Dietary Restrictions and Disordered Eating: What You Need to Know (Part 2)
Please note: This article mentions eating disorders and restrictive eating. If you struggle with an eating disorder, please reach out for help. You deserve support and healing, and I promise you that you are not alone.
When I last left off in Part 1, I had just been diagnosed with an eating disorder that developed after I attempted to restrict any possible trigger foods and was overexercising. I was scared, feeling lost, and unsure how I would ever overcome an eating disorder while still having to avoid certain foods due to the possibility of them triggering my HS. After completing an outpatient ED program, I was introduced to a book called Intuitive Eating by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole.
Intuitive eating is a way of eating that focuses on making you the expert of your body and its hunger signals. It doesn't have guidelines about what to avoid and what or when to eat - no cutting out food groups UNLESS you have a medical reason to do so. With the help of my dietician, I added all the food groups back in, and then slowly, VERY slowly, we were going to work together to find out if I had any food triggers and, if so, what was the best way to limit them without falling back into my old habits?
Starting from the beginning
I saw her weekly and my GP every month to measure progress. We started from the beginning. I had to eat everything I hadn’t been for 3 months before she would allow me to start trying to eliminate foods again. The first day I had to eat a peanut butter sandwich and cried my way through it, convinced that I was about to explode with flares within minutes. I checked my inner thighs and groin every hour on the hour waiting to see a monster of a lesion staring back at me, but it never came. I ate gluten for a solid week and didn’t get any new flares! As I read my way through Intuitive Eating and learned more about how to listen to my body about what it needed, using food as fuel and not as a chore, it was like the world opened back up to me. During the second month, I had to face another fear food: Pizza. I was convinced the tomato and cheese would send me right back to the hospital for an incision and drainage procedure. I ate two pieces and managed to go 2 hours without obsessively checking for new flares. Guess what? I woke up the next morning and everything was fine!
During the third month, however, having stopped following the low GI diet and having added in both gluten and nightshades, I woke up one morning in a vicious flare. All the positive progress I had made flew right out the window. I slunk into my dietician’s office moaning “I told you so! This will never work!” After my dietician listened to me go on about how miserable I was for a minute, she stopped me and asked “But did you and your body enjoy what you ate? Do you feel healthier in other ways?” I thought about it for a minute and realized that, yes, in fact, I HAD enjoyed eating those foods! I enjoyed getting to share food with friends, and my body felt so much stronger when it was eating a multitude of fruits, vegetables, and grains than it had when I was eating the same 8 meals over and over. My dietician reminded me that there were absolutely going to be times that food flared me, but cutting them out completely was depriving my body severely and STILL wasn’t making me flare free - wasn’t the lesser of two evils to be healthier in every other way and just deal with flares as they came? Wasn’t it easier to be happier when I felt food freedom instead of food fear?
Learning to eat intuitively
Years later, I’ve learned a few things - meat and dairy are two of my worst triggers, so I’ve adopted a vegan diet with the guidance of doctors and my dietician so that I’m not missing out on any nutrients. I figured out that tomatoes and eggplant are absolutely a flare food, but potatoes are actually okay! By eating intuitively, I can even have small amounts of my flare foods without having a new breakout as long as I’m eating well and exercising safely otherwise. As my fellow author, Selina said in a recent article - you aren’t a bad person if you eat some of your triggers! Sometimes it is important for your mental health to loosen the reigns and enjoy an experience without worrying about what you’re eating.
I hope sharing my story helps keep some of you from going down the same fear-ridden path I did, and helps you feel more at home in your own skin.
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