WATERLOO (KWWL) -- We all know we have to eat to live. But for a lot of Americans, the very act of eating can be a traumatic experience.
Pretty much as long as she can remember, Nicole Stern has had issues with food.
"Yeah, when I was 7 or 8 it was a lot of arguing with my parents over what I was gonna eat," recalls Stern.
The Waterloo woman says family issues led her to use not eating as a way to get back at her parents.
"If I didn't like what we were having for dinner, then I would go to bed hungry and at some point it changed from I would cry myself to sleep 'cause I was hungry to I won a battle with my parents," said Stern.
In high school, the now-30-year-old says friends started to recognize the problem but only in recent years was she diagnosed with an eating disorder.
"Basically it becomes a coping skill in order to be able to deal with the incidents that are happening at that point in time," said Terrie Boring, a registered dietitian. So they actually end up using the food as a way to control their environment."
Boring says her role is to challenge patients like Nicole to literally take in enough calories to stay mentally and physically balanced.
"We can't think of it like somebody stopping smoking and just giving up that habit," said Boring. "They have to deal with food every single time they turn around. They need it to live and so it's something that they really need to find other coping skill surrounding."
Nicole still has days when she questions if she even has a problem. So it's no surprise the anxiety she feels when faced with eating is constant.
"I look at something at food and I tell myself I can't eat that because if I eat it I'm gonna get fat," said Stern.
She says taking time to eat is an annoyance to her. These thoughts are part of her ongoing daily struggle.