Different Post format today
I practiced anorexia/was anorexic for 15-20 years; starting with childhood neglect (not always being fed) and “participation” in my mother’s diets as she tried to lose “baby weight”. Diagnosis and recovery started in 2004. Remission or full recovery started in 2015. I wouldn’t be where I am now without a lot of help and support from my care team – especially the dietitian who helped recreate a healthy relationship with food.
Food has always been a big deal in my family. Weight loss and weight-related illness is a big struggle for many family members. Part of the anorexia started because I didn’t want to be like them – obsessed about food; unable to stop eating; sick all the time; having to take lots of medicine; being made fun of and criticized for my weight and looks. Another part had to do with self-punishment and being in control of some small part of my life when everything else was out of my control; I love food and cooking so not letting myself eat and not cooking hurt a lot. Finally, the anorexia was about body hate; I hated being female and having a curvy female body.
Recovery, Relapse, Restart
The first thing I did when my therapist finally convinced me I was anorexic (and this took 3 months of weekly counseling sessions) was buy a book about anorexia nervosa. The second thing I did was try to talk to my parents. Third, I asked my primary care physician for assistance. Finally, I took matters into my own hands and started research/recovery with my therapist at the time in secret.
I started gaining weight and got really bloated. The weight gain was noticed; I started getting concerned looks from some and gleeful looks from others. Concerned by family members who worried that I was getting overweight and might develop diabetes. Gleeful from family members who were jealous of my skinny body and happy that I was looking fat or fatter than them. Then came the lectures on behalf of my mom who was “worried about me” since I “refused to listen to her”.
Those comments hurt, but I was committed to getting better. I didn’t want to be in pain all the time or allergic to 35 different kinds of food. I didn’t want to be tired all the time or constantly sick. I wanted to be healthy and active again. I wanted to walk and practice martial arts or yoga without knee and back pain that plagued me since adolescence.
Starting the Process
My first real relapse came in 2007 after I moved out on my own for the first time. I lost about 8-10 lbs in 3 months. It was the weight loss that spurred me into getting help again. First a primary care doctor who I could trust. She recommended me to a dietitian who specialized in eating disorders. Later both suggested I start therapy again, so I started looking for someone. This therapist did not work in trauma, but she helped with everything else.
Between the two of them (dietitian and therapist), I learned that I was:
- Afraid of food
- Afraid of my body
- Afraid of looking attractive
- Clueless about nutrition
- and Confused about diets and dietary needs
Then my dietitian moved to another department within the program, and I got someone new. Her approach was different, and I was wary at first. We’ve been working together for the last 8 years with a lot of success. The second dietitian helped me understand more about diets and nutrition. We addressed my food fears and body fears with facts about how different kinds of food help improve different body functions – mini anatomy and physiology lessons.
Redefining What Food Means to Me
Through my work with the second dietitian, I rediscovered my love of food and learned to separate my body negativity from my desire to be healthy. The last few years have been focused on getting healthy and discovering what healthy means to me not about weight gain or appearance (that didn’t come until last year).
So what does food mean to me?
- Food comes from a plant, a fungus, a bacteria, or a living organism (fish, fowl, animals, etc.)
- Food does not come from a laboratory or genetically modified living organism
- Food can be created by processes like fermentation (beer, miso, tempeh, pickling, canning) and dehydrating to name a few, but not by chemicals and additives
- Food is nutrient dense with a variety in calories.
- Food is colorful like a rainbow and goes through a decomposition process after it ripens
- Food can be eaten raw, cooked, or baked
- A variety of food per meal is more tasty, interesting, and nutritious than the same foods all the time
- Food has to taste and feel good going in (chewing), going through (digesting), and going out (removing toxins) in order to help me maintain my health
- Food is separate from how I look in the mirror or what others think of my body
And how does that relate to health?
Once I learned to separate my negative body image and body self-hate from my food thoughts, I started to heal. After I decided to let myself enjoy food, my food allergies started to go away. Once I decided it was okay to be “fat” and gain weight, my weight normalized.
This means I eat when I am hungry; drink fluids when I am thirsty; used the bathroom when my body says it needs to release toxins; and exercise as much as possible to maintain flexibility, stamina, bone density, and muscle development.
My focus is on nutrient dense foods that I don’t have to eat a lot of and are easy to cook 80% of the time and everything else 20% of the time. That gives me leeway to experiment or to try out new/different foods for grounding and self-soothing purposes as part of a coping strategy.
“New” Eating Habits
- Flexibility is key
- Eat a lot of nutrient dense food in small portions throughout the day
- Eat until I am full and then stop; I can always eat later
- Remember to hydrate or drink soup with one or two meals to get enough liquids
- Smoothies can be meals too and are easy to digest
- It’s okay to eat junk food sometimes
- Denial and restriction only make me feel worse not better
- Too much dairy and animal protein causes digestion problems so eat sparingly
- Eat what I love and love what I eat
- It’s okay to NOT enjoy eating sweet foods, chips, and desserts; it’s like others not liking chocolate or ice cream
Diet books did not help much as I researched information about anorexia and food allergies. Regular cookbooks did not help much because all recipes included foods that made me sick. So I started looking at “alternative food lifestyle” cookbooks – aka vegan, vegetarian, raw foodist, and allergy friendly cookbooks – for inspiration and ideas. That is partly how I rediscovered my love of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and grains.
I am not vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian, pescatarian, or meatitarian as I’ve heard people refer to themselves. I am a woman who enjoys eating real food that comes from plants (most of the time) and living organisms (sometimes). Most of the food is minimally or not processed, but a lot of it is processed in some way. I eat a variety of different foods so that most vitamins and supplements are unnecessary. High processed and chemical-laden food products make me ill and cause problems, so I avoid or eat them in small amounts.
I still have issues with body image and having a curvy female body, but those are topics for a different post.
Thanks for reading