How Orthorexia Helped Me Heal From a Lifelong Eating Disorder

The following post was originally published on Clean Living Guide.

The Anxiety of Being Good

The pursuit of the illusive waif figure consumed nearly half my life. Each moment was permeated by the trinity of deprivation, binging, and purging. Everything revolved around “good” and “bad” choices, but bad choices had ramifications and solutions. This produced an immense amount of anxiety, leading to incredible release and relief when the misstep was corrected. In contrast, good choices felt good in the moment but produced an anxiety that had no solution. Rooted in deprivation, good choices would ultimately give way to the loss of control.

From the time I was 13 until about 30, I purged an average of 50 percent of my food intake. It began with throwing up bad foods, but quickly escalated to not only throwing up when I ate too much of a regular meal, but to eating simply for the purpose of vomiting. Not because I enjoyed throwing up, but because the anxiety produced around the struggle between having or not having the guilty food was so great that I knew it was safer to satisfy it by going all out with the binge.

Gluten, Fat-Free Foods & Bulimia

The real kicker is that bulimics don’t often get skinny. Their metabolisms are so out of whack that their bodies hold on to every sugary, fat-producing carbohydrate — ensuring a perpetual pudge. So even though I was purging regularly, I was still what felt like “fat” throughout my high school years. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I became driven enough to dramatically limit my food intake in addition to binging and purging. Finally I began to lose the weight that made me uncomfortable, but even so, I never got to be as skinny as I longed to be.

For one I had a gluten allergy, which despite having all the symptoms of the disease, remained undiscovered by myriad doctors who tended to me all throughout my adolescence and high school (read more about the symptoms of gluten intolerance and Celiac here). In all likelihood, the puffy-pudgy body I began to develop as a little girl was a result of untreated gluten intolerance.

That was the beginning of my weight gain, but the second issue that perpetuated my bloated body was diet, and dieting specifically. As a teen I began to reject the healthy whole foods that my Polish parents made and began to shift towards non-fat foods, more processed American foods, and finally dipped into going vegetarian. Fighting perpetual malnutrition and anemia because of the gluten intolerance, while feeding my body fat-free carb and gluten-heavy foods threw my already slowed metabolism into a tailspin.

Healing Through Orthorexia

When the internet became a viable river of information in the early 2000s, my obsessive-compulsive personality drove me to pore over whatever information I could find on dieting, and conversely on holistic healing. I felt desperate to get better. The purging became so prevalent that I was afraid for my life and seeking the help of doctors, psychiatrists, and cognitive psychologists was not producing meaningful results. Seeing holistic healers helped me to better understand that emotional connection between the obsessive behavior and my childhood experiences, but epiphanies alone couldn’t cut through the wiring to my obsessive behavior.

Here’s where healing and orthorexia finally step in. First let me preface by highlighting that orthorexia is not an officially recognized disorder in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). This is a term coined by Dr. Steven Bratman, in a piece he wrote for Yoga Journal in 1997. He came up with the term to refer to what he believed to be an “unhealthy obsession” with healthy food in patients with eating disorders. By using this term I’m recognizing that my first forays into genuinely healthy eating — as opposed to deprivation — may have been obsessive. But it was this obsession that laid the foundation for healing from inside out.

Over time as I continued to research glimpses of information began to surface pointing out that natural fats in whole foods were not the cause of weight gain. I began to learn that the copious amounts of processed soy milk I had been consuming for years was full of hormone-disrupting chemicals; that non-fat, high-carb foods were responsible for weight gain (not weight-loss); that there were GMOs in our food supply; that pesticides were not to be taken lightly, and that the story we’d been fed about saturated fat was a lie. And eventually, that grains and gluten specifically might be the cause of my hard to control weight, along with cause for the mental, skin, and other disorders I was battling.

Trusting Food Again

Living with an eating disorder means that you have a high capacity for creating order. So as this information began to flood my mind, I slowly — and I mean at a snail’s pace — was able to shift my OCD mind to focus on eating authentically nourishing foods. It took quite a few years, but as I began to witness that eating healthy whole foods did not result in weight gain, I began to trust food again.

At the height of my dieting obsession, aside from anti-nutrient foods like saltines and soy milk, I ate healthy foods too — salads, soups, smoothies, and the like. But I was obsessed with the food that I “kept down” being nearly fat-free. I denied myself the nutrient-dense foods my body so desperately craved and needed, like butter, beef, eggs, and even olive oil. If I did eat those foods they were nearly guaranteed to “come back up.” In effect I was starving…

Can we solve food related addictions by retraining our gut to crave healthy food?

