Alter Post: Eating Disorder is not the same as disordered eating

Eating Disorder History

I have anorexia nervosa.  Right now, it’s in remission.  But stressful times casue a loss of appetite.  If I am mot careful, I start skipping meals, eating less, and forgetting to hydrate.  My body interprets the pattern of skipping meals and eating less as a signal to start hoarding calories and retaiming water to protect vital organs.  It falls back into the cycle instincitvely to protect my body from wasting away because past experience says “who knows when the body will be fed again?”

Even after I got the anorexia under control and found ways to make the allergies go away, I still had problems with disordered earing habits like:

  • food fears
  • dieting restrictions
  • obsessive/complusive behaviors related to food
  • shopping, preparation, cooking, meal times, and so on

I was taking in calories but unable to enjoy eating or maintain a healthy weight.  Low energy, sleep problems, lowered immune system…you name it I experienced it in some way.  My doctors and I are constantly surprised that the only long term sign of decades of malnutrition a d starvation is pale skin because of lack of melatonin production.  That means I have problems absorbing vitamin D and have to be careful of sun exposure.  It also means I have to take supplements.

Present

That was about 4 years ago.

These days my skin is a healthy  warm/neutral skin tone – neither pale white nor a obviously brown, but somewhere in between – and my weight stays mostly the same within a 5 lb range.  This isn’t my target weight or my ideal weight, but it’s the weight my body/mind/spirit believes is best for overall health.

When I do lose weight, it’s less than the 10 lb cut off that tips me into an official relapse.  Problem is that I’m already petite & slim, so can’t afford to lose any weight.  Being slim also means that any weight loss is easily noticed.  Same with weight gain.

I might not notice that my eating habits changed right away.  Probably won’t notice if my sleep patterns or food thoughts have changed either.  But I will and do notice when my tops feel too loose/tight or my pants and skirts start bagging at the waist or feeling too tight.

My stomach and abdominal area is really sensitive to pressure so bloating and discomfort from disordered eating usually catches my attention first.

What is the difference between Eating Disorders & Disordered Eating habits?

One can have disordered eating habits without an eating disorder.

For example, I used to have a lot of rules about what I could eat, how often I could eat it, and where I could eat it.  The rules didn’t include how much or little I at at one meal or what had to happen if I over/under ate.  It was almost like a restrictive diet that allowed me to feel like I was in control, but still eating healthy.  These rules and restrictions would make sense if they were related to a medical or physiological issue that made me sick if I ate something.  But they didn’t make sense for a healthy, young woman without any food allergies or sensitivities.  The restrictions were based on fear and avoidance.  Fear of triggering flashbacks or panic attacks; and avoidance as my coping strategy to not get triggered.

*Main difference here: I was aware of this and able to make the conscious choice to challenge these fears with support from medical nutrition therapy and mental health counseling.*

One cannot have an earing disorder without a history/pattern of existing disordered eating habits.

Example of my thoughts while practicing anorexia:
I’m too heavy.  I don’t deserve to eat this food or even enjoy food.  My parents, these teachers, are all trying to control me and force me to (insert physical activity here).  If I’m too weak, they can’t make me do it.  I hate my body.  It’s the reason why these monsters want to hurt me.  If I don’t eat, my body will change; they won’t want to use me anymore.  I have to punish myself for losing control at (insert family event), so not eating (insert favorite food) anymore will prove that I have will power, etc.

Can you tell the difference in my thought processes?

Why is this important?

Stress does odd things to mental and physical processes.  It changes internal chemistry too.  Trauma causes changes in development.  All of this can cause problems with digestion and absorption of nutrients.  Advertising and the internalized messages from caregivers also have an impact on body image, self-esteem, and eating habits.

As a child, I starved and had to scrounge for food when my parents forgot or didn’t feel like cooking/feeding me.  Most of what I ate were sandwiches, pastries, toast, and junk food (cookies, chips, canned whatever) that got stored in the pantry.  The refrigerator was too heavy to open until I was about 5 years old.

As I got older, my mom put me on the same diets she was on.  And punished me by taking away any food I liked whenever the diets didn’t work.  She fed me less so she could eat more because it was my fault she gained weight.  Yeah, fhat doesn’t make sense.  But it’s how she justified her eating habits.

