Fear of gaining weight

Dear Ms. Wollinger,

Your book is unbelievably great and like a gift from Heaven for me (I already provided a review on Amazon ;)).
I’m a young woman and a physician and have suffered from binging episodes since I was 16. Your book was the first one that really did help me!

For the first time, I found myself 1:1 (I really had to laugh about the Oreao cookies – they really are the best).

I stopped dieting this past February, in order to become acquainted with my healing process. Since then, I’ve gained quite a bit of weight. However, I haven’t had any binging episodes for the past two months and I’m confident that they won’t recur (at least not in their previous form), since I’ve learned so much about myself thanks to your book and thanks to the EBH method. I am truly glad and grateful!

With the help of your book, I’ve finally reached a good path out of my eating disorder, and I’m confident that this path will actually lead to my goal. Still, I am seriously struggling with the current transitional phase. Although the binging episodes no longer occur, I still succumb frequently to overeating (which is simply owed to the fact that I finally no longer deprive myself of anything, and that all the “forbidden” foods are available). I still do not have access to my feelings of satiety / hunger. Moreover, I no longer have a sense of an appropriate amount of food due to my many years of a troubled relationship with food and eating. I do not know where “healthy ends and where overeating begins”. I always have a slight tendency to overeat because “now I’m finally allowed to”.

Therefore, I feel very anxious these days, which keeps me awake at night. EBH (as described in your book) helps a lot (and also The Work by Byron Katie). I’m able to feel much greater love for my body than earlier on. I’m able to say “Thank you, my body, for having shielded me all these years from the feelings and the tumult, thank you for being here, thank you that I can feel how soft you’ve become”, and for a few moments I actually do feel “whole”.
Still, there is a feeling of tension inside me and the fear that it’ll never stop and that I’ll continue to overeat always. My current weight troubles me a lot, and I have to muster a lot a strength throughout the day in order to “accept” my feelings of shame regarding my weight gain.

You’re describing your own transitional phase as devoid of problems, even though you, too, gained weight. I admire you for the ability to find such a path and for what you’ve made of it for us. That does take a lot!
Today, I was actually supposed to meet some of my study colleagues, but I cancelled since my shame feelings regarding my current weight got the upper hand. I’m experiencing a point of great fear, a point of stagnation; I don’t want to gain even more weight, I’m afraid of falling back into the old patterns and I notice that my strength is dwindling somewhat at the moment. My current anxiety opens another cycle that leads to overeating.
Maybe you have some suggestions for me?
I would love to hear from you, but I imagine that you’re getting a lot of such requests.
With appreciation and thankfulness,

Dear Ms. L.:

Many thanks for our appreciative message. Thank you also for submitting a book review, this is truly helpful.
I am pleased that “Farewell to Binge Eating” provided you with some helpful suggestions, and it is great that you know that you’re on the right path. You’re to be congratulated for not having had any binging episodes during the past two months. This means a major change in your behavior! I am pleased for you that you’ve made peace with your body. It does make our everyday lives so much easier, doesn’t it!

I do understand that you’re worried about your weight. Sometimes, when we’re finally allowed to eat what we want, it means that there’s also a great urge to actually do it. In the beginning, this may indeed lead to a weight increase, although there are no more binging episodes, since we simply no longer can tolerate boundaries and control. Think of it like a pendulum that has to swing in the opposite direction before it finds its equilibrium in the middle.
In your mail you refer to my writing about my on transitional phase “without problems”, even though I gained weight. As I mentioned somewhere, the book actually represents the quintessence of my path. Maybe you recall the illustration about the “wishful path” and the “realistic path”.

The realistic path is more like a zigzag line. When writing a book, however, one tends to describe a straight line. If I had attempted to describe all the erroneous path and worries, all the exercises I went through that did not work, all the relapses and all the successes, I would have lost the red thread. Such are the compromises one has to engage in when writing a book. One needs to focus on the essential aspects, otherwise the readers might lose interest.


