I’m sure most of the eight people who ever read this are getting tired of me talking about my eating disorder. And to be honest, I’m right there with you. I am exhausted by disordered eating and trying to remain in recovery. It is time consuming. It is expensive. It is emotionally and physically exhausting. So we’re totally on the same page: I am also tired of talking about my eating disorder. However, whenever I share or publish posts about my own experiences, inevitably someone contacts me to tell me that I’ve helped them in some way. I’m not saying that to be a martyr or to be self-important. But if I can make even one person feel like they’re not alone in their experiences struggling with weight, body image, and disordered eating, then I’m going to keep sharing.
I have also been pretty upfront about my autoimmune disease. Hashimoto’s disease SUCKS. It truly is the worst thing to ever happen to me. On a good day, I feel moderately energized and able to be in control of my weight, energy level, mood, brain fog, and skin. On a bad day, I can sleep for 12 hours, forget the directions to doctor’s office (literally, I drove to a doctor’s appointment two weeks ago: a doctor that I have been seeing for six years, and I went the wrong way), gain 3 pounds overnight, be irritable, emotionally unstable, and depressed. It is an awful way to live, and it’s invisible, which often makes me question the validity of my own reality.
After going to the doctor’s office two weeks ago, taking a blood test, and determining that my medication doesn’t need adjustment, he suggested that my symptoms could be resulting from a heightened sensitivity to gluten and dairy. He told me that many times, people with one autoimmune disorder will develop more. With this information, I (begrudgingly) decided to eliminate gluten and dairy from my diet (after I ate some queso and drank a Boone’s Farm, of course). I am happy to report that I’m feeling so much better, and I feel like I have the energy to live my life in a way that makes me most happy. Even after making this positive medical and lifestyle change, I still felt (feel) like I was struggling, but I couldn’t pin point what I was struggling with.
After discussing my new dietary restrictions with a friend, I realized that my struggle centered on food restrictions in the midst of eating disorder recovery. Eating disorders thrive on food restrictions. I am not going to sugar coat bulimia and disordered eating. During the height of my eating disorder, during the times when I wasn’t actively throwing up 6-8 times a day (and chugging chocolate milk or water to make doing this easier), I was restricting my calorie and food intake in a way that wasn’t physically or mentally healthy. Typically this restriction occurred after a day of being particularly “bad.” I can remember once, the day after a particularly grueling experience binging and purging roughly 15 times, I spent the day consuming nothing but water and Splenda packets. Another day I squirted a tablespoon of mustard on a lettuce leaf three times (breakfast, lunch, dinner). Although I’ve found some physical benefits of eliminating gluten and dairy, I’ve found that I have to be especially mindful in order to not fall back into my previous patterns of destructive behavior. I have determined that for me to feel good with my Hashimoto’s and to feel good with my mental health and my eating disorder recovery, I have to take the time to really be present when I’m eating a meal, and I have to know when restricting becomes suffocating. I recently purchased a book on mindful eating and intuitive eating practices, and that has certainly helped. However, it would be wildly refreshing to have a day where food wasn’t all consuming. Where I didn’t have to put a value-judgement on the food I was eating. Where I could enjoy it without feeling guilty or feeling restrictive.
I have still not completely recovered from my eating disorder. I honestly don’t think I ever will be (unpopular opinion, I know). I have a tumultuous relationship with food, a tumultuous relationship with exercise, and a tumultuous relationship with my body. I don’t think I truly know how to exercise and to eat well in order to be kind to my body. I still see these as punishments: punishment for my thighs touching or for my stomach, punishment for hurting my family with my disorder, punishment for my body not functioning correctly and for my autoimmune disease. My autoimmune disease makes it really hard to lose or maintain a steady weight, which is another issue entirely and presents another whole set of challenges. After I began my recovery from bulimia, my body was in shock. I had spent six-seven years abusing myself and depriving myself of any real substantive nourishment. My metabolism was shot (only compounded by my metabolic-related autoimmune disease), and I began to put on weight pretty quickly. Even after not binging and purging for years, I still feel like my body isn’t able to reap the benefits of healthy eating and exercise because of this autoimmune disorder. I can eat 800-1200 calories a day, exercise for an hour every day, and I’ll still probably only lose 1 pound (if any). I have made a decision to be healthy and to abandon my eating disorder, and I feel like my body continues to betray and punish me. This is beyond frustrating, and I have had come to terms with the fact that I will probably be overweight most of my life.
I don’t know if I even have a point or a thesis in writing this. I think that in modern society, it’s easy to get caught up in the next big craze and to idolize trends. Yesterday it was gluten-free, today it’s paleo, tomorrow it’s something else. These health modifications can be wildly beneficial (I am already experiencing benefits from changing my diet). They can also be wildly dangerous, particularly for people who have a challenging relationship with food and diet-based restrictions. Most days I love myself. My body is strong, and my legs can (and have) run races. I can lift heavy things, and I love Zumba and barre classes. On most days, I put good things in my body, and I am kind to myself. There are still days when I look in the mirror and want to cry, and not eating gluten isn’t going to fix that. I remember being seventeen years old and 115 pounds, and I desperately want to be there again. Since my most recent struggles with my autoimmune disease, I’ve felt like this more often than not. I’ve found that being honest with myself is helpful. I acknowledge that how I’m feeling is valid, but reminding myself of how far I’ve come. I’m also a huge proponent of mindfulness. Taking the time to engage with and listen to myself and really begin to understand how to best respond to my body’s needs has been a godsend. If that doesn’t work, I look around at my wonderful friends, job, and partner, and I remember how fortunate I am to be surrounded by people who could give a sh.t how fat my hips are. I don’t know what the right answer is, but I know that, in the short term, this is working all right.