Having a healthy relationship with food is critical for people trying to correct gut issues or lose weight. In last week’s blog we discussed why this is important, you can check that out here.
The impetus for this blog series was the wonderful progress someone in the Circadian Retraining Program brought up in one of our topics on the FB page. She mentioned she spent 25+ years on the diet rollercoaster. This included shifts from raw vegan, to the Ray Peat diet, low carb, and so on.
As a result, she ended up severely underweight, malnourished, and sicker than she’s ever been. Sure, she saw progress for a short while on each diet. But as we mentioned in the above blog, results can be fleeting. Furthermore,
Whether they understand it or not, popular bloggers and podcasters are fomenting a poor relationship with food for man listeners. At the end of the day, listeners and social media reach are the goals for people in this space. Unfortunately, good science is practiced by few.
We covered how the social media and podcast-sphere spread this bad information in a blog titled: Nutrition for hire: How dubious health claims go viral. We highly recommend you check that out.
Fortunately, this individual finally got in contact with an RD in the program who has her straightened out. As you’ll read below, she has seen tremendous progress in her emotional and gut health. This, all while building a much better relationship with food.
In the coming weeks, we’ll talk with Amy and her approach to helping people with gut problems. But for now, let’s learn how restrictive dieting can put you in a bad situation you may never get out of.
1)Tell people a little about yourself and what drove you to look at changing your diet
I was 25 when I had a nervous breakdown. This resulted in acne, chronic weight gain, a desire to eat all the time and fatigue. I didn’t really understand what was happening to me at the time, But my guess now would be that my previous lifestyle had caught up with me.
I’d been doing a lot of drugs, was out partying 3-4 days a week and drank a lot of alcohol. I was also dealing with a lot of stress from a traumatic childhood, from the breakdown of a relationship, and having my final exams at university. Doctors didn’t really know what to do with me and put me on anti depressants.
I decided that I needed to make some changes as I’d pretty much just always eaten a regular diet. That seemed like something that was in my control to change. I was also seeing a homeopath who suggested I had Candida and needed to cut out carbs.
So I did that for a while but felt like I’d gone to hell in a hand-basket; I had no energy and felt terrible. Then I met a guy who introduced me to raw veganism and well that’s pretty much where the insanity began.
2)Discuss some of the dietary approaches you’ve tried
My first real diet was raw vegan. I didn’t eat any cooked food, which was very extreme. But I felt better the first year I did it and many of my health issues improved. But then I got new ones: brain fog, issues with concentration, hair falling out, tooth decay, and muscle wasting.
At this point I was also doing a lot of fasting, water and juicing. Looking back I realize I had an eating disorder, but at the time didn’t think of it like that. I was just doing what I thought was best for my health.
This was way before the internet and Facebook so it’s not like I could research anything. I was just a working class kid who met some dude who was into raw veganism. I then met these other people who were into it. To be honest, I never have hung out with them normally, But we bonded by our belief that raw food was the perfect diet and that we were all detoxing. LOL god was I deluded.
I did that diet for 9 years. Then, with the invention of the internet, I stumbled across a website called Beyond Veg which basically talked about how dangerous raw veganism was. So after reading this, I went back to eating more regular food.
But I was still restrictive. Everyone believed that sugar was a demon at the time. So I ended up going paleo which I felt better on at first. But then after, some time, I experienced massive sleep issues and felt like I was constantly stressed out.
After some years of doing that I started doing another diet. This time, I could eat what I wanted apart from Bacon and chocolate, but I only eat a snack at night. Again, I was low calorie here, still scared of refined foods. SO I stuck with mostly whole foods.
Then I got into Ray Peat. His program was no seed oils, no starch other than potatoes, no vegetables, and no legumes. So mostly fruit, protein, milk and coconut oil. It’s all so funny to me now, but I really screwed up my health more on these diets.
Anyway the last few years I decided to do a whole foods diet and even though that felt less restrictive than anything I’d done before, I started to really lose weight. I could not gain weight and food was so boring.
By this time I was working with a functional medicine doctor to try and heal SIBO and the diets kept getting more and more restrictive. I was terrified of eating sugar or anything “processed”. My meals were meat, veggies and a carb with each meal.
I started to find it really hard to eat, totally lost my appetite, and was feeling really hopeless. I was down to 108 lbs by this point. I’m 5,7 and my normal weight is around 140.
I’d pretty much always been skinny. So I was likely about 10-15 lbs underweight on most of these diets apart from Paleo, where I was overweight. But dropping down to 108 and being 30 lbs underweight was really scary.
3)When you implemented these dietary approaches, did you feel they were working? Any clues to how this may change your relationship with food?
I felt like Raw vegan was the biggest dietary change where I saw the biggest improvements. That lasted about a year, but as I said above, I was a skinny rake with my hair falling out by the end of it.
The rest of the diets felt good to start but I’m pretty sure most of the time I was running on adrenaline due to low calories. I also felt really bloody neurotic. I was pretty active in all of the communities that went with those diets, and when you stopped eating the prescribed way, you lost all your friends.
It was like you became a heretic. I don’t think people realize how much pressure there is in those groups to be a success story. And those with subpar results get blamed for not doing it right.
4)When did you begin to think the restrictive approach to dieting might be ruining your relationship with food?
