Adapting to Now
Making Healthy Habits from a History of Disordered Eating
I am going to start this off with a little bit of personal history, but before I do, I wanted to add a couple of trigger warnings. I know that talking about this stuff can be triggering to some people, and specifically people in my audience, and I want to make sure that everyone is safe. So in light of that, I would like to state the following:
TRIGGER WARNING: Eating Disorders, Obsessive Behaviors, Disordered Eating. Mentions of binging, purging, deprivation, and hospitalization.
OK, now that we have that out of the way, let's get into the personal bit. I have struggled with a myriad of eating disorders my entire life. I have run the gambit of them, dealing with everything from Anorexia Nervosa to Bulimia Nervosa, to Binge Eating Disorder and ARFID (Avoidance or Restrictive Food Intake Disorder). As such, my weight has yo-yoed dramatically through my life, depending on several factors. I have used veganism and vegetarianism as excuses to not eat. I have done just about every fad diet as an excuse not to eat. I obsessively count calories, and I have a lot of shame around eating in general. I am about 60 lbs shy of the heaviest I have ever been, and it has been a long journey to get to a place where I was comfortable with that. I don't actually eat that much, which the last 45 days had taught me, and what I eat is generally pretty healthy, but because of a lifetime of intermittent abuse, my body is no longer equipped to process food in a healthy way. I saw a doctor about it and basically was told that the only way to really take my body back would be something dramatic, like surgery. There are things that I can do to help my body cope, but my metabolism is pretty fucked. In addition to that, years of abuse have made it so I no longer absorb nutrients properly, which has lead to a host of other issues, like having bad skin, brittle bones, and circulation issues. I have to take several supplements for common vitamins and nutrients that my body should be getting from my food but it doesn't absorb correctly. The supplements help, but whatever it says on the bottle, my body will likely only get 30% of that. So in addition to my myriad of other medications, I also take calcium, iron, vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Niacin, Folic Acid, Fish Oil, and Vitamin A, and Magnesium.
So when I was challenged by a well meaning friend to track my food for 45 days, I was dubious. I have up until this point been "cold turkey" from my eating disorders for three years. For three years, I haven't tracked calories, told myself no, or allowed myself to eat past the point when I am full. I have, through lots of therapy, and lots of coping mechanisms, gotten my obsessive behaviors surrounding food in check. Because, honestly my eating disorders have very little to do with Body Dysmorphia, and a lot to do with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. However, after a conversation with my therapist, she said that as long as I check in with her and don't let myself get carried away, it should be fine, and it might be an interesting experiment on how I view food and eating now that I have been several years out of an incident. She set our check-ins about this experiment to twice a week, which may seem like a lot, but my last episode was pretty severe and it landed me in the hospital for almost an entire week. I went to a family member's wedding and someone who is very close to me made some remarks about my weight which triggered a downward spiral, and I consumed no food, worked out obsessively, and drank only 16 oz of water for two and a half weeks until I collapsed at work. This last episode,resulted in a significant cardiac incident that could really come back to bite me in a few years.
Back to the challenge. It was a simple enough thing. Track my water intake, my food intake, and my burned calories every day for 45 days. We used the Lose It App, but I would like to reiterate this was not about losing weight, it was just supposed to be a study on what was put into our bodies in this time. The app allows you to set a caloric goal, and I set mine at 1500. I almost never eat that much in a day, but during that time, I had a lot of events happening, and I figured it would be better for me if I had more calories to work with before I felt guilty, which I inevitably would if I went over. I also set myself the goal of drinking 64 oz of water a day. I figured that if I couldn't meet that, it would be okay, but meeting that would be optimum. Lose It has a thing where if you work out, you can recoup calories and eat more, but on the whole, I ignored this feature and just stuck to what I had originally set at 1500. I also synced the app with my watch. The app accounts for on average how many calories I would burn in my day to day life (roughly 2500) so it would allow my watch to track that many, and anything else that I managed to burn or work out, or whatever, would be additional, as long as I managed to burn 2500 calories, which I almost always did.
So here is what I learned. Tracking calories in a healthy way is really hard. I had to check in with my therapist more than we had originally planned. I constantly had to employ my coping mechanisms to avoid an obsessive spiral. I also learned that I do not eat enough. I have been eating roughly the same thing on a rotating schedule for about three years, and it really just isn't enough. It is fine in terms of calories, but nutrition wise, though generally healthy, is not has vitamin rich as I could be eating. So through this tracking, I was actually able to eat more than I was before, but a better quality of food. I have been bringing salads to work for over a year for lunch, but I changed what was in them. Before it was a lot of cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, and such. Now, I eat a salad, but what is in it is dramatically different. Now it is garbanzo or soy beans, peppers, beets, radishes, zucchini, carrots, and broccoli. Still only about 250 calories per lunch, but much more vitamin rich. I also learned that my packets of instant oatmeal contained so much sugar, it was awful! If I made old fashioned oats and mixed in a teaspoon of brown sugar myself, I could eat twice the amount of oatmeal, with fewer calories and fewer grams of sugar over all. I also noticed my beverage consumption changed. Not wanting to waste 230 calories on a soy latte in the morning meant black coffee, just once a day, and water for the rest of it. It was amazing to me how many calories that freed up in my day when I cut out everything except coffee and water. I also made some allowances for tea at night time, as I like to enjoy a hot beverage before bed.
Over all, what I have done is simply eat better things, and in fact have eaten more in the last 45 days than I have previously. It is nice to see the hard work that I have put in to breaking this cycle inside of myself paying dividends. I am proud to report that in 45 days, I have lost three inches, a little bit of weight that I know of (I only allow myself to weigh in once a month, but I was 23 lbs down from my June weigh-in at my July weigh in), and I am probably for the first time in my life since boot camp properly hydrated. I feel better, I sleep better, I have more energy. I should also mention that I have been working out too, but I set a timer for one hour and do only what fits inside of that hour. I do not allow myself to spend four hours at the gym anymore. I know that is not healthy for my body. One hour is more than enough for some strength and some cardio, and stretching before and after. I have learned a lot about myself, and I think that even though today was the last day of my challenge, that I will continue to track my food, and my habits, and see where I can make improvements that don't trigger me into unhealthy states. This was not about weight loss for me, it was just about seeing if I was capable of doing a thing I would have never thought possible if I had been asked five years ago. I am very proud of me.
If you are currently struggling with an eating disorder, please get help now. Do not wait, there is a life after, I promise. Please reach out to the National Eating Disorder Association Help Line today