Then came the constant criticism about:

  • how I looked
  • my eating habits
  • food choices

Finally, there were (inevitable) comparisons to cousins of a similar age and generation from everyone.  Too fat, too skinny, too clumsy, too weak…

Connection: Stressful Situations & Self Care (i.e. eating habits)

I don’t know about you, but many of the survivors I have met and talked to have weight problems, immune system problems, and health problems that seem to stem from A) food choices; B) thoughts and beliefs about nutrition; C) beliefs about what their bodies deserve or don’t deserve in relation to food and health; and D) a lack of their own sense of self.  For myself, I still struggle with all four of these topics and probably will for the rest of my life.

Life transitions are among the biggest stressors in my life.  By transition, I mean lots of small changes that accumulate to create a BIG change.

Some examples: legal name change; moving cross country; reconnecting with family; changing jobs; deciding not to hide anymore; advocating for myself at work; decorating my apartment; talking with an attorney; getting my first bank loan approved; becoming more active on social media; changing my self-perceptions for improved self-image.

Hope

But even after all of this, I feel hope and joy whenever a change comes my way.  Each experience taught me that a positive outlook, faith in myself and in the universal energy (aka spirtual or religious belief system) being there to support me as long as I welcome it into my life.

I know that each time something like this comes up, I will feel stressed out.  My body might go into these automatic patterns, or they might not.  The big difference is that I am aware this can happen and can put together safety plans to help recover faster once the stress eases up.

And as long as I stay within the criteria my medical nutrition counselor gave me, I will not fall into a relapse of anorexia no matter what my mind and body are telling me.

Options

If you are not sure whether you are experiencing disordered eating or an eating disorder, maybe it’s time to talk with a professional.

Mental health counselors who specialize in eating disorders and have trauma experience are a good first step.

If you are not comfortable talking with a counselor, talking with your primary physician is also a good first step.  He or she can get you a referral to meet with a registered dietitian or nutrition specialist.  Or maybe refer you to a program that offers food and nutrition support.

Finally, there are many non-profit organizations and social media groups (legitimate ones) who offer support for people with diet and eating challenges.  A lot of their resources are free and available in a safe, non-judgmental (sometimes anonymous) location too.

Whatever your eating challenges may be, I wish that you all find the support and resources you need to be successful.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Challenges: Body Shaming vs Negative Body Image

Trigger warning: Please take care of yourself and only read if as long as you feel safe/comfortable

Objectification

For most of my life, I’ve been objectified.  First as chattel, then as a sexual vessel, a soldier, a toy, an extension of my mother, a skinny girl/woman, a curvy/feminine/sexy object, a doormat, a “nice girl”, delicate, weak, etc.  People looked at me, listened to my voice, and made assumptions.  Hardly anyone ever took me seriously, and someone always tried to take advantage.

Years of therapy and spending time with positive, supportive people have helped me realize I am more than an object.  Part of my recovery is changing the objectification into a positive sense of self – including positive body image and healthy self-esteem – where people see me first instead of my body.   I used to think that body shaming and negative self-image was only connected to my eating disorder.

Now I know the truth.

That a negative body image and body shaming are separate, but related issues and do not always have anything to do with an eating disorder.

Negative Body Image

I used to hate my body, my face, my appearance.   I blamed my face and body shape as the reason for past traumatic experiences.  So I hurt myself – starvation, self-harm, compulsive exercising, not sleeping, making myself sick, reckless/dangerous activities, not caring for physical or mental health – often and in various ways for decades.

These days, I love my face and my body.  I accept all of its quirks and am grateful to be whole and healthy in spite of the pain.  I dress according to my personal style, comfort needs, and daily tasks.  The colors, the fabrics, the shapes, and the accessories help me feel safe, confident, grounded, and happy.  The textures and weights act as self-soothing and grounding objects.

Even though wearing clothes that fit and flatter shows off my feminine body shape and draws attention, I feel secure enough in who I am to ignore all that and enjoy myself.  Most of the time, I can ignore people criticizing my clothing choices or commenting on my weight changes.

But sometimes, the comments hurt or bring out anger.

Body Shaming

Have you ever been told you are too short or tall?  Maybe your eyes bug out or are slanted?  Your hips too wide?  Your butt too big?  Your chest not muscular enough?  Your body stick-like?  You look too masculine/feminine/boyish/girlish for your age/gender/size?  You are flat-chested or large breasted?  Your man-boobs are too prominent?  You stomach is not flat enough?  Skin too flabby?

