stepping back

**Note: This post talks about restricting, and may be triggering. However, I feel it’s important to share the good as well as the bad on this blog – because that is what real recovery looks like.**

The past week or so has been extremely busy for me – in fact, it will probably be one of the busiest periods of time for this semester. I had my second genetics exam yesterday, so I’ve been spending (most of) my free time studying for the exam, doing bacteria lab work and preparing for our fly analysis exam that’s this Tuesday. Basically, we take all the flies we counted, sort them by phenotype and map the mutant genes our flies have against known Drosophila fly genes. Since my exam was yesterday, I decided to take a much-needed break this morning to kind of assess what happened this week and try to take something away from it.

I wrote about my intrasquad meet last week and how it didn’t go quite as well as I hoped. Saturday, I performed much better and was very happy with that. However, ever since I got my period my body hasn’t felt like my body. For the first time – in a long time – there was an extra layer of…flesh…around my abdomen. And when I suddenly noticed this, I also noticed that all of my jeans are fitting…tight.

And suddenly, my mind is racing at the speed of light and there’s no way I can stop it. My eating disorder took over. It chastised me for gaining weight, for eating according to my meal plan (what it considers “too much”), and for having “unnecessary” weight and fat. It tells me I’ve “ruined” all the “hard work” I did to get skinny, and I did it in just two months (since swim season started and my meal plan was increased). I looked in the mirror and I couldn’t for the life of me find anything to grab hold of to pull me out. I was panicking.

The next three days I had time to stew over what was going on in my head, because my next appointment with my nutritionist would be on Tuesday. I decided, in the mean time, to ditch my meal plan and try and “fix” what had happened. I reasoned to myself (or maybe my ED reasoned to me…) that losing a few pounds quickly would make me more comfortable, and probably help me swim faster.

So I cut a few calories here, a few foods there. I cut my protein shakes because I am scared of the way my upperbody has gotten so muscular so fast.  I cut my mid-morning snack, which I rationalized because I’m never hungry for it anyway. I cut a few things so quickly and so easily, it was like getting back on a bicycle.

I was angry. Angry at my nutritionist for “making” me eat “all that” food. Angry at my doctor for prescribing hormone meds that induce periods (and, apparently, have such high dosages of hormones they may cause weight gain). Angry at my rational self for listening to them.

I was also scared. If eating “fear foods” in such low doses had caused this gain, how could I ever justify eating them? I probably have a sweet once a week, if that. If eating the cereal I like causes me to gain weight then I’d have to switch back to the bland cereal I’d had all the time before.

I knew I was in trouble, and talked to my friends about it. But for some reason their words didn’t talk me out of where I was. All I heard was “you’re going to have to accept your weight gain” – and, honestly, I was too far gone to listen to that. I was back to old habits, old thoughts, and getting angrier by the day…all the while trying to hold together swim practices and studying for my exams.

I saw my nutritionist on Tuesday, and she knew something was wrong. She does body composition testing, and can tell if I’ve been restricting (even if it’s unintentional) by loss of lean muscle. I told her that yes – I had restricted, because I couldn’t deal with the weight gain anymore. At some point, it’s too much….it’s overwhelming. And I’d reached the breaking point. And I was angry that I’d been pushed that far.

We went through exactly what changes my body has gone through since August, week by week. We discussed the gains in muscle…which I can’t particularly do anything about until I’m done swimming. But the thing that really irked me was the additional fat weight in my abdomen and hips. I told her that this wasn’t something useful for swimming and she completely understood. We tracked back to where the initial gain had been, and she realized it coincided with the doctor putting me on the “progesterone challenge” – which is basically a very high dosage of progesterone administered to attempt to “kickstart” estrogen and the menstrual cycle. I’ve done it before, but this time it actually worked – I got my period after going through the pills, and then got it the following month. Unfortunately, this high dosage of hormone is known to cause some weight gain in the abdominal area – which is exactly what happened to me. My rational mind heard this and accepted it while my eating disorder still held onto the anger and blame.

