The Struggle is Real: 5 Steps to Kick Obsessive Exercise & Food Thoughts

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

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Eating disorder recovery stories are rare.

Unlike stories of people overcoming alcohol or drug addiction—and choosing a sober lifestyle once and for all, eating disorder recovery is tricky.

Unlike alcohol or drugs, you have to eat every day—it’s not something to abstain from. You have to learn a completely new relationship with food.

And while an individual CAN be seemingly recovered on the outside (look “healthier” or act happier), there is often times no telling what’s really going on inside.

More than half the battle of eating disorders (like 99% of it) is in the mind—and the way you think! (about food, about yourself, about life).

TRUE FREEDOM comes when that “white noise” begins to fade…

It can sound odd to outsiders what “voice” I’m talking about, but if you’ve ever struggled with eating issues and that militant diet mentality, you know what I’m talking about. That voice that CONSTANTLY nags:

  • “I can’t believe you just ate
  • How could you even think of SUCH A THING—as eating that?!”
  • “Your thighs are touching—eww.”
  • “Look at that ugly nose.”
  • “Ughhh…your stomach! That pudge…”
  • “Worthless.”
  • “I wonder what you should have for dinner tonight…and tomorrow…and tomorrow…”
  • “Ok so far you ate 400 calories at breakfast….350 at lunch…so that leaves about 450 for dinner…”
  • “You ate too many carbs—no wonder you feel so pudgy…”

I could go on and on and on.

Jacquie Rangel can too.

She knows that voice ALL TOO WELL.

But today she is LIVING PROOF that YES, THERE IS HOPE AND FREEDOM from the bondage of that all-controlling eating disorder that once enslaved both she and I.

I first met Jacquie during my LAST-ever experience in inpatient treatment more about 5 years ago now (time flies!).

She was on the brink of “graduating” from the intensive inpatient setting to “transitional living” during my first week of what ended up being a 9-month inpatient stay.

Little did we know that we would stay connected and bond later as sisters in recovery once the REAL BATTLE and work for recovery began in the real world.

 (Note: I often tell folks that the real work of recovery does not begin until you are actually OUT of treatment—more on your own to fight the battles that rage and war for your mind, body and soul).

Today, Jacquie is also making it her life’s work to HELP OTHERS struggling with eating disorders to find freedom as the Education and Training Manager on the Marketing Team at Monte Nido and Affiliates (a treatment center based in Newport Beach, California).

For Motivation Monday, Jacquie shared some insights of hope, encouragement and “real world advice” for those on the road to recovery…


The Struggle is Real: Overcoming Obsessive Exercise, Dieting & Thoughts About Food (Jacquie’s Story on Getting Her Spark & Life Back)


Q1. Dr. Lauryn: First things first, give us a little background on your struggle with the eating disorder…how did it start? What was your life like before ED took over?

It’s hard to say when exactly my eating disorder really started. I couldn’t have put a name to the problem until I was about 17. I was living in Taiwan at the time (my family moved a lot) and on top of typical high school discomfort, I knew I stood out more than I wanted to. At first glance the way it happened was simple: I went on a diet with a friend and didn’t stop. As you and I both know, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

In 8th grade I remember strongly resenting my body for developing so quickly (think 5’8” and curvy when some of my friends had barely passed 5’ and were still wearing t-shirts without a bra). At that time I started my first ever diet that consisted of counting fat grams and skipping out on daytime meals. The meal skipping was aided by the manipulation of my Ritalin intake. I had been given a prescription the year before and It didn’t take me long to figure out that if I skipped a day of meds here and there I wouldn’t feel hungry when I did take my dose.

As far as body dysmorphia goes- I’ve realized it dates further back than I even remember. I think back to my 10th birthday- a pool party- when I looked down at my “belly” and realized I didn’t like the way I looked. Not because I was overweight, I never have been, but because I simply was dissatisfied with my physical appearance. After sharing that memory with my mother once, she recounted the time that I was 6-years-old and trying on my uniform for my first day of elementary school. I started tearing up because I didn’t like the way I looked.

