Why having an eating disorder sucked: Part 2

I’m just gonna say it: Constipation.

As someone who grew up listening to Avril Lavigne, I learned at around thirteen years of age that the correct way to sing the chorus for ‘Complicated’ is, in fact, “Why’d you have to go and make things so constipated?”

Yes, eating disorder, why??

Because of my irregular eating habits, I was severely constipated for years. As you can imagine, this was incredibly uncomfortable. I had no idea that it was related to under-nutrition — in fact, I was convinced that I needed to eat even more kale and drink even more black coffee to get things moving (for the record, this didn’t work). Not to get into too much detail, but sometimes I went over a month without a poop.

…Yeah, not good.

I was drinking dandelion tea every day and trying all kinds of laxatives — nope.

The other gastrointestinal symptom that bothered me was getting full very quickly. I remember going to lunch once and being full from exactly 1 piece of sushi. Even when I tried to re-feed myself by setting calorie minimums for the day, I would get nauseous and be unable to take in more food. This inadvertantly fueled my eating behaviors, and helped me “prove” to myself (and concerned others) that I simply wasn’t hungry. I’d snap defensively, “I don’t want to eat because I’m honoring my natural hunger cues!” True, but my hunger cues were no where near natural or healthy – they had gone into hiding, defeated by years of being ignored. (This doesn’t mean I was never hungry: sometimes I woke up in the middle of the night with unbearable & piercing hunger that I can only describe as ‘primal’ – and I don’t mean paleo).

So, what the heck was going on body-wise? It turns out that a condition called gastroparesis that can help to explain things. Gastroparesis literally means “paralysis of the stomach”. It is also known as “delayed stomach emptying”. It’s a major traffic jam. Gastroparesis is practically universal whenever there is severe caloric restriction (source). As your body tries its best to conserve energy, your digestive system starts slowing down. Moreover, since food intake is inadequate, your wonderfully smart body holds on to whatever food there is for longer, so that more nutrients can be absorbed.

The fallout: unpleasant GI symptoms.

Gastroparesis can make recovery very difficult. For someone who has an eating disorder, the idea of eating more is already terrifying, and having GI discomfort can be a big roadblock. This was the case for me. Shortly after I started working with a Registered Dietitian (RD) who specialized in eating disorder recovery, I started feeling sicker. I was nauseous and bloated and all kinds of miserable and absolutely convinced that I needed to STOP recovery and go back to my restrictive diet, which involved staying under the daily nutritional requirements of a toddler. I’m grateful that I had the professional support and medical monitoring from a specialized PCP to keep going in a way that was safe for my body.

The good news? Full nutritional rehabilitation usually results in 100% restoration of normal bowel moments. My husband and I often compete for the bathroom in the morning. When I struggle in recovery and start to miss my smaller body, I think about how my GI system lets me know (in no uncertain terms!) that it is thriving and happy now that it is being fed appropriately.

I’m not even touching on the very trendy ~gut-brain connection~ here because I don’t have anything definitive to share, but it wouldn’t shock me at all if it turned out that major disturbances in the gut and disturbances in mental and emotional health were intertwined. One more reason to prioritize (or be grateful for) a happy gut 🙂

Why having an eating disorder sucked: Part 1

Hi again! I’m writing a several-part series on why having an eating disorder sucked for me. I don’t know how many parts there will be (because it sucked in so many ways), but here is part 1 🙂

Disclaimer: this was only my experience; everyone’s lived experience is different. However, I think it’s safe to say that eating disorders universally suck! Even if you don’t feel like you have a clinical eating disorder, one study showed that sixty-five percent of American women report disordered eating of some sort (source). Having an unhealthy relationship with food is practically the norm. I hope that sharing my experience helps to shed some light on how devastating and completely un-glamorous it is to struggle chronically with food and body image.

With that out of the way, here’s the first thing that came to mind when I thought about why having an ED was horrible: Being freezing cold all the time.

For years, I had ‘ice fingers’ – even in the heat of summer. It wasn’t very nice to hold hands with me either on a date or if you were next to me in an awkward group prayer. I remember crying in bed one night because I was just so cold in spite of my ensemble of Uniqlo Heattech gear and duvet covers.

When your body isn’t getting enough fuel, your brain goes into survival mode and tries to figure out how to conserve energy so that your body can continue to support vital functions – like keeping your heartbeat going. One major way to save precious energy is by lowering your core body temperature. That’s why you can feel abnormally cold all the time.

For the most part I dismissed this as a sort of personality trait of mine – “Oh, I’m just constantly cold.” But what really broke my heart was when I noticed that babies would recoil from my touch and cry when I held them. Yikes! Poor babies. When I nannied, I would try to blow on my hands before touching them. This made me realize that something was a little off – bodies are supposed to be welcoming and nurturing and safe for little ones.

