Monday, November 25, 2013

Living with an eating disorder

I want to preface this post by saying that I do not BLAME anyone for this.  I take responsibility for my condition and I realize that the vast majority of our society can handle these conversations, but I hope to make people aware that for some people, conversations about paleo, organics, gluten, GMOs, etc.  can be detrimental to their health.

I have had an eating disorder for almost 30 years.  Some people may be "cured" from their eating disorder, but for me, it's more of having a "safe list" and talking myself into allowing certain things on that list and being okay as long as I stick to that list.

Thirty years ago that list included: iceberg lettuce, Carfield's diet chocolate soda, sugar free gum, Walden Farms Italian dressing (1 tsp= 4 calories).

I worked hard with therapists for YEARS to make that list a little bigger.  To include vegetables, fruit, skim milk, low fat yogurt, an ounce of cheese, certain cereals that are 100 calories for a 1 cup serving, lean meat and fish, whole grain breads, rice, pasta, potatoes.  If we went out to dinner, I talked myself into being okay with eating salad with the dressing on the side or taking a bite or two of dessert.  I was able to enjoy those things as long as I kept it to a minimum.

As long as I stuck to those things, I was okay.  I wrote about overcoming my obsession with organics here.  I can't do it halfway.  If I am eating organic, it is all the way.  There is no apple from the hotel breakfast bar or vegetable from a crudite platter at a party; there are no quick sandwiches from Moe's or Panera; there is no going out to eat unless it is to a place where they serve ONLY organic food.  Anything not organic is a binge when I am eating organic.

Over the last 30 years, I was aware of all the trends.  You should "bulk up" on carbs; you should not eat carbs;  lean meat only; higher fat makes you feel full longer;  fruit is good; fruit is too high in fructose; citrus fruit is great for burning fat; eat only locally grown food (and guess what? citrus doesn't grow in the Northeast where I live).  Jason helped me to see and repeatedly emphasized to me to just eat healthy.  The lesson was really: everything in moderation, even higher fat meats (which I just can not abide the texture and taste of).

In the last couple of years, GMOs and organics have become a political platform of sorts and people are posting on Facebook about food labeling (something I agree with strongly) and avoiding GMOs and putting pressure on our government to NOT sanction and subsidize farms, to not allow Monsanto to genetically modify food and to label genetically modified food.  It's hard to avoid it, many of my friends from college, high school, homeschooling, etc. are all involved in this fight.  I tried being involved in the fight, signing the petitions, but not let it affect me entirely.  It worked for a while.  Then I got obsessed.  This is the disease of an eating disorder.  I would imagine pain in my stomach when I ate anything that was not organic.  I would picture cancer cells growing from the lining of my stomach.  I would prep Jason on how I managed certain things so that "when I am gone" he would know what to do.  I am not kidding.  I am sick.  I know that.

I also know a lot of people who are really into paleo and for whom eating this way has changed their lives and they want to shout it from the rooftops the way I want to shout about yoga.  I get it.  I am happy for them.  But when they tell me to avoid gluten and dairy…it presents a whole list of issues for me.  Suddenly that list of "good foods" shrinks some more.  I had crossed fruit off the list when so many people were talking about how much fructose was in it, now I crossed off dairy and grains.  Very seldom can I stomach meat without gagging, so my diet began to consist of vegetables, fish, rice and nuts.  The Weston Price Foundation emphasizes not eating beans--sugars that lead to tooth erosion.  I began to experience pain in my stomach when I did eat beans or pasta, I imagined tumors growing in my abdomen.  I imagined myself poisoning my family if they ate anything with gluten or potatoes or even dairy.  No joke.

When I told a friend about this, she cautioned me about mercury in fish and fish raised in Asia.  I eliminated fish from my diet.

I was eating vegetables, rice, nuts and eggs.  Then another friend told me about arsenic in rice.  Cross that of the list.  I was down to ORGANIC vegetable and eggs.  But, if you are eating "clean" eggs are not good (but beans are, go figure; these people can't agree).

I was down to eating ONLY organic vegetables.  My joints ached, I lacked energy, I had headaches and I was tired.  Someone commented that this was a "detox" but after two weeks I felt worse and not better.  I had a cold that I could not get rid of.  Jason convinced me to eat some beans, I felt like it was a binge.  He convinced me to eat fish, I felt as though that were a binge.

For the last thirty years I worked HARD to remind myself that since they can't all agree, everything in moderation (unless of course I had an allergy or sensitivity).  But suddenly with each facebook post on "Foods to Avoid" and each blog post on the importance of avoiding GMOs I got crazier.  I imagined pains in my stomach, tumors growing.  I was down to eating only vegetables and wondering if they really were ORGANIC?  What if someone made a mistake?  What if they were not ORGANIC?

I know that someone without an eating disorder can decipher this, they can manage it.   Unless they have food allergies or a condition that prohibits them from eating certain things, they can make decisions about this or be okay with venturing off course for a meal here and there.  Some of you are probably reading this and thinking: Get over it.  That's the problem.  It's not that easy for me.  I can't just make that decision and do it.  The same way that someone who is clinically depressed can't "snap out of it" or someone who has OCD can't just stop washing their hands 400 times a day.

For someone with an eating disorder, they absorb this information and it makes them almost paralyzed with fear.  I would guess, although I am not certain, that the "pain" I experienced after eating pasta or beans or non-organic food is a symptom of my disordered eating.  It's possible, however, that because I had not eaten pasta or beans or non-organic food in a while that when I did eat them my body did react, but in honesty these reactions were immediate upon swallowing and I am not sure if it would be that fast.  At those times the urge to purge the food was very, very strong.  I wanted to get it out of my body.  But I also wanted to be strong for my girls and to be okay with it, so I worked hard, sometimes going to bed immediately after dinner and laying there working hard to be okay.

I know that this is my disease and I am not asking anyone to stop talking about eating paleo or the horrors of GMOs or the importance of eating organic, but I hope to make people aware that for some people those conversations can have a negative effect.  It is up to the person who is getting upset to let people know they can't have this conversation and I implore you to please respect that.  And if your friend just isn't into organics or hasn't jumped on the paleo (or other diet) bandwagon, respect that, too.

So, now, I am working hard to come up with a new plan, which is really the old plan and I am working hard to be okay with it.  Organic milk and eggs, consider the "Dirty Dozen" List and the "Clean Fifteen" list, less meat, more beans, no refined sugar or flour.  Sounds easy, but it isn't for me; I have to talk myself into being okay with dairy and eggs and sometimes fermenting non-organic cabbage because it is on the Clean Fifteen list and I can't find organic anywhere.  It's not easy, but it's what I have to do.

A sidenote: my friends always respected it when I asked them to not talk about these things and told them why.  I chose to look more into it.  It was my choice.  And now I am trying like hell to get back to where I was a year ago or two years ago in my relationship with food.