Has anyone ever criticized your clothing choices?  Your accessories?  Your posture?  Shoes?

These are all examples of body shaming.  Many of them I personally experienced.  Some I have heard told to people I care about.  Others from comments made about celebrities.  The comments from my parents, sibling, cousins, and relatives are the ones that hurt most.  Second place goes to friends, co-workers, mentors, supervisors, and other people in authority positions.  Finally, the random hate from strangers and people posturing for acceptance were the least harmful.  It’s hard to take people who don’t know me seriously.

What brings this up now?

Summer time means wearing less clothes for one thing.  July 1st is a double anniversary with lots of meaning.  July 4th is another anniversary.  I remember spending most of my summers locked up and away from friends, relatives, etc. except on certain occasions for most of my pre-adult life.

Added to all that, I’ve been talking with my aunts more often to coordinate my 2-week visit back home later this month.  During a conversation, one of my aunts proceeded to body shame me, criticize me, and then act like she forgot I was visiting.  No, I am not sure why she decided to cross my boundaries and talk to me this way.  I could speculate, but why bother?  She is who she is, and I should have expected something like this to happen at some point.

Why is this time more of a challenge than past experiences?

My reaction was different.  My feelings were different.  My perspective had changed too.

Instead of feeling hurt or guilt or shame, I felt outrage like “how dare you treat me this way” and pushed back instead of retreating or defending myself.  My response was simple, non-aggressive, and direct.  Then I told her that these days are available if she wants to spend time with me when I visit.

But I still felt angry.  The anger scared me for many reasons.  Different feelings bring out different reactions and impulses.  Anger tends to bring out my rebellious and reckless sides.  It also clouds my thinking.

During that phone call I realized the body shaming and criticism did not trigger any negative feelings about my body.  It did however knock at my self-esteem a little and bring on some nasty flashbacks complete with physical pain.  I felt defensive and uncertain about wearing dresses again.  And part of me was justifying my clothing choice for the day on the inside.  So I made a plan.  When I realized I couldn’t execute the plan on my own, I asked for help.

That was Friday.

The Plan

Go out for a walk in my neighborhood.  Play with friendly dogs.  Eat good food.  Go home and watch a movie or sleep.  Go to counseling the next day.  Have fun and enjoy my 4-day weekend even if that means spending a lot of time sleeping.  Do some packing for the future move.  But most important: RELAX

Thanks for reading.

Back to Basics: Nourishing Myself

There are times when I feel so sick that I can’t bring myself to eat.

It’s not that I don’t want to eat.  Or that the alters don’t want to eat.  Solid foods are just plain unappealing and hard to digest.  Drinking my food is an option. Soup usually does the trick.  Something savory and a little sour helps clear many things up.  Other times a smoothie or juice with pulp does the trick.

Only thing is, I don’t the texture or flavor of many pre-made soups and smoothies.  Nor do I appreciate the cost per drink/soup or the ingredients in the most commonly available options.   They have a hard time meeting my personal requirements

  • Pleases my senses: taste/smell/texture
  • Ingredients
  • Cost per item (I am frugal)
  • Ease of access (delivery, grocery stores, pick up, storage, make it myself?)

So I started creating my own recipes for homemade drinks, soups, and smoothies.  They are nutritionally dense, tasty, smell good, easy to make with a few key tools, and require easy to find ingredients.

Today, I thought I’d share some of my favorite recipes with options:

Basic Green Smoothie:

Ingredients

  • High powered blender with or without a smoothie option
  • 8 ounces of water, milk, or non-dairy milk (almond is my favorite)
  • 1 handful (or more) of leafy green vegetables – spinach and lettuce do not add to or change the flavor of your smoothie
  • 1 Apple cut into chunks (size depends on power of your blender)
  • 1/2 of a 10 oz bag of frozen mixed berries
  • 4 ounces (approx 1/4 container) of silken tofu

 

Cooking Instructions:

  • Add ingredients to the blender in this order: liquids, cut fresh fruit, leafy green vegetables, ground/powdered ingredients & seeds, frozen fruit or ice.
  • Use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides or push down ingredients between blending as needed
  • If the blender gets too full, start blending the liquids and fruit first.  Then slowly add in the rest of the ingredients until fully mixed.
  • Makes between 1-2 (up to 3) servings

