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Ask The Experts

How Do I Stop From Returning to an Eating Disorder?


I’ve developed a really bad habit of eating pretty high calorie foods in the middle of the night, and it has been going on for a really long time. Recently, however, it has become worse, and I’ve gained some weight as a result (around 8 pounds – I was originally 114, as I run cross country and track for school). I keep trying to come up with ways to make myself not eat in the middle of the night, because it certainly isn’t from hunger that I’m doing it, but I can’t seem to. I’m waking up really upset with myself almost every morning, and my morning exercise that is meant to supplement my running training is becoming a means of punishing myself for what I ate during the night. I’ve had exercise bulimia in the past, and want to do anything that I can to keep myself from going back to that. Any advice at all is extremely appreciated!! Thanks so much.

Jane Bogart, M.A., C.H.E.S., Director, Student Wellness, Columbia University Medical Center answers:

Reaching out for help and recognizing that you do not want to go back to exercise bulimia are important steps. For people who have eating and food issues-even after they have gotten the behavior under good control, the impulses can remain with them for a long time. Often a shift in a behavior (for example, eating more frequently or increasing quantities of food, feeling compulsive and unhappy about exercising) is information that you can use to say “something is going on here and I need to address it.”

You may want to consider what helped you in the past with your exercise bulimia. What thoughts or actions or behaviors were helpful? From whom did you get support? For example, if you saw a therapist or counselor, it might be a good time to seek out those services again. If you did not seek counseling before, this might be a good time to reach out to a counselor, clergy person, or family member to get help. It can feel lonely and isolating and shameful to eat in the middle of the night and seeking help to break that cycle can help you feel more hopeful in your efforts.