My nutritionist then told me something I needed to hear at that moment. She said “You can restrict all you want, be miserable, and that extra fat will not go anywhere.” And she was right. It was hormonally-caused. I listened to her, because deep-down I knew restricting was going to get me nowhere, fast. And we compromised. We cut some stuff from my meal plan. It’s still much more than I was eating last year, but I feel more comfortable now. Although she didn’t want to put this constraint on me, she told me I needed to micromanage fat intake for a little while because estrogen takes fat and binds to it – causing what looks like fat gain in the abdomen. Essentially, what that does for me is turn a bowl of oats and peanut butter into 2 servings of oats with no peanut butter, or turns an almond butter sandwich for lunch into a turkey sandwich.

Not really a big deal, but I think it has made a difference already. I feel more comfortable in my body right now. I tried for the longest time to accept the tightness of my clothes, but I couldn’t do it. I was pushed too hard. I’m comfortable with what I’m eating right now, and grateful to my nutritionist for listening to me and respecting my feelings.

I also know this isn’t entirely healthy. But one thing I feel is unfair is that it seems to me if one is recovering from an eating disorder, they are supposed to not want to change their body, while “normal” people can make healthy choices and are allowed to lose weight. I understand why – losing weight is obviously not supposed to be a priority. BUT I also felt that I was being pushed past my “natural” weight by my meal plan. My nutritionist designed my meal plan with hours and hours of swimming in mind. I have gained quite a bit of muscle, which is good for swimming. My shoulders are broad again, I have strength and power. But I felt that my nutritionist was only happy if I came in and had gained weight – which isn’t really fair after I’ve reached my “target.” Sometimes I just wish my weight and my food could be up to me – but I realize that my treatment team has my best interests in mind.

Anyway, the rest of the week I did what my nutritionist said. I’m not restricting, but I can tell my body isn’t used to being underfed. I notice that towards the end of swim practice I lose steam, and my body can’t recover quite as well or as fast. I do, however, feel that cutting down on fats has helped with my body image (NOTE – I’m NOT encouraging this as normal practice. This advice was individualized for me and my body’s reaction to the high hormone dosage) because I’ve noticed a slight decrease in the abdominal fat already.

I wish I could say that I knew what – or if – is behind all of this. Honestly, though, I sometimes feel that there isn’t necessarily something “behind” the thoughts or behaviors. Sometimes there is – I’ve used my eating disorder to cope and to numb on numerous occasions. This time…nothing makes sense. Yes, I’ve been stressed about school – but it hasn’t really gotten to me that much. I’ve been having a blast at swimming, having fun hanging out with my friends and working at Wegman’s. I’ve been writing, I’ve been reading, I’ve been trying to check-in with myself. I’ve tried to be mindful. I guess, for now, I can accept it as a mild freak-out completely related to my feelings about my body and try to move forward with that.

On the other hand, I think this situation – whether you would call it a step back, a relapse, a “pre-lapse” – whatever it was, it cemented something in my brain. For the longest time, I haven’t restricted consciously. This was the first time I deliberately skipped a snack/meal since I entered recovery. Before, my slip-ups have been different – like not putting cheese on a sandwich, or not using milk in a protein shake – stuff that I didn’t even think about, it just happened. This time – my eating disorder was back, and it was calling all the shots. I walked around campus like a hungry zombie for all of three days. However, it was really important. It reminded me of what it really truly is like to be entrenched in your eating disorder. For a long time, I’ve romanticized my eating disorder (that sounds sick – and guess what, it is) by thinking about how I used to “just skip” things without any thought to it. I’ve romanticized the weight loss, the “special” feeling. Now that I’ve been back – even if for a short while – I realize how truly awful it is, and was.

Everyone in my life felt like the enemy again. Instead of me with a support system, it was me and my eating disorder against the world. It was me against everyone “trying to make me fat.” It was me against foods, me against laughter, me against life.

