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 🙂

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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.

The ‘p’ word: Why period health matters

Today I’m writing about something that’s a little bit awkward…but I think that’s exactly why we need to talk more about it. Many of us ladies (and perhaps men) have a bunch of negative beliefs about menstrual periods — that they’re gross, dirty, annoying, shameful, unnecessary, inconvenient, etc. — and that 6th grade puberty class probably didn’t help 🙂 I want to share a little bit of my journey here, and hopefully inspire some curiosity about your (or your partner’s) menstrual and hormonal health, because it matters.

Getting my first period

The first thing I remember about my menstrual journey is that I was incredibly anxious to get my first period. I was an active fourteen-year-old gymnast and was dreadfully conscious of the fact that every girl around me had started their period, except for me (or so it seemed). I read every Judy Blume book I could get my hands on and worried constantly that there was something wrong with me. I thought that maybe I had a rare, undiscovered disease where I bled out of my nose instead of my vagina, since I had a lot of nosebleeds back then (I wish I were making this up, but I’m not). Finally, while struggling over an assignment on war poetry, I started bleeding for the very first time. The relief!!! I was fourteen, which is a little later than average, but not anything to be worried about.

Unpredictable, painful, inconvenient

Of course, once I started my period, I wished I had never gotten it. I worried about whether I was going to bleed during gymnastics competitions. They weren’t regular at all, which made them hard to plan for. And they were so painful. I remember being in agonizing pain before a French final exam one time. My sweet friends bought me some french fries from McDonalds and prayed for me. I think it’s important to note that at this point, irregularities in the menstrual cycle are totally normal, and everybody’s process is going to be a little different — your body is cranking out a lot of hormones, and it takes a while (several years, actually) to get into a predictable rhythm.

Hypothalamic amenorrhea – losing my period over and over again

In my late teens, I started to under-fuel and over-exercise my body in response to some stressors in my life. I had no idea that I was developing an eating disorder and remained in denial about this for several years, but my body immediately sensed what was going on. I stopped getting my period almost instantly. I think ‘hypothalamic amenorrhea‘ (HA) is kind of an obnoxious term, but essentially it means your brain tells your body, “Stop! We don’t have the resources to sustain a pregnancy, so shut off the periods for now.”

My period came back in fits and starts throughout college and into my early twenties, but whenever I resumed the disordered eating and exercise behaviors, my period would stop like clockwork. I did get worried about this — not necessarily because I wanted to get pregnant right away, but because I am a worry-wart, and possibly because I knew instinctively that something else was going on with my health. However, whenever I raised my concerns with doctors and OBGYNs, they told me that it was no big deal. I wish someone had asked me a follow-up question about my eating habits or my lifestyle. I wish someone had told me that not getting your period was dangerous for your bone health, because making progesterone during your cycle is how your body retains its bone density. Instead, they told me that once I was ready to get pregnant, we could talk about some pharmaceutical interventions.

Charting, the pill

I remained dissatisfied with their answers, but also felt a little crazy and overdramatic for making such a big deal out of what didn’t seem too worrisome in the eyes of medical professionals. At this point in time, I was also starting to get interested in a form of birth control known as the Symptothermal Method (STM). At this point, I actually had been prescribed hormonal birth control (the pill) by my OB/GYN — the box of pills had been sitting in a corner of my bedroom for a long time — but for some reason or another couldn’t bring myself to take them. I read the classic resource, Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, and had started to give charting a go on my own.

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Wait…what’s charting? Charting simply means tracking your temperature and other fertility signs such as cervical mucus and position on a chart; here’s a recent incomplete example of one of mine. By tracking these patterns, you get a sense of when you ovulated: after you ovulate, your body’s temperatures shift higher. In this cycle, my temperature shift occurred between day 17 and 18, so I likely ovulated on day 17. Side note: it’s a myth that every woman ovulates on day 14! It’s simply not true. It’s like saying, every woman is 5’5″ 🤦.

Anyway, I remember feeling kind of lonely and crazy at the time, because no one I knew was doing this stuff. It seemed a little neurotic. And besides, my charting efforts at the time felt fruitless because my periods were coming once every three months or so, and my temperatures had no clearly-defined pattern. My chart was literally all over the place. However, charting is what first tipped me off to the fact that my body clearly wasn’t functioning at its optimal level — in fact, it wasn’t even close. Other than the fact that my cycle lengths were irregular as an adult, there were two other characteristics of my menstrual health that helped me to grasp that something about my lifestyle – particularly my nutrition – needed to change.

Luteal phase length & anovulatory cycles

I don’t want to get overly technical here, because there is such a wealth of science information and research behind all this stuff, but I do want to share some specifics of what I learned in my charting journey. So first off, a couple of definitions:

Luteal phase: This is the phase within your cycle that starts from ovulation and ends when your next period comes. Counting the start of your period as day 1, this means on average that the luteal phase is between day 15 and day 28, lasting a total of 14 days. Having a luteal phase <10 days is known as luteal phase defect, and can indicate low progesterone and predict infertility and miscarriages.