Food is part of life – we cannot survive without eating. But for those with addictions or complex relationships with food, that presents a problem. Food is intimately a part of family events, cultural and religious holidays, and for many, enjoying a good meal is what makes them happiest

Living with diabetes means having to inject insulin, take oral drugs and monitor blood sugar levels carefully. However, for all types of diabetes, food plays an important role in the control of blood sugar and the amount of insulin needed to cover a meal. For these individuals, food is no longer just the nutrition they need to survive or a joyous moment in their lives, but a carefully assessed ingredient in the overall treatment program that is diabetes.

Many cultures show love through food, and when one says no to love, one can be faced with consequences, despite the reason. Someone who controls their food intake can seem overly uptight, not fun, and not a happy-go-lucky person. The reactions when you decline something unhealthy due to your disease can be strong, especially if the person serving the food does not know that you have a medical condition.

What is even worse is when the very food that is supposed to make you feel stronger and happier becomes your poison. and you just cannot indulge in even the smallest portions. This is how an eating disorder is born. For a person with diabetes, 200+ extra decisions have to be made daily, but there are still problems that can arise, even if all these decisions were made correctly. One controllable action is to restrict the food, eliminate any temptations and reduce the risk of failure- because failure means near and long term consequences such as passing out due to hypos, or losing your vision and kidney function due to highs.

I restricted my carb intake for several years to the extent that I could lower my insulin injections to a bare minimum and I never had to worry about going low or going high! If you do not eat carbs, and you do not inject large amounts of insulin, blood sugars are stable, but your body suffers due to actual lack of energy. That is not yet diabulimia, but it causes weight loss and an enormous fixation on food.

Diabulimia is an eating disorder in which an individual gives themselves less insulin than they need for the purpose of weight loss.

The transition to full blown diabulimia is dangerous and often happens as a “natural” progression of restriction – when the temptations of food are too great, and you start having some carbs, but you still do not inject insulin! Now, you are still avoiding the lows, but the highs are a constant presence and that is BAD for the long term.

The reverse is when people eat whatever they want, despite their diabetes and keep their blood sugars under control by overdosing on insulin. This may lead to “double diabetes,” which implies added insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes to the already diagnosed type 1 diabetes. Unfortunately, this is becoming a more common phenomenon due to the ease at which one can dose insulin through pumps or pens and the “politically correct” attitude of not restricting diets of especially young patients, of some doctors and parents.

So how do we avoid diabulimia and double diabetes? I believe in training the body to enjoy healthy but nutritious foods. As I mentioned, food is essential to life and it also can be a pleasure in life. The gut-brain relationship is becoming more well understood and I truly believe that if the gut gets exposed to low sugar, low carb but high fiber, lean protein and “good” fat ingredients, the bugs in our gut (microbiome) will start craving more of the same and the brain will feel good and satiated on foods that are not triggers for binging, glucose excursions and feelings of shame. The research area focusing on the microbiome is very interesting to me. The bugs that live in our guts seem to determine what foods we crave, whether we are thin or overweight and may even be part of the cause for autoimmune diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes.

Our call to action are several-fold:

1: Stop judging people for keeping healthy diets – that is a sign of strength, discipline and a will to survive

2: Be aware of the signs of diabulimia: people with insulin-dependent diabetes with very poor glucose control who when pushed will admit to under-dosing insulin to stay thin

3: Do not encourage double diabetes: when diagnosed with T1D, we cannot eat exactly what we want – that is a fact and an opportunity to be healthier than your peers

3: Learn what foods are good for you and what your systems likes. Stick to this diet for a period of time and you will learn to enjoy it, not just because you want to, but the gut-brain system will be re-trained and you will start dreaming about grilled salmon with mushrooms instead of pasta with cream sauce!

This Brain Treatment Could Be a Cure For Anorexia, Depression, and More

For those suffering from life-threatening eating disorders, a new hope comes from a treatment called deep brain stimulation (DBS). This FDA-approved treatment has historically been used for neurological disorders (primarily involving physical tremors); a study in the Annual Review of Neuroscience said this treatment has a “dramatic clinical benefit” for Parkinson’s, Tourette’s, and depression. Another study said it may be “the most significant single advance in decades in the treatment of neurological disorders.”

Now, researchers are looking to DBS as a treatment for anorexia recovery. DBS is a neurosurgical procedure that implants a “brain pacemaker” (electrodes) into the brain (the particular area of the brain in which the electrodes are inserted is dependent on what the patient’s symptoms are). An electrical current (which the patient…

Anne Lamott’s Advice For A New Year Without Diets

Araya Diaz via Getty Images

With just a few days until 2017, many people are making diet and weight loss their top resolution for the new year. But author, speaker and eating disorder survivor Anne Lamott has a different message you might want to consider instead: Maybe don’t?

