Dieting and gut rot

Breakfast was a dilemma for me this morning.

I decided, eventually, upon a lemon scone.

It was a mistake. It was frosted, and too sweet.

Every morning, I used to eat six donut gems — the chocolate waxy ones — from the gas station, along with a diet coke. Prior to that, I used to eat cinnamon or s’mores pop tarts, untoasted, with a diet coke. Prior to that, I don’t remember what I ate, but it was always something sugary and carby, with my required caffeineated carbonated beverage, and a cigarette, in my car, on the way to work. This was my morning routine for years.

Then I started getting migraines.

The migraines were about once a month for a few years. Then they started getting worse. Over the summer, they struck nearly every week, and it got so frequent it seemed I was having some symptom of a migraine nearly every day.

N got me a gift certificate to an acupuncturist for my birthday, to help with the migraines. I went, and we talked about my eating. My fear had been, prior to going, that we would have some ghastly conversation about my weight, and she would talk about fatness and how unhealthy all that must be, and the only way to cure me would be to drop pounds. Luckily, that was not the case. We did talk about my fear of vegetables, and ways to sneak that stuff in to my diet. It is a real fear: I gag when I eat them. N has been successful in sneaking pureed cauliflower into really healthy things like beer cheese soup. And I’ve braved spinach in cheese ravioli. But that’s been about it.

The acupuncturist palpated my belly and was able to locate very tender spots just by looking at it. Did it hurt here? Yes. Here? Yes. Here? Fuck yes. She stuck some needles in my legs and then re-palpated. Did it hurt anymore? No! First time in years my belly didn’t hurt. I was shocked.

We talked about how to make it stop hurting for good. Seems I needed to eat more protein, and a lot less sugar. My belly and brain are completely connected. One hurts because of the other, it seems.

Sigh.

I used to not have so many problems with food. Right up until my senior year of high school, I could eat whatever I wanted and digestively, I was fine. I drank gallons of milk a week (that sounds gross, I know. But I drank it instead of water). I could eat ice cream. I could eat cheese with reckless abandon. I could eat sugar whenever I wanted. It sounds like I was on an all out binge. I don’t know that I was, sometimes I may have been — but I certainly didn’t have the range of restrictions on food intake that I do now.

What changed?

I got put on a massive diet.

Long story short: Parents said you’re too fat, go to this diet center, I restricted food, lost about 90 pounds, my digestion has never been the same.

I know how it is for folks who have WLS. They can expect to have problems with digestion for the rest of their lives. I had my gallbladder removed because of all the weight loss — but I know my digestion was screwed up well before that surgery. I don’t know what other people, however, experience, when they repeatedly diet, when they have gone through the lifestyle of disordered eating. I would imagine that your digestion can’t come out of something like that unscathed.

I know a lot of people will point to my not eating vegetables as the reason for all of my woes. I have had folks wag their fingers at me for years on that one. I know people will wag their fingers at me for being on an all out shitty version of intuitive eating for the last 3 years (my version: you crave a truffle. Eat 12! I don’t know how to manage it with the programming that’s been held over from the binge-and-restrict days). Blame all you want. What I know is that prior to the diet, when I was just a kid eating like kids do, I didn’t have all these problems. I didn’t have migraines, I didn’t need to have my gallbladder removed, I didn’t have to rush to the bathroom after certain meals because they were too greasy, I didn’t have to avoid entire categories of food, and I didn’t have to make a trip to the urgent care on more than one occasion because my stomach felt like someone had taken a sledgehammer to it (the most recent trip was last week, and now I am on a goddamned H2 reducer).

