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Thinking Out Loud: Irony or Hypocrisy?

There’s an dilemma in my diet; a contradiction in my food philosophy.

You see, I don’t believe in rules. At least, that’s what I say.

I used to have anorexia. And before that, I spent years as a disordered eater.

When I was recovering, I spent hours every day reading blogs like Your Eatopia of the ever-controversial Mini-Maud protocol for eating disorder recovery (basically, force yourself to eat a 2500-3500 calories a day until you stop gaining weight, whatever that weight might be), and the wonderful and brilliant Fat Nutritionist with her Health At Every Size agenda. I read about “normal eating” and “intuitive eating” and I stopped believing in counting calories, or denying myself dessert, or fats, or sugar, or carbs, or anything, really, except that it is very important to eat food and eat enough of it. Every Single Day.DSCN0007

It took me a long time (the story of my recovery process is an interesting one for another day), but I got to a place where I believed, at least, in a new dietary doctrine:

No rules. No foods off the table. No counting or weighing. Every craving legitimate. No right or wrong time to eat, no rules about when to eat what, no prohibition against eating dessert three times a day and the same thing for supper as you had for breakfast. No meal has to be justified with exercise or a day of dieting. NO RULES WHATSOEVER.tea & cake! (2)The problem was…that didn’t solve my problem.

I still felt like crap probably 95% of the time. Everything I had read said that just by eating plenty, my digestive system would heal itself and be able to handle eating three, even four times what I had been eating before. I was weight restored, and I tried to eat intuitively, but it usually (not sometimes, but usually) took me only a couple of bites to feel full. And it wasn’t the satisfied “Oh good; now I have food in me and I’m comfortably full” feeling, it was the “Oh sh[oo]t, I’m really uncomfortably stuffed” feeling. After only a few bites.

DSCN0405Plus there some troubles in the excretory department. Things weren’t moving out in a timely manner. And by a timely manner I mean two weeks with no sign of poop.

No wonder I felt like crap. (no pun intended)

The gastroenterologist said it was my eating disorder playing tricks on my mind. That’s what I thought for a long time too. But at a certain point, I realized that was far too simple an explanation. Something wasn’t working down under.

And I’m not just talking about a couple of weeks after I started re-feeding. Constipation and bloating’s pretty normal at that point. I’m talking about six months later. In fact, I remembered, hadn’t I felt this way sometimes before the eating disorder? Maybe even years before?

In the meantime, my weight restored self was eating less and less, and the eating disorder was returning. I could feel it: the fear of food, and the obsession with it, the ultimate sign that I wasn’t eating enough. Something had to be done.

I had never heard of “constantly stuffed and constipated” as a symptom of celiac disease, but I thought I’d try going gluten free. For a while, I thought, not forever. It helped–some. But definitely not enough. Still stuffed all the time but somehow constantly wanting to eat more.DSCN0893I had heard of this thing called the low-FODMAP diet before, and I knew it was used to treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I knew I had IBS, but I associated it with a set of really nasty symptoms I get only occasionally: intense, incapacitating pain together with gas and diarrhea. The complete opposite, in short, of my usual all-blocked-up.

Until I read this handout and saw the image at the bottom: two balloons, one filling water, one filling with air. That, the handout says, is how FODMAPs work. As they are fermented, they draw water and gas into the intestine. I showed the picture to my mom like I had just discovered gold in my own backyard. “That!” I said. “That is exactly how I feel! See?! I’m not insane! This is what it feels like!”

And so I started a diet that some experts in Australia developed for IBS. A really hard one. One that cuts out milk, yogurt, ice cream, apples, peaches, pears, cherries, mangos, beans of all kinds, pistachios, cashews, most wheat products, barley, rye, chicory, onion, garlic, soy, cauliflower, mushrooms, celery, rum, camomile tea…the list goes on. Plus, there are rules like “don’t eat any more than one serving of fruit at a time” and “don’t combine moderate-fructan vegetables like broccoli and corn.” Ack!

Was I insane? Had I completely lost my mind? After half a year trying to convince myself to let go of all the rules, I gave myself a brand new shining set of them, more complicated than any I had ever followed before

Certainly ironic.

But does it make me a hypocrite?

I don’t know.

I follow the low-FODMAP diet today for very different reasons than those which caused my anorexia. I’m trying to nourish myself, to find ways to eat more, not less. I’m trying to overcome my disorder-driven obsession with food, and the only way I can do that is by managing my IBS symptoms and making sure I eat enough.DSCN0510I feel better. I’m able to eat much more, concentrate, make it through workouts without my stomach really bothering me. I still have crummy tummy days, but I tend to have maybe five or six of those in a month, rather than 25. Or 31.

Long story short, I’m living a truth–contradictory though it may seem–that works for me. Eventually, I’ll be able to let down my hair on some of these rules after I finish re-testing foods to see which ones seem to bother my tummy the most and which I seem to tolerate.

But maybe it’s not so hypocritical. After all, I’m still listening to my body, and my body’s saying, “Something isn’t right here, Joyce. We need to do things different this time around.”

Have you ever tried an elimination diet?

Do you ever find that your actions seem to contradict your philosophies?

Thanks to Amanda for the linkup!

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  1. Cora says:

    Wonderful post, Joyce.
    I think I’ve said it before – but I can’t believe / completely admire and respect you for having to deal with IBS and taking on a low FODMAP diet with a history of disordered eating. Tackling this (insane – sorry to say ) elimination diet for anyone takes a huge HUGE amount of work, focus, time, stress, planning etc etc. And then to add on the past mentality of restriction just makes it all more mesmerizing. I do not for a hot second see you as any sort of hypocrite. Exactly the opposite. Like you said, you are listening to your body (probably not more than ever?) and doing what you physically need to do for yourself in order to still nourish and give your body the fuel it needs. You didn’t choose this – so you are not gleefully choosing to eliminate certain foods. It is just the tricky task you have been handled. And I think you are doing an insanely brave, strong, mature, healthy job of it. I’m so impressed.

    1. Joyce says:

      You are so wonderfully kind, Cora. Thank you so much for the encouraging words!

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