On Feeling Fat

Content note: The following post contains descriptions of weight (specific numbers), eating disorder behaviours, depression, and fat shaming. Please proceed with caution if you are triggered by any of the above. 

Over the last five years, I have read countless times that it is impossible to feel fat. I am almost certain that I have written a post somewhere along the line called Fat is Not a Feeling. But then I look at myself in my sisters’ full-length mirror and I feel Fat. I go shopping and try on clothes that are never consistent sizes between shops and I feel Fat. I pinch my stomach and I feel Fat. I weigh myself and I realise that not only am I 160 lbs, I am actually 163 lbs and two weeks of running around after tiny children have not counteracted all those sweets you ate alongside the tiny children. Activities that have nothing to do with weight – singing, writing, working, socialising – may contain tiny mistakes and inconsequential unpleasantness and I blame it on being Fat.

It’s possible that I will never be confident in my ability to regulate my own eating. I don’t trust my hunger signals. I don’t trust my university-acquired nutritional knowledge. I forget about the peer-reviewed research that states that it is ridiculous to assume that someone is unhealthy on the sole basis of their weight. I convince myself I deserve a treat and then hate myself for it and then hate myself for hating myself and continue to eat more. The constant question: is this healthful behaviour or is this bulimia’s pesky way of creeping back in? Last October, I was extremely confident that I had cracked this conundrum. By November, I was purging after more meals than not.

When does it start?

When does it end?

I try to fake it til I make it:

“Life doesn’t start 10 lbs from now”

“You are exercising as best as fibromyalgia will allow”

“Your bloods and vital signs are better than ever”

It feels like a lie. Each line is overlaid with “163 lbs”, “27 BMI” and “fat fat fat fat fat.”

To be so obsessed with my own weight feels egotistical and selfish. To ignore it feels shameful. This element of recovery is already five years old and there are days which are like those at the very start.

Motivation is a pain. Chronic fatigue is a pain. Early-20s-I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-my-life-existential-angst is a pain.

This current breakthrough of food-related distress will fade into the background once again and something new will occupy my attention. It might not go away but it will not be as blatantly obvious and I will muddle along just like I always do. After five years on this journey, I accept that this is what recovery is. Coping rather than curing. Living with rather than hoping it will all disappear. Making room because there is no going back to before. You live in the after or you die. I’ll take the former.


Pocket Hunger Coach

This is my new toy. And by new toy, I mean bookmarked on my phone and netbook. Pocket Hunger Coach is a great resource that I recently came across to help people deal with emotional eating. I have come across other programs like this one, but this is the first that focuses specifically on food.

The basic premise is that you answer a short series of questions that helps you focus on whether you actually want to eat or whether you are using food to mask another problem. It helps you to slow down and focus on the real issues, and it also provides some options for alternatives to destress. On the last page you get to decide: I can use food or I can use something else. This is huge when it comes to preventing binges before they begin. And it is much easier to prevent a binge than to stop one in process. Less bingeing = less panic = more stable moods overall = happier Kate.

I likes it. I likes it a lot.

Try it out here.

Conscious Eating

Yesterday, I went out for tea with the lovely Megan and in between catching up and forming Quiz-Team-a  Aguilera, I ate sugar. I had a choice between  maintaining a much loved tradition with my best friend and finding something else to eat. Much to the apparent detriment of my no sugar stance, I got a scone.

I ate normally for the rest of the day and didn’t binge. I think it’s because for the first time in a long time, I wasn’t compelled to eat. I made a guilt free, conscious choice and then moved on with my life.

Am I going to throw caution to the wind and celebrate with a king size bar of Milka? No. But the fact that it was indeed a choice is something to be proud of.

Quitting Sugar: Take Two

Back in January, I tried to give up sugar. I explained my reasons here (and the side effects here) but in the end, it all got too much and I gave up. I cut down a lot on sweets and junk and this helped a lot with the icky parts of sugar addiction but another hospital placement put me over the edge and once again, I needed sugar to function.

The reasons are the same but the method has changed a bit. Last time I went completely cold turkey – no sugar of any kind, no replacements – and was still in a calorie counting I-must-lose-weight kind of mindset. This led to headaches, exhaustion, and obsession with what I couldn’t have. Little wonder it didn’t work out.

This time, I read Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar e-book and am adapting her 8 week program to suit my own needs. The most important thing I learned from reading this is that quitting sugar is really quitting fructose. The big thing about fructose is that evolution didn’t really leave us with an “I’m full” switch for it, like it did for protein and fats, so its easy to start eating and not stop. But we knew the long and short of that already.What’s new is that a little bit of research on the net and into my own folder of dietetics stuff is that there is a link between IBS and fructose in the form of poorly tolerated foods in the FODMAP plan (which is the plan I  following – albeit imperfectly – for my IBS.) So I’ve found another reason to ditch the fructose.