In response to your question, let me describe a few more things that happened to me along the way:
During the phase “I will only eat what a want to” I recall spending three weeks by myself in a house in a small town far away from home. I hardly knew anyone there, and there was practically no access to the internet. At the time, I thought it was terrible having to spend three weeks all alone. Looking back, however, I now recognize that this was exactly what would do me good. For three weeks, I only had to focus on myself and on my eating behavior. Coming back, my father met me at the airport. He remarked on my weight gain which was obvious. While this was quite unpleasant for me, I knew somehow that I was on the right path. Therefore, I tried to the best of my ability to suppress my feelings of shame (at the time I was not yet familiar with EBH).

I recall another happening: About six months after this trip I met a man whom I dated for a couple of months. His parents were living in South Tyrol, where I visited them for two weeks. They were great cooks and served three wonderful meals every day. I ate thrice a day to my heart’s delight. Being able to afford myself this felt like a veritable revolution. I remember very well realizing that the amounts were too much for me, but I was overjoyed by finally being able to eat without any control, so that I didn’t even want to pay attention to my satiety. I wanted to afford that, too. Finally!

After returning to Vienna, I proudly told one of my girlfriends that I’d been eating thrice a day to my heart’s delight. She was unaware of my eating disorder, and I’ll never forget the look she gave me. I could tell she was thinking “Is she totally nuts? She’s gaining weight, and proud of it?!?!” I was not proud that I had gained weight, but I was really proud of the fact that I finally had broken out of the diet regimen and of the fact that I was on the right path, but I was not strong enough to explain this to the world. Everything was too new and fragile. Therefore, I let her examining glance pass me and tried to connect to my feeling “you’re doing the right thing”. At the same time, I recognized that it would be better for me to discuss the path I had chosen only with a few select people.

On one occasion, I was on the couch with my boyfriend. He put his hand on my tummy and said” “Your jeans are pretty tight, doesn’t it hurt? Why don’t you by them a little larger?” What a shock! Did he think I was too fat? Did he no longer find me attractive? Today, I recognize that my toxic shaming voices (which I describe in my book) were making their appearance. Luckily, however, I was able to check with my friend. He was the first person (after “E” whom I mentioned in my book) whom I told about my food obsession. He explained to me that he didn’t mean anything negative, that he found me very attractive, but that he just was concerned with my wellbeing. He simply didn’t want me to feel uncomfortable in my clothes. He only wanted what was good for me. Thereafter, I found the courage to afford myself a large pant size. It was really import to dress according to my actual figure instead of waiting for the moment when I would be slimmer. I didn’t know when that was going to happen. It was important to dress in a way that was appropriate for the respective phase of my development, instead of squeezing myself into ill-fitting clothes, feeling frustrated.

I’m not sure whether I would have attended a class reunion at that time. It would have been as difficult for me as it is for you right now. Here, one has to decide: What’s really good for me at this particular stage? While there is no need to “perfect” when you do go, there is also no need to go when you don’t feel like it. During class reunions, people often check each other out. There’s no need to go through that if one doesn’t feel like it. It doesn’t sound as though you’re isolating yourself completely socially? If that’s the case, it is really fine to skip the occasional meeting.

At that particular point in time, I was far from loving my body. I sensed that it would be different once I had gone through all of it. Still, I tried to make the best of it, rather than hating the status quo. I knew that I was on a good path, while realizing that I could not estimate the length of the path ahead of me. I trusted that my body would know what to do, as long as I cooperated with it. Every time I was overcome by self-hatred and doubt, I told myself: “I’m learning to give my body what it needs, and it is allowed to choose the weight it wants. I’m going to accept that weight.” I believe that this was the most important sentence throughout my entire journey.
On your question regarding hunger and feeling satiety: Once we no longer know how to feel our body, it is also difficult to perceive hunger and satiety. One way of re-learning this is to practice feeling our body. (My book contains a couple of suggestions). Moreover, we learn this by experimenting and comparing: How does it feel today after a meal? How was it yesterday? What happens if I don’t eat right now but only after 2-3 hours? What happens if I stop eating right now? How does it feel?

