Lost & Gained

By Laura

trigger warning: eating disorders

I never imagined that weight loss would happen for me. I would always struggle. I actually look back at past things I’ve written about my weight loss, and see some faulty logic that may have kept me stuck.  At some point I’d like to go back and address those things. But, that’s for a different time.

When I entered DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) therapy back in 2015 and turned my life around (in all ways, not just eating), weight loss finally seemed possible. And when it started happening, I imagined new things. I imagined side-by-side pictures and new clothes and surprising my friends when they came home from living across the country. You know those girls who surprise their husbands with dramatic makeovers when they’re deployed? I really wanted to do that for Ariel when she came home in August. I even tried to keep full body pics off of Facebook for a while. That became unrealistic pretty fast, but the point is–I was excited. But here I am. I’ve hit a major milestone. And I don’t want to post pictures because I’m a little less excited than I was. I’m struggling.

Over the weekend I had a great night with one little snag. My boyfriend and I go out for our anniversary dinner. We’ve been waiting a month to celebrate the “fancy” way. We’re dressed up. We’ve been together on a mini stay-cation; love drunk for 4 days. I’m having an absolute blast with my partner in crime. Our food comes out and I steal one of his shrimp. It’s breaded. I order my usual salad but there are these little tiny crouton straw things on them. And I just ate them. I haven’t eaten wheat or bread in SIX months. I’ve been following pretty strict, medically-advised Keto diet for half the year and have never remotely cheated until this moment. I convince myself this is fine, pretty much stick to my way of eating otherwise and we finish dinner continuing to have the fun we always have. But we get in the car to go home and there’s a pit in my stomach. I’m really, really worried about the excess carbs I ate at dinner. I start to panic, and this is where my shitty thoughts kick in. “Purge. This. Food.” it tells me. Just get rid of it. I desperately don’t want this night to be about ME. I want it to be about us. I want to go to the movies and snuggle and night drive and talk about how Steve Bannon looks like Rosemary’s baby grown up. But these intrusive thoughts are there a lot lately. I don’t actually purge. I’m able to let the panic pass and I’m ok. The night goes on just like imagine. It’s wonderful. But it’s indicative of an overarching problem I’ve recently come to terms with. I have let my pendulum swing to far the opposite direction in my relationship with food. Once a binge eater; now teetering on struggling in the opposite direction.

The good: 

Going Keto is not all bad. I’ve lost over a hundred pounds in about a year and a half. But, more than half of it was lost In the last 6 months. Probably around 65/70 lbs. All Keto and exercise. It seems like the new “it” diet right now and I’ve seen lots of folks do it. I have mixed feelings telling people about the diet specifically, in case they take it as a recommendation. It was very successful for me and it is easy for me to stick too. I actually liked it initially because I WASN’T obsessive about calories or points. I could just keep it around 20 net carbs a day and not think too much. There isn’t a restaurant or meal I can’t make a Keto version of. I always said that if I was going to make changes, I wanted to make changes that I could stick to forever; a lifestyle change. If there was a part of the plan that I didn’t think I could do for life, I wasn’t going to do it. I’m in a Keto Facebook group that sometimes recommends intermittent fasting or egg fasts to break stalls. I didn’t want to do any of those thing because they didn’t seem realistic in the long term. But low carb living actually comes very naturally to me and I eat pretty well. I eat moderate protein, healthy fats, nuts, seeds, and shit load of veggies, the occasional berry. I drink so much water. I treat fake sugar like more typical dieters might treat real sugar. It’s a special thing and I try to limit it to once a week if possible. My diet got very simple. But my doctor specially recommended this to me. My weight was so out of hand I became diabetic. I have poly cystic ovarian syndrome and hypothyroidism. This is an EXTREME way of eating, because I had an extreme situation to treat. My doctor monitors my progress, he checks my blood work every 6 weeks. This is why I’m hesitant to recommend Keto to other people. I think it’s easy to do it incorrectly and potentially hurt yourself. So it’s super important to note that you should always talk to your PCP/therapist/nutritionist before starting new diets/lifestyle changes. Let them help you.

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An example of a Keto meal

There have been so many non- aesthetic positive changes since I’ve lost weight. For one – I’m not diabetic anymore. My menstrual cycle came back, which gives me a greater hope at one day having children. My acne and skin have cleared up. My sleep apnea has gotten much better and I’ve had to lower my machine pressure. I can do so many things physically now that used to be such a struggle before: climb steps, tie my shoes, walk around the block. I can even do things I never thought I could do again. I can ride my bike – for a few miles! That is mind blowing cool to me. My sex life is better. My work life is better. When my friends say things like “Oh that coffee shop is only a few blocks away, we could just walk there,” I don’t panic that I won’t be able to make it. I can’t wait for summer to hike and rock climb and play tennis and SWIM. I feel like I have my life back and I’m not trapped in my body anymore.

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Me (in the middle) after some of the weight loss, with two of my closest friends

The Bad:

Unfortunately, I cannot escape my weight loss. Or at least it feels that way. I feel like it is constantly bringing up new challenges and problems and emotions I didn’t think we’re going to be there. When I first met Mike, my first thought was “I am not pretty enough for this man; how will he ever love me?” It’s intimidating to be significantly heavier than your partner. I was really afraid of being an embarrassment to him in front of his friends. This was over a year ago and I was still in binge eating disorder treatment then.  But, that has always been an odd insecurity of mine.

