A few months ago, I joined a program to help me define my personal style. My alters and I wanted to learn how to love, accept, and see our physical self as it really looked now instead of what we were told before. Many of us also wanted to find clothes that fit, flattered, and suited our current lifestyle instead of hiding behind baggy, ugly, uncomfortable clothes. This was also meant to be a distraction type coping strategy to keep everyone focused on the present and getting comfortable with being female again during some rough anniversary times.
No one noticed that our body was losing a lot of weight. The relapse was not a conscious one in any way. I kept eating normal (for me) amounts of food; maintained a flexible and consistent meal schedule; utilized coping strategies for flashbacks and sleepless nights, etc. But something happened to trigger our body into losing weight. And since no one had consciously tried to lose weight, we didn’t notice until a few months later when our body was going into starvation and recovery mode- i.e. bloated in odd places, tired, clothes were a lot looser and not fitting properly.
In those few months, our body had lost 10+ pounds because of stress, sleepless nights, and massive amounts of energy use towards “being normal” for work and life outside of the house. What started next was an analysis period of what some call “The Great Food Experiment” of the last few years. Our dietitian had been helping us face and cope with the residual food fears and triggers making healthy eating and food relationships sticky.
The dietitian says it was not a relapse of anorexia. It was a side effect of coping and stress from the other symptoms that the body mistook for starvation and acted accordingly to maintain essential functions. The current goal was three-fold:
- Focus on gaining back the weight
- Focus on finding ways to maintain balanced, healthy eating options when most of the time animal products were not included in the meals.
- Focus on finding ways to prepare healthy, delicious meals when panic attacks or flashbacks make using knives and other cooking utensils unsafe.
FYI, I am not vegan or vegetarian. If you have to label me (or all of us), omnivore works. I am one of those rare individuals who does not like the flavor and texture of most animal based foods no matter how they are cooked. On top of that, those kinds of food are extremely hard for our body to digest and makes us feel a lot of discomfort. So, animal protein and related foods are not excluded. They are limited to times when everyone wants to eat the food and is willing to tolerate the consequences that come from eating such food.
I like to see this as a way of widening my options by eating and experimenting with the vast variety of whole plant-based foods available. By doing this, I can stay healthy, enjoy what I eat (since I’ve always preferred eating plants – veggies and fruit and grains – to animals since childhood), and live my values.
It’s not easy, and sometimes I have to make compromises with myself and other parts, but it’s worthwhile.
Some Helpful Coping Strategies
Utilize support networks and resources: I talked to my doctor, therapist, dietitian, friends, and knitting circle before making the choices above. They shared information, offered opinions, provided suggestions, and supported my choices. They helped me choose kitchen tools, find an apartment, find creative alternatives to traditional cooking, etc.
Distract with research: I read a lot of books, asked millions of questions, viewed videos and blogs, and got my vitals checked over a period of years to understand why I felt like I did about food and what options I had besides eating the Standard American Diet. It was a fun challenge for me. Maybe solving a different kind of puzzle can help you.
Invest in quality tools for the long term: One of the most difficult parts of my symptoms is the loss of motor skills when I have a panic attack or flashbacks. I lose gross and fine motor skills to the point where sometimes walking around is dangerous.
Those are times when preparing food and getting enough to eat are a big struggle. Additional stress comes because I’ve been on a tight budget for the last 3 years – starting over put me into some debt that I am just finally recovering from this year – and struggled with buying things I absolutely needed and things I wanted without going back into debt.
So I have set up my apartment with a dishwasher to help with the burden of cleaning up, a trash can with a secure lid for times when I have trouble getting to the dumpster, a slow cooker to make meals, and a blender for making smoothies and other meal alternatives. All of these items were purchased over time and mostly on sale. As for the dishwasher, I made sure to move to a relatively safe neighborhood that met my commuting requirements and budget, but also had a dishwasher in the kitchen. It takes a little planning, but definitely worth the effort in the end.
Have Compassion for Myself: I tend to be too hard on myself and overly critical. My parts are the same way. So we work hard to be kinder to ourselves during difficult times.
A poem from a friend
Back when all of this started, a co-worker left this poem on my desk. It inspired me to make positive changes in my meal routine, so I am sharing it below:
What Food Can Do
Food can fill our stomachs.
It cannot fill our souls.
Food can nourish our bodies.
it cannot nourish our hearts and minds.
Food can give momentary pleasure.
It cannot give lasting pleasure.
Food can distract us from our pain.
It cannot take away our pain.
Remember, nourish and nurture yourself“