The Vicious Cycle

[[Side Notes: The Vicious Cycle

Recovering from an ED is not an easy thing. For a while I would wake up every morning wishing that that day would be the one where I wouldn’t have any symptoms; no guilt, not anxiety, no restricting, no overeating, no fear…but something like that doesn’t just happen over night.  This kind of thing takes time, sometimes a lot, sometimes a little, sometimes somewhere in between.

It has not been an easy journey.  I even woke up today wishing that everything would be good as it was yesterday…but just had to wait an see.

One particular part of recovery that has been the hardest was well, eating to put it simply.  Yes, we have to eat and we do, but we don’t eating without evoking some type of emotion that could bring about anger, fear or even tears.



When I first started to recover almost 8 years ago I never knew how I was going to incorporate all the foods I had eliminated from my diet.  I couldn’t fathom eating pb without the fear of getting fat overnight or eating a homemade cookie or slice of pie without having to run it off immediately.  I spent year upon year with my ridiculous calorie counting habits that eventually got me back up to a healthy weight but still contained the same amount of angst when it came to certain foods.

It wasn’t until the past 2-3 years that I finally reached a certain stage of recovery that I feared the most: losing control and the vicious cycle.  In what aspect?  I went through serious phases of overeating, while others I hear got through episodes of binging, but both resulting in an effort to restrict/purge/exercise binge afterwards to get rid of it all and feel better afterwards.

Only recently have I really realized why this happened to me.  I know over eating now and than is pretty normal, say at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but at the rate I was going, I was going to drive myself crazy.  I often overate when it came to my emotions. I was lonely. I was scared. I was anxious. I was tired.  You name it, food replaced it, then caused me to flip out and go through a nasty cycle that just about killed my social life and well, any life I had at all.

What is this cycle I speak of?  Let me show you:


I went through more days of this than I can count or even remember.  They all seemed to blur into one another and day after day, I felt like an absolute failure.  I didn’t know why I couldn’t just eat like a normal person, have balanced emotions and enjoy my life.  I wanted it all to end.  I was tired of feeling so guilty and anxious all the time.

Most of the time my day would go like this:

  • I would wake up and eat a balanced breakfast; good start to the morning.
  • I would stick out as many hours as I could until lunch, which I tried my hardest not to eat until after 11am, no matter what time I ate breakfast.  I was usually starving by the time I ate lunch and would eat so fast I’d feel uncomfortable, and then get anxious. 
  • I would end up eating a snack soon after, not hungry but anxious about being hungry later.  And I would keep eating.  I would eat until all my snacks were gone that I’d brought (though let me clarify that it was not binging, but overeating and being emotionally evoked)
  • I would get home from work and immediately jump into exercise in fear that I had eating too much too soon in the day; I was already worrying about what I was going to eat for dinner since earlier had happened.  I would burn what I believed to be an adequate amount of calories, then wait as long as I could after my workout to eat dinner. 
  • Depending on the calorie count, dinner would vary from a decent meal to extremely light. 
  • Within and hour or so of finishing and drinking copious amounts of water, I would find myself back in the kitchen, looking for something to snack on.  I would find something, then something else, and something else (again, not binge amounts, but in reality probably just a very large snack, but in my mind too much). 
  • The guilt would set in, I’d do an extra set of situps and go to sleep promising myself the next day would be better and I could beat this, though wondering all the way if I could really fight it and not let the same thing happen all over again.

Sound familiar?  I know this all too well and how horrible it feels to keep thinking such horrible thoughts all day long, day after day.


After seeking out a counselor and revealing my emotions about eating, there were many things she pointed out to me about my actions and reactions:

  • The Overeating: What I thought was a huge amount of food, was in reality not.  It was more than “my normal amount” (ie one serving) and therefore something that had to be eliminated immediately through exercise.  With the amount of exercise that I did daily and some field work, if I had eaten what I had simply planned out would not have been enough for my body to not lose weight and sustain itself in a healthy manner.
  • Getting Fat: I was terrified that these episodes of overeating were going to make me fat overnight.  No joke. I thought I would wake up the next morning with a spare tire and three extra chins.  But I would wake up the next day and realize that this obviously hadn’t happened, though would end up worrying anyhow because if it happened again the day, who would I to be to say that I wouldn’t wake up with those things one day down the line?
  • The Guilt: This was the worst part. I not only felt guilty about what I had eaten, but that I was a failure for not being able to follow a stupid eating plan I had set out for myself.  I also felt guilty in that the overeating would cause me to gain weight, then cause people to say/insinuate things when I finally saw them after a long time. I felt like I wouldn’t be accepted and thought of as less of person than everyone had thought of me say, the last time I had seen them.

