Wednesday, 27 April 2011 16:12
In a college town with near perfect temps year-round, it’s tempting to get stuck in a “always-on-a-diet” rut. And with advances in photo editing and plastic surgery, it’s easy to develop unrealistic expectations of our bodies. OK, we’ll just say it—sometimes we get a little “weird” with our food, whether it’s feeling self-conscious eating in front of others or full-blown binges after a rough day. But it is possible to break the cycle—just ask Sunny Sea Gold, author of the recently released Food: The Good Girl’s Drug, from Berkley Publishing Group.
By Maghan McDowell; photo by Taghi Naderzad
Sunny has worked as the health and fitness editor of Seventeen Magazine and Glamour, and is currently a deputy editor at Redbook. She has also struggled with a disorder that is hardly mentioned in books and magazines—or even among friends: binge eating disorder.
Since her early teens, Sunny has struggled with the disorder, and knows the stigma associated with overeating. After talking with psychiatrists, nutritionists, fitness experts and real girls, Sunny shares her journey in learning to use food to fuel her body, rather than her emotions. It’s a must-read for any woman struggling with body acceptance and normalizing their turbulent relationship with food.
After reading Food: The Good Girl’s Drug, we had to talk to Sunny to get her thoughts on why so many women are so weird about their food—and how she found relief.
You wrote the book for teens and young women. Why? I focused specifically on “young women” because there isn’t anything like this out there for them. When I was 15 or 16, I read Feeding the Hungry Heart by Geneen Roth, and it helped me to understand the emotional reasons behind why I was eating so much and wasn’t able to stop. But I remember feeling a bit alienated because all of the women in the book were…older. I couldn’t believe that in the 15 years that I’d been dealing with binge eating and getting better, no one had written this book yet! So, I did it myself.
It seems that many women regularly experience some of the symptoms of binge eating disorder. Why do you think that is? Our relationship with food is very complicated, isn’t it? And it’s not just women—men struggle too. The common thread—and the behavior I focus on helping the reader understand and fix—is the urge to overeat for reasons other than hunger. To deal with difficult emotions, or with stress.
Food weirdness and disordered eating stem from lots of sources. Genetics is one—studies have shown that body image problems and eating disorders are hereditary and related to certain genes. Our environment is another. That includes how we’re brought up, how our parents act about their bodies and around food, what they say to us about our own bodies and about how we eat. But environment is also our cultural environment—the images we see, the ideals of beauty we’re exposed to, and the media. The third, and perhaps the most important, is our own personalities. Binge eaters tend to be pretty sensitive people. I know I am!
At what point does this become a disorder and not just preoccupation? Well, I’ll tell you that psychologists and psychiatrists argue about this. One thing they all agree on is that a disorder negatively affects your daily life. It becomes a problem when you can’t shake that off and just move on. It’s a pattern, you’re doing it regularly, and not only that, you’re feeling disgusted by the behavior, and helpless to stop it.
One thing you address is shame and hesitation to share your struggles, which seems to be reinforced by other women. Why do women do this to each other? Ugh! It can be so true! Restraint and control—as in eating only “good” things and avoiding “naughty” ones—are two highly valued traits in our society. Eating too much, or eating the “wrong” things, are seen as a lack of control and it’s looked down upon. One of the psychiatrists I interviewed for the book explained to me that he believes women really are given the message that it is simply unfeminine to eat too much, to have too robust of an appetite. I of course, don’t believe any of that anymore.
Do you think it’s misleading when magazines share a celebrity’s workout as a way to achieve that body? Do you wish that more celebrities would admit that it’s very difficult to maintain their physique? I am a huge fan of celebrities who are honest about what it really takes to maintain their shape and size (although I truly wish they would just maintain more normal sizes and not work so hard to be tiny). Having worked as a health editor for several magazines, I have interviewed their trainers and their nutritionists, and I know for a fact that—while many actresses and models are obviously gifted with beauty and with attractive natural body shapes—it is not just a matter of hiking Runyon Canyon with their dogs every so often that whittles stars away to double-zero sizes. People in that world very often do not eat or live like the average person out there.
Not only that, but they spend an hour a day or more in the gym with famously talented trainers, some of which I’ve had the opportunity to work out with, and let me tell you, it makes a difference. We simply cannot ever compare ourselves to models, actresses, and movie stars. Even the celebrities themselves don’t always look the way they do on the red carpet, or in movies or in photoshoots. Many, many celebrities crash diet and do cleanses before big shots and events to temporarily look even slimmer than they normally do. Even they can’t compare to the images of themselves that they create!
You first noticed an eating problem in the 9th grade. How long did it take you to recover? I’m 34 now. My eating journey had many ups and downs, and there were some periods during which my disorder calmed down and took a backseat to the rest of my life. I usually say it took about 15 years for me to be completely recovered. It can be a long trip for some of us. But I wouldn’t change a thing.
Now that you are in recovery, how has your body responded? My body loves recovery! I try not to talk weight too much because the number can be triggering for people, but I am at a healthy, normal weight for my height and, after swinging wildly back and forth again between a size 10 and a size 22 during my adult life and dieting/bingeing years, I am a stable size 12. I no longer diet; I no longer binge. I exercise because it feels good and it helps me maintain good mental health, and I listen to my body when it comes to food.
By A Web Design
Sounds fresh from the pages of the magazine