On Disordered Eating

I’ve been fairly open for years now about the fact that I developed a binge eating disorder as a kid, and that I’ve battled since I was probably around six years old. While I was doing Medifast, I realized I also had a food addiction, and I seriously thought that Medifast was “curing” me of the food addiction, kind of like how if you take alcohol away from an alcoholic, they detox and can resist the alcohol in the future.

Yeah, I was wrong.

So first, let’s back up here. What exactly IS a binge eating disorder? According to the Mayo Clinic, Binge Eating Disorder is classified as follows:

When you have binge-eating disorder, you regularly eat excessive amounts of food (binge), but don’t try to compensate for this behavior with exercise or purging as someone with bulimia or anorexia might. You may eat when you’re not hungry and continue eating even long after you’re uncomfortably full. After a binge, you may feel guilty or ashamed, which can trigger a new round of bingeing. You may be a normal weight, overweight or obese.

Symptoms of binge-eating disorder may include:

  • Eating to the point of discomfort or pain
  • Eating much more food during a binge episode than during a normal meal or snack
  • Eating faster during binge episodes
  • Feeling that your eating behavior is out of control
  • Frequently eating alone
  • Feeling depressed, disgusted or upset over the amount eaten

Up until the past few years (when I finally realized and admitted I had Binge Eating Disorder) I did every single one of those things on a daily basis. For a few years, I’d gotten some of those under control. Over the past month or so, though (or really, since I got out of weight loss mode with Medifast), I’ve noticed these things popping back up, which sets off that very last bullet point, which then puts the whole thing back into motion again.

Last week, I stumbled across this great blog called Go Kaleo, and she did a three-part series on disordered eating. In her symptoms part, she also listed the following as being symptomatic of having disordered eating:

  • You make fun of, or hang out with people who make fun of, people who make different dietary choices than you do.
  • You use your valuable free time to visit other people’s blogs and argue with them about their dietary choices.
  • You’ve completely eliminated foods from your diet that you enjoy eating, and that you have no intolerance to, because your guru has told you they aren’t ‘optimal’.
  • You experience stress, shame or guilt when you eat (or WANT to eat) something forbidden by your diet.
  • You’ve alienated your real life friends and family by constantly criticizing their dietary choices, and you are ok with that because your ‘real’ family is your group of online friends who share your dietary philosophy.
  • You believe that your diet is the one true ‘optimal’ human diet, and that anyone who makes different dietary choices than you simply hasn’t heard the ‘truth’ yet.
  • You focus on diet to the exclusion of other healthy lifestyle choices like regular exercise, proper sleep, stress management and sunlight, and believe that eating the ‘right’ diet can make up for not practicing those other lifestyle choices.
  • You believe that if you just eat ‘right’ all your health problems will go away, and that if someone is still experiencing health problems on your diet they just aren’t ‘doing it right’.
  • You believe that the entire medical establishment is out to get you.
  • When your diet is not producing results you keep on doing it because you’ve convinced yourself that you can’t eat any other way.

Um…holy shit, y’all. I read this and thought, “Man, am I fucked up or what?” followed quickly by, “Holy shit, I’m not alone, there’s someone out there who gets this, who understands it, and I’m not the only one who has these thoughts or feelings.”

In some ways, that was liberating. At the very least, it’s got me thinking about stuff.

For the past nine to ten months or so, I’ve harbored a bit of anger regarding Medifast, and towards the counselors at my center. It started in late December/early January, when I was the one who had to point out to them that I’d been gaining weight, despite being at a major caloric deficiency. I was fatigued, starving all the time, my tummy was constantly messed up, I’d grown increasingly sensitive to cold (I used to be very warm-natured), I was constantly irritable, I couldn’t remember a damned thing, my sex drive had been non-existent (to be fair, that happened some time after losing the first 20 pounds over three years ago), the list goes on. The counselors thought that changing my plan slightly would help alleviate some of the symptoms I was having while still allowing me to lose weight.

It didn’t. For the first few weeks I had a slight boost of energy and was slightly less fatigued, but that quickly went away. It got to the point where I fought with them for like three or four weeks before I finally put my foot down and told them, “It’s my body, I feel like shit, my anxiety and depression is creeping back in, and I’m done with weight loss.” They reluctantly “let” me go into “maintenance.”

Except I didn’t maintain.

