Thursday, September 5, 2013

the search for health, part one

This is a bit of a long post, but there are some things I want to get off my chest, things that I need to share with those of you who have read my blog at any time, especially my rantings about vegetarianism, and then my rantings about the paleo diet, and my continual rantings about dietary health.

I fell into the pit of believing that changing my diet would improve my health. I believed that to have a healthy diet meant that I would be healthy. The problem naturally arose then, that the healthy diet needed to be defined. And so I read, and tried being a vegetarian, then a vegan, and became very thin, and lost muscle mass. I threw in that towel when it became difficult for me to pick up my (then) one year old son. Eight to ten months after that I adopted the paleo diet full-force. I followed it off and on for a year and a half, and witnessed as my initial pep and vim morphed into a host of food allergies, things from which I had never before suffered, suddenly stealing my life. My health began declining in a multitude of ways.

I was lucky to have the revelation that all this pursuit of health was in fact destroying my health.

It is not an uncommon story these days. It seems to be everywhere, because everyone wants to be healthy, and there are a thousand gazillion fad diets available that promise to get us there. We are a generation, nay - a nation - obsessed with youth, now to a degree never before seen. Disordered eating, fueled by disordered body image, en masse. And that is in fact what happened to me: a woman I looked up to and admired, who in hindsight I am positive had her own eating disorder/body image issues, made a comment about me needing to lose weight. So what did I do? I endeavored to lose weight. And so it began...

The endeavor to lose weight became an obsession, became a driving force in my life. I cloaked it with the mask of health and wellness, so skillfully even I didn't see it for what it was, for many, many years. I cloaked it like a Klingon Bird of Prey, man! So well done, I didn't realize it was still here living with me, it just changed its habits, changed her makeup and hair so I couldn't recognize her. But beneath that, its still the same illness. Telling me that above all, I need to be thinner. It persuaded me that being thinner also meant healthier. That, my friends, is the greatest lie of all.

This past May I sobbed and snotted into the carpet of our spare bedroom, weeping and wailing because I suddenly understood that I once again had an eating disorder, and I had done this to myself. I saw that I actually new NOTHING about health and wellness. That everything I had read, studied, learned, pursued, was a seductively structured web of lies. I was under the thumb, again, of an eating disorder that wanted nothing less than to take my life, slowly but systematically. I wept because I realized that years ago, long ago, as a teenager and young woman I had health, and didn't realize it. I traded my vibrant, glowing, beautiful gift of health for someone else's distorted body image.

Health is like a very long algebraic equation. It is not the result of a healthy diet, and it definitely doesn't coincide with being thin; TRUE HEALTH is a long equation to which belong many, many factors. I restricted my diet, and ate foods that were in and of themselves beneficial, but did I eat enough overall? Lord no. Not even close. I drank too much coffee, I was under massive amounts of stress, I was in denial about postpartum anxiety and depression, I wasn't sleeping well, had blood in my stools and an ever-growing list of food "sensitivities" - all I thought about was what I could and could not eat. I was not able to properly recover from exercise, as I was pretty much starving myself. I remember walking through the grocery store, longing for the past when I could eat Lucky Charms, or bread, or fruit. It wasn't like your basic craving for chocolate once a month or whatever, I was craving effing FOOD. I mean, I ate food: I ate whole, real, organic good for you foods, but I wasn't eating enough. Bottom line. My body wanted more, and I was telling it to shut up because it doesn't know what its talking about. My brain knows better, body! Hush! Eat this meat and sweet potato, stop talking about pasta, and do what I tell you!

On the outside, I looked fit and trim, enviable to some. Oh yeah, laud my "healthy" physique! You, too, can change your body by starving it! (Rabbit trail: Statistically - that means the gathered evidence of what actually happens in real life - being underweight greatly increases your risk of not only contracting various and sundry illnesses, but greatly increases your risk of dying from them. This is statistically not true of being overweight or obese, by the way. Having some extra padding actually makes it more likely that you will survive any illness. Hm. Why isn't that information a little more widely-spread?)

So, what happened? I started eating the effing FOOD. For one month, I ate whatever I wanted when I wanted it, did no formal exercise, and slept as much as I could being a mom to two littles. Vividly I remember the first meal I sat down to with my husband after my sobbing-snot fest. Homemade cheeseburgers on a freaking ciabatta roll with french fries. And beer, I think. It tasted SO good. Now I look by and think, why in the HELL did I ever think a burger was a burger without a BUN? Bwahahahaha! What will these kids think of next?

In eating whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, there are those that assume that means I will therefore eat nothing but junk food forever. And you want to caution me that I need balance! I need to not throw the baby out with the bath water! There are things you need to understand, however. Firstly, I was at a severe nutrient and calorie deficit. Junk, processed foods are high in calories and supplemented with easily absorbed nutrients. Overall, they are easily digested and absorbed. This makes them actually GOOD for a person in a state such as I was at that time. In a bizarre twist, these junk foods became my health foods; they were instrumental in restoring my health. Sugar and salts helped naturally restore my damaged electrolyte balance and my digestion, giving my cells fuel at their level, allowing them to function and do what they do best. Not exercising and focusing on rest and sleep allowed the increase of readily absorbed nutrients to be used to healing, instead of fuel for my workouts.

But honestly, I don't want to go into the finer details of this whole process - I definitely don't want to start arguing nutrition or defending why the process of healing from a restrictive dietary lifestyle is what it is. I will say this: what I did is a by-the-book recovery process. It isn't something I made up (though if I were to, it makes sense: if you've stopped eating and are starving yourself, start eating again and stop starving). 180 degrees. Go the opposite direction.

My junk food cravings stopped within a week. Since then, I want what I want now and again, and I have it. I do not restrict anything, ever, for any reason. I do not label foods good or bad. There is no glorification, vilification, or guilt. Food is simply food. This is an active pursuit for the rest of my life. Disordered eating is a mental illness, pure and simple. It can be treated, it can go into full remission, but it is something I live with always. Like my height, it is what it is. I can wear heels, but I'm still only as tall as I am.

That it will always be something I live with does not depress or sadden me, it is in fact a huge liberation, because I can easily identify those thoughts, attempting to vilify FOOD, as lies. Lies about eating too much, or too frequently, or infrequently, or at the wrong time (come on, weight lifters, you know it's true...), are all told, as rudely as possible, to shut up and take a hike. Knowing those thoughts are lies, knowing the voice is a false one seeking to eventually take my life, gives me a lot of freedom. Just because its here doesn't mean I am in bondage to it. Big difference!

So, all this to say, no more from this sector will you hear praises and damnations of any food, ANY food, whatsoever, ever. All food is good food. All food is healthy. Not all food is healthy to everyone (Zao's Daddy is a diabetic; I completely understand this concept), but barring being a true Celiac, or being diabetic, or etc etc, for the general populace, this statement stands: Eat the Food!

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