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How I Recovered From Negative Body Image and Binge Eating With Therapy and Social Support

“Having an eating disorder is so much more than just wanting to be thin. Yes, I was obsessed with wanting to lose weight, but there were many, many other things underneath that. I desperately wanted to feel good about myself and loved by others. At times, my eating disorder gave me that sense of identity, accomplishment, and approval I wanted.”

Hello! Who are you?

Hi there! My name is Cherie Miller, and I’m a licensed therapist in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas, though I lived in Denver, Colorado for 10 years post-college.

But after starting a family, my husband and I moved back to Texas to be closer to my family, and now we live five minutes from the house I grew up in! We have two feisty children, an eight-year-old boy and a four-(going on 13)-year old girl, plus a rambunctious dog and kitten.

Helping people make peace with food and their bodies by being a therapist is actually my second career. I decided I wanted to do that after I went through and recovered from an eating disorder myself.

Originally though, I majored in English in college and ended up working in corporate marketing for about a decade. I already knew then that I wanted to get my Master’s degree and do counseling, but the person I was married to at the time wasn’t supportive of that.

Once I separated from him many years later, I enrolled in a graduate program for professional counseling and my second chapter began! 

Now I’m not only a therapist, but I get to use my business experience as well by running my own group practice. I have several amazing therapists and dietitians who work for me, and I absolutely love the work I get to do now. Of course, there are days I wonder what in the world I got myself into, but I still wouldn’t trade it for any other career.

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

In high school, I really started to struggle with my self-esteem and body image. I felt like the sidekick friend who wasn’t as thin and pretty as the other girls, and while all my friends were starting to date, no one was asking me out. I only had a date to prom because one of my guy friend’s girlfriend broke up with him a couple of weeks before, so we went as buddies.

I was very self-conscious about my body, especially my stomach, and would spend hours in front of my mirror, crying and pinching at my fat from every angle.

One night, before going out with my friends, I wrapped my stomach with athletic tape so tight I could hardly breathe in an attempt to make my stomach as flat as my friends. (It didn’t work and my friends made fun of me about it for a long time after.)

It wasn’t until I went to college and gained weight my freshman year, that I decided to go on my first serious diet. I also started running, thinking that I was being healthy by exercising more.

Unfortunately, it quickly spiraled out of control and it began to consume me. Within just a few months, I was struggling with a clinical eating disorder and compulsive exercise. 

Not seeing the reality of what was happening, people complimented me on the weight loss and my new body, which was so harmful. Eating disorders are very manipulative and mine used every compliment against me by pointing out how terrible I obviously looked before and how much better people liked me when I was thinner.

Now I caution others to be careful about complimenting people’s weight loss because you never know what could be behind it. It could be depression, grief, an eating disorder, cancer, or any number of physical and mental health issues.

And it’s always a backhanded compliment, whether you mean it that way or not. Saying “Wow, you look great since you lost weight!” indirectly implies they did not look great at their previous weight.

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

Having an eating disorder is so much more than just wanting to be thin. Yes, I was obsessed with wanting to lose weight, but there were many, many other things underneath that. I desperately wanted to feel good about myself and loved by others.

At times, my eating disorder gave me that sense of identity, accomplishment, and approval I wanted. As I mentioned earlier, I got a lot of positive attention when I lost weight.

Even the restrictive way I ate, though it might have seemed extreme at times to people, was something they admired. It just looked like self-control or discipline to them, things that people often feel they lack.

Our culture has normalized so many disordered eating habits that it can be hard to recognize an eating disorder. And unfortunately, the system of women’s value being tied to their proximity to the beauty ideal (which is a young, thin, white ideal) is still very much alive. Yet despite the things that my eating disorder offered me, there was definitely a dark side.

For one, those things were fleeting. I only felt them for brief moments while the rest of the time, I was still racked with insecurity and self-loathing. I was even more fixated on how I hated my body than before, and then I also became obsessed with food. I thought about food constantly and even dreamed about it.

My whole life revolved around trying to eat as little as possible, only eating “healthy” food, and then ultimately ending up bingeing and purging, only to start the cycle over again. It was exhausting and left little time and energy for other aspects of my life. In my worst moments, I believed I would never recover and that I would spend my whole life trapped in that cycle.

Even once my eating disorder started to get better, I was absolutely certain that I would have to deal with my body hatred forever. I couldn’t imagine looking down at myself in the shower and feeling anything but disgust.