Extra Info:

  • Optional ingredients: 1 tsp of ground flaxseed, chia seeds, sesame seeds, etc. for extra vitamins/minerals/fiber
  • Alternative ingredients A: add banana, avocado, yogurt, or ice to thicken the smoothie.  Or add less liquids
  • Alternative ingredients B: can substitute any apples and mixed berries for any fruits.  Can substitute almond milk for any other liquids.
  • Alternative ingredients C: I don’t recommend meat or eggs for protein.  Whey and soy proteins have a weird aftertaste.  I’m not vegan or vegetarian, but there are affordable, neutral tasting protein powders that work great in smoothies

Rice porridge aka congee in a slow cooker:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of white rice
  • 8 – 12 cups of liquid (vegetable-based or meat-based broth)
  • 2 stalks of green onions chopped fine
  • 1 lb of marinated protein (seafood, fish, chicken, pork, tofu, etc.) chopped or diced into medium-sized pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon of grated or sliced fresh ginger (or 1/8 teaspoon of ground ginger)
  • Add ins: sesame seeds, peanuts or other nuts, mushrooms, sliced vegetables, salt to taste

Cooking Instructions:

  • Add the rice, broth, meat/protein, ginger, & half of the green onions to the slow cooker.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours.  Rice will look like a thick soup and take on color of broth.
  • Ladle the soup into individual serving bowls.  Add sesame seeds, mushrooms, vegetables, and fresh green onions on top and serve.

Extra Info:

  • I prefer to mix everything together and then eat, but it’s a personal preference.
  • some people cook the meat, fish, or other protein separately and add in just before serving**
  • I am lazy and often throw everything into the slow cooker at the same time.  It tastes just as good, but veggies tend to lose their crispness and meat can taste overcooked.***

Hot flavored water (makes individual servings):

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz mug or larger
  • Water of choice (I use tap)
  • 1-2 teaspoons of Honey (or to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of lemon juice or 1/4 wedge of fresh lemon
  • Frozen or fresh fruit of choice (I tend to use frozen berries, mango, cherries, or pineapple)

Cooking Instructions:

  • Add honey or lemon to cup
  • Add frozen fruit to cup (fill 1/4 of cup max.)
  • Boil 6-8 ounces of water
    • Electric kettle needs a minimum of 2 cups
    • Boil water on stove top and pour into cup
  • Pour hot water into the cup and mix with honey/lemon/fruit.  Let cool down and enjoy
  • Pour water in cup and microwave on high for 2-3 minutes.  Or use the beverage option.  Take out and mix honey/lemon juice/fruit with water.

Extra Info:

  • Microwave option A:  Add honey or lemon or both and water to cup; microwave on high for 2-3 minutes; take out and mix
  • Microwave option B:  Add frozen fruit and water to cup; microwave on high for 3-4 minutes; take out and mix
  • For multiple servings: Bring water (best to use 4 cups min.) to a boil in medium-sized pot.  Add ingredients to taste.  Bring back to a boil, stirring lightly, until water changes color or flavors mix.  Turn off heat and pour into mugs.
    • If you prefer a drink without pulp, separate liquid from pulp using a strainer.
    • The pulp is great in smoothies, fruit bread, muffins, etc.

 

I hope the recipes, if you try them, bring you as much comfort as they do me.

 

Thanks for reading.

DID Post: Different Parts; Different Symptoms to Address

CAVEAT

This will not be an in-depth post.  Goal here is to explain that not all alters experience all  of the same symptoms at the same time or ever with examples from our system.  The adults and teens are searching the memory banks, but no one can remember exactly which book or news article or blog post we read that explains this phenomenon in layman’s terms.  Finding and confirming the source may take a while.

This is a very big topic with multiple layers.

It will probably be explored as part of different DID posts, PTSD posts, Alter Posts, and Life Changing Moments posts.  If you are ever in doubt about POV or tone, you are welcome to leave a comment and ask for clarification.  Writing with alters can be tricky to navigate and consistently use the correct tone of voice, grammar, point-of-view, etc. for the guests without getting confused or awkward in the flow of writing.  It’s also a pain to organize multiple POVs in 1,500 words (Maximum of 2,000) or less.

Why is this important to understand?