I’m doing some things the same as last time – watching the sugar levels in what I eat, avoiding sweets – but for the most part I am taking a different approach.

The major difference is that I’m not counting WW points or calories. I’m not actively trying to lose weight. I’m cutting sugar only to replace it with fat. If a low fat product has a ton of sugar (and they often do), I’m taking full fat. I’m not mindlessly eating fruit to distract myself. I’m not eating a lot of bread (if I’m going to do this FODMAPs thing, I’m going to do it right.) I’m eating peanut butter and Greek yoghurt and hummus (hello former food fears.) I’m planning my meals only to the extent that I know that I have the ingredients to cook a good vegetarian dinner (tofu, lentils and quinoa are all back on the menu – I find I have missed them.) And without trying, I haven’t binged. Without trying, I lost a pound in a week (the healthiest pace of weight loss.)

Outside the food arena, I am blogging most weekdays (as you can see), I am involving myself in all manner of alternative healing (acupuncture, Reiki, EFT, meditation) to relax myself, I am exercising without a plan (and am still exercising most days anyway) and am planning my day without ultimatums to myself or with the ultimate goal of distracting myself from food. Its rather lovely actually.

What is truly astounding to me is the lack of physical side effects I have felt this time round. One week in last time, I was ready to kill anyone who came near me. This time I am energetic, mentally calm and headache free. So I think I’ll continue with this little experiment. For now at least.

Dealing With IBS (While In ED Recovery): Part 3

Read Part 1 and Part 2

Now that you have the background, lets talk about things that might be of actual use.

A large part of dealing with IBS when you have an eating disorder is that anxiety exacerbates the condition just as much as the way in which you eat food, so I have divided my tips into two sections to deal with them both separately.

What can I do about food?

  • For me, the biggest part of calming my symptoms was establishing a regular eating pattern of four to six times a day. Three squares meals is fine for a lot of people but not for me. By having medium sized meals with smaller snacks in between, you avoid overloading your stomach, you keep your blood sugar levels pretty constant (which is important if you tend to have sugar drops or a tendency to faint like me) and its emotionally easier to handle the thought of a slightly smaller portioned meal (if you are compulsively restrictive) and to not be starving before every meal (if you have a tendency to binge eat.)
  • Knowing the foods that don’t agree with you and avoiding them is not the same thing as restricting. These two concepts had become so intertwined in my head that I began to wonder would I ever be able to eat normal food again. For me, that means avoiding apples, white bread, honey and pasta and going easy on very starchy, heavy foods. But since I have stopped restricting and have a better control on binging, I can eat practically anything as long as I don’t eat a family-sized portion in a ten minute sitting.
  • Enough sleep and enough water are essential to both balancing your behaviour around food and balancing your digestive system. The ideal for most people is 8 hours sleep and 8 glasses of water, but if you need more or less to feel at your peak, then do it.

What can I do about anxiety?

  • Once a compulsion gets in your head, it is almost impossible to ignore and once you start a behaviour (such as binging, starving or purging), it is pretty much impossible to stop. For me, the stopping point was always getting physically sick, either from my IBS or from purging. The entire process would start a vicious cycle of guilt, anxiety, sickness ad nauseum. In a situation like this, the ideal option is to get out. Get out of the room, get out of the house, just get out of the situation. If this is not possible, treat the compulsion as you would a panic attack. It’s time to ground yourself. Sit down, feel your legs in the chair, try and relax your shoulders down your back. Tell yourself what you know is real e.g. “My name is Kate. I am sitting in a chair. My feet are on the ground.” Count down from 20, taking deep breaths on each number. If someone is around, put yourself in their company. If you feel comfortable, share your anxiety. If you don’t, don’t, but the simple act of having someone else around is more supporting than being alone. With someone else there, your mind will be slower to jump to a conclusion that engaging in your ED behaviour will help you cope with your IBS.
  • At times when you feel calm and in control, try meditating. There are a million podcasts and Youtube videos of guided meditations, if this is your preference. If not, just sit in a quiet place and be aware. Be aware of the seat you are in. Expand that to the room you are in and notice all the space. You can extend this to your house or your street. Be aware of the sounds and smells around you. Don’t try and push any thoughts away. Just be aware of them. If you are the type who hates sitting still, yoga is a great option as it calms the mind and has positive effects on the whole body, including the digestive system.
  • The sticky subject here is exercise. If you have an ED, particularly one where you compulsively exercise, pushing yourself to burn X amount of calories a day is not going to help you. However, 30 minutes of exercise a day was recommended to me by both my dietitian and my gastroenterologist and studies have shown that this amount of physical activity can significantly improve IBS symptoms. If, like me, you come from a background of compulsively exercising, begin with low-impact, supervised exercise. When missing a workout still had the potential to send me into a tailspin, but I was advised to cut back by my doctor, I would go for walks with my best friend or my mom. Eventually, I was allowed to run and cycle and kickbox all on my own again and as a non-obsessive activity, it is doing the world of good for my digestive symptoms.