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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

When I was in college studying abroad in Oxford, England for a semester, I came to realize that I had an eating disorder. I was running out of money because of all the food I was buying and was even starting to steal food from other people in the house.

Between that and all the purging I was doing, I felt a lot of shame. I also was feeling exhausted. It takes a lot of energy to maintain an eating disorder, especially combined with the compulsive running I was doing. By then, I was running so much not just to burn calories, but also to punish myself. I would even sneak out to go running downtown by myself at midnight or 1 am sometimes even though it wasn’t safe. 

I actually confessed to a roommate one day that I thought I had an eating disorder, which didn’t go well because she basically said I was lying and just looking for attention. Later, that roommate caught me after purging one day and said she believed me after all and that I needed help. From there, I started recovery, which was a painful process.

It’s a long story, but the gist of is that I managed to white-knuckle through stopping the eating disorder behaviors and running, but I didn’t do the deeper healing so I still suffered emotionally for years. I continued to struggle with depression, disliking myself and my body, and dieting. (Today, I call this stage quasi-recovery because I see that I wasn’t fully recovered.)

Eventually, after I left my first husband who was abusive, I relapsed. Hard. I lost even more weight and got even deeper into compulsive running. 

Thankfully, I was ready to do the deeper work and also be more open with my support system. I got into therapy and leaned heavily on my friends and family when I needed it instead of trying to recover alone like I had the first time. I also met my now husband towards the end of my recovery journey (the real one this time!) and his unconditional love was very healing for me.

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

In addition to therapy and leaning into my support system, I also immersed myself in content related to body positivity and practicing a food freedom philosophy called intuitive eating. I read so many books and listened to countless podcasts during that time, which made a huge difference.

Unlearning things I had been taught to believe about food and bodies took quite a bit of time and work, but the key for me was to replace all that with more positive beliefs by learning a ton of new information. If you’re open-minded, information can be powerful in shifting perspectives! 

For example, I learned about Health at Every Size (HAES), which promotes pursuing health from a weight-neutral place. Honestly, I started out thinking HAES was ridiculous because “everyone knows that being fat is bad for you,”, but was open to learning about it. I ended up being shocked to see how misinformed we are about weight and health!

I also started seeing what social justice issues weight bias and stigma are. Our cultural obsession with thinness is not just an individual issue but is also a societal problem that affects millions of people. This kindled a passion outside my own experience to not just learn body acceptance for myself, but to do something to make society more accepting and inclusive of body diversity.

Learning and practicing intuitive eating was also key in truly recovering from my eating disorder. I started rejecting the diet mentality and the black-and-white thinking about food that’s so common now. I now realize that foods don’t belong in the “good” and “bad” categories and that all foods can fit into a healthful way of eating.

I stopped listening to messages that create fear and anxiety about certain foods, and strive to listen to my body’s cues about eating. I never thought I would say this, but with time and practice, I’ve learned to trust my body and it’s learned to trust me! Most of the time, I let my body guide me in what, when, and how much I need to eat.

Lastly, learning and practicing things to challenge my perfectionism and inner critic voice has made a significant difference in my mental health. Like I’m honored to be able to teach clients now, I’ve learned to recognize and challenge the unhelpful thoughts that used to create a lot of problems for me. I’m still working on learning to treat myself as kindly as I treat the people I care about!

When it comes to recovering from an eating disorder, yes, I’ve gained weight. Truthfully, more weight than I ever thought I could accept. I’m also happier and healthier than I was when I was thinner. So maybe I gained weight… but I also gained my best life, and it was absolutely worth it. 

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

I’ve been very open about my struggles because I want others to know that they’re not alone–and that there is hope for recovery from an eating disorder even though it might feel impossible!

I also think it’s important to reduce the stigma around eating disorders and mental health issues in general, and talking about these things is important for that.

At the end of the day, we all have “stuff,” and I don’t understand the point of pretending otherwise. I’ve learned compassion for myself and others in this journey, and that is an antidote to shame.

I don’t generally find it difficult to open up to others because authenticity is a big value of mine. I also believe that authenticity and vulnerability are key to thriving relationships. I don’t do the small talk stuff very well, I really want to connect with people on the important things. 

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

One thing I wish I had known was how important it is to not only learn a lot of new information and skills but that you have to actually practice them consistently for there to be change. I love to learn, which is wonderful! But knowledge alone doesn’t usually lead to healing.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

Where can we go to learn more about you?

You can learn more about me here or follow me on Instagram and Facebook.

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

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