Looking at the landscape of my body — emotions, psyche, relationships aside: What has dieting ever done for me health-wise? Not a whole fucking lot. It’s screwed up my guts, literally. Aren’t all the claims that dieting is supposed to make you healthier? Ever since I went on that one diet, in which I lost that initial 80-90 pounds — I gained it back, then re-lost it, then gained it back, then re-lost half of it again — I even considered WLS at one point — I have had nothing but ILL health. My health has deteriorated. My relationship with food has deteriorated. I have felt like shit day in and day out since I embarked on that initial diet back in August of 1995. I did not have chronic pain prior to August of 1995. I did not have irregular bowels prior to August of 1995. I did not have migraines prior to August of 1995. I did not have to have a goddamned debate over whether or not to have a scone for breakfast because I am so tired of turkey sandwiches on the melba-toast-that-passes-as-bread that the Jenny St. Market sells but that’s all we have right now because we aren’t grocery shopping because we are going to stay at my place in a few days and there’s no fridge space at N’s house because it’s filled with gallons of milk and rotting chicken broth and pomegranate juice and bags and bags of tortillas for making wrap sandwiches that never get used.

That’s fucking 13 years of digestive problems, and I am only 30. I have a lifetime left of this. I’m not whining. It’s just bullshit. You get told by everyone that a diet is your magical key to happiness, and then when all is said and done, you gain the weight back and you’re in eating disorder recovery and you have migraines and perpetual gas and need to have surgery because of a defunct gallbladder and maybe an ulcer or two. Wow. You know what? If that’s what’s behind door number 1, I’ll take door number 2 please.

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13 Comments

  1. jeremy said,

    February 26, 2008 at 11:08 am

    My system is screwed up very similarly, have you looked at IBS as a cause for the pain perhaps? I overloaded with sugar and caffeine for many years, and that seems to be what happened to me.

    As for weight issues, they’re not as important as feeling good. I’ve never tried to lose weight myself, I’m underweight, but my family has successfully lost a lot of weight before using weight watchers and lots of exercise. They complain a lot about it but always feel better when they look at themselves.

  2. simonelli said,

    February 26, 2008 at 11:41 am

    Simple things like plain tap water can help. Keep flushing out toxins with plenty of water every day.

  3. Sandy said,

    February 26, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    I will say this…I never went on a diet and have always tried to eat healthy foods (fruits, veggies, etc.). BUT my belly is screwed up as well. I try not to eat too much sugar (I am addicted…really…can’t eat just one cookie I do have to eat the whole bag so we just don’t buy them often…and that is not making a joke) and I also try to keep my caffeine down because I hate those withdrawal headaches. I think my issue was when I was living at home with my mom and I constantly had food poisoning (looooong story, I have written about my homelife on my blog). I stayed sick with vomiting and diarrhea most of my young life because of it…and now like you I can’t eat too much grease in my food, can only eat certain things, etc or I get deathly sick. I eat like a bird now more or less and can only eat certain things (which is unfortunate since my ILs always cook the things I CAN”T stomach). It really sucks when you have to decide if you want to enjoy some food for a few minutes and be miserable for a few days or just not eat it and be ok.

    And like you…if that is what it means to have WLS then no thanks. I am tortured enough without making it worse.

  4. Twistie said,

    February 26, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    Learning intuitive eating isn’t anywhere near as easy as it sounds at first, particularly if your relationship with food has been badly disordered for a long time. Don’t beat yourself up for not knowing how to listen to your body after thirteen years of being told to ignore it. It takes time to figure out the signals, and the longer you’ve been encouraged to ignore your body’s needs, the longer it takes to relearn how to listen to them. Keep listening.

    And hey, I’m not always right, either. Yesterday I was craving Bugles. They’re horrible, greasy, oversalted, massively processed things of great ick, but I wanted them. I hadn’t wanted them in about ten years, but I wanted them with a desire that passed all explanation. Okay. Fine. I went out and bought some…and ate an entire one pound bag. I realized pretty quickly that my body didn’t really want that many and was bilious the rest of the night. But that’s one misstep. Most of the time I do better than that. Sometimes I don’t. The point is, your messed up relationship with food wasn’t created overnight, so it’s silly to assume it will be fixed overnight. The important thing is that you and I both keep trying to fix what’s been broken.