Flash forward to this weekend: we run into an acquaintance of his. This acquaintance looks me up and down, says something to Mike to the effect of “Damn, you did well” and high fives my boyfriend. I feel terrible. But Iisn’t that what I wanted? To feel attractive enough? Clearly this guy thought I was. But would he have thought that 100 lbs ago? I feel this pressure CONSTANTLY, and 99% of the time it doesn’t come from objectifying comments like this. It comes from super well-meaning caring folks who are just happy for me. The change is so noticeable now it’s happening every day. For instance, at work I have regular patients that I have become friendly with, but they only come in every few months. “Omg have you lost weight?” “Wow you look so different” “you’re face is so pretty now”. “How did you do it?” My family, friends, and partner tell me all the time how proud of me they are. And how good I look and how excited they are for me to be healthy. These aren’t bad things. I’d be happy for someone else in the same position. But it’s this weird double edge sword that the constant comments, combined with the fear of losing my new found mobility, make me petrified of gaining any weight. I’m so, so afraid of going back to where I was, that recently the wheels started to fall off of my mental health.

I have a love/hate relationship with the compliments. But when people don’t make comments, it can be just as scary. I recently saw my uncle at a family function. He was often critical of my sugar consumption and I was excited to see what he’d say about my weight loss. I figured he would be particularly proud of me. He said nothing.  I was crushed.  I’m fully aware of how unfair this sounds. That no one can win with me; but that irrational fear is still there. “Can people not tell? Maybe I’m not doing enough. Maybe if I just lost a little a little more…” vicious cycle. I’ve noticed that I bring up my body even when I don’t want to talk about it because I’m so uncomfortable. I end up clothes shopping more than I should, telling all the sales associates that I don’t know how to dress for this body anymore. While that is true, everything feels too big or too small or doesn’t lay right, this sales woman probably just wants to go on with her day.  I never really understood body dysmorphia before, but now I live in it.

It’s so strange for me because I’m both so much bigger AND smaller than I always expect. Half the time I expect to see the 420lbs girl staring back at me in the mirror. And then I remember that I’ve lost over a hundred pounds. That’s a lot. That’s a person. But I’m still overweight for my height. Decidedly plus size. So, I’m also saddened and discouraged that I haven’t met this unattainable goal yet. Eating disorders are fundamentally characterized by placing an over importance on one’s weight/shape or food. I’m in the perpetual motion machine where I need to stop concentrating on my body, but I have so many new feelings, I feel like I have to frequently talk them out with those closest to me. That’s most of the reason I’m writing this: to make chronological sense of my frazzled head.

I am no longer trapped in my own body, but trapped in fear, jumping on the scale several times a day, pinching my skin, making sure I can still feel my collar bone through my scrubs, skipping meals, double checking the mirror over and over. I’m not sure what to call this. I’m not a psychologist or a therapist, but being in eating disorder treatment before, my behavior doesn’t meet the criteria for anorexia or bulimia. Most of my desires to purge or restrict are just that; thoughts and desires. I’m cognitively aware that they are not healthy and won’t actually help me; it’s beyond frustrating that I can’t make them go away.

The Recovery:

I try to be very proactive with my mental health. I’m very open about it, and will talk about it like it was eczema. My anxiety and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) have been extremely well-managed, so this new problem has been kinda isolated to eating and body image. I have a really good relationship with my therapist and I met with her today. She only sees me when she feels I need treatment, so I haven’t been seeing her for months now because my other symptoms have been resolved. I tell her all the above things and she says the most helpful thing, “I’m glad you called; but these feelings are so common in those who’ve had success in over coming binge eating and then losing weight.” She tells me they are inappropriate and problematic, but she says, with building on the skills I already have, she’s thinking I can probably resolve most of these feelings in 3 or 4 sessions. She says she will work with me to stop weighing myself more than once a week. Did you know that you have to have a weight change for 4 weeks in a row for it to be considered clinically significant? I did not. So a 3 pound weight gain is not my doom. It’s not fat, but any number of things.

She will teach me to react properly to my environment, saying that frequently those in recovery take comments to mean they weren’t good enough before. There is nothing inherently wrong with the comments, but how I’m framing it in my head and my internal reaction to it. She said we can figure it out. She said that I don’t have to entirely stop Keto, but maybe I don’t have to keep the pressure on 24/7. I’m allowed to breathe and make mistakes. One meal will not ruin all progress. She tells me all of this in one dense, 50 minute session and I feel like several pounds have been lifted off me – pun intended. I realize inappropriate thoughts are not treated overnight, but her telling me that I fix this is such a relief I feel instantly better.

My eating disorder history I imagine is akin to someone with opioid addiction, who also very much has a pain problem. They need to be treated for addiction, but somehow also their extreme pain. I must some how balance my tendencies to either over or under eat, while still continuing a healthy weight loss program for my other health conditions. It’s ok, I can do it; just put the pendulum in the center.

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