So that’s the long and short of it. Both conditions suck. When they occur together, they suck even more. But you can handle IBS when you have an eating disorder and you can come out the other end fighting.

Dealing With IBS (While In ED Recovery): Part 2

  Read Part 1 here

In the height of my ED, my IBS was only an issue when I ate, so I tried not to. When I went into recovery and had to eat, my symptoms went into overdrive and I was sick no matter what I ate. Although I was telling myself I was improving, I was still restricting (to a lesser degree) and when I felt the need, would try to make myself sick. To avoid suspicion, I would sometimes eat my allergy foods (i.e. bread) to force a reaction. After about 3 months, I realised I wasn’t reacting anymore. I had put on about a stone, was eating regularly and was chock full of meds. And I was able to stomach food I hadn’t eaten in 4 years.

Cut to 2 years later and I started seeing a dietitian to push through the next hurdle of recovery. Besides addressing my eating patterns and my vegetarianism, she gave me a list of foods to avoid. These low-FODMAP foods were not the extent of the  restrictions I had put on myself previously. Basically, I don’t eat apples, mushrooms, onions and honey and I keep white bread to a minimum. As it turns out, my symptoms are highly correlated to my stress levels – which fits completely with my history of depression and anxiety. When I started to get these under control, my IBS was a lot easier to handle too.

The reason I decided to bring this up had to do with the current exam period. I hadn’t been experiencing any symptoms for a while. Like the reading week before it, this reading week had driven me into a frenzy of thoughts of failing and ideals of perfection. An added bonus of the Spring Semester was a stressful work placement and an almost constant string of rehearsals in the period leading up to the exam. The culmination of this was a week of alternately restricting and binging on a daily basis.

Soon, the tests were upon me but I felt prepared. I knew my shit and went into Anatomy to give a sigh of relief that the questions I felt particularly strong at had come up. One hour in and half the questions done, I felt a stabbing pain in my gut. I tried to ignore it but eventually I caved and was escorted to the bathroom. I got sick, felt better and headed back to finish off what was to be a kickass exam. My insides had other plans and I only lasted fifteen more minutes before I called uncle and left the exam hall, test unfinished, to get sick. Disgusted and disappointed don’t begin to cover how I felt that day.

Whether I like it or not, food is always going to be an issue. IBS doesn’t go away, it just fades into the background before rearing its ugly head in times of crisis. My eating disorder seems to follow the same pattern and the two have become intrinsically linked. Maybe if I didn’t have IBS, I would have never restricted a food group and become accustomed to not eating. Maybe if I had never had an ED, my IBS wouldn’t have exacerbated as badly as it did. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. With both conditions, the disease does not just disappear. You find ways to live and ways to cope.

To be continued…

Dealing With IBS (While in ED Recovery): Part 1

I talk about my history of ED a lot here. What I have never really gotten around to is talking about  the  other issues I have with  food.

When I was 11, I started getting sick. At least 5 times a week, I would have no choice but to take to  my bed with stomach spasms, pain and all manner of symptoms. No body had any idea what was wrong with me. I was afraid to go to parties, to leave the house, to do anything in case I got sick while I was out. It was around this time that I started to withdraw and become introverted, partly due to my illness, partly due to first episode of depression. This continued for five years with no change.

Various visits, tests and misdiagnoses later, a gastroenetrologist diagnosed me with IBS. Although I now knew what I was dealing with, I was still frustrated; IBS is a diagnosis of elimination – basically, nothing else was wrong with me – and it was a chronic syndrome i.e. there is no cure, only remissions and exacerbations.

To counteract this, I decided to cut out all wheat, yeast and various foods out of my diet completely. My sickness episodes (while still ever present) decreased dramatically and I also lost about half a stone in a short enough period of time. I was also starting walking and eating healthier in general and I was happy that I was able to be freer with my social life and was looking  better. I was still dealing  with depressive and anxiety episodes but I had come a long way from my earlier days.

When I decided to quit self harming (another story for another day), I took up binge eating instead. When I gave up the wheat and other foods, I switched to tracking the ingredients in food. This turned into tracking the calories and then reducing calories. The more stresses I had in my life,  the more stringently I kept to my “diet”. The less food I ate, the less I was sick (there was nothing in my stomach to make me sick) but overeating, and even normal eating, pushed my body to such an extreme that I was put off eating properly again for days.

To be continued…