How an autoimmune disorder took me off the roller coaster of self-loathing
My whole life I have had a food thing. Not really an obsession. Not an addiction. But a thing. You might classify it as a control thing, or lack thereof, which can be found across most things in my life. I don’t do well in moderation. I am either loud and chatty or really quiet. Calm and totally at peace or drowning in anxiety and chaos. I am not a gray kind of person, I live mostly in the blacks and in the whites.
Fighting this most of my life (because acceptance is a form of moderation, if you think about it), I decided I needed to tackle this food thing. I needed to figure out how to stop dieting and stop binging and stop constantly thinking about every fucking thing I put into my mouth and start just existing. I wanted to start seeing food as an item that I put into my body, several times a day, to keep me alive.
Do you know people who can eat just a handful of Doritos? Are you one of those people? I am not. I am the person who eats the whole bag, or at least wants to. I am the person that will exercise like a maniac for a while after feeling like shit about the number on the scale and the way my pants fit and then follow it up by eating ice cream every day for a week.
Oh, you too? Pull up a seat.
Healthy eating is almost always couched in terms of diets, restrictions and losing weight. You hear about heart health and exercise and the general benefits of being a fit individual but most of the external pressure around healthy eating is about being thinner than you are. Look at so many of the diets out there that promote eating in ways that will make the scale number less but not necessarily give the right balance of nutrition, vitamins and good, hearty crap that your body needs to run. The South Beach diet is a perfect example of this — I ate a boatload of meat and veggies and then to fill the sugar gap, I ate tons and tons of sugar-free shit. Meaning food with a whole host of ingredients you couldn’t pronounce to make up for the fact that there was no real sugar. I did lose weight pretty quickly. But it didn’t stay off — and it didn’t make me feel particularly good.
Back to that bag of Doritos. I’ve always had a general sense of what was good to eat, health-wise. I’ve always liked fruits and vegetables, enjoy shopping locally and eating organic when possible. Grass-fed local meat tastes remarkably different than store brand stuff, it does. It also costs more than most people can afford, but that’s a whole separate post. The thing I could never fully connect was how what I was eating on a daily basis was impacting my overall health, now and in the future.
Until one day, when a doctor told me there was a decent chance I had a neurologically based autoimmune disorder. The diagnosis left me nervous, but more than anything, left me wondering. I researched and read and discovered a great deal about autoimmune disorders in general and their overall connection to gut health and balance. I found a book by a physician who herself had been diagnosed with this disease and crafted a diet packed with vitamins and nutrients designed to support long-term brain and nervous system health. Faced with a future of uncertainty and aging that could be painful or difficult, I decided there wasn’t really a choice. I had to fundamentally change what I put in my body.
I told almost everyone immediately I was going to stop eating dairy and most gluten and wheat based foods. I did this not to be obnoxious or braggy, but to put myself in the way of public shame or disappointment in case I slipped up. I find shame to be a powerful tool and I knew if everyone I saw every day knew I was committing to this, it would be my own personal pride that wouldn’t let me give in. I added a ton of vegetables and fruits to my diet, even more than usual and I cut back completely on junk and processed foods. I drank way more water and tried to cut back on coffee, although that is a battle I will never fully win and I’ve accepted that. Coffee is life, the end.
First I did it for a week. Then ten days. Then a month. At about the six week mark, I started to notice a difference. My nerve pain had mostly stopped and the numbness subsided. I felt less foggy and started sleeping better. At about eight weeks, people started to comment on my weight loss. I stepped on the scale and saw numbers I hadn’t seen since before I got married. But ironically, the number on the scale was the least motivating thing about the changes. I noticed my hunger levels changed and so did my cravings. I ate less, overall, and felt fuller faster. I did not think about food all the time and I did not binge. Ever.
In other words, food stopped being a thing.
It’s a hell of a trade off. Spending your life wishing your body was different, smaller and leaner somehow. Living on a roller coaster of weight loss and gain and using excuse after excuse for why I would eat better tomorrow. Today’s a holiday. Someone’s birthday. The first day of my period. A bad day. A good day! And then one day, realizing my body was incredibly functional all along. Keeping me alive and healthy, every day, despite how I treated it or loved it (or didn’t). Realizing that now, as my body struggles with a new challenge, it needs food to thrive and live and hold my heart and organs and keep them running for many more years to come. It doesn’t need diets and it doesn’t even need scales. It needs mindfulness, and real health. It needs me to pay attention.
Originally Published in Medium.com by Ashley Daigneault