Eating Disorders and Health Issues

I recently committed to a new diet. The hardest part of that commitment was committing to eat. I don’t have an eating disorder right now, but I have had one before. Having health issues related to food has brought back memories of that time.

Back then, it was easy to hide my disorder because I could isolate myself and no one would have known if I didn’t tell them. Now, with these health issues, it was easy to slip back into that lifestyle because I had an excuse. People knew I wasn’t eating, but they also knew why. So no one questioned the sanctity of my actions.

I have tried to downplay the seriousness of my eating habits, both to others and to myself. But the truth is that starving yourself for physical reasons is just as bad as starving yourself for emotional reasons.

I don’t know how I recovered from my eating disorder. I do remember that it took a long time. I remember that I had to make deliberate choices to change. I remember that it involved changing my environment and basically starting over.

Once again, I find myself in recovery. This time it is not an eating disorder; it is simply disordered eating. Still, it takes a lot of the same things. I have a reason to get better. I have changed my environment. I am consistently making the hard choices to change.

When I tell people about my diet restrictions, they are quick to feel sorry for me or offer solutions. Although helpful to some extent, the solutions fail to recognize one important factor in my recovery. I have not just faced health issues, I have straddled the edge of an eating disorder that would have been all too easy to fall into.

I don’t write these posts so you will feel sorry for me. I write these posts so you will understand. Everyone sees me as so capable. They see a health issue with solutions. They see actions that need to happen. But it’s not just health that needs to recover. For me, it has never been just health. It is a comprehensive recovery. I am recovering mentally and physically and emotionally. It’s not from an eating disorder, but it may as well be because the behavior and recovery are strikingly similar.

I have a lot more resources this time though. I have a lot more reasons to be healthy. My mind is more clear than it ever has been. So I have hope that recovery will be easier this time. I have hope that I will be okay. I have hope that I can avoid the temptations of an eating disorder and become healthy again.

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Eating

If you haven’t noticed from my posts lately, I have been pretty much drowning the past couple weeks. I was suicidal and depressed and anxious and basically couldn’t handle life. Of course, feeling that way isn’t a foreign concept for me, especially with the added stress in my life, so I didn’t think anything of it. Until today I didn’t realize why I have been going insane.

This afternoon though, it became fairly obvious what the real problem was. If you want to go insane, not eating meals for two weeks is a pretty sure way to lose your sanity.  I didn’t intentionally not eat; I simply didn’t have the time or motivation to prepare anything to eat. For the past two weeks, my daily diet consisted of a couple fruits, maybe a yogurt or cheese stick, a few pieces of bread, and some crackers or nuts. I justified this because I take a multivitamin and a protein supplement. And I have been so busy that I didn’t even realize how little I was eating. I ate in every spare moment, just nothing with much substance.

Anyway, the reason I’m posting this is: one, so you won’t worry about me because of my suicidal posts lately, and two, so you can look at your own life to see something simple you may be missing.

It was easy for me to miss that I wasn’t eating enough because I am constantly in pain, so hunger pains don’t register any more than the rest of my pain. It was easy for me not to realize that anything was different because I don’t own a scale and it’s hard to notice just by looking in the mirror that you’re unintentionally losing 3-6% of your body weight every week. It was easy for me to dismiss that something was physically wrong because I’m so used to things being emotionally wrong that I hardly consider the physical aspects.

Depression and anxiety and mental illness isn’t something you can just wish away or make disappear by simply taking care of your physical needs, but taking care of yourself physically definitely has a powerful impact on your mental health. So if you’re struggling more than normal or feeling more tired or less able to handle life, look at your physical needs first before you dismiss them because of your mental health. They may be having a bigger impact on you than you realize.

Nutrition

I know I don’t need to explain the value of proper nutrition, but I am going to explain a little about how nutrition affects me and possibly others with autism. First off, though it may not need to be said, it is important to note that what we eat affects all of us whether we have autism or not. Studies have shown that lack of proper nutrition can increase our irritability, decrease our sociability, and decrease our self-control. For someone with autism, these effects can be even more noticeable than in others.

I know that for me eating often, as well as what I eat and how much I eat, greatly affects my attitude and behavior. When I haven’t eaten for a while, I tend to become irritable and pessimistic. It is almost like a switch goes off in my head. When I am am satisfied and eating healthy foods, I tend to be pretty easygoing and can keep calm despite stressful situations. When I’m hungry, I tend to tell people exactly what I think they’ve done wrong. I can easily rant about the problems of the world and the hopelessness of our endeavors. I also can become depressed or emotionally unstable.

This is true for me now as much as it was when I was growing up. I remember kicking myself off my bed one day when I was a teenager because I was hungry and dinner was not yet ready. Although I could have gotten a snack to satisfy my hunger while I waited, I was not thinking clearly enough to do so. Now, I have much better awareness of my needs and behavior. Sometimes I don’t realize I am hungry, but I realize that I am getting cranky and so I eat something and this tends to relax me.

In the past few months, I have been taking a daily multivitamin to see if it helped improve my mood. I tend to be a very picky eater and I know that I don’t get all the nutrients I need from the food I eat; so I wanted to try this little experiment to see if it made a difference. Although I am not sure if this is the cause of my change in attitude, my mood has been improved in the last couple months.

In saying this, I am not stating that everyone needs to be on vitamins. However, because eating a diversity of food can be difficult for someone with autism, it may be something to try. Because textures can heavily draw us toward or away from certain foods, it is especially important that we are diligent in making sure we receive all the vitamins and minerals we need. Luckily, there are now multiple ways to take vitamins- in gummy form, drinks, or pills. The most important thing is not how you fulfill your nutritional needs, but that they are taken care of. Although I’m not an advocate of any one particular diet for everyone with autism, I do believe that our diet greatly affects us.

Another reason to watch what we eat is that people with autism are more likely to have some sort of gastrointestinal issue. This is probably why the gluten free diet is so well received by some people with autism. Gluten free diets can be easier to digest and people tend to be a little more health conscious when they are on gluten free diets. In my case, I don’t believe it’s necessary for me to be on a gluten free diet, but I do need to be extra cautious of acidic foods because of my stomach problems.

In essence, the most important thing is always to make sure that you are doing what is best for you. We each have different needs and problems and it’s important to make sure we take care of ourselves. Just keep in mind the importance of nutrition and its effect on behavior and mental functioning. As we strive to keep our bodies properly nourished, our attitudes and behavior will reflect the care we have taken.