In the meantime, I have developed a weight problem – but unlike most people with a weight problem, I struggle with too little rather than too much weight. The factors which contributed to this situation are several:
- There were a lot of skepticism and some very intense negative reactions to Peter’s and my quick marriage from unexpected sides (family and close friends) – one friend of mine even accused me of violating the holy sacrament of marriage. In part these conflicts have fortunatly been reconciled by now, but some of the suspicion towards and rejection of me still remains. You can imagine we have a few more former friends now.
- In the context of an intimate relationship which is healing and resilient for once, several untackled issues of mine surfaced, most of them having to do with invalidation, rejection, and sexual abuse. Turning to these was frightening and usually followed by dissociation on my side at first, however they evenutally started to improve. I have not dissociated in several weeks, feel better about myself, and am gradually learning to bear and even enjoy intimacy, so these things are becoming easier, but they are still there.
- With Peter’s support, I have also begun to look into the roots of my eating disorder and work on my chaotic eating patterns. I was diagnosed with type 2 anorexia when I was 17 (a few years after I had fully developed the symptoms), and I still have it. The roots of it are the same invalidation, rejection, and abuse that cause a lot of troubles in other areas of my life, and while the beginning of it was a deliberate decision to wipe myself out bit by bit, in the years afterwards its scope of functions widened to coping with negative emotions and all kinds of things I believed I could not handle, and this is how it self-perpetuated until today. The eating disorder is entangled with body image, feminity, body sensation, emotion regulation, hypersensitivity, control, self-esteem, perfectionism, and nutritional issues, and sits in my mind like a kraken with its tentacles reaching everywhere. This is why it is so difficult to tackle, and also why going against it affords a multidimensional approach.
- I have by now fully transitioned to a whole-foods, plant-based diet, which works very well for me. However, since it does work and I can eat to satiation without worrying now, there is less necessity to obsess about my food intake and deal with hunger, which means more mental space and time for those things the eating disorder served to keep at bay.
Taken together, all of this meant and still means a lot of strain and also change in my daily life, of which the former naturally (I think) and the latter by disposition upsets me quite a bit. Lacking other coping strategies, what helped me to deal with the emotional upheaval and anxiety was security-undereating. By just constantly undereating for a few 100 calories a day, I have lost about 20 pounds in the course of the last 8 months, and I was quite on the thin side before already. Recently, Peter has confronted me with my thinning out and made very clear this has to stop.
~ stop it, Kath!! ~
I am grateful he did! You see, of course I noticed my gradual weight loss over the past months, but I did not actively go against it because of the security and comfort it gave me. Although I rationally understood this could not go on ad infinitum (more precisely, if it did it would bring upon the end of my life much faster than I desire), I felt unable to pull the brake. So I somehow needed this reminder to come from an external source.
What I have to do now is of course stop the weight loss, and then try to gain some weight back. How do this? Well, the answer is simple: “Eat more!”, or more specifically, “Eat more calories!” Sounds very easy!
But it is easier said than done. In practice, there are several aspects I find very difficult. I will sketch those problematic areas out below and then write how I try to solve them.
Eating more calories frightens me by itself. It feels like losing control and surrender, and it is also something that I am simply not familiar with. All of this creates a lot of anxiety, and since I am not good with dealing with anxiety, what I usually do is obsessing about food intake and restricting when I am anxious, so I can think of something else. In this way, eating more calories is not only a source of anxiety but at the same time takes my preferred coping method away from me. Uh-oh.
If there is something that frightens you to do, it helps if there is something more frightening tied to not doing it. Losing Peter or making him miserable and unhappy is that something for me, because he is so good-natured and kind and does not deserve anything bad. It is interesting that I do not think I could do this just for myself (I guess I would just chance it), but the fact that there now is somebody who I love with all my heart, who is affected by the decisions I make, and whose happiness is interdependent with my wellbeing, has given rise to a sense of responsibility which extends beyond my personal affairs. I could never forgive myself if I hurt Peter, just because I was such a coward. So now I have a plan to eat at least 1,800 calories a day, and it is not as terrible as I thought, although it still feels unusual and awkward.
I have an irrational fear that as soon as I eat more, I am going to balloon. Of course I cognitively know this is complete nonsense, and experience has also shown me that I have to eat a surprisingly lot to just maintain my weight – but still.
I could not really explain why the idea of gaining weight was so frightening for me until Peter made some suggestions which I think somewhat hit a nail. The first one is that a higher weight is associated with feminity and sexual availability for me, and since I feel sick when thinking too much about that, I am sure there is something about it, as if a low weight would protect me from drawing sexual attention by men upon me. The second one is that the last time I was at a higher weight – during my adolescence – that was a time when I was feeling so miserable that I eventually decided to starve myself to death. Therefore, a higher weight might still by related to the memory of extreme unhappiness, and gaining just a little weight would lower the distance between my current state and that former state associated with unhappiness and depression.
Unraveling these connections already helps to better understand the diffuse anxiety of gaining weight. I also think it is a good idea to take it slowly – making weight maintenance the goal at first and then slowly trying to gain some – to keep the anxiety at a manageable level. It will be inevitable to confront the issues behind my subjective desirability of a low weight, and to build up positive connotations of a higher weight, such a increased energy and endurance.
IMPURITY AND DISGUST
High-caloric foods, and oily foods in particular, appear impure and dangerous to me. Eating them and having them in my tummy rises tension so much that I go up the walls (or scream and flail and beat my head onto the kitchen floor – go figure). I remember the impurity problem emerged after having been abused, because from then on I really had problems to tolerate the feeling of having anything inside of my tummy. I am happy that by now I can tolerate some foods emotionally, but those are usually not the ones that help you gain weight.