Anovulatory cycle: This is when you have a cycle in which an egg is not released. It is perfectly normal to have this once in a while, if you’ve just started getting periods (menarche), or if you’re approaching menopause, but can be a cause for concern if you’re not ovulating at least most of the time otherwise.

In summary, charting – even through my wacky cycles – helped me to realize that (1) I had a very short luteal phase, lasting 6-9 days and (2) I often had cycles where I didn’t ovulate at all.

Recovery, progress, and the amazing human body!

Whew. This is a long post. But we’re finally getting to the turning point in the story.

Having the tools and the resources to observe and learn about my menstrual health was critical in helping me realize that my poor eating and self-care habits were sabotaging my overall health and making me miserable. I was cold all the time, grumpy, always in pain… and no wonder, since my hormones were out of whack. Learning about how my choices were affecting my fertility also made me realize that I was impairing my dream of carrying a pregnancy to term some day. I got some much-needed help from a team of professionals – a registered dietitian, a specialized doctor, and a specialized therapist. Learning to fuel myself properly and stop compulsive exercise was excruciatingly difficult after so many years, but that’s a whole other story for another time 🙂

Two months or so into treatment for my ED, my period returned. Just as charting my wacky periods helped me to know that something was going wrong, observing my menstrual health restore itself over the next several months and become regular again has been one of the most amazing signs of recovery and progress. I am in awe of the human body (and in particular, of the female reproductive system!) and sad that this is still such a taboo subject in our culture and in many other parts of the world. My luteal phase lasts for 14 days like clockwork, and I can clearly identify ovulation. A little geeky, but honestly, it’s so cool when you learn how to figure this out for your own body.

All the things I didn’t get to talk about

I’m going to stop here… but I want to acknowledge that there are ton of important topics that I didn’t even begin to address, since this is just my own personal story. Some of these topics are:

  • Charting with PCOS;
  • Charting when coming off hormonal birth control;
  • Endometriosis;
  • Using charting as a tool to either avoid or achieve pregnancy;
  • Involving your partner in this process;
  • The importance of progesterone and your period even when you’re not trying to get pregnant;
  • Specifics on how to track fertility signs (body basal temp, cervical mucus & position, etc)

I’m hoping that if you’re interested, you’ll check out the following resources that have been incredibly helpful for me:

Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler (book)

Kindara (free app I use for charting; their website has a lot of great info too!)

The Real Life RD (blog that talks extensively about hypothalamic amenorrhea)

Fertility Friday (podcast)

And as always, if you want to talk, please reach out!

 

pre-empting SAD

After several months of anticipation, Fall finally came to Philadelphia…and then left in a hurry. It’s supposed to snow this week (?!), so I’m glad we got to go hiking two weekends ago. Pictured: Wissahickon park.

I love the festive season, but having spent the past three years in an essentially Mediterranean climate, I’d forgotten how bad seasonal depression can be. Some people say there’s no such thing; fine. All I know is that it’s getting increasingly hard to resist the urge to hibernate all day and that everything feels 10x more difficult than it should. I’m sure this has something to do with the fact that I am a Type 4 on the Enneagram (moody…melodramatic…angsty…etc). Oops.

Recently, I’ve been learning that while there is no easy way to feel “all better” in a flash, there are some simple and practical ways I can care for myself. I definitely believe that there are spiritual, social, genetic, etc dimensions to mood disruptions, but I’ve found that physiologically-based self-care can a great starting point when I feel overwhelmed. Here’s my list:

  1. Getting enough vitamin D via a supplement
  2. Eating foods high in omega-3s (sardines, walnuts, salmon, etc)
  3. Breaking a sweat a few times a week…usually dancing to tswizzle in private
  4. Making an effort to leave the house every day
  5. Establishing a morning routine (iced lemon water, stretching/yoga, journaling, hot tea)
  6. Playing the keyboard and singing for a few minutes before dinner
  7. More iced lemon water and more yoga

Some things I want to try:

  1. Light box
  2. More non-screen-related hobbies (like a huge jigsaw puzzle)
  3. Prioritize humor & laughing

That’s all. Stay safe everyone!

DIY: la colombe-style draft latte

So… if you’ve lived in Philly for any amount of time and if you don’t hate coffee, you’ve probably heard of La Colombe.

Karl recently discovered their “draft latte”, available in cans for $3.49 at our local grocery store. That’s THREE DOLLARS AND FORTY-NINE CENTS for not a lot of coffee and milk, plus you’ve wasted a can.

Of course, I was immediately determined to try and make this at home for a fraction of the cost. Here’s what I came up with — it’s really not rocket science.

Ingredients

  • 2oz strong coffee, cooled (or a shot of espresso if you have the means to make that)
  • 8oz whole milk
  • (optional) maple syrup OR vanilla extract OR chocolate syrup, to taste

You will also need a clean Bonne Maman Raspberry Jam jar. (Just kidding, you can use any old jar, but you need the lid.)

Method

Combine the ingredients in the jar and SHAKE IT GOOD. Serve in a glass over some ice.

Verdict

It was Karl’s idea to add *butter-flavored maple-flavored syrup* (we got it from Save-A-Lot for $1) as his choice of flavoring. I hate to admit that it actually tasted pretty delicious. Shaking the coffee in the jar produced a frothiness that was surprisingly similar to what you would get from the draft latte cans.