    One thing that might help with the vegephobia: there are several cookbooks out on the market now that are about hiding veggies in other kinds of food. Have you looked into one of those? If it works in the soup and the ravioloi, it might work in something else. Just a thought. It’s something I’ve never had to deal with, so I could be talking through my hat. I was the kid who always requested spinach for her birthday and was thrilled when dinner included Brussels sprouts, after all. But it seems to me you’ ve already seen a bit of success with that approach, so it might be a good idea to try to widen the net, as it were. Again, it’s not an overnight cure-all or a simple process. I’m not going to try to tell you it’s either when it isn’t. I will, however, say it’s worth a try if you need to get more vegetables in your diet.

  5. Piffle said,

    February 26, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    Look for those veggie hiding cookbooks under the how to fool your kids types of titles, lots of people worry about feeding kids veggies. Don’t forget that stuff like spaghetti sauce is mostly vegetables.

    Good luck! 🙂

  6. criss said,

    February 26, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    Have you thought about confronting the veggie thing head-on? Just making yourself take one bite of, say, a red pepper? When I was a kid I didn’t especially like vegetables, but my mom made a point of having the ones I liked available for snacking, and now I love pretty much all veggies, raw, cooked, pureed, whatever. Not saying you’d have the same experience, but in my experience fear of eating certain things has to be tackled head-on before I can know whether I *like* the thing in question.

    Also, winter squashes (butternut, acorn, etc) can be made into wonderful cream soups. I sautee an sliced onion and some garlic in olive oil, add a couple of peeled, cubed potatoes and a cleaned, peeled, cubed squash or two, add water to cover, and cook till mushy. Then puree and add some milk if you want it. It’s a great soup, not “vegetable-y” at all, but nutritious and easy on the tummy.

  7. littlem said,

    February 26, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    FDA permits all sorts of things in our food that the majority of us probably can’t even pronounce. What that boils down to is a lot of the time, we don’t even really know what we’re eating, so there’s no way we can properly evaluate what kind of effect it’s going to have on our body, especially over time.

    That said, I have heard that there’s some connection between what goes on in the brain and the so-called “gut flora” — again, more than we’ve been told (or that our “leading scientists” really know, for that matter — not that most regular readers here don’t know that already, probably).

    I know if I have my EFAs (those that aren’t methane-processed or whatever) my entire system works better, from articulating thoughts to better digestion to better skin. If I don’t have them, processes break down with the quickness (I have gas and say stupid stuff, for example).

    So IMO you definitely have something there with the brain-belly connection. I wouldn’t dismiss it as a figment.

  8. lillian64 said,

    February 26, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    I try to eat my food as whole as possible and I stay far away from additives. If it isn’t something that I recognize as food on the label, I don’t buy it. If I don’t treat me right, who is? I love fruits and vegetables. I’m so looking forward to spring. I had an argument in my head a few minutes ago if I wanted nuts or to finish the strawberries. Strawberries won. The nuts will be there. Intuitive eating doesn’t mean eating food that make you sick.

    I do have occasionally sweets. My stepdaughter made cookies and I ate three the day she made them and one eat of the next two days. Yes, I ate the last two because they were there and I couldn’t walk pass them another time. I look at my favorite junk food at the grocery and it no longer interests me. I rather eat bread, hot cereal and produce.

  9. Orodemniades said,

    February 26, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    *puts on asshat*

    Have you thought about going on an elimination diet? Depending on how you do it, it can last from a few days to up to three weeks. The reason I ask is that I, too, used to have wicked stomach cramps and headaches and Various Other Things when I ate and drank stuff, and it was doing an elimination diet (not a hard core one, either), that I was finally able to start getting rid of some of the crap I was going through.

    I initially did a yeast-free diet as I thought I was having trouble with candidiasis, and that was fantastic, it helped sooo much with the stomach cramps. I also learned that I have many, many, many food sensitivities and that I really need to rotate my diet in order not to trigger those sensitivities (heart palpitations, acne, stomach cramps, fatigue, hiveless itchies, crankiness, depression – I’m a long term depressive, but I won’t claim that food doesn’t have an affect on my depression, either).

    I won’t tell you you have to eat heaps of veggies, after all, I do know someone who can’t eat uncooked vegetables due to some weird digestive issue (raw will kill him)(I know, how bizarre), but it might be good to figure out which veggies you can eat and possibly enjoy! Is it just a taste thing or is there a mental block about them?