The thing with oily foods is not so much that I am afraid of the calories, but rather that I react with disgust to them. Adding oil to meals gives the food a greasy texture, so it appears foul and spoiled to me and just turns me off. For me, “oily” starts after the addition of more than half a teaspoon of oil per serving when I eat carbohydrates with the same meal, because the combination of fats and carbs is the most impure for me. When I eat only vegetables I can usually tolerate a little more oil, since vegetables are lighter and do not leave me with the feeling of being contaminated. In addition, food with noticeably oily texture gives me nausea and creates a need to balance it with something fresh later on, so that after a heavier lunch, I usually feel like, “Uh, can I please eat just fresh cherry tomatoes for the rest of the day?” But of course this is not how I am able to eat more calories in total. Eating enough is already difficult to me, but foods that disgust me and give me nausea make it a challenge that seems impossible to take.
Unlike oils, carbohydrates do not seem impure to me. Carbohydrates are “clean”. So eating a pile of brown rice or porridge is something I can do, then I only have to deal with the calorie and weight anxiety but do not feel sick. I also enjoy eating carbohydrates actually, and they give me good satiety if I choose unrefined starches. It felt a little strange to double my portion sizes of grains and beans at the expense of my usually large vegetable portions, but I also realize that it makes me feel good to eat this way. I add fats to the amount I can tolerate it, opting for foods I find the least disgusting, such as coconut oil, almond butter, tahini, and I have also bought some sesame oil.
I was never diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome officially, but I know for sure that my intestines are not normal. For virtually all of my life, I have had digestive issues, including bloating, pain, constipation, diarrhea, and malabsorption. If I experience stress, my intestines usually are the first thing to react. Other reactions follow the intake of certain foods, such as gluten grains, dairy, soy, or too much raw foods – I thought that list would be complete then, but I learned otherwise.
In order to trick myself, I considered it clever to avoid the greasy food discomfort by topping my meals with a variety of seeds instead of using vegetable oil with my cooking.
~ carrot and oat porridge with ground flaxseed ~
~ brown rice with green beans, bamboo shoots, and shiitake mushrooms, topped with tahini and pumpkin seeds ~
I have also learned that extracted vegetable oils of any kind are not particularly healthy and basically reside in the same category as refined carbohydrates – cleared from all fiber, micronutrients, and amino acids – being just empty calories without much nutritional value. Not denying my orthorectic tendencies, I do not see a point in eating unhealthy foods in larger than small amounts, so eating whole nuts and seeds appeared to be the better option.
Unfortunatly, my intestines did not approve of me scooping seeds onto my meals, and protested by making me so bloated that I could hardly walk. Here is an evidence photo.
~ no, I am not pregnant, these are just my intestines ~
So it seems I will not get around facing my oil phobia, because oil does not trigger this condition. And happily, I have found starches from grains and beans to help with it because my body seems to digest them easily, so yay for that!
DIFFERENTIAL METABOLIZATION OF CALORIES
This is not actually a problem by itself but rather a complicating factor: I find maintaining my weight on a whole-food, plant-based diet much more difficult, compared to other dietary approaches I have tried. My body seems to handle calories differently according to where they come from, regarding how it makes use of them and stores them. Back when I ate a paleo diet, I maintained my weight eating fewer calories per day, and even gained 12 pounds during the time of adhering to that diet. Now all those whole grains and beans just seem to slip through me without leaving much of a trace. I am very surprised how much and how often I have to eat in a day on this diet!
~ brown rice and sprouted mung beans with romaine lettuce and shiitake mushrooms ~
~ tomato slices and rice cakes ~
~ sweet potatoes with broccoli and green beans ~
~ millet and sprouted mung beans with broccoli, cabbage, and shiitake mushrooms ~
I am currently getting used to eating more and more often. Until a few months ago, I used to eat two or three meals a day, now it is rather four or five. I aim for getting about 400 calories with every meal, which I do by filling most of my bowl with starchy foods and adding fewer vegetables. There is no way I am going to abandon this plant-based diet, not only for ethical reasons (animal rights, environment, and world nutrition situation), but also because I feel very good on this diet. My energy levels are much higher and more stable, whereas I often felt too fatigued to move or think clearly when I was still eating a lot of animal protein. The icky morning nausea I used to wake up with is gone as is my constant hunger and constipation. All of these things make my life a lot more pleasant and easier, and the good satiation helps me to get away from food obsessions: I do not have to be worried about eating too much anymore, rather I have to take care I eat enough, and even if I should eat more than I intended, it does not matter because I know the food I eat is kind and will not harm me.
I also think that eating a whole-food, plant-based diet is very healthy, as I have learned a lot about the aversive health consequences of eating a diet high in animal foods, refined carbohydrates, and vegetable oils (for instance from T. Colin Campbell’s book “The China Study” and John McDougalls book “The Starch Solution“, but also from various nutrition lectures I watched on YouTube, and from scientific papers I have read). During the past weeks I typed what I ate in a day into a little freeware nutrition analysis program and found that I easily reach or exceed my daily needs for all vitamins and minerals except vitamin B12 (which I supplement) and vitamin D (which I get when eating breakfast on the balcony, running errands, or going for a walk). It is also very easy to get sufficient protein, even without soy products.
~ balcony breakfast in the sun ~
Overall, I am confident this is the right way to go, and it is good to experience I can do it. During the past days, I have not lost any more weight, which I am really happy about. I know that nutrition is not the solution to my mental issues, however it is a necessary precondition for improving altogether, as it gets me into a state where I am able to deal with those other things in the first place. Food and body feeling are crucial pieces in the whole mosaic, and nothing will get better eventually if I neglect them.
~ source ~