In March I attended the BEDA conference and had the pleasure of hearing from and meeting Sunny Sea Gold. Sunny currently works for Redbook, has written a book for girls struggling with binge eating “Food: The Good Girl’s Drug”, maintains her blog, has recovered from her BED herself, and is a rock star “recovery warrior.”
Her book is truly inspiring and I highly recommend to clients struggling with binge eating disorder and emotional eating. Her honesty, warmth, life experience, and practical advice shine through the pages. She fills a vital niche for women (especially young women) struggling with food and their body. Please check it out.
Sunny was gracious enough to do an interview with me. She is a busy lady and I’m no New York Times reporter. But she is passionate about sharing her story and providing the kind of hope all women struggling with an eating disorder truly need. I hope my words convey the genuine care and intelligence that Sunny exuded over the phone. Enjoy, comment if you are so inclined, and share the love.
Sunny, sharing the story of your eating disorder and recovery is a pretty bold thing to do. What inspired you to share your story?
At 15 I realized that something was wrong with the way I was eating and treating my body. And when I realized what that something was (at the time we called it compulsive or emotional eating) I knew without a doubt that I wanted to tell other people about it.
In the early years of my struggle, the help available was good but the books were aimed at grown-ups. Geneen Roth’s work helped but it didn’t always resonate, because she was speaking to an older audience. During my recovery I had periods of utter hopelessness but somewhere deep inside I knew it would be better. I knew that when it did getter, I would share my story with the girls who haven’t heard about recovery in a way that is relatable.
In my early 30’s I started doing some research and I couldn’t believe this type of a book hadn’t been written yet. This fact encouraged me all the more. As I developed my book proposal I created the HealthyGirl.org website to get the word out. I was surprised at how quickly readers started engaging. While there are a lot of great websites and resources out there, there seems to be something very powerful about hearing from someone who is recovered and is talking about it.
Recovery is a hot topic. How have you defined it for yourself?
Full recovery was an intimidating idea for me early on. In my early years, I thought full recovery was never binging again. But when I got further along in my recovery and was binging so rarely and the binges were so small I considered myself recovered from BED. I no longer had an active eating disorder. I was no longer using food to cope. Now, I can’t even recall the last time I binged. In fact, I totally agree with the post you wrote about recovery. I can’t believe how normal I am with food and weight. Even my Mom (who has never had an eating disorder) can’t believe I can have chocolate hanging around the house without eating it.
Your recovery was a 15 year journey. What were the 3 most important factors in your recovery?
I worked very hard in my recovery and there were a lot of things that were important along the way, and I talk about them all in the book. But the top three contributors to my recovery were:
2. Self-Help Books
3. Support Groups: I attended a binge eating disorder support group for three years
Most people with BED also struggle with their weight. Do you think it’s possible to focus on weight and eating disorder recovery at the same time?
I really feel that focusing on recovering from the eating disorder first is extremely important. Dieting can actually “pull the trigger” and derail the recovery process. However, after I recovered from BED, I did make changes to my diet to facilitate weight loss. It happened but really slow. I did have to repair my relationship with food first.
It’s often said that a better body image takes longer than eating disorder recovery. What do you think?
I have a neutral body image. I can appreciate things about myself that are attractive but it’s just not that important to me anymore. During recovery something switched. A lot of the messaging I got as a child was that the way I looked (ideally thin) was the most important thing. Through therapy, I was able to replace those messages with messages I truly believe and value. The self-esteem work I did in therapy was pivotal. Another turning point for me was when I stopped dieting. I realized that if I became neutral about my weight I could be neutral about my body. It didn’t mean I loved the way I looked all the time but I didn’t obsess about it either. Another really important part of improving my body image was buying things that fit. It was important to feel good in my clothes no matter my size. And as I recovered my body got smaller and that was fine too.
What are the myths about improving body image?
One myth is that if you stop obsessing about your weight you’ll be stuck in a body you dislike. As you recover, your expectations will loosen and your body changes. As you continue to nourish your body, it will start to trust you and get to a more natural weight for you.
Binge eating is more prevalent than anorexia or bulimia but it doesn’t seem to be talked about as much. Why do think that is? What can we do about that?
I used to feel angry that it was being ignored—I believed that BED was less talked about because it’s simply not glamorous. Binge eating can be seen as weak, sloppy, and out of control, the antithesis of the values of our culture. While there is truth to that, BED is also truly a newer concept than other eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. It wasn’t even mentioned in the DSM until 1994. And I know it will take a while for the medical community to catch up. Another factor is that overeating and binging is so prevalent that people just don’t realize it’s a problem. Groups like BEDA are incredibly important as it gives legitimacy to the disorder. Also, sharing stories is incredibly important. That’s one of the reasons why I share my story.
If you had one piece of advice to offer to women struggling with binge eating, what would it be?
Don’t let anything stop you from getting help. It doesn’t matter what steps you take, just that you take them. I used to get wrapped up in making the right choice, the right food plan, the right therapist, etc. it doesn’t really matter as long as you are taking the steps. If something has stopped working for you, try something different. Talk to more people, ask what they did, try what they did. I can attest to the fact that if you keep moving forward one step at a time you can get better. It’s slow at times, and that sucks but it can get better. It took me 15 years! But here I am.