Clearly, it’s something that’s been with me for a while and maybe in this way I was predisposed to developing an eating disorder. Nevertheless, it wasn’t “one” thing that happened and triggered the onset of anorexia- rather the perfect storm of circumstances.

Despite everything, I was a pretty happy kid. I came from a good, loving and dynamic family- we were pretty lucky, and we knew it. My life was about as normal as a third-culture kid’s life can be. My eating disorder turned all of that on its head. It was scary, painful, and miserable not only for me, but for the people who were by my side the whole way through (fam shoutout). I have to say though, despite everything, I wouldn’t undo what I went through if I had some magical opportunity to do so- I like my life and who I have become for overcoming those days way too much to go back and change a thing.


Q2. Dr. Lauryn: What did your daily life look like with ED? How did it impact your daily function?

I’ve explained to some people before that while in my eating disorder, the best part of my day was a few moments I had when I opened my eyes in the morning. In that time- less than 10 seconds of my day- I forgot what exactly I was waking up to. Once that realization set in for the day, I hit the group running. Literally. I would start with at least 3 miles before breakfast. When I was a freshman in college it became normal for me to miss class (the non-attendance-taking kind) because I couldn’t get off the treadmill or stop running on the indoor track. It got to a point where the janitorial staff knew me by name because I was there several times per day and let’s be honest- I probably looked insane. When I wasn’t at the gym, I was always looking for ways to sneak a workout in, always concerned that my stomach was in this endless state of expansion. I did a manic amount of crunches every time I walked into my dorm room, I walked absolutely everywhere and couldn’t stop moving. I would quell my hunger pangs in the middle of the night by running quietly in place … It was a mess and that is without the all-encompassing food aspect of the eating disorder.

Contrary to the way most people imagine Anorexia to be like, I rarely skipped meals during the height of my disorder. In fact I was very rigid in that I needed to prepare 3 meals and 2 snacks per day; I had to at least pretend I was going to eat them, all I thought about was food because I was starving! Anorexia is beyond stubborn in that regard though and instead of feeding my body what it so desperately needed, I would neurotically arrange little plates more suitable for tiny birds that I wouldn’t allow myself to start eating until the clock turned to a specific minute of the day. Often times I would drown my meals in salt or water after a few minutes of sitting with them to render them inedible. This only escalated- I threw away so much food during this time, something I’m not proud of and all out of a genuine phobia of getting “fat”.

For a person who has never experienced irrational fear, it probably sounds ridiculous, particularly for someone who has never experienced an overweight body. I was convinced on so many levels that my body reacted to food differently and that if I ate what was considered “normal” I would be obese. I had many friendships end during this time and didn’t give many new friendships a fair shot because I realized pretty early on that social interaction inevitably involves food. Which is wonderful for most people- food and good company are some of the greatest pleasures in life. It’s sad to say, but I didn’t even particularly care that I spent the greater part of that time isolated and to myself- I wasn’t lonely or bored because I lived in my mind. My eating disorder was a 24/7 committed engagement and early on in my eating disorder, I felt special- like I had this magic will power to resist weight gain and “unhealthy” foods. I wasn’t gaining the weight my peers were from drinking and ordering pizza in the middle of the night (being freshmen) because well, I wasn’t doing those things. And I thought this was what made me “good”.

When I would (finally) get to go to bed after a day of utter obsession, I would fall asleep using the calculator on my phone to account for all the calories I had consumed that day. Over. And over. And over.

A lot of the times I don’t like talking about the nitty-gritty of my ED because I hate giving people the impression that an eating disorder of any kind looks a particular way. I want people to know that I didn’t wake up one day and decide I wasn’t going to eat anymore. It didn’t start in the gruesome way it ended up and I know it would have only gotten worse if I hadn’t sought help. I had just as much of an eating disorder when I started restricting my caloric intake by just a few hundred calories as I did when I couldn’t walk into a restaurant without having a panic attack. There’s no need to wait for utter ED mayhem to seek help.