When I went through recovery and starting eating much, much more (like 5-10 times more) my body actually started radiating heat – the air around me would feel warm! I felt like a furnace! After several months, my metabolism calmed down a little and I’ve noticed that my body hardly feels distressingly cold anymore (except in a Philly sub-zero snow storm).

 

On wasting

I’m feeling anxious about waste. In this season I cannot help but think: I am wasting so much time, I’m not doing anything, I need to justify my existence, I feel incredibly guilty, etc. In reality, a constellation of random, unfortunate, and unforseeable events is preventing me from having anything to ‘do’ right now in the way of work or formal study. I’ve been ‘idle’ for a week, and even though most of the week has been spent in various types of physical discomfort, my level of anxiety is HIGH.

Then I start worrying existentially about all the things in my life that feel wasted. Did I throw away my expensive computer science degree? Why did I undergo a yoga teacher training?! Shame on my millennial soul.

When I was going through a crisis earlier this year, one of my dearest friends texted me a Kings K lyric: “None of this is wasted / Still becoming who we are / Ordinary people / Extraordinary scars”. I cried. I dearly want to believe that, but I am hell bent on efficiency.

It’s hard to receive these words: It isn’t a waste for you to be & to keep being. You don’t need to justify your existence. You are okay.

Celebrating convenience foods

I used to be a huge food snob. In particular, the kind who insisted on making everything from scratch. I would make my own bread and my own butter — yes, butter. Marinara sauce, pesto, almond butter, granola, pasta, you name it. This came partly from a good place: being curious about the science/craft, wanting to save money and reduce packaging waste. But mostly it was because I had been brainwashed to believe that in order to be a healthy (or even a ‘good’) person, I needed to avoid processed food like the plague. I’m not saying that processed or ‘junk’ foods are always the #1 most nutritious choice, but here’s something to think about: constantly stressing over food is so much worse for your health than having a non-organic meal with refined carbohydrates. Ironically, those moments of panic/indecision while placing your order at a restaurant and feelings of post-meal guilt can cause stress-induced inflammation, the very thing you are probably trying to avoid.

All that to say: I empathize with anyone who is trying to be healthy. Mental health is a huge component of our health as well! Personally, I’ve found that frozen and convenience foods have been a total game-changer. That doesn’t mean I don’t like to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon baking muffins or cooking an elaborate meal — it just doesn’t stress me out anymore if I don’t have the energy or time to do that.

Some of my favorite frozen/convience foods:

Trader Joe’s Gyoza Potstickers

These are the real deal and a total steal at $2.99 for 23 dumplings (yeah, we buy them so much that I know how many there are off the top of my head). We like both the pork and chicken ones equally. I’ve tried the newer salmon potstickers as a sample and they didn’t taste as weird as they sound, but I wouldn’t purchase them….because we love the pork and chicken ones SO MUCH!!!! Note that this is coming from an Asian person who has made hundreds (maybe thousands) of dumplings. No exaggeration, these potstickers make their way to our dinner table about once a week. I follow the instructions on the package and serve them up with an obnoxious array of sauces and chillis, plus maybe some veggies if we feel like it.

Trader Joe’s Party Size Mini Meatballs + Tomato Basil Marinara + Frozen Brussels Sprouts

Easy peasy. I love buying frozen brussels sprouts at TJ’s — they’re smaller and so they cook up more quickly. I put them in a sautee pan with some water, let them boil/steam for a while, and then add some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt so they can glaze/char a little bit.

Box Mac & Cheese + Canned Tuna + Frozen Broccoli

Thisssssssss. Boil the broccoli for a few last minutes with the pasta and add the tuna to the drained pasta/broccoli mixture. If I have time, I will transfer to a oven safe dish, add MORE cheese, and then bake at 400 for about 15 minutes. Also, always add the butter!

Van’s Power Grains Frozen Waffles

Waffle…toaster…butter…peanut butter…cinnamon. I like this kind because they feel a little more hearty/substantial.

Trader Joe’s Frozen Almond Croissants

These are actually the best almond croissants I’ve ever had. Almond croissants are one of my favorite foods, so I’ve had a lot of almond croissants. They’re so good probably in part because you’re eating them fresher than you’d ever get from a café — the frozen dough is left out for some hours to rise and then baked. They come with the almonds on top, but I added the powdered sugar :p

That’s it for now! I now realize that we have disproportionate representation from Trader Joe’s, but hopefully that means you can find and enjoy some of these items if you are in the US.