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Caffeinated Anorexia: A Personal Account

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Consuming coffee is not allowed at the adolescent treatment center at Remuda Ranch and every drop of fluid is recorded- including water. Located in Wickenburg, Ariz., Remuda Ranch is an outpatient treatment center for eating disorders; ranked as one of the best in the nation and attended by women and girls from all around the world.

Myself and fellow residents could care less that Remuda was a place of success in curing our obsessive disorder. I can’t count the times we dreamed about black coffee and RedBull.

They were key tools in our avoidance of food because they filled us up and made our stomachs eat themselves.

A study published in late 2009 has focused on this very phenomenon,

“Very few investigations have examined fluid intake in patients with eating disorder. Research suggests that patients with eating disorder may consume excessive amounts of fluids and that this might be used as an aid in vomiting.1,5 Water loading can also be a way to ‘‘make weight’’ for a clinical visit.”

During my freshman year in high school I learned how to “water load” from an eating disorder video in my health class. The video listed numerous ways girls would starve themselves, how they would go about avoiding food, and how the eating disorder progressed in their lives. My classmates seemed disinterested while I was captivated by the manipulation these girls were capable of.

Living on an orange and a bottle of water is totally OK, right?

Fast-forward four years and I’m in college reading a local independent newspaper. The cover story featured the “Starbucks diet” that plagued so many young women. Apparently people were substituting their food intake with coffee and other caffeinated beverages; yet another ingenous idea. I knew better and cast the article aside.

Only a couple weeks later I came upon another phenomenon; college girls were “saving” their calories for alcohol.

But is food the real culprit? Are drinks the newest problem, or, are they symptoms masked by behavior?

“People with eating disorders believe that by engaging in rituals of food manipulation (whether dieting, binging, purging, obsessing, calorie counting, or some combination of all), they will find the happiness and acceptance they desire,” Kimerer LaMothe, a blog contributor to Psychology Today said.

Personal experience points to emotional struggles as the true culprit of starvation and purging. I would never get to the level of asking for help from close family and friends, but I had no problem running miles on a broken foot in fear of gaining any weight.

I learned to manipulate what I had total control over in order to avoid feeling things I couldn’t control. Coffee and RedBull were just tools.

I am now three years into recovery. I use tools that don’t affect my body, but instead, cultivate my ability to manage emotions.

1 Remuda Ranch, http://www.remudaranch.com/, 1.800.445.1900
2 International Journal of Eating Disorders. “Caffeine, Artificial Sweetener, and Fluid Intake in
Anorexia Nervosa”. Joanna M. Marino, MA*, Troy E. Ertelt, MA1, Stephen A. Wonderlich, PhD2,3, Ross D. Crosby, PhD2,3, Kathy Lancaster, BA2, James E. Mitchell, MD2,3, Sarah Fischer, PhD4, Peter Doyle, MA5, Daniel Le Grange, PhD5, Carol B. Peterson, PhD6, Scott Crow, MD6
3 http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/
4 Psychology Today, “It’s Not (Just) About Food: Moving Beyond the Religion of Thinness”, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-body-knows/201002/its-not-just-about-food-moving-beyond-the-religion-thinness/comments

Add a Comment4 Comments

I had a friend who went to Remuda Ranch, I went to Sheppard Pratt eating disorder clinic in Baltimore.
It seems like they don't focus on emotional struggles as much as they focus on how much you need to gain. That itself is a problem, because then you aren't addressing the real issue--just trying to making the physical issue go away. Sure, that helps PHYSICALLY, but what about emotionally? I relapsed because of how little they focused on emotional issues. I don't think health care providers understand that many eating disordered victims aren't doing it for the weight loss, they're doing it for something else, something they don't even understand. I'm in the process of recovering on my own, and I know that I am not doing well.
Thank you for this article, and now I don't feel so alone. Knowing you're here on this website, and so are other eating disordered victims, helps me know I can talk about this.


September 6, 2011 - 8:23am
EmpowHER Guest

I stopped reading at Remuda ranch. Remuda is full of a bunch of bigoted pricks. "Oh hi, if you want to get better here, you have to believe in the same religion we do." No fucking thanks,

April 12, 2011 - 11:20am
EmpowHER Guest

This is a great article. Thank you for addressing the need to consider and manage the emotional culprit. Without doing so, many people miss the daily joy of who they are, as they are.

February 24, 2010 - 7:18pm
EmpowHER Guest

And your mother couldn't be more proud!

February 24, 2010 - 3:40pm
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