Q3. Dr. Lauryn: How and when did you realize you had a problem?

There were a few. I think that despite what a lot of us say- “we had no idea”- I knew on some level all along. I preferred telling myself, however, that I was “in shape” or looking out for my health. So yes, there were plenty of physical cues- losing clumps of hair, half a dozen stress fractures from running on brittle bones, losing my vision when I ran, chest pain, and even vomiting blood. It probably should have been a big clue when I saw my parent’s faces of disbelief when they visited me at college for the first time. But a sick mind is only looking to keep you sick, I was able to push all of the warning signs out of my field of vision and continue on with my ways.

The first time I really thought “this is bad” is when my mom and 11-year-old brother, Feli, confronted me in the living room one day with a pair of his pants. Yes, he was probably 8 inches shorter than me at the time (though as he likes to say, he “towers” over me now!), but they told me that they thought if I tried on his pants they would fit me. I responded with my typical vicious ED response, telling them to leave me alone. They insisted. I went into the bathroom to put them on and make them feel bad for reminding me how fat I am. I was floored when I realized how easily this tiny pair of little boy pants buttoned. Like they were my pants. Feli was by no means a husky kid- just the opposite. And here I was; 19 and wearing his pants with ample wiggle room. For the first time, I didn’t feel a twisted sense of joy in discovering lower number on the scale or a smaller size. I was scared and it was clear to me that I was no longer in control.


Q4. Dr. Lauryn: When you entered inpatient treatment in Miami, what made this time different—a real journey in recovery?

I hadn’t been in a formal treatment setting before- though I had been in and out of therapy for a good 8 years. I guess I just wanted it and more importantly– I knew I was in a place that I firmly believed I could help ME. I’m pretty sure that’s key in recovering.


Q5. Dr. Lauryn: Describe some of the ups and downs of the sickness-recovery process during your struggle.


#1. Taking a Time Out. I think my first “up” in recovery was the decision I made to take a medical leave or absence from school. My days were getting hazy and I had a hard time doing anything without feeling completely drained. My whole body ached from a laundry list of medical complications and I was refusing to work honestly with the outpatient therapist, I had completely abandoned my nutritionist at this point… It was time to go. I was in no cognitive state to carry on in an academic environment- your brain suffers greatly when you don’t feed it!

I realized I needed to do something (anything!) the day I was Skyping with my parents one morning while at school. I had gone a few days drinking just water and coffee and decided to try eating a bowl of Cheerios. Simple, plain, ultimately not fueling- but it was better than nothing. I proceeded to break every single Cheerio in half and when I realized they were all now crescents and that I was unable to put even one on my tongue I broke down. My emergency medical leave of absence kicked in the next day. I flew back to Taiwan where my parents were living and waited while we figured out what to do next. I can be a perfectionist so when I decided not to adhere to the timeline of life I had in my head was difficult, but it might have been the first kind thing I had done for myself in years.

#2 Exercise Compulsion. When I first got to treatment I was exercising in secret. I would let the water run in the morning and do a mini-circuit in the bathroom until I had about 3 minutes left to rush through my shower before my time was up. It was a low in the sense that here I was, committing to treatment with my parents running around figuring out the finances of it all- and I was lying through my teeth. The high comes about a month into treatment when I confessed this truth to my treatment team. Not because I got caught- but because I was sick and tired of the lies that were so characteristic of my disease. I became my own biggest tattle-tale and I think this was a huge breakthrough in my path to recovery.

#3. Osteoporosis Scare. Hearing after a bone-density scan that I had developed osteopenia- a condition in which a person’s bone density is considered lower than normal. It’s often considered the precursor to osteoporosis. I had suspected this was the case- I had a good amount of stress fractures under my belt to know I wasn’t in great shape. Still an official diagnosis hit home for me. That conversation with the doctor ignited a fire in me that helped me power through a lot of pretty difficult times in my pursuit for recovery.