When I look back on it now, I think going through this stage of recovery is simply, part of recovery.  Yes, some might be lucky enough not to have to go through the binging/overeating/guilty feelings but I think it makes you realize a lot of things.  After so many nights of finally giving in and eating that chocolate or ice cream or pie or whatever I had really wanted to eat and waking up the next morning as the exact same person I was the night before, it let me see that I didn’t need to be afraid.

I think encountering these emotions is a “normal” part of recovery and something that can be worked through.  It’s not easy, but it can be done.



My next Side Note will be about how I’ve started to combat the guilt and letting go of the emotions that have plagued my recovery.  As part of letting go I will also discuss how to let go of your dependence on the scale and that the numbers really don’t matter.  It’s all about how you feel.

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23 Responses to The Vicious Cycle

  1. Amanda (Two Boos Who Eat) says:

    I love reading these side notes. I've struggled with the vicious cycle for years. It's been rough. Andy's been helping me work through my food guilt but reading posts like this REALLY help!

  2. Runeatrepeat says:

    I didn't have the same ED issues as you because I definitely binged and not just overate, but I totally know that vicious cycle graphic you used. Really hit home.

  3. Cathy says:

    i can totally relate, melissa, esp to the cycle digram/circle you included.
    thank you so much for writing about your experience. i hope you realize how incredibly helpful it is to read your sidenotes and go "she gets it! yes! exactly!"
    looking forward to your next entry, too. have a great weekend.

  4. Emma says:

    I can't explain how much I appreciate this post. I am living within the vicious cycle of my ED and all of the points you describe sound SO familiar. I am slowly trying to break out of this guilty pattern and I am so glad that you are fighting it as well.
    Really, thank you so much again for this post. I can't put words to describe how accurately it describes my, and most everyone who struggles with an ED, daily strifes. But I am confident that we can escape this cycle.
    Love always,

  5. Hannah says:

    I love your side notes. Truly they are the best part of the blog! I've been in this cycle for the past couple days so this post couldn't have come at a better time.

    Thank you :)

  6. mymarblerye says:

    so i went through 2 weeks of being "good to myself"…and yesterday threw everything out of the window…chocolate, cookies, etc. Today I feel sucks…I hate it…and I hate that we can relate to this life long struggle. Love ya

  7. Kate says:

    Melissa, thank you for being so open and honest with these side notes. This one, in particular, really struck a chord with me. My experience has been a little different than yours (I binge), but the cycle is still the same. Between your posts and other readers' comments, it's really comforting to know that someone else "gets it." Thanks again for this one. Have a wonderful weekend!

  8. Magdalena says:

    Far from leaving us wanting to comment on your weight gain or whether you looked 'fat' or not, watching you in the cycle you were going through in Australia just made us worry about you. I'm glad you've named/fully acknowledged your ED and are taking such a stand against it now. I believe in you. :)

  9. proudpatriot07 says:

    I love reading these entries. Thank you for being so honest and willing to openly share about your thoughts and feelings. The whole time I read, I was like yeah that's me… that's how it goes. Especially the diagram! And it's definitely not about food, it's all about emotions and guilt, and the guilt is the worst thing ever. It's even worse when you're trying to recover because you have both types of guilt: the guilt that you're failing at the ED, but the guilt that you're failing at the recovery too.

    Can't wait to read about the scale… that's something I definitely need to work on.


  10. Katy says:

    I absolutely love how you've written this. When I first engaged in eating disordered behaviours, I would always starve myself and wonder why I would have episodes of binging. You never realise it when you're in the midst of your disorder but you realise that you binge because you are giving into human desires to eat. Your body will eventually DEMAND food if you don't give it to it. It's as simple as that. It's strange how we can't see this when we are so ill but all rational thinking goes out the window, doesn't it?

