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Week in Review: Not Quite There Yet

I had a bit of a wake-up call this week.

In truth, it was a series of events which led to the wake-up call.

First, I went back on my anxiety medication about three weeks ago. As I felt the effects of the medicine start to kick in, I started to have this sort of self-reflective realization. I thought: “Huh. Sometimes I’m ignoring my hunger. I’m sometimes not eating when I’m genuinely hungry because I’ve decided that I’ve had enough for today, enough for now. I also have been finding myself counting calories more often.”

I’ve also been reading a lot of recovery bloggers talk about intuitive eating. Of course, I know it’s not useful to compare what one person eats to what another person eats, but what is a wake-up call is noticing that a lot of recovery bloggers who I really respect and admire have considerably more freedom around food than I do. Not only that, but the freedom with which they eat makes me a little anxious. It’s hard for me to imagine eating that freely and waking up the next day and not feeling the need to restrict or “take it easy.”

I had a DEXA scan on Thursday, which reminded me that I still have osteopenia and am at high risk for developing osteoperosis.

Finally, at the recommendation of the physician who prescribed by anxiety medication, I went to see a dietitian. In our conversation, she thought that there are definitely strengths in the way I eat–for instance, I’m pretty good about eating a wide variety of food–but she was worried that I’m getting into a cycle of perpetually “not quite filling the tank”; of eating, at each meal, just enough to make the hunger go away for a couple hours, not enough to really satisfy me.

Tandoor Chef entrees were BOGO at Sprouts last weekend. Yum! Chicken tikka masala with sauteed peppers for lunch one day. But it didn’t quite “fill my tank.”

I also recognized that I still regularly have symptoms of disordered eating:

  • I still have a hard time completely letting go of calorie counting
  • I still, after six years, have amenorrhea
  • I still have difficulty concentrating
  • I still spend a lot of time thinking about food
  • Even though the weight that I’m at now is “normal” according to BMI charts and I maintain it pretty easily without restricting, if I’m totally honest, I’ll admit that I was never this thin before I had disordered eating. Not that I need to make a concerted effort to gain weight, but I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t really quite the optimum weight for me.

In other words, I’m really not quite 100% recovered.

I went for a long walk around the lake with my boyfriend, with beautiful views of the mountains. I was so distracted, though. I was hungry and I could think about was food! I want to be able to be out in the natural world and be able to behold its beauty, rather than distracted and lost in my own thoughts.

This dietitian really believes it’s possible to be 100% recovered: what she calls “Recovered. Period.” Sometimes in the eating disorder community, we’re inclined to say, “Oh, the damage is too permanent. I’ll never be able to completely give up calorie counting. I’ll never be able to completely give up anxiety around eating ‘fear foods.’ I’ll never be able to completely get my fertility back.”

But that’s not true. There are so many bloggers I read (Robyn, Kate, Kylie, Lyss, Cayanne, among many, many others) who have shown that it is 100% possible to be free from anxiety and calorie counting, 100% possible to recover a normal period, 100% possible to learn to eat fully intuitively. Even with IBS.

Emily also posted a great post a week ago about how total recovery is possible. The important thing for me to recognize is that I’m not quite there yet.

Just over the horizon…

So this week, I’ve really been making an effort to eat more intuitively, to let go of fear and anxiety around food, and to listen to my body.

Damn. Monday and Tuesday I was hungry. Like, I ate at least eight or nine times over the course of the day, finishing each meal or snack totally unsatisfied, and 30 minutes to an hour later, going back for more. It almost reminded me of the first couple of days that I started recovery from anorexia two and a half years ago now: overwhelming, constant hunger.

That, to me, is another sign that something’s up. That kind of intense hunger is a sign that I’ve not been fueling enough.

Since Wednesday, I’ve continued to deal with bouts of pretty intense hunger, which I’ve honored as promptly as I could.

I’ve also been reminded of the exact reason why this whole intuitive eating thing is so particularly hard for me.

IBS. Ow.

Yup. Not surprisingly, considering how much I ate on Monday and Tuesday, from Thursday through the weekend, I’ve had the worst IBS flare-up I’ve had in a while. Not as bad as some in the past, but not great, either. Case in point: I got home from campus on Thursday afternoon at about 4 quite hungry. I hadn’t eaten lunch since, well, lunch time, sometime between noon and one. I ate a Greek yogurt and an orange and immediately felt awfultotally bloated, like I’d way overeaten. From one damn Greek yogurt and an orange.

Supper packed for the quick break between class and Wednesday night swing dance: tuna patties, quinoa, sauteed peppers and radishes

That’s continued on and off throughout the weekend: abnormally high hunger coupled with abnormally high bloating…and other symptoms we need not go into.

That’s the hardest part of this whole thing for me. It’s hard for people to understand that in truth, I don’t think that much about appearance or weight. Of course, I do think about these things–I don’t think there’s many people with disordered eating in contemporary culture don’t–but the thing that really scares me, that really sets me off, is this periodical, intense discomfort. I really have an genuine fear of the bloating coming on and never ending, of never feeling hungry. Ever. And I’ve gone through periods of my life when I almost never did feel hungry, as I’ve written about in the past.

Low-FODMAP Thai Coconut Lime Soup from Treble in the Kitchen + a Feel Good Foods brand gluten-free eggroll. Thank goodness for yummy low-FODMAP comfort food on days when my tummy feels crummy.

