That’s a phrase that I made up when people started saying how sorry they felt for me that I could no longer take comfort in food when I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2018 and gastroparesis in 2019. I love nature and it became my “dessert” as with getting so sick, I haven’t gotten to take much comfort in food like I used to. I’ve gotten a lot of trees the past couple days, so I’m super smiley.
BUT, this post isn’t about my current health or spending time in trees the past couple days or a whole bunch of other things coming my way. I can write about that another day. Tonight I want to write about something very real, eating disorders. If you are dealing with one and think just the mention of an eating disorder will be too triggering, I encourage to push past your fear and read on to hear about my healing from one. If you still don’t think you can, please read it with a therapist, or a friend, or if you can talk to someone. I promise I’m going to be gentle, but in being authentic, I feel it’s a subject I should write about. I have had one on one conversations with people about their similar eating disorders to mine as my eating disorder wasn’t a more common one. They appreciated my honesty.
This is hard for me too. I’m going to share some pictures of me that I would never have shown anyone. This isn’t about body shaming. It’s absolutely possible to be overweight and healthy. That wasn’t my case. I’m going to mention a bit where my eating disorder came from. If you can’t handle a brief mention of trauma, skip the next paragraph. It’s a good ending though. Promise. Pinky swear!
I will start with I believe my eating disorder was rooted in my mom forcing disordered eating on me. Sometimes she would make me gorge on so much food, my stomach would distend and hurt, only to pile more food to for me to be forced to eat. Other times, she withheld food, sometimes for a couple days, maybe 3, I honestly don’t remember except that it was usually summer so school wouldn’t know and remember feeling dizzy and nauseous and didn’t question any of it as when you are a child who grows up with abuse and sheltered from a lot, you think your childhood experience is normal. Take a deep breath if that was hard to read. It’s not happening now. It’s not happening to me, and it’s not happening to you. I will hope anyone who is reading this is living a safe life, and if you aren’t, call the crisis line and get out! No one deserves to be treated badly, not as children and not as adults, not at any stage in life.
I can’t really tell you when I started binging on sugar, like donuts, cookies, and candy. It was obviously problematic as I hid it. I never purged. I would just gorge myself on sugar. This is a collage of pictures over the years of how big I would get. It was really hard to find pictures of me as most pictures were just of my face, if there are any pictures at all. There are tons of pictures of my son, but hardly any of me. When you hate your body and yourself, having your picture taken is something you avoid.
If you have met me in the last couple years, you probably find it shocking to see what I used to look like for several years. I would try to go to weight watchers, usually lose about 10 pounds, and then that need to binge would overcome me. I felt better physically losing the weight, but I just couldn’t stick to it. It was an underlying emotional thing I had yet to understand.
The bottom right picture was taken in January of 2018. I had already quit smoking and just committed to living a life completely different than the one I had been, so even with a big body that was having trouble with binging, I was much happier.
After all my work at my trauma resort, I came back unprepared to be a full time single mom while an abuse investigation was going on against one of my sons other parents. I was committed to being and living healthy, but I was physically sick, caring for a confused and traumatized child without much support, so even though I was eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, the occasional binge would sneak in. It was nothing like before. I wasn’t hiding it. It usually was a treat for my son and I, but I would finish it off.
I have since learned that junk food and comfort foods actually hit those pleasure centers in our brain, which makes sense why even people without eating disorders want “comfort” food when they feel emotionally distraught. It makes your brain feel better, but it’s temporary. If you have heard of the term “sugar crash”, it’s a real thing. Sugar is a drug and while it hits those pleasure centers, it also gives you a withdrawal leading you to wanting more. Have you ever tried to get off sugar and dealt with the cravings??
So in 2018, I was diagnosed with celiac disease. If you don’t know what it is, it’s an autoimmune disease that causes gluten (found in bread, pasta, other grains, DONUTS, COOKIES) to attack the villi in your intestines so they turn to nothing. Some people with celiac have no symptoms despite their body attacking itself, other people get terrible malabsorption where they can’t get any vitamins or minerals from food so no matter how healthy they eat, they are malnourished. If you can picture how sick starving children in 3rd world countries get, a celiac can get that way too. New research also shows some people with celiac disease can get neurological symptoms, including ataxia.
From being in a celiac support group, most people are devastated by the diagnosis as it becomes really complicated when you factor in cross contamination (google it or this post will be a novel!), so eating in many restaurants becomes impossible in places that don’t understand celiac.