Despite the fact that I was counting calories and working out and staying where I should have been in both areas, I continued to gain weight. They had no answers. Registered dieticians (whom we’d paid a lot of money for, btw), had no answer, no suggestion, nothing. ONE counselor (who ISN”T a registered dietician, funnily enough) suggested at one point that I might have a metabolic disorder and that maybe I should have some bloodwork done. I had it in my head that I could figure it out myself, that my body was just adjusting to the increased calories, that a doctor would just ignore what I was telling them because all the others had before, yada yada yada. The breaking point came when the former center manager was there one day (out of the blue) and decided to do my weigh-in. Now, the funny thing here is that she was kind of the reason why I’d been comfortable doing Medifast in the first place–she had a lot of experience and her specialty was sports nutrition, which was super important to me considering at the time Phillip and I were cycling so regularly and it was such a huge part of our lives–and I was pretty bummed when she got promoted (happy for her, but bummed for me) and was no longer at the center. And even though I know that her intent wasn’t to make me feel bad about myself–it was to check in and  make sure I was happy where I was at, and that I really was doing the “right” things–it DID make me feel bad about myself. Every weigh in I had after that made me feel bad about myself, and even though I showed them my food journal from My Fitness Pal, and showed them where I’d recorded my workouts, I got the impression that they didn’t believe me, that they thought I was lying about how much I was eating, how much I was working out, or something, because the number on the scale kept going up.

That was the tipping point for me, in more ways than one.

Their skepticism flipped a switch in my head. The fact that they never could understand that grains (gluten especially) make me feel like shit, and that dairy in any large amount makes me feel like shit, and that potatoes make me feel like shit…they couldn’t grasp it, and couldn’t figure out how I could eat a balanced diet without those things. They insisted that I needed to restrict my pork and beef consumption–despite the fact that for WEEKS I was so upset over losing my job that I had no appetite, and the only thing that WAS appetizing was pork or beef. It all just pulled a trigger, and I started binging on those damned butter toffee pecans from HEB. And THAT made me madder–at Medifast and at myself.

So where’s this leading? Because, yeah, it’s kinda rambly right now.

When I first started Medifast, and for the first few months, I was a Medifast Fan Girl. It was working. I was losing weight like crazy, dropping sizes like crazy. I was seeing and feeling bones I’d never known I’d had. People were telling me how “skinny” I was getting and how great I was looking. And yeah, I loved it. I loved being able to go to the store and buy a size Medium shirt, and the first time I fit into a size 10 pant I was so filled with joy it was absolutely insane.

I was so proud of myself for all the weight I’d lost, for how “skinny” I’d gotten. I thought I was so much healthier than everyone else, and that I was somehow smarter than all the other fat people out there because *I* had figured it out and found the magic cure for my obesity. I thought I was so smart, because I figured out that I had a food addiction, and that Medifast was like food detox. I was so superior, so much better than…than all the fat people out there, and definitely better than the super duper really fat person I’d been at 245 pounds.

You wanna know a secret?

I wasn’t all that smart. I wasn’t better than anyone else. And I wasn’t better than I was at 245 pounds.

In fact, I had a BETTER body image at 245 pounds than I did at 159 pounds. I’d gone through a lot of therapy to finally get to a place where I truly loved myself. When I looked in the mirror, yeah, I saw someone who was overweight, but I also saw someone who was pretty, who had curves, and who was really freaking awesome and a great person. As I lost weight–especially on Medifast–I began to almost hate that 245 pound version of me. I felt like she was inferior, like she was fat and stupid and lazy and all of those things my mom’s second husband called me that led me to start binge eating in the first place. I would look at photos of myself while on Medifast and feel so smug. And yet I couldn’t see past the flaws.

Oh, publicly, I was all smiles. But with the more weight I lost, the more CONFIDENCE I lost. I know that part of that is because I’d never known what it was like to be “skinny.” My identity for years had been the funny fat girl, and suddenly that was gone and in some ways I didn’t know who I was anymore. Attention also made me uncomfortable. I have a love/hate relationship with attention. I love being complimented (who doesn’t?)–by people I know. I’m not a huge fan of compliments from complete strangers. They make me uncomfortable, especially when those compliments are regarding my looks. THAT stems from the years of sexual abuse I experienced. I know that. But I also just didn’t feel like ME, and I didn’t until I hung out between 170 and 175. For about a month, I felt better than I had in a really long time. Things were still “off,” but they seemed to be getting better. But then the former center manager had “the talk” with me, and all of a sudden I felt guilty for feeling good about myself at that weight.

Despite the fact that I’d been adamant from the beginning that a number on the scale wasn’t important to me, that my HEALTH was the important thing.

And that was the hell of it. I realized that going in every week and weighing was making me anxious. Logging my calories was making me feel anxious. Even working out was making me feel anxious (where working out usually helps ease my anxiety) because I suddenly felt like everything I was doing was just wrong wrong wrong. All fucking wrong.

After I found out I was being let go from my job, it was like a switch flipped in my head. I got super obsessive about monitoring everything. Carbs. Protein. Calories. Exercise. In my head, I was watching it so closely because I know that I’m a stress eater, and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t stress eating. In an effort to HELP myself, though, I ended up HURTING myself. I’m super obsessive, especially when it comes to food and numbers. And when I gained weight despite being obsessive about those things, it was like another switch got flipped, and in my head I’d failed and nothing I did was going to work or help and I was a horrible person and here, have some more mother loving butter toffee pecans.