    I don’t think dieting is the key to happiness, but finding foods that you can tolerate, like, love, and enjoy can certainly help. I’d be happy to go into further detail of my own elimination diets (from simple to hardcore) over the years, feel free to email me if I’ve piqued your curiosity (or anyone else’s, for that matter!).

  10. fongfengmode said,

    February 26, 2008 at 7:28 pm

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  11. thoughtracer said,

    February 27, 2008 at 10:40 am

    Hi all,
    I don’t know where to start. Eating is such a personal topic. I do have IBS. Got it from the gallbladder surgery and the dieting and the eating disorders. I have tried a million bazillion things. I drink probably 40 oz or more of water a day. Some days are worse than others. I have tried more fiber, less fiber, an elimination diet — learned dairy is bad, although I can’t give up cheese! — I am currently trying real hard to keep lots of sugar out of my diet as a part of the eliminations. I know that everyone has good ideas about the vegetables, and I’ll continue to try to puree them. It works for fruit. I can’t just scarf them down head on — it’s a texture issue, based in childhood. Maybe psychoanlaysis is in order. It’s going to take a while to sort all of this eating stuff out.

    What I want to make most clear, however, is this: I didn’t have problems before I started dieting. Then I dieted, and now I have problems. I think there’s this mass notion that you can just “fix” your health and eating by going to WW or going on Atkins, or whatever. We don’t often look at how dieting actually fucks up your health. We do talk about: Hey, dieting makes you gain back more weight. Dieting makes you tired and cranky. Dieting is a crappy, corporate industry. Well, dieting does more than that: I think it also fucks up your body. Because experientially, that is what happened to me. That’s all I was trying to say.

  12. Beck said,

    February 28, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    I agree about the dieting. I have all kinds of food issues from a life-time of “cabbage soup diet”, “tuna diet”, “pineapple diet”-type eating.

    AFA your digestion, my best friend (also a life-time dieter) is lactose intolerant (no milk/cheese/ice cream/etc.) and she has a serious problem with her “gut flora”. That seemed to be relieved (somewhat) by taking acidopholus (sp?) capsules. If she could have eaten yogurt, that would have been better. Stonyfield Farms yogurts come in really small containers (look for “yo-baby” or “yo-mommy”) and have excellent flora in them. They also make a “soy-gurt” for babies that has the same flora in it, but it’s harder to find. Try your local whole food-type store. It’s called “soy-baby”, what else?

  13. Jane said,

    March 15, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    I know exactly what you mean. My whole childhood I ate emotionally, without knowing what I was doing. I was sometimes teased, but it never really hit me until I was in grade 10. I think I gained a lot of my weight then because of puberty and pointless relationships etc. etc. it doesn’t really matter now. I started running and running and trying the best I could to be healthy. By grade twelve I had lost 60 lbs. That’s when I started to feel sick. My cousin had just been diagnosed with celiac’s disease, and my mom told me there was a chance I could be intolerant to gluten. Since then, I’ve been learning how to eat gluten free, and so far I’ve been feeling better (4 years later). It’s sometimes still hard for me to accept that I’m gluten intolerant, and I’ll go out and eat a bunch of bread to spite it, with negative results, I might add. I lost another twenty pounds in the next 2 years going on health kicks and long-distance intensive runs. That lifestyle isn’t really me now. My weight now has been the same for a while. During the passed summer, I went traveling to Europe alone, and developed an eating disorder. I lost another 15 lbs, and was really proud of myself! During that time I also traveled to Australia with my boyfriend; we became super distant. Eventually I told him what was going on, I saw a psychologist; even after all that, I sometimes succumb to the will of my desires. I’m now exactly the same weight I was when this all started, just with a distorted perception of reality. I think the trick is not to “go on a diet”, but to change your lifestyle to one that’s healthy.
    It’s not about diets, it’s about lifestyle change.
    For me, that means cooking dinner for myself, and not being tempted by junk food when I buy groceries.
    I hope that anecdote has helped in any way.
    Good luck in your journeys, and don’t give up in times of discouragement. 🙂


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