addicted to sugar and caffeine. I slowly started to cut back on those things because they made me feel tired and the excessive caffeine had exhausted my adrenals.
I began to practice mindfulness around food. I learned to key into my feelings to discern if I was hungry for food or if what I really wanted was emotional nourishment. I began to trust my body and I only ate until I felt my body signal’s that it was full. With this practice, I started to truly savor food and found that I ate much less. My weight came off and began to stabilize; my bingeing stopped completely.
I eliminated the idea of good and bad foods. I learned to eat high calorie foods and the foods I loved in moderation. Whereas I used to binge on forbidden sweet things, I now allowed myself daily treats.
I decided I would have to stop cooking for a living. It was too easy to overeat being around that much food. It was just too tempting. The universe supported that decision. I hurt my back while cooking, and was forced to look for other employment.
I started to open myself up to life. I was developing some happiness and serenity. My obsessive interest in food and weight began to fall away. My chaotic life started to calm down. I began to feel connected with God. In fact, I started to feel connected to everything! I began to have a spiritual awakening; I could feel my spirit coming back to life.
Illness has been a great teacher. It forced me to give up various behaviors that were killing me. These changes did not happen over night. I had to change the relationship I had with my body. I had always thought of my body as something to whip into submission and ride roughshod over.
I think that illness is ultimately a spiritual dilemma. It makes us ask the big questions. Why me? Why now? What is my purpose in this life? Healing and recovery became my passion and calling.
I have always possessed a love of learning and research, so I decided to become an expert on my illness. I took courses in nutrition, stress reduction, hypnotherapy, attitudinal healing, fitness, mindfulness, coaching, and meditation. I have also been a life long student of spirituality, psychology, eating behavior, and holistic living.
I became certified in many things that I learned. I was trained by a major health maintenance organization (HMO) in a Stanford based mind-body health program and taught workshops in coping with chronic illness.
The most important thing I learned was to let go and go with the flow – to just be – and live mindfully one day at a time. I learned the power of optimism and how to be resilient in the face of adversity. I became a creative problem solver. The illness stripped away the inessentials in my world and helped me find what my true values were and to live them. Ultimately, it taught me I had worth just because I was alive and not because of what I did, or what I looked like.
A big turning point in my recovery was forgiving myself and learning to have compassion and love for myself. I had spent a lifetime hating myself. What was my terrible crime? Simply being human. I had expected such perfection from myself!
I learned to be gentle with my fragile humanness. This led me to be able to be forgiving and accepting of other people’s frailties as well. This is the truly the path to peace.
All my life I had craved attention and love from others, and what I really needed was to pay attention to and love myself. I had spent my life MIA. Missing in action! I had failed to show up for my own life.
I had spent a lifetime denying who I was. I realized all I ever really wanted was to be my true self, the self that God had always intended for me. I was what I was seeking all along! As it is said in the bible, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.”
Through regular time in nature, prayer, and meditation, I was able to develop a relationship with my higher Self. In time, this connection became so strong that I knew I could trust and love the wisdom that lived inside of me. It guided me to create a way of being in the world that nourished my soul, and truly sustained my being. I had become authentic.
Meditation helped me to be with myself – to become still. Underneath the reverberant chatter of my mind, I discovered the vast, calm, clear center of my being. I began to realize that I could always live from this center. This was the source of my being, and no matter what was happening in my outer world, I could always return to the calm, inner sanctuary of my soul. Peace, love, and happiness were states that lived within me, not outside of me.
Meditation gave birth to a part of me that could witness the antics of my mind. The stronger this witness became, the more I could detach and not react to the dramatics of my mind. I began to see my mind was like a nonstop projection machine that just churned out thoughts – good, bad, and indifferent.
I was not my mind, thoughts, or ego. I was much bigger than this! I saw that the fear and anxiety that had imprisoned me all my life was generated from my mind. It was not real. I had a choice whether to believe these thoughts. The more power I invested in these thoughts, the more fear my mind generated. I could choose to focus on positive thoughts instead.
One day, after going through a very dark period in my life, I experienced a profound spiritual awakening. Simply put, I woke up and realized the truth of reality. Reality is completely neutral. It just is. It is the thoughts and the story I tell myself about reality that is the cause of all my suffering. I did not have to be defined by my past. I simply stepped out of the old story of my life and began to create a new story.
I found my creativity blossomed when I gave myself permission to let my inner artist come out and play. I began to fill my life with all the things that filled me with wonder and joy. I took up photography, mixed media art, free form dance and writing. These things fed my spirit and infused my life with energy. Creativity became a part of my daily spiritual practice. It is a direct portal into joy and light.
I had always minimized the importance of being creative – telling myself it didn’t really matter – that I could never make a living doing the things I loved. This was so untrue! These were the gifts that God gave me. To not use one’s own innate gifts is an insult to God!
Living an authentic life is honoring the divine gifts within me. In this way my life has become a tribute to power of Spirit. Healing my own life has become my greatest work of art.
I never imagined that my life could ever be this simple and peaceful. Most of my life was spent getting over me. Life can be hard, but what I know today is – I made it much harder than it had to be. The irony is when I learned to surrender my small (ego) self to the flow of life, I transcended myself and became so much more.
It’s not what happens to you in life – it’s how you react to it. It is the story you tell yourself about what happens to you that determines how you will react. I have learned to see that in every obstacle and struggle there is a gift or an opportunity for growth. It is our responsibility to find out what that gift or lesson is.
I have been able to synthesize all my years of experience into my work with food and weight issues. Everything I have learned over the course of my life has gone into this work. Permanent weight loss is really about lifestyle and spiritual change: finding new ways of being in the world that support one’s spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical health. I help people reconnect to their inner light, so they can truly shine! Being able to share my wisdom and make a positive impact in people’s lives is what makes my life’s journey so rewarding.
Today I am living my dream. I am a writer, artist, mentor and coach.
I’m in the business of shining stars. Today my own star is shining brightly!