#4 Getting Comfortable in my Own Skin: My decision to start working as a swim-instructor at the University of Miami pool. It’s right in the middle of our beautiful campus and I knew this meant being in a bathing suit in my post-treatment body- something I was far from thrilled about. It ended up being one of the best decisions I ever made! I was able to practice calming down the racing thoughts in my mind and focus on the tasks at hand. I made great friends at that pool while developing a real confidence in my new body. I also got back in touch with one of the things I forgot I loved so much- the sun! That pool was my happy place. I eventually became a lifeguard there and my time on the stand was always so therapeutic. For 30 minutes at time I wasn’t allowed to focus on anything but my work. Mindfulness had seeped into my real life without me even trying!

#5. Loss. Hearing the news that a peer I had meant in treatment had lost her life to her eating disorder was heartbreaking and came not long after I had moved on to just working with an outpatient team. I’ll never forget that moment in which I heard the news or the confusing and anger that followed it. I’ll never understand “why her?” I still don’t have an answer to why I got better while other people don’t. I still think of her every time I see a sailboat.


#6. New Victories. Every time I find myself doing something I wouldn’t have dreamed of in my eating disorder I am able to smile and celebrate a victory with myself. That’s really the message I’ve been trying to share in my new blog I created! Whether it’s achieving a new pose in yoga (my former sworn nemesis) or going to a cooking class with my boyfriend, I laugh with gratitude at the irony of what I’m doing and bask in the bliss of recovery.

Q6. Dr. Lauryn: Any tips you have for others struggling—and thinking about recovery, even those unsure about recovery, having a hard time letting go?


#1. Don’t wait to get help. There will always be someone “more sick” than you are. I struggled with that for a long time and as competitive as your eating disorder can get, it’s not helpful to compare yourself to others. You are worthy of good and you are worthy of asking for help.

#2. Asking for help is a sign of strength. As miserable as it is, an eating disorder gets comfortable and to some extent, it’s the easy way out. It is not weak to admit when you are struggling.

#3. You are capable of so much more than you can imagine in your eating disorder. My anorexia strangled my creativity, intuition, and capacity to dream big. It’s a leap of faith, but you will thank yourself in a big way one day, I promise!!!

#4. Stay open to triggers. Not at first- there is a time in which you need to be protective of your recovery. But that doesn’t mean you have to hide in an eating disorder bubble forever. One day you will be confident enough to sit in the company of people who crash diet and weigh themselves constantly- people who are influenced negatively by society’s dieting norms but don’t have eating disorders and you will not be sent into a spiral of comparison and panic.

#5. Stay connected to you. To this day, I keep a picture of myself as a little girl on my mirror. I’m not perfect and though the thoughts are not frequent, there are occasions in which I look in the mirror and experience judgment. When this happens I consider whether or not I would judge that little girl in the same way I’m judging my adult self. Might sound silly, but it’s helpful for me!


Q7. Dr. Lauryn: Last question—what does THRIVING in your life look like for you today?

Thriving is ultimately freedom to be my most authentic self. I set goals and am able to work towards them. I’m not perfect, I’m always working on self-improvement, but I’m happy and overflowing with gratitude for where I am today. More than anything, I’m present to all of my experiences and don’t have a desire to be anyone but who I am- baggage and all. I went through a lot of difficult and scary experiences relatively early in my life. It’s given me a different perspective on life than I think a lot of people in their early 20’s hold. I’m lucky that my most intimate circle is made up of people I truly respect and bring out the best in me. I know how fragile life is so I don’t take my days, good or bad ones, for granted. I try to find the lesson in every challenge and really just make an extra effort to be my best self.


Are you tired of just getting by?

Ready to kick your eating disorder’s butt and get on with your life?

Or thinking about it…but scared to make a change?

Let’s chat! You deserve life—and life abundantly!!!

If you or you know someone struggling with an eating disorder, I have made it part of my life’s work to empower girls and women to stop settling and start thriving through my customized therapeutic approach to recovery.

Connect with me for a free Spark phone or Skype session today and let’s talk about what YOU want!


Let’s rock this!

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