After 17 years battling a variety of eating disorders (namely anorexia and exercise addiction), I was finally in recovery. I was eating regularly (most of the time), and I had (mostly) curbed my eating disorder behavioral symptoms. I was “in recovery”, but I couldn’t make the jump to “recovered”.
I Chastised Myself
Yes, I was eating, but I didn’t want to be. I was taking care of myself, but I still hated myself. I was eating enough, but I was still very rigid in what I ate. I was exercising a predetermined “normal” amount, but I NEVER missed a workout. I wasn’t dying anymore, but I wasn’t living either. In a word, I was stuck.
I was still in weekly therapy, but my progress had completely halted. No matter what my therapist suggested, I couldn’t do it. I chastised myself for being stubborn, for being scared, for not trying hard enough. Not surprisingly, though, beating myself up didn’t do anything to move me forward.
Learning to Heal, Changed my Life
With nothing else working, I turned to alternative therapies to see if just maybe there was something wrong with me that was keeping me stuck. I began seeing a naturopathic doctor, and the things I learned about healing physically changed my life (in more ways than one).
Beyond the Food
In addition to therapy, traditional eating disorder programs carefully craft meal plans to normalize eating habits and get those battling eating disorders to a stable weight. Patients are usually told that if they can just eat everything they’re supposed to, the majority of their health problems will clear up – they’ll feel better, and the recovery process will be easier.
Things improve to a point . . . then stop. It’s easy to wonder, “Is this as good as it gets? Am I just supposed to live out the rest of my days miserable and uncomfortable?” But that doesn’t have to be the case.
A Gut Feeling
Anyone who’s undergone a re-feeding program can speak to the pain, bloating, and gas that comes along with it. While it can sometimes improve with time, for many recovering from an eating disorder, digestive upsets just become a part of life.
The old adage says, “You are what you eat”, the truth of the matter is that you are what you absorb, and bloating may be a sign that you’re not absorbing nutrients properly.
Foods and Moods
This may not sound like a big deal, but nutrient deficiencies have been linked to depression, anxiety, sleep issues, and a host of other physical and mental problems, including – yes – eating disorders. In some countries in Europe, psychiatrists are required to prescribe Vitamin B12 before any psychiatric drugs, because the link between B12 and mental health is so strong.
Other nutrients like zinc, magnesium, essential fatty acids, etc. are incredibly important for eating disorder recovery, too, and if we’re not absorbing them, we can’t benefit from them. Protein can be very difficult to digest if your stomach isn’t on its game, and if protein isn’t broken down into its amino acid building blocks, your body isn’t making enzymes to digest other nutrients, healing damaged tissue, balancing hormones, or making the precursors to important neurotransmitters like serotonin.
A Happy Gut
Serotonin, which is the neurotransmitter most commonly indicated in depression, has many connections to digestion. It is estimated that 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut, requiring adequately digested protein as well as properly balanced gut bacteria for its creation. Simply put, if your digestive tract is out of whack, you could be missing out on up to 90% of your “happy hormone”.
Don’t Settle For ‘Just Okay’
Improperly functioning digestion is just one of the factors that can keep you ‘stuck’. There are hormone imbalances, deficiencies that may require more than a meal plan to correct, and a host of other things that may require “tweaking” to make you feel like yourself. You deserve the opportunity to find out who you really are.
As my body and mind started functioning properly, I was able to finish the work of recovery, and find my way to recovered. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t always a straight path, but it was SO worth it in the end. Inspired by what my naturopath taught me, I had another big life change: I went back to school so I could help other people battling eating disorders get their best chance at recovery.
You’re Worth It
I couldn’t do the work I do as a holistic nutritionist if I hadn’t found true recovery, and I believe you deserve a chance to be recovered, too. Don’t settle for “just okay”. You’re capable of so much more. And you know what else? You’re worth it.
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