I was personally kind of pretty much overjoyed with my diagnosis. It meant I could never eat fast food (I know now there’s like 2 places), I couldn’t binge on cookies and donuts as gluten free cookies are EXPENSIVE and gluten free donuts are gross. It was the perfect excuse to eat healthy as I had already worked on the emotional reasons for my disordered eating.
Within a couple weeks, I met with a nutritionist who said something that was mind blowing to me, but probably a no brainer to people with parents that parented. She said, “food is fuel for our bodies to have energy to run on”, or something very close to it. She laid out the basics of an anti inflammatory diet. It made sense that Cheetos and cookies wouldn’t give you any energy as there’s no nutrition. The weight started dropping off quickly as I switched to tons of fruits and vegetables. Here’s some pictures of the first year:
I actually wasn’t paying attention to the pounds as most people with an eating disorder, you are a slave to your scale. I got rid of mine and only was weighed at the doctor. I used to weigh myself several times a day and would get very angry with myself for weighing more in the afternoon than I did in the morning. I started researching nutrition, not dieting, and discovered your body weight can fluctuate a few pounds in a day.
I hate to call it an anti inflammatory “diet” as it’s not a diet at all. There’s no restricting myself, except I don’t eat junk. The basis of what I eat is fresh fruits and vegetables, nothing processed and no refined sugar. My nutritionist encouraged an 80/20 approach where you stick to it 80% of the time and indulge 20% of the time. I don’t indulge much just because I have so many diagnoses that I’m better sticking to my plan. With my eating disorder history, I don’t have a sugar filter. I can’t stop. It’s not to say that if I were to go to a restaurant with an actual good gluten free dessert, I wouldn’t indulge, I just rarely eat out unless I go out of town. Here’s pictures of the second year:
Part of how I used to compensate for my binging on sugar was a ton of compulsive exercise. I was probably exercising myself to unnecessary exhaustion. If I didn’t go to the gym or walk 5 miles or do something extreme daily, I felt terrible guilt. I finally gave up exercise as it was a job. I felt just as guilty not exercising at all as I did not exercising one day in 12, so why bother? I wasn’t getting the good endorphins of exercise. I was just getting a slight anxiety relief for eating an entire package of Oreos for breakfast.
My exercise routine now consists of daily stretching as it helps my very painful back. If I have more energy, I will do a more vigorous home yoga practice. As I start to feel better with my physical health, I will go back to yoga class 2-3 a week and go back to playing wheelchair basketball. I’m really excited how stem cells are slowly giving me back enough strength to hike again, with my special forearm crutches designed for hiking. That will definitely be part of my exercise, but it feels more like joy, well so does yoga and wheelchair basketball, but as my blog post is titled, “trees make me feel better than donuts”.
I will say being healed from an eating disorder wasn’t something I set out to do. I had a lot of shame about it as I hid it, so why would I talk about it to a therapist who would just judge me more? I realized I had done the tough emotional work, which led me to make a decision to change everything about my life. I talk about the “gift” of illness, but my celiac diagnosis was a gift. Does it often make me feel terrible? Yes. It also makes me socially isolated as people often won’t invite me to dinner parties whether at their house or a restaurant as they “feel bad” for eating in front of me. I don’t mind bringing my own food, but the topic of disability exclusion and how painfully that has affected my life is a topic for another day.
Sometimes I feel like I did my eating disorder healing in isolation, but I really didn’t. I did the emotional work over the years with several incredible therapists that allowed me to change my life. I asked the nutritionist questions about my food “stupidity”. I have reached out to others struggling.
I will say that sometimes when you are healing from really difficult things, if you take a minute to go inside and ask your own intuition how to manage a problem, many of your answers lie inside you or others look to god. Sometimes I believe looking inside for my answers is the same thing, it’s just how I call it.
I can’t tell you how to do it, but I will say love your body no matter what size. Enjoy it if it’s working for you. If you are worried about your eating, I haven’t found many therapists or nutritionists too qualified to help. I’m glad I didn’t tell. I think my treatment would have been focused on monitoring what I was eating, my weight, an exercise protocol, and diet, which would have totally stressed me out. I just needed to do the emotional work and learn that “food is fuel for energy” and I don’t miss those terrible stomach aches one bit after eating too much!! Two pictures from the last two days. Two years of staying a healthy weight that has fluctuated a little low from illness, but it’s never gotten too high! I celebrate that victory.
You truly know you have healed from an eating disorder when you can own a scale and forget it exists often.