    Oh the guilt associated with food…that was the hardest part ever. I'm so glad that I don't feel guilt anymore…life is much too short to feel guilty for eating glorious glorious food :)

    You rock, melissa! I can't wait to read your next side notes :)


  11. Gabriela says:

    I literally feel like I could have written this post, because it's EXACTLY how I felt for years, and I can't deny that I occasionally do still feel that way when I'm having a really lonely/bad/sad day and there's no one around to talk to. ED thrives on negative feelings. I'm glad you've realized the cycle though, because by identifying it and understanding it I think it's much easier to overcome it. I'm excited to read the next part of this, too….I know you've come so far!

  12. Tori says:

    Yes! It does sound familiar. Not gonna lie, this is sometimes how my days go. I really want to work on it though, so thank you for bringing this up. Recovery is nothing if you can't break the cycle.

  13. Anonymous says:

    When you described "looking for something else", I could literally see myself wandering in the kitchen, with that achy feeling of desperation. It really made me realize that I should stop and think about what exactly I am looking for…and it is usually relief from anxiety/fear, not FOOD. Like you used to, I tend to set rigid rules about food and eating and then obsess over them. I am trying, with a therapist, to get back in touch with hunger and fullness as physical feelings, rather than the loaded guns they have been for the past 10 year.
    Please keep writing; it is so reassuring to know that you are out there and thriving.

  14. Gloria says:

    Thank you so much for posting that! :)

  15. Jennie says:

    There are some days that this is exactly how I feel. For awhile I had a set number in mind of what each meal should be, and then it became a game of how much lower I could get below that. Like if I set each meal for 300 calories, I would feel a sense of satisfaction that it was only 250 calories.

    I'm starting to be in a better place with it, and work on intuitive eating rather than waiting until "lunchtime" to eat. When I do that, I become consumed with thoughts of food.

    Thank you for posting these side notes. Not a lot of people know that I'm currently struggling with this (not even my husband, he just commends me on on how healthy I am, but doesn't realize the daily struggle I have with food).

    I'll open up to him eventually, but just knowing I'm not alone, and having a source of someone who has been there and come out of it helps a lot.

  16. Jenna-Marie says:

    It was my pleasure to dedicate a post to you :). Because of posts just like this one, you help others who feel the same way.


  17. Abby says:

    This is such a great post. I've dealt with the same thing recovering from anorexia and still struggle with it. I sometimes feel like I've gone from one ED to another when I eat "right" all day and then ruin it by overeating at night. It's so hard to move past. It's been the longest stage of my recovery for sure.

  18. Mary says:

    this post is exactly how I live today. I can't even believe how similar I am to this post- it's shocking. Thank yo for addressing this because somehow through your posts I am learning to cope with my anxiety and issues with food. thank you thank you thank you! I am looking forward to your next posts

  19. Heather McD (Heather Eats Almond Butter) says:

    Wonderful post Melissa. Thanks for sharing your heart and for your honesty. I think most of can relate to many of your fears, but it's so true – we are not going to get fat overnight. Whenever I overdo it, I am so hard on myself, and then my very rational husband reminds me that to put on one pound of weight, I would have to eat x # of calories, and that piece of cake I polished off is not going to add 3 extra chins overnight. :)

    I'm so irrational at times, but usually a good reality check helps put things in perspective.

  20. Krista says:

    This is a great, well written post, Melissa!!

  21. Anonymous says:

    I am also an early riser and I eat breakfast at 4. I get hungry almost immediately after breakfast, but force myself to wait until 11 as well!!

    I'm struggling with the same cycles! I don't binge either, just overindulge at times, but it FEELS like a binge.

    Hold in there!! Stay strong. We need to feed our body and love our body. Some people are naturally stick figures (and that's okay) and some are naturally slightly curvy (that's okay too).

  22. Liv says:

    I've been reading your blog for a while, and I've just got to say thank you for your Side Note posts.

    I've been recovering from an eating disorder for 2 years, and while my actual eating is fine, my mentality is still not 100%. Your posts really help me sort through my feelings, and I even wrote a blog post inspired by your Side Notes.

    So, thanks again for your candidness :)

  23. Beckafly says:

    This is a very comforting post. I've only been in recovery for about 6 weeks, but you described the cycle perfectly. I do still restrict and go by times, not hunger. That only results in my body demanding food in the form of uncontrollable hunger. It's a vicious cycle, and I feel I binge, but my nutritionist and those who know roll their eyes and say "that's normal". This post really helps!

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