Why Certain “Lifestyle” Diets Didn’t “Fix” My Eating Disorder

(Thank you to BetterHelp.com for sponsoring this post, with their link about getting professional help included near the end. I received compensation as a thank-you for my participation, and believe offering links to resources like this may helpful to some.)

Q: Balance – If we don’t take care of ourselves, we aren’t as able to [take care of] others. It’s about finding balance so that you avoid extremes in diet and exercise. I know that people have commented that they want to know what diet you finally found that works best, and it makes me wonder if they are looking for answers for themselves. That’s a pretty tough question to answer because nutrition isn’t that cut and dry, and there is still a lot that we don’t know. Everyone thinks that they are an expert, and you can find great arguments that support almost any diet. That’s why I think balance and moderation is best. I’m curious to learn where you are at with this.

A: Perfectionists like me seem to want to go “all the way” with anything and everything. If a little bit is good, then a lot must be better. I think many runners and other athletes fall into this trap, too. You think, if I run this many miles, then ten more miles each week would make me even faster.

While that can be true, we perfectionists can escalate things quickly: Because I have enough discipline. Because I have enough willpower. Because I can force myself to do it.

When my mom suggested I cut down my portion sizes if I was uncomfortable with my weight, I figured I had to starve myself. After all, the way I ate at the weight I was at meant eating until I was full/content. To lose weight, I figured, meant I must go hungry.

I took “eat two pieces of toast instead of five” into “starve yourself.”

And then with raw food: “eat as much as you want,” to binge.

Lose a little bit of weight to run faster, to lose as much weight as possible to run fastest.

Avoid too many desserts, to avoid desserts and special occasions with friends at almost all costs.

Focus on running and school, to feeling guilty if I spent any time away from that.

When I tried a raw food diet in the midst of my eating disorder–particularly 30 Bananas a Day (fruitarian diet), I was falling into even more dangerous extremes. The diet was enticing because I read about how you could supposedly eat as much as you want. Eat as much fruit as you want. Eat little or no fat.

I felt that one diet would “cure me” of my eating disorder. I thought eating mostly fruit would cure my eating disorder. Long after that failure, I spent hours reading through articles online or buying books from the library to find another diet “cure.” But it turned out that the only real cure was getting professional help through therapy and seeing a dietitian. It was only through their assistance that I finally found my sense of balance and moderation with food. They helped me to see past the numbers and macronutrients, and understand my body and mind.

I encourage anyone who is still looking for a way out of their eating disorder does not end by finding the “miracle” diet, certain macronutrients, controlling the timing of meals, or the best weight loss pill to do so. I remember thinking that that was the only  way my eating disorder would end. I later discovered that it’s about finding balance again–something I only really found with an eating disorder dietitian and therapist.

I went from one extreme to another–restricting many foods (anorexia), to going all the way to eating any food (unfortunately, through binge eating), and now I’m moving towards food that I believe is better for my body, while still eating treats and foods that may not be so healthy for the body (I say it’s healthy for the soul). I figure that if the cheat meals make me feel mentally happier (we’re still getting to that – I’m working on getting rid of the guilt, first), then I will be healthier than the person who eats the healthiest food in the world but feels sad or bored with the food they eat.

So yes, ultimately I found that balance was a huge key in my eating disorder recovery and success. And mental health professionals helped me to get to that point (link sponsored by BetterHelp).

15 replies
  1. Tamara Steil
    Tamara Steil says:

    I love love love this post!!! You have come SO far in your journey. What a woman! You were an amazing extremist – the perfect study in perfect discipline – and oh the trouble it got you in. I am so sorry you had to go through this but all journeys are totally worth it if they are learned from, grown from, and best of all, you are able to help others through this. And teaching your support group how to help you. Your candid sharing about your experience with food and your advice of common sense and BALANCE are right on target. I have never been prouder of you, my daughter.

  2. Annabel
    Annabel says:

    I love that you talk about trying to find moderation in eating food, and doing so in a way that still allows it to be enjoyable. I think a lot of people have a hard time with that, whether they admit to it or not. Clearly, this is something you are working very hard on. Since you have managed to find moderation in your eating habits, do you find that those habits then carry to other parts of your life? Do you find yourself doing other things in moderation between school, running, work, and whatever else you have going on? It’s amazing to think that we can just binge on something or starve ourselves of something and not really think about the consequecnes.

    Glad you shared this post.

    • rachael
      rachael says:

      Hi Annabel! Thanks for your comment.
      Yes, I have definitely found balance in food as well as in life. But I think life came first–once I was able to find balance there, I was able to find balance in food. I think the way we eat can reflect what is going on in our lives, so it is important to look at the things BEYOND food in order to eat well/balanced again.

  3. Neal Steichen
    Neal Steichen says:

    Balancing is such a huge thing in our culture. Not only with food (which is important), but work, school, fun, sleep, reading, exercise, religion, socializing, etc. Especially at a collegiate level, our lives turn into a balancing act, which will undoubtable fall at some point in some area. In that case we have to make concessions. Personally, I’ve made sacrifices in exercise, eating right, and (most of all) sleep. You are clearly no different form the rest of us, but I have to admit that, despite your struggles, you’ve already done a lot more than most people our age can claim. Not that I am advocating eating issues, but if we don’t take pride in what we’ve accomplished, it’s all for naught.