In a Facebook note posted Dec. 30, Lamott revealed an unpleasant truth about diets: While they may result in short-term weight loss, they are also linked to to more weight gain in the future.

In addition to how emotionally discouraging it can be gain back all the weight you’ve lost and more, studies suggest that yo-yo dieting may tax your heart and put you at greater risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disorders like diabetes.

So what should we do instead of dieting, according to Lamott?

Love yourself enough to pay attention to what your body truly needs, whether it’s a favorite meal, a drink of water, a walk outdoors, a nap, meditation or an appointment with the doctor. In other words, your body needs radical self-care.

What your body doesn’t need, Lamott wrote, is starvation, chastisement, and…

There’s an eating disorder that’s slowly killing diabetic women

insulin pump

The condition isn’t a clinical diagnosis, but it’s becoming scarily more common among type-1 diabetics — mainly women.

Diabetes.org.uk estimates that “40% of all women between the ages of 15-30 with type-1 diabetes give themselves less insulin in order to lose weight.”

The website also states that female type-1 diabetics are twice as likely to develop anorexia or bulimia, and 60% will have a “clinically significant” eating disorder by the time they turn 25, according to research from the University of Toronto.

Eating disorders are dangerous for everyone…

…but especially for anyone with a chronic health condition, like diabetes. Not getting the right amount of insulin leads to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which can lead to blindness, limb amputation, and death.

Broadly recently told…

Diabulimia: The hidden eating disorder that’s killing diabetic women

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Some diabetics are risking blindness, coma and even death by skipping insulin injections in an attempt to lose weight.

But because it’s not classified as a mental illness it’s harder to get help, and charities are pushing for it to be re-categorised.

One woman said: “When I was injecting insulin, I felt like I was injecting fat.”

She told Broadly she began injecting just enough to survive, meaning she felt awful but did lose weight.

But when her eyes started swelling up she said it was the “kick up the arse” she needed to sort her life out, and is now in treatment.

“I had a friend in inpatient treatment and they were watching her eat, but they weren’t watching her inject so the whole time she…

Her Brother Helped Her Beat Anorexia, and Now She’s Helping Thousands After His Tragic Death

We’re constantly gushing over weight-loss transformations and applauding before and after photos, but now, we’re praising this woman and her journey toward a healthy life through weight gain.

Sarah Ramadan suffered from anorexia nervosa for five years and spent over seven months in an intensive care unit due to health complications related to her eating disorder. In 2014, following a series of personal and health issues, Sarah decided she wanted to change. She started working with her brother Aladdin, who is super into health and fitness, to bring her back to life. Aladdin helped his sister by developing meal plans and met with her for…

A type one diabetic shares his top to-know list for living with the disease

When Andrew Raynes recalls running away from his now wife, in a suit, at 11.30 at night, it might be the funniest first date story you’ve heard.

But when you learn he was just trying to survive, it could paint another picture.

Raynes, who has type one diabetes, said at the time his blood sugar levels were too high (a “hyper” reaction) and was a terrifying experience for wife Taryn Utiger.

Andrew Raynes has type 1 diabetes. He explained what it is, and what he does to deal with it.
Andrew Raynes has type 1 diabetes. He explained what it is, and what he does to deal with it.

“I wasn’t paying attention and after dinner, I saw I didn’t have enough insulin,” Raynes said.

“I started doing laps around the block, while all dressed up for a date.

“It can be scary for other people, especially for their first time witnessing it,” he said.

Raynes said it was important
Raynes said it was important “to know signs and monitor”.

READ MORE:
* Type 1 diabetes in teens: What this family wants other parents to know
* Campaign launched to help parents recognise type 1 diabetes in children
* Women with Type 1 diabetes twice as likely to suffer eating disorders
* Diabetic online forums drive for change

Type one diabetes is an auto-immune disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack and destroy the insulin producing cells in the pancreas.

But when Raynes was diagnosed in 2009, he said doctors didn’t understand how he developed it.

“It’s unusual to be diagnosed with type one as an adult,” he said.

“Usually you’re diagnosed as a child.”

During the past seven years, Raynes has learnt the warning signs for both “hyper” and “hypo” – when blood sugar levels are too low – reactions.

“When I’m having a hypo, I get these hot and cold sweats and I ramble. When I’m having a hyper, I get really dozy and dry and could pass out.”

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