*head desk*

And so it begins. The sick cycle of disordered eating that I’d so smugly thought I’d dealt with by doing Medifast.

And that is why I honestly cannot recommend Medifast to everyone. Do I think it works for some people? Absolutely. But looking back on my experience, I don’t think it works for those of who have patterns of disordered eating. No matter how much you wish otherwise, you can’t deal with a food addiction the same way you can alcoholism or a drug addiction or nicotine addiction. We have to eat in order to live, whereas we don’t need beer, meth or cigarettes in order to live. And as I’m learning, when you have Binge Eating Disorder especially, restricting yourself so much is basically setting yourself up for failure, because as soon as you “give in” and have one of those things you “can’t” have, you feel guilty. And then you stuff the guilt down with more food, because hey, why not? You’ve already fucked up, might as well keep fucking up.

At this point, I don’t know if I have Adrenal Fatigue, if I’m feeling the symptoms of starvation (which funnily enough, my husband has been suggesting for MONTHS), if I have a metablic disorder or if there’s something else wrong with me physically. I do know, though, that I’m unemployed and don’t have health insurance right now, so the only thing I can do is focus on exercising, fueling myself with nutritious food, and not feeling guilty if I slip up. I want to find that confidence again that I once had, to stop looking in the mirror and seeing all of the things that are wrong and start believing my husband when he tells me I’m beautiful. To start appreciating my body for all the things it CAN DO rather than hating it because I’m still soft and squishy in places and because I have a tummy and because I have a little more fat in places than I would like and because, well, I’m not perfect. I hate that the people who should have gotten it didn’t, and instead  made me feel bad about myself (I know, I know, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent…so, rather, that I allowed their words and disbelief and actions to bother me to the point where I felt bad about myself). And yes, I hate that I have this fucked up relationship with food.

But you know what?

I’m not alone. There’s even a Facebook group called Eating the Food that has almost 4000 members–all people who have experienced or are trying to recover from disordered eating. And if I could survive 12 years of sexual abuse, date rape, getting a master’s degree while working full time, therapy, and more job losses than I care to count at this point, I can survive this, too. Because I AM a survivor, and my will to be happy far overpowers my will to give in and quit. If there’s one thing therapy taught me, it’s that the most important–and hardest–part is admitting you need help in the first place, and that you can’t do it on your own. I have a bad habit of forgetting that I don’t have to do it all alone anymore; considering how long I DID have to go it alone, it’s understandable, but the fact of the  matter is that I DON’T have to do it by myself anymore. I have a wonderful, amazing, super supportive husband who loves me and who thinks I’m beautiful no matter what size I am (FWIW, everyone should marry a blind guy–they have a way of SEEING you–or maybe it’s just MY blind guy *g*). And I also realize there’s something else I need to do, because this is a bigger driver of  my guilt: apologize.

To all of the “fat” people out there: I am sorry. I’m sorry that I secretly judged you and what you ate and the lifestyle you chose to live because I felt an misguided sense of superiority. I was wrong, and I feel like an awful person for it, because I know better than anybody that sometimes being “fat” doesn’t mean you eat crap and are lazy and stupid, sometimes it just means that your body holds weight differently, that maybe your body needs more fat in order to run at an optimal rate, and that sometimes there are things working against you and your efforts to lose weight.

And to myself: I’m sorry. I should have never hated you when you were at your biggest, because even at 245 pounds (okay, so I’m still obsessing with the damned numbers) you were a freaking awesome person. You’re still an awesome person at somewhere around 190. You’re an awesome person no matter how much you weigh. And you want to know why? Here’s a list of why you were an awesome person and why you’re still an awesome person and why you will continue to be an awesome person:

  • You’re a survivor. You and me and this body? We’ve been through a lot. We’ve been through sexual abuse. Mental and emotional abuse. Date rape. Some ill-advised choices post-college that were fueled by poor self esteem and a misguided notion that maybe sex could lead to affection and could lead to love. But that’s okay, because you ultimately survived. You managed to pull yourself up, dust yourself off, and move beyond all of that to a place where you did truly love yourself–and as soon as you let THAT love in, you found another, super awesome love in the form of Phillip. Remember that.
  • You’re smart and funny. Yeah, you might be absent-minded and transpose numbers, but you’re pretty quick on the uptake. And you have an awesome sense of humor. That sense of humor and that brain of yours have helped you to survive. Proof that for you, it really is an issue of mind over matter 90% of the time.
  • You’re super flexible. Yeah, there’s the added bonus of your husband enjoying that, but the fact that you’re flexible means that your body can MOVE. Despite the curves and soft and squishy parts. It means you have muscles and stuff. And that your body can move. That’s a good thing, and much better than your body NOT being able to move. Because, seriously, that would suck.
  • You’re kind of brave. See bullet point 1. But there have been other things, too, like admitting you needed help and going to therapy, like telling certain people in your life how you REALLY felt and being open and honest even though you knew that doing so would push them away…there have been lots of other things too, that you know about. You’re kind of brave, and that’s nothing to brush off lightly.
  • You can lift heavy bags of feed onto your shoulder, carry them, and then lift them into the feeder that’s above your head. Okay, so I realize that sounds funny, but have YOU ever lifted 40 pounds of corn? It tends to shift shape and not stay in one place and weight tries to redistribute itself and then when you put it in the feeder corn dust flies everywhere and you sneeze like crazy and you’re standing on your tippy toes because the feeder’s above your head so you’re hoping you don’t sneeze so hard you fall off the edge of the tailgate of your truck… Okay, so four years ago you never would have even imagined yourself lifting bags of feed, much less driving an F350, owning a ranch or putting feed in deer corn feeders on a regular basis.
  • You’re a really good shot. This may seem silly to some, but you know why it’s important. It’s important because you’re a survivor and because you’re brave, and because in being a good shot and learning about guns and how to shoot and owning guns and carrying a gun, you’ve moved completely from victim to survivor, and you refuse to ever be a victim again. It also means you can provide for your family. Sure, your dove hunting experience was less than stellar with one dove, but you had fun, and you now know that you CAN hunt and you’re looking forward to deer season. Again, that’s nothing to sneeze out. Being able to defend yourself and provide for yourself and your family is IMPORTANT, and helps to make you kind of awesome.
  • You’re a great writer and communicator. Sure, your jerk of an ex-boss tried to drag you down and tell you that you’re a poor communicator when HE’S the poor communicator, but you and I, we know the truth. You’re an awesome communicator. Sure, you tend to ramble and everything’s a story with you, but that’s okay. It’s who you are. And your ability to tell a story is one that not everyone is blessed with, and it’s something that you share with your grandmother. That’s important, and part of what makes you special and awesome and YOU.
  • You CARE about stuff. Sometimes you maybe care too much, but you’re a passionate person. Remember when you were on Lexapro and you felt flat all the time? Yeah, that kind of sucked, because you weren’t YOU. Embrace the passion. Even if other people think you’re crazy. Because honestly? The fact that you are so passionate and can feel so freaking deeply is kind of cool, considering point number 1.
  • You have a great sense of humor. It’s helped you more times than you can count, and it’s also helped others. Sure, you use it to deflect in uncomfortable situations, but it also makes you relatable. Who cares if others don’t always “get” your sense of humor? They’re just not as awesome as you are. 😉
  • You’re honest. Sometimes, almost painfully so. With yourself. With others. Your honesty has pushed some people away, and that hurt. But you survived that, and continue to survive it. Your honesty has also drawn others in, and that’s even more awesome. But you’re honest and authentic, and in a world full of people taking selfies and trying to be anything but themselves, that’s important. It’s no small thing.

I realize that may have seemed a bit narcissistic, but for me, I forgot those things. I forgot how far I’ve come sometimes, and get tunnel vision and can only see the here and now, or the past couple of years. I’m beginning to realize that for me, a big part of keeping weight off–if that’s truly what my goal is and what I want–is addressing the disordered eating and learning how to cope with it and to change my relationship with food. Medifast did not change my relationship with food, and honestly, neither has Paleo. The more I restrict myself, the more I want the things I “shouldn’t” have, to the point where I obsess to the point where I “give in,” and then proceed to feel extremely guilty and filled with self-loathing. That isn’t healthy. And it’s never been about a  number.

That’s it.

I’ve never wanted to focus on my WEIGHT and the number on the scale. I just wanted to be HEALTHY.

I can’t be healthy if I continue to have an unhealthy relationship with food and an unnatural obsession with my weight and with the number of calories I consume. Reading Go Kaleo’s post about what happens when you stop dieting and start reversing disordered eating, I know that while fixing my relationship with food I might continue to gain weight. I have to be okay with that. Because this is about my health, and for me, my mental health has a HUGE impact on  my physical health. So I guess in some ways I’m shifting my gears once again on this crazy journey to health I’ve been on for three and a half years now. And that’s okay–because continuing on the path I’d been on would have led to madness and diminished health.

And also? I’m awesome and you’re awesome. No matter what I weigh or you weigh. And yes, I DO believe that.

betsy and me grad school graduation

Betsy and me at my grad school graduation in 2008. Yeah, I was big, but look at that smile.

 

me and our first tandem

Just after we got our first tandem. I’d lost a little bit of weight at this point, but not that much. You can see my tummy roll. But you know what? I was happy and active and aren’t those more important?

 

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