To the outside world, I am one person with a set of symptoms and co-curring disorders that make up the complex PTSD diagnosis.  As such, I (the whole person) experience all of the symptoms below.

In truth, I am 1 person made up of 88 alternate personalities.  About 20 of these personalities maintain control of our system (aka parenting, basic wellness care, interacting with the outside world, ensuring basic needs are met).  Not all of us experience the same kind or severity of symptoms even though all of us feel body pain and physical symptoms to different degrees.  This is because not every one of us alternate personalities has every symptom and disorder on the list.

Confusing and scary, yes?  Or no?

A List of Symptoms and Co-Curring Disorders related to the Complex PTSD and DID:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Panic Attacks
  • Body Memories
  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Fear related to crowds and feeling trapped
  • Dissociation
  • Body dysmorphia
  • Phobias – spiders; agoraphobia; bathrooms, pools/oceans/swimming; slugs/caterpillars/flies and other insects that leave trails of slime, silk, sound in the environment; the dark; falling down
  • Fainting/passing out
  • Severe body pain
  • Insomnia, restless sleep, disordered sleeping, nightmares, night sweats, night terrors, sleep walking
  • Flashbacks, deja vu, and related fugues
  • Shame/guilt/anger/self-harm/emotional overload

Some examples:My child alters experienced the most abuse and have all of the symptoms above.  But they struggle with utilizing coping strategies because the shame is embedded so deep in them.  The disordered eating started young with neglect, got worse with diets, and became full-blown anorexia by 6 or 7 years old.  But they don’t understand body pain or menstruation – any kind of physical pain scares them and reminds them of abuse.

My teen alters experienced less physical abuse (thank you for the martial arts training), but more physical and non-physical sexual abuse in the form of inappropriate visuals/touching/talk and body shaming.  Many of them have the worst body image issues and eating problems.  They have a hard time accepting our body.  The physical pain is acknowledged, but hard to cope with – triggers self-harm, starvation/restriction, suicidal thoughts, etc. to numb it out.

The adult alters experienced mostly verbal and emotional abuse, neglect, shaming, isolation, public humiliation, silent treatment/shunning, emotional blackmail, bullying (all alters experienced this, but not like adults), and stalking to  isolate and remove opportunities to move forward.  They experience the most body pain and have the best resources to cope with it.  But their ways of coping are not always useful or helpful because they do not address the needs of teens and children to learn how to acknowledge, accept, and cope with physical pain or the accompanying triggers and flashbacks.

Female alters have trouble coping with the pain related to menstruation because of memories related to specific punishments for any talk or overt physical changes that took place during puberty.

Male alters have trouble with body image and sexuality because of the sexual abuse and gender misdirection during childhood.  Females and males sexually abused our body/self.  They also liked to physically abuse our body during the sexual encounters.  Mom kept trying to convince daughter she was a boy and adopted throughout childhood.  Many non-incestuous sexual and physical abuse experiences also happened in a quasi-religious/cult environment with drugs and alcohol involved.

And the non-human alters hold most of the negative feelings like aggression, anger, guilt, sorrow, and of course shame.  Their first response is: a) fold up and disappear; and b) lash out and hurt/defend/protect with violence.  They also hold the internalized messages from abusers and struggle with hearing the voices, obeying compulsions, obsessive thoughts, and reality testing.

Conclusion

When I and my alters get triggered, we all experience a range of flashbacks, anxiety, and symptoms.  One strategy does not work for everything – not even grounding or self-soothing or meditation.  Sometimes one strategy can help take the edge off of the worst of the symptoms for everyone in the short-term.  But that strategy will not work in the long-term or even feel helpful sometimes.

As alters learn to trust and communicate with self and each other, they find ways to “tell” what kinds of coping strategies will help, what kinds will make the symptoms worse, and what ones they are unsure about.  Having one body with so many different needs to address can be difficult.  That is why many of the strategies and techniques here are mental and emotional based instead of physical.

With imagination and creativity, many alters can learn to use, utilize, and/or adapt the coping strategies and techniques on their own or in groups on the inside while the ones “in charge” and maintaining life on the “outside” are working, walking, shopping, interacting with others, etc.  That’s what we do, and it allows us to function better in the outside world.

I hope maybe some of this can help others struggling to understand and cope with the internal confusion that sometimes comes with unexpected and expected triggers/anniversaries/symptoms.

Thank you for reading.