In one of the comments I got, I was asked to write more about what I eat and what a typical day of eating looked like for me. So here is the answer.
I must admit this is quite a difficult post for me. The reasons for that are varied, but somewhat tied together, and in great part stem from the fact that I have had problems with eating for a very long time now – almost 15 years, or even longer. With “problems” I mean food intolerance and sensitivity towards certain foods on the one hand, and disordered eating thoughts and behaviors on the other hand. Eating was always an issue for me for the greater part of my life, because I often felt so bad afterwards and struggled with a wide range of health problems that stemmed from wrong eating (although I did not know that until recently), and I was very concerned about planning and controlling my eating. I cannot remember the time anymore when eating was easy for me and something I did intuitively, because it is just too long ago.
My eating issues go back to the time when I was in elementary school, and the other girls in my class told me I was fat and ugly. (Lame excuse, I know, but that is how it was.) It deeply hurt me because I was overly sensitive and never blessed with self-esteem. I was about 10 or 11 years old when I started to develop an unhealthy awareness of how much I eat and what, and how much I weighed. I just observed then, and did not change my behavior yet, but the initial seed was planted.
This is me as a child. When I look at those pictures today, I cannot see I was fat or ugly then. I was a normal, rather thin child.
The only thing I have always had was a chubby face. (I still have it and do not like it, it makes me look like I carried a pumpkin around on top of my skinny frame.)
Back to eating. During adolescence, my freaky thinking about food gradually started to show in my eating behavior, and it got worse with the years. I was unhappy and felt alone and not understood, and at some point I decided to retreat into myself. I have lived in my mind since then. At the end of school, I had an abusive relationship that finally kicked me out of line. I remember I situated myself in front of the mirror and looked at myself, and I saw nothing I liked. At that moment, I decided to get an eating disorder. Sounds weird, but it was a clear and deliberate decision I made in that moment, full awareness of all consequences included. Consequences were actually wished back then. I thought an eating disorder was quite an elegant way to take me out, without having to actively lay my hand on myself. Very clever, and at the same time the most foolish thing I have ever done.
When I moved out for studying, everything got out of control. I lived on my own for the first time, and all the challenges coming from organizing my studies and every day life somewhat overwhelmed me, so I controlling my eating became my sanctuary. I lived on nothing else than apples, lots of coffee with milk, toast, some vegetables, and candy then. (I do not recommend to try it.) Within a year, I had become incredibly thin, and I had caught a salivary gland infection that vexed me for almost two years. I could hardly eat anymore, and my salivary gland was always swollen to the size of an egg, so I felt like drowning from it because it almost sealed my throat, and I was in constant pain all day. Sometimes I would have loved to tear it out of my neck with my bare hands. I was very low and could not go on with my studies anymore, and none of the various treatments I got actually worked. I ended up getting surgery, and the whole salivary gland was taken out. After that, I hoped to get better, but I got worse, because I remained with a skew cervical spine and could almost not stand upright anymore. Worst of all (for my vanity, especially) was that the lymph channels in my cervical had been cut through during the surgery, so I had painful and – gah! – very apparent water retentions in my face on top of my natural chubbiness. I felt so awkward I could not set a foot out of the door on some days.
By that time, I started to work on my eating behavior. With the support of my Mom, especially, I somehow managed to get 20 pounds back, and I visited an alternative practitioner to get treatment and nutritional advice. I learned that my salivary gland infection was due to hyperacidity, caused by too much sugar, coffee and flour, and also that I was lactose-intolerant. When I switched to whole grains and lactose-free milk afterwards, I felt a little better, and my energy levels restored, but I was still far away from feeling well. I suffered from irrational hunger, but felt often so bloated at the same time that I had a hard time putting food into my belly. (Gah, too much whining so far …)
Nevertheless, during the last four years, things have been looking up again. I quit cultural studies and started studying psychology, and with doing so, I finally found what I really wanted to do. (No need to worry, though – I want to become a researcher, not a therapist. ) A year later, I started to play the piano. This helped me to improve a lot mentally, because it provided an outlet for my emotions and allowed me to recreate, and it sustained my self-esteem by showing me that I actually can accomplish what I want if I am just committed to it. By the beginning of this year, I have started therapy again, and working on my eating issues (finally). I also started to practice mindfulness meditation to handle hypersensitivity and stress. And now I have ended up with a food blog. Scary thing. I have thought about whether this was another outcome of being concerned with food and eating too much, but this time it feels different. It feels like another step into the right direction, an attempt to have a closer look at what went wrong, and to try better from now on.
What definitely helped me with my disordered eating was to read about nutrition and the neurochemistry of eating disorders. I have come to the conclusion that eating disorders are not just mental issues, but rather a kind of substance addiction – with sugar being the dependence causing substance – and thus mentally and physiologically based. When I cut down on sugar and grains, I finally got off the blood sugar rollercoaster I had been on for years (due to eating a low fat, low protein, and high carbohydrate diet for a very long time, that messed up my tolerance for carbohydrates), and started to feel normal hunger and satiety again. I also dropped all (lactose-free, anyway) dairy products (except ghee) because they tend to impair my chronic sinus infection. (I do not think dairy products are bad in general, though.) So I ended up with a Paleo-style diet, not for ideological reasons, but rather because the foods that remain happen to be the foods that are to be eaten on such a diet.
But – to get back to the initial question: What and how much do I eat? – I am still figuring it out! I am learning to eat fat again, and to get in more protein. Especially fat is tightly entangled with anxiety, and I am taking it step by step. I am trying to find a balance, and I know I am in danger to fall back into my old control obsessions if I want to do too much at a time and fail with that. It was a long way down, and it is a long way up again.
~ this is me now – hello! ~
All this stuff was very private. Hm. But I think the time has come to not run away from it and be ashamed anymore. Mind monsters tend to grow big in the shadows, you need to pull them out to the light to make them go away. I cannot make undone what has happened, but it belongs to me, so I have to accept it and make the best out of it.