Cost? Probably under $0.30.

Take that, La Colombe!

life update

I’m sitting in a café listening to a lady talk. She’s hating on millennials VERY loudly and has waxed poetic about how they’re snowflakes & wimps for at least thirty minutes. My blood pressure is rising, firstly because I am a millennial — and that is a demographic fact, not a lifestyle I’ve opted in to — and secondly because her whining so hateful and unproductive.

Yes, I am going through a quarter-life vocational crisis (after all, that’s what this blog is supposedly about). I am also proud of the fact that I’ve perfected the art of the avocado egg toast with everything-but-the-bagel-seasoning on sprouted ezekiel bread.

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But jeez, lady, you can’t just write me off because I was born between 1981 and 1996. We grew up in completely different worlds.

I think this is pushing my buttons because I’ve been having a hard time having compassion and empathy for people who are not like me and who don’t look like me (clue: almost everyone). For all the volunteering and working with people that I’ve been doing, I still feel stuck in Cultural Humility 101. It really is an everyday work.

On the flip side, I’m learning that it’s okay to keep company with the people who share strong similarities in background. In fact, I’m gonna keep them close. There’s room for more than one type of friend.

Anyway, what I really wanted to do here was to document what life has been like over the summer of 2018. I’m working two jobs: about 10-15 hours a week as a nanny to a toddler, and another 10-15 hours at a produce/juice/smoothie place. Both are tiring and enjoyable in different ways.

I’m getting excited to start school in the fall in a Masters in Counseling program at soon-to-be Missio Seminary.

I definitely feel like I’m in an in-between place, trying to cultivate and sustain the rich friendships & ties I had in the Bay while also trying to muster up energy to be the New Kid all over again.

Some things I am pondering:
– kids and technology and violence and youtube algorithms
– kids need to be bored before their imagination kicks in. maybe adults too?
– kids and fear and identity
– i pay much more attention to how i utilize different tones of my voice w/ kids
– how to make cha ye dan. definitely more difficult than it seems; either too salty or not salty enough, eggs get deformed, wasting so much soy sauce
– i did a brain dump of all the churches i’ve been to in the past 20 years… there are a LOT of them & there is a LOT of variance in theology+culture. maybe this is why i’m so confused??

philadelphia & moving

So, we moved (back) to Philadelphia. This city feels old+new. We live in the intersection of several neighborhoods, right on the dividing line between predominantly white & african-american enclaves respectively.

We still have no wifi at home…I thought I would be dying to put an end to our weird year-long semi-luddite experiment, but oddly enough, I feel kind of reluctant to call Verizon or whatever. The amount of money we spend in coffee shops is probably greater than the cost of high-speed internet at home, but coffee shops are so much more fun. Also, almond croissants. The game-changer is that I get T-Mobile signal in our apartment, which was not the case at our place in Oakland…

Probably the most frustrating part of moving in to our tiny apartment was trying to find a good solution to our curtain situation. We have two square 46″ window panels and zero permission to drill holes in the walls. After some research, I decided to try using jumbo command hooks to hold up an ikea curtain rod, from which we hung blackout curtains from target. These jumbo hooks can supposedly hold up to 7.5lb, and since we were using 3 of them, we figured that they would be able to support a light plastic rod and a bunch of cloth. This was false – they kept falling off in the middle of the night, which was not very conducive to a good night’s sleep. We tried rubbing the wall with more alcohol, using 4 hooks, but nothing worked. Sigh. In the end, I tried using these spring curtain rods from target – worked like a charm. And they were only 3 bucks. Lesson learned.

Actually, that wasn’t the most frustrating part – our mattress got stolen before we managed to even move in to apartment. Apparently someone from FedEx decided it would be a good idea to leave a several-hundred-dollar mattress out on the streets…

But for the most part, the move has been a positive experience. The last time we moved (to Oakland), we prematurely filled our 550 sqft apartment with way too much stuff from our registry. This time, I think we consciously tried to get by with as little as possible & also tried to buy as few new things as we could. We both got bikes for free; we went ‘shopping’ in my in-laws’ basement & emerged with brand new cuisinart cookware and way too many steak knives; I picked up a beautiful mirror from the street. It’s a good life.

Flowers don’t know that rain boots aren’t real pots. I love this so much because I love the idea that life can be found in unconventional places.

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technology practices

I’m still trying to figure out how I want to use technology to relate to the world, but here are some practices that have felt life-giving:

  • Eradicating facebook news feed with this chrome extension
  • Permanently deleting instagram
  • Using simplenote to keep track of everyday to-dos + grocery lists + memos
  • Disallowing cellular data on most of my iPhone apps – this has really helped with cutting idle phone use and also helped me quench the need to know everything instantly
  • Phone stays out of the bedroom
  • Having lots and lots of non-technology things to do around the house! Books, musical instruments, yoga mats/dumbbells, journals, etc

Having been on the ‘other side’ – aka in a position where my job involves figuring out how to get people completely hooked on their technology – I realize I might be overcompensating a little. But I still think that being on this side of extreme is better than being on the other one 😛