I have tried every diet on the planet. I’m sure I tried more over the years, but too short to mention in any detail. I mean I stuck at it for 23 years.
I had read some things around being too low calorie in the past and I came across Amy’s(Amy Hollenkamp Ansari) work and I really resonated with it. Previously, I had tried increasing calories before, but I’d stayed very much within my restrictive window when I did that.
I was drinking a lot of milk and sugar and orange juice but I had H Pylori at the time so it was a miserable failure.
5)Talk a bit about working with Amy and how she’s improved your relationship with food.
Yes, so I was pretty desperate when I reached out to Amy. I had a SIBO diagnosis via breath test years before and felt maybe that might be the key to my low appetite.
When I did my first consultation with Amy, she said, “Wow, your diet’s perfect but what do you eat for fun? What do you enjoy?” and I just couldn’t name anything. She talked about how low calories can contribute to SIBO and made some suggestions on eating a few foods outside the box.
We increased my calories up to 2000. She suggested I try and force myself to eat more as it was likely my stomach had shrunk, and suggested I try some foods I fancied. I hadn’t really eaten anything other than meat, veg and potatoes/ sweet potato for some time. She helped guide me when I hit roadblocks.
6)Tell me how that’s all been going. What improvements have you seen since your relationship with food has shifted? Do you notice a difference compared to when you tried the more restrictive dietary approaches?
So it was so nice to finally eat whatever I wanted. I still enjoy a decent amount of whole food,s but I’m not obsessive. I’ll have a bacon sandwich for breakfast or a tuna mayo toastie.
I’m still mostly gluten free, although not totally. I seem to do OK with a small amount of gluten food, but a few times I’ve tried eating a Domino’s pizza and just felt horrible for days after. But I love cookies and eat a few of those each day.
I’m pretty much eating whatever I want, there’s a lot of freedom in that. Way less stress over food and, funnily enough, recently someone suggested I do an anti inflammatory diet. I actually looked into seed oils and sugar as being the cause of inflammation and found nothing on that, so I don’t feel any real need to run off to do any of those crazy restrictive diets. They were a massive factor in my health getting worse.
So far, the improvements are that my hair stopped falling out. I’m in perimenopause so I was blaming my chronic hair loss on that, but within a few months of eating 2000-3000 cals a day my hair finally stopped falling out. It’s slowly filling back in, but I think I may have a ways to go until it’s back to being normal. It had really thinned out since I was younger and the years of restriction.
I also had really bad insomnia. That got worse to start with, but slowly seems to be resolving itself. I think that may also continue to take me a while to get back to normal. My nervous system was on high alert, not just from the trauma I had as a kid, but also from the restriction I was in.
I gained all the weight back I lost. I’m now at the current weight I originally was in my early 20’s. It’s going on my gut and thighs, but I’m OK with that. I understand that the body tries to protect the internal organs by laying down fat there first so I’m along for the ride.
My memory has improved quite considerably. I used to have massive brain fog before. and had cold hands and feet a lot of the time which has improved a lot too. I still get cold toes now and again but nothing like they were before.
My mood has also improve, I’m less anxious. I think eating more gave me the ability to be able to sit and meditate which I couldn’t do before as I was all over the place. I have to say, though, that to start my mood got worse as all my hormones shifted around.
When I looked into anorexia recovery I saw this is completely normal. I mean I wouldn’t say I was anorexic but I wasn’t far off it those first years with all the fasting and detoxing I was doing. Oh, if only I’d studied Anatomy and Physiology back then. I’d have known that fasting really doesn’t help you detox, especially if you are restricting..
My eyesight feels better too. I used to wake up with really bad blurred vision. I still need glasses but the blurry thing has gone.
My energy is a little better, but again, I’m guessing this might take a while to resolve.
No more dizziness. I was having these vague dizzy spells for the last 6 months prior to refeeding.
Hypoglycemia seems to have cleared up. I need to get a continuous sensor so I can see what’s going on there but I’ve felt fine.
I also had really high ferritin, which I believed was a marker for inflammation but is also a marker for malnutrition. Again many anorexics end up with super high ferritin. I was at 200 in December last year and down to 135 2 months ago when I retested.
My digestion is better too. I get some gas and a little constipation, but that’s again to be expected after all the years of restriction. But other than that no stomach issues, nausea or pain which I’d suffered with for most of the last 25 years.
I’ve read pretty much all I could find on anorexia/orthorexia recovery and it seems like it can take years for the body to recover from starvation. Of course I was never down at 900 cals a day, although maybe I was back in my raw vegan days. But for the last 10+ years I was probably eating around 1600 cals a day, maybe a little more or a little less.
I know some people never recover totally and have issues with heart function for years after. I have a friend who has been in recovery for around 5 years and she told me it took years for her heart to recover so I’m in it now for the long haul.
Well, there you have it. As you can see, your relationship with food can drive you down some pretty crappy roads leading to worsening health. I hope this interview gets you to see that creating a healthy relationship with food is critically important for your overall health and well-being.
As we mentioned in our last blog, all foods have good and bad components, none of which solely define whether it’s good or bad. Build an inclusive, diverse diet so you’re not left with a handful of foods, 2 handfuls of supplements, and poor overall health.