Sticking to set meal times was very helpful to me in the beginning – morning / noon / afternoon and evening. It took my body a long time to become confident: “There’ll be food again. You don’t have to worry that there’ll be another period of fasting. You don’t need to eat up everything right now.” Initially, I would eat more than I needed, but my binging episodes diminished. This meant that I, everything told, did not eat that much more than during the times when I vacillated between fasting and overeating every three days.

I believe that I, during that period, did not want to listen to my feeling of satiety, precisely because I was sick and tired of control. I sensed this acutely and allowed myself to continue. Deep down, I knew that it was important. This doesn’t mean, however, that I felt physically well. It was difficult, but I had to go through this process.
Once I had gained greater confidence in the regularity of meals, I was able to pay greater attention to hunger and satiety and to say “no” on occasion.

You are mentioning the “right amounts” in your mail. Whatever does you good and what you need to become sated, is “right”. To find this out does take time. The more you learn to take care of yourself and to listen to your body, the greater will become your ability to consume what you really need and what is good for your.
You are a young doctor. I can imagine that you in your professional capacity are particularly mindful of the fact that you are overweight. As a physician, one is supposed to know everything about health, right? Let me encourage you: If you manage to go through this process by yourself, you will be of even greater help and support to your patients because you know what it feels like to be in the throes of the problem. You’ll never advise your patients to “simply eat less!” And – who knows – maybe one day you will become specialized in the treatment of individuals who are plagued by overweight or binge eating.

I know the fear that one will never be able to stop. I only experienced it during the phase when I forbade myself to eat. Once I stopped doing that, I noticed quite naturally that the point would come when it was enough. In the beginning, this point was reached at 9-10 on the satiety scale I described in my book. Later on, it occurred at 7-8, and nowadays I enjoy being less than overly full and stop at 5-6. This process took years.
Maybe the word “years” is frightening. However, when we’re on the right path, it doesn’t feel like that because we continue to learn and our wellbeing continues to increase. Each improvement leads to an improvement in the quality of life, which, in turn improves life gradually and sustainably. I believe that sustainability is really important. Short-term improvements which are tossed overboard once we experience increased stress, for instance, are of little or no use. It is important to find a new way of life that is not forced upon us but suits us in all the different circumstances of life.

One more piece of advice: Please make sure to sit down when you eat and to arrange the place where you eat as nicely as possible. This will help you to retain overview and also make eating a more conscious process. Also try to slow down your meals, by putting down your cutlery, for instance, if you can. Try to listen to yourself, whenever possible, without necessarily expecting that you’ll be able to gauge your feeling of satiety precisely.
You are also talking about pronounced feelings of anxiety. Let me suggest turning to psychotherapy. Dealing with strong emotions on our own is very difficult. While EBH also is an excellent method of dealing with anxiety, it is advisable to enlist additional help from the outside in cases of major anxiety.
I’m also familiar with the tensions you mention. They will abate slowly and gradually. Don’t expect everything to go away suddenly, – the path is lengthy. Over time, it becomes more and more enjoyable to walk, – and sometimes it becomes downright exciting.
A couple of weeks ago I received an inquiry from a reader about the topic “Affording ourselves hummers”. Maybe you’ll find a few suggestions here: Should we indulge in the hummers?

Let me encourage you and wish you much success for your journey. I hope to have helped you with my mail and send you warm regards from Vienna,

Olivia Wollinger
(translated by Ulli Wiesner)

Ms. L replied:

Dear Ms. Wollinger,
Many thanks for your kind and soothing words. Your answer touched me deeply, and I now feel that I have the strength to continue my path
Thank you so much for taking the time and thank you for your openness and wonderful support in my own name and in the name of all your readers and clients!


P.S. I am actually interested in undergoing additional training (EBH, Rosen Method etc.) in order to help others to put binge eating behind them. 😉 Right now, I’m doing this by recommending your book warmly and by having open conversations about this topic. There are too few physicians who practice helping people with eating disorders. In my view, there is a major need for further action in this area, as you also said. Your book is a fantastic trigger.