I’m not entirely sure where I am right now – I feel like I’m still a little more attached to the disordered thoughts than usual, but I feel that is something that will pass with time and adjustments. For now, I’m going to try and focus my attention outward.

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6 Responses to stepping back

  1. Sarah says:

    Kim,
    I love how you’re viewing these last few days. Yes, you resorted to some old behaviors but you really seem to recognize that what you were doing was unhealthy and that the most important thing for you to do right now is get back on track. Once you’ve strayed a little bit it is always harder to get your mind back into those healthier thought processes again, but it will get easier and you will get back to where you were!

    It’s crazy how our eds can turn our entire treatment teams into the “enemy.” I didn’t even entirely realize it until reading your post, but in the back of my mind I have also been holding onto the belief that my nutritionist could indeed make me “fat.” I supped fat in the eyes of an anorexic is entirely different than fat in the eyes of a nutritionist who is focused on health, but the important thing is to realize that any weight our nutritionist gets us to will not be fat or unhealthy. Making people healthy is their job! The weight gain might feel like too much for us, but in the real world and according to real guidelines for what is healthy for our body types, they’re right. It’s hard to admit…but true : ).
    Anyways, keep up the hard work Kim. Don’t beat yourself up for slipping just pick up the pieces and power through. You can do this!!

    Sarah

    • Sarah says:

      Second sentence of the second paragraph was meant to say “I suppose” not “I supped”….haha : )

    • Kim says:

      I really like how you framed this. I was afraid that I was going to get judged if I wrote about restricting on my blog – but what I wanted to come across was how fast things can just take off, but that I wasn’t “hiding” the behaviors…which I think is the most important thing. I think sometimes it’s impossible to prevent relapses like that from happening, but as long as we are upfront and honest with our treatment team they will help to eventually break through it!

  2. muchfruit says:

    I gained weight from my progesterone-and-estrogen birth control pill and it made me really mad too. Yes, most women can “handle” it without feeling like an awful person, but a lot of women start dieting to control it, and I think it’s normal to be concerned if you’re at a healthy weight, working as hard as you can to stay there, and your body wigs out on you. Not cool!

    I think it’s good to be proactive about it if it bothers you and your nutritionist agrees. I gained about 5-8 lbs over the course of 1.5 year of being on b.c. without changing anything about my exercise or eating; it was very frustrating, and I found myself wanting to restrict, too, so I saw a nutritionist for a few months to try to lose some of the weight. She did what your nutritionist did–“I don’t recommend weight loss because of your history, but I can’t stop you because you’d still be at a healthy weight if you lost this weight, so let’s do it as healthfully as possible.” I tried some dietary/exercise changes with her, but what really helped me was getting off of birth control and switching to a barrier method. It took my body 6-7 months to fully “de puff,” but I felt so much better at the end of it–like I was back in my body. Anyway, hopefully your body will regain its periods soon, which will stop the need for the “jump start” of the birth control pill! I hope this was not triggering for me to share my story, but I wanted you to feel less alone. You’re not the only one to have an adverse reaction to BC and freak the heck out! I’m proud of you for owning up to it, and I hope it gets better!

    • Kim says:

      This wasn’t triggering at all – SO helpful actually. I always find it hard to trust what my treatment team is telling me is the cause of weight gain. They’ve been saying it’s not the food, it’s the hormones. So it’s really helpful to hear from someone else who went through the same thing…and at the same time, to know that your body went back to “normal” eventually. I think at this point I just have to wait it out and be patient (not one of my strengths hahaha but something I can work on). Thanks so much for your input!

      • muchfruit says:

        Yes! It just feels freaky to look at a different body shape than you’re used to and know that you haven’t changed anything besides adding medication. I had always had more of a “celery stalk” than an hourglass shape, and it was just really odd to suddenly have curves when I had NEVER had them before. It is not you–listen to your team, and keep eating the way that they recommend. They won’t leave you uncomfortable if they know what’s good for them 🙂

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