    That being said, everything in moderation seems to be the best policy in a lot of areas. I think everyone can learn that from your story.

  4. Megan Hornyak
    Megan Hornyak says:

    So I have a problem. I enjoy eating sweet treats when I need to. Isn’t that how it is? I have to eat sweet treats when I know I’ve done something right by myself or by someone else or at times when I’m depressed. I just stop myself before I go too far. Either way, its keeping balance with myself, that my foods reflect me and with this post I completely agree with you–and I feel we share the same mind/body struggles since I am a perfectionist too. We feel we can take the damage we end up doing to ourselves, because we are brave, strong, self-reliant, all-knowable even…but we’re not. We need help. I encourage you strongly to keep writing about this new life path you’ve chosen. I too have struggled with many personal demons. It seems yoga was the best answer for me. It allowed me to combine prayer, exercise, and a steady mind into an actual practice I CAN DO instead of the wishful thinking that gets me no where. It allows me to stop criticizing myself for being too intuitive and sensitive and also allows me to forgive myself when I mess up. And when in doubt I follow my emotions and my nose. Sometimes if I smell something I know I need it, like meat…I smell it, get really obsessed with it, and then realize later my iron is low. I think you’re so right, best thing to do is go with the flow or follow your nose.

    • rachael
      rachael says:

      I wouldn’t call wanting sweet treats a “problem” since, as you mention, this is a normal behavior. You are right when you say that most of us crave sweet treats when we want a reward for ourselves or we are celebrating someone else, and yes, even when we are sad. Most would classify this as “normal” eating behavior, especially when you feel you can stop before going too far.
      I’m so glad you’ve been able to identify your own demons as well.
      I agree, yoga is a great practice! I just started yoga at the beginning of this year. I never knew what a great exercise it was not only for my body, but my mind.

  5. DRA
    DRA says:

    Balance in life, is something I struggle with. Not because I don’t understand it, but because I often find myself bouncing from believing in balance and absolutes. Thank you for this post which has helped me stay focused on balance.

  6. Tabitha Maloley
    Tabitha Maloley says:

    I love my cheat meals! (Also, please know that if I refer to myself in commenting, I’m not comparing! :) I’m relating.) Every fitness trainer I’ve talked to about the subject of cheat meals say that it’s actually a great thing when eating healthy. One cheat meal a week sort of “resets” the body so it doesn’t adapt as easily to the health foods and therefore plateauing.

    I admire that you’re open about seeking therapy for your struggle. Too often there’s a stigma attached to people who see a therapist. In my opinion, people who seek out help in order to change something they know isn’t healthy–for lack of better word–are strong. I believe you are stronger than those who deny themselves the aid of a professional because “they don’t need it”. You will conquer this.

  7. Jaclyn
    Jaclyn says:

    Hey Rachel! This is a really great post I love your honesty and you are very brave for sharing all of this so openly. I like your last part at the end saying that food is pleasure. I agree whole heatedly. As someone who has a restricted diet (I’m a vegetarian) your insights through everything are very enlightening. Food should be something that you love, not a burden.

  8. Elizabeth Swanson
    Elizabeth Swanson says:

    Your talk about being a perfectionist reminds me of a self revelation I had not too long ago. I always thought perfectionist were perfect people who always did their best. I never considered myself a perfectionist because I was so far from perfect, but I always expected myself to be capable of perfection. This self image taught me that I was lazy. Too lazy onto achieve my worth. Recently though I have learned to see myself as a perfectionist. I expect myself to reach perfection, and even if I fall short a little bit I consider myself a failure. Somehow your blog is hitting home more then anything has in a long time. So sorry if these comments are more an insight into my psyche then actually commenting on your writing. This is just what is coming out.

    • rachael
      rachael says:

      So glad you are learning more about yourself, Elizabeth.
      Never apologize for your own insight–that is exactly more of what we need! This blog isn’t about ME–it’s about sharing my story and what I have been through, yes, but I want it to be even more about YOUR story and encouraging others to learn more about THEMSELVES. I’m so glad you are exploring your psyche! :) Very cool.

  9. Becca Ryan
    Becca Ryan says:

    A word that sticks out to me: discipline.

    I think one of the biggest myths of this world is that you can be truly happy without discipline.

    Sometimes, as you mention, this involves having the discipline to not be OVER-disciplined. I’m a cyclist, and I know what you mean about “ahhh, I can do x more miles, it will make me faster/more muscle-y/stronger!” (after a hefty amount of mileage already). Of course it’s important to push ourselves, to push each other, to strive for new heights. But sometimes we have to tell ourselves that we’re good enough. The other day, when I went to the gym with a knot in my back (from the good ol’ stress of an over-achiever), I decided to sit in the hot tub instead of get a hard work out in, because hey, I deserved it. We have a relationship with our bodies– I think patting ourselves on the back every once in awhile is a good discipline to stick to.

  10. Kat
    Kat says:

    Do you have an e-mail I could reach you at? I have struggled with an eating disorder and I’ve been on fully 801010 for almost 6 months and plant based vegan for almost a year. I feel like 801010 is taking over my life and I just want to eat cooked food again but I have a psychological fear, that my body will reject it as it makes new nauseous thinking about cooked food, and that I will gain weight and will be a failure. I’d love to get in contact with you since you seem to have simliar experience :)

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