The important thing for me, of course, is that I not blame myself when I have a flare-up. First: it always passes eventually. Second: I was that hungry on Monday and Tuesday. I did need those extra bowls of cereal and crackers and peanuts. My body was telling me so.

The fact that my screwed-up digestive system responded with such anger doesn’t mean I did anything wrong–it just means I have a screwed up damn digestive system. But while it’s easy to type that sitting here on my boyfriend’s couch, feeling pretty comfortable and “normal,” an hour ago when I felt very uncomfortable, like I’d way overeaten breakfast (which I didn’t; I had a bowl of cheesy grits and one egg), I was thinking, “I can’t learn to intuitive eat! Clearly I’m doing this all wrong!”

The return of the cheesy grits!

But I need to heal. I need to get my period back. And above all, I need to be able to live a life in which food is just food, not this thing that constantly weighs on my mind and distracts me from all the important things that really do matter to me: my family, my boyfriend, my friends, reading and writing, teaching, swing dancing, activism.

I can’t quite get to that point until I’m recovered. Period.

Thanks, Meghan, for letting me ramble on for today’s Week in Review. Sorry to be so long-winded. Just my style, I guess.

Do you believe there’s such a thing as “Recovered. Period.”?

Do digestive issues ever make it hard for you to eat intuitively?

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11 comments

  1. I think the fact that you’ve met with a dietitian and also realize that something is still off is a major sign of the desire to fully recover. I think that you can be 100% fully recovered but I also know that it’s something to work on daily even after you feel fully recovered. Thoughts, desires, old habits, etc might still try to creep up on you even when you feel recovered. Sending you positive thoughts and prayers as you continue to work through this!

    1. Joyce says:

      For sure–I know many people consider themselves fully recovered but still struggle with those thoughts sometimes. Thanks so much for the kind words!

  2. I’m kind of an outsider when it comes to the whole E.D. community but one thing I’ve noticed it so many people with disordered habits or in recovery from those same habits have troubles digesting certain foods. I think it’s exactly what you’ve said though: your digestive system is screwed up and it’s no wonder if things have been restricted (including types of food or simply just quantity). The truly important thing here is you’re seeing this and recognizing there’s still some work to be done. Kudos to you for sharing that. I know it can’t be easy and I also know your openness will be a huge help to others going through something similar. Give yourself a pat on the back and hang in there. The bloating will get better as your digestive system adjusts and heals.

    1. Joyce says:

      I sure hope so! I had IBS even before I had disordered eating, which contributed to the disordered eating, and then the disordered eating of course made it even worse. Thank you so much for the kind words!

  3. My dear dear friend; I know EXACTLY what you mean; I still struggle with intuitive eating because of IBS symptoms, bloating and gas (that make me think I’m full), but I’m not. God has been using it to really teach me to listen to the signals my body gives me so I don’t over stress myself or eat foods that wouldn’t quite sit with me at the moment; thankfully I can eat most foods in moderation. I’m definitely praying for you and thinking of you, because I know the struggle is so real. Would I say I’m 100% recovered? No, because I still do calorie count out of anxiety that I will eat too much, but I know that God does mighty healing works, so I think recovery is 100% possible.

    1. Joyce says:

      Recovering completely is so hard when you’re dealing with that additional digestive component. Ugh. We can both get there, though!

  4. Cora says:

    Wow. Joyce. You have found a strength I have never been able to find. I may be very honest on my blog, but I have NEVER been able to fully admit to all the ways I still struggle with my eating disorder. The things that only I know I still think/do. Which, as a result, often makes me feel like a fraud. Or, it means I am ignoring these things and choosing to believe I am “better” than I am. I’m honestly mesmerized how similar your thoughts and feelings are to mine right now. It seems we’ve both hit a little crossroads of realizing we need to make changes… again. The difference though, of course, is that I do not struggle with IBS. My heart just aches for you and the additional struggle/confusion/difficulties this would add. I hate feeling full and get anxiety enough as it is from feeling it, but to have this level of fullness come on out of seemingly no where? I would NOT do well.
    Is this dietitian you are seeing any sort of specialist in IBS? I really really hope you’d be able to pin point food triggers that work or do not work with your digestive system, but I realize there may never be answers to that. Are liquid calories, like smoothies, any easier?
    I just need to email you. There’s so much I could say. I’m right there along side you girl – even if I’m miles away (whoooaaa and I’m a poet).

    1. Joyce says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Cora. You are honest and brave and have a TON of strength. Not always being totally cognizant of the thoughts that are actually progressing through our little brains seems to me like just a symptom of eating disorder.
      You are a poet. A poet, an actor, an artist, a baker, a blogger. Very talented. 😉
      Yeah, the IBS stuff adds this additional level of frustration and complication that I don’t have an easy solution for.

  5. Alyssa says:

    It’s okay that you aren’t quite there yet. It’s all part of the process and journey. Your period will come- I promise you that. And I am proud that you are doing all you are in order to make sure it comes back. Sending lots of good energy girl <3

  6. Kaylee says:

    I know that at this point in my recovery I can’t afford to eat intuitively. But looking at those bloggers’ you’ve mentioned, all of whom are AMAZING, intuitive eating–truly listening to my body rather than what my mind is telling my body it wants–is what I aspire to in the long run.
    I can relate to the lack of period for prolonged periods of time (no pun intended but made me smile nonetheless). It’s been almost 3 years for me and I am trying not let that bring me down. I can also relate to your constant fixation on food. Focusing on what I’m eating, even if it is for my betterment (i.e. making sure I get enough to eat), is not how I want to live the rest of my life.

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