Trigger warning for discussion of dieting and food restriction.
I have a confession to make.
Over the last six months or so, I’ve lost a significant amount of weight.
It’s my first time that my weight has gone down since I jumped on board the fat acceptance train, and I feel great. I have more energy. My joints don’t hurt. I haven’t had a migraine in months or a back spasm in weeks. I can almost do a push-up and spent the weekend hiking up and down a mountain. I’m training for a large backpacking trip for next summer.
Oh yeah. And the reason I feel great is totally unrelated to the weight loss.
Here’s my story: about six months ago, I had a joint pain flare up that didn’t end. (Last year I wrote about the joint pain that I’ve been experiencing in my elbows, wrists, and shoulders since I was 18.) I was complaining about it to my physical therapist (I got a nasty ankle spring last October), and when I described the problem as tendonitis, he gave me a serious look.
“If you’re having bilateral joint pain in multiple joints, that’s not tendinitis. There’s either something systemic or something related to your spine. Go see a doctor.”
The doctor measured elevated inflammation markers in my blood. There was a scary period where we thought I might have a serious autoimmune disease (don’t worry! I don’t). I recruited a friend of mine who is a naturopath, and we started looking into diet-related options to explain the inflammation. I went on an elimination diet– the first time intentionally restricting my diet beyond keeping kosher and other Jewish dietary oddities, like fast days and avoiding wheat, beans, and rice on Passover.
It was pretty horrible. I became obsessed with everything I put in my mouth. The scary part was how easy it was for me to fall back into old dieting habits. I can’t have sugar. There’s nothing convenient to eat, so I’ll just skip this meal. How many calories am I eating? I’ll keep a food log. I was thinking about food all of the time.
I was still in pain.
The doctors still couldn’t figure out what was wrong.
I was so stressed, that I got a back spasm that didn’t respond to ibuprofen. The pain was so severe that I vomited.
I finished out the elimination diet completely exhausted and no closer to an answer than when I started. The rheumatologist had no answers. My naturopath friend had no answers. The only lead we had was that I’d felt better over Passover. So, as a last ditch effort, I tried following a “Passover diet”. No wheat. No rice. No beans. Mostly vegetables, eggs, meat, fruit, and fish.
Within three days my pain was gone. A nutritionist gave me a tentative diagnosis of SIBO, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. SIBO flares up with sugars, and starch in particular, so that explains why the Passover diet was so effective. Since starting it, I haven’t had any migranes or back spasms. I can wear a backpack for a day without pain. I can carry things up and down stairs. When I do a push-up, I feel my pectoral muscles working, not just pain in my elbows. I’ve had two periods in a row, after having maybe four or five natural periods over the last two years.
And I’ve lost weight.
I’m effectively following a low-carbohydrate diet, so it’s really no surprise. But that’s what people focus on. I bought new clothing and got a big “good for you!” from the saleswoman. I had an easier time hiking this year than last year, and my parents went on about how it must be the weight loss. When I order a salad instead of a sandwich, I get the side-eye from people who know that I’m pretty outspoken against weight-loss for its own benefit. Those haven’t been the hardest thing, though.
The hardest thing has been the re-emergence of my food crazy. I started weighing myself to make sure that I wasn’t losing weight too quickly, but the crazy that wants to know what my weight is every day, every hour, after I use the bathroom, after I work out. I don’t own a scale, so I can only weigh myself at the gym, but the thought floats into my head at random moments, for the first time in years. I started logging my food to make sure that I was eating enough, but I feel a compulsion to count calories. Every time I look for low carbohydrate recipes, I’m bombarded by dieting literature.
I’m not going to lie, the praise feels good. It feels sickeningly comfortable to be dieting, even if it’s unintentional. It’s so easy to wonder where my weight will settle out, and hope that it’s at a “normal” weight. It’s so easy to hope that I’ll fit into straight sizes. It’s so easy to feel like a “good fattie.”
So I’ve been trying to get comfortable with my food crazy. Instead of ignoring it, as I’ve been able to since I stopped weight-loss dieting, to identify it, look it in the eye, and say, “You lie.” To put it in a corner and check on it every now and then to make sure that it’s still there. Some times are harder than others. This weekend was particularly difficult, since my parents and brother have their fair share of food crazy. At one point, Mr. Shoshie pointed out that the two of us seemed to be the only ones who claimed to experience hunger. I checked up on the food crazy a lot this weekend.
But, as I get used to this new way of eating, it becomes easier. The food crazy is starting to get tired of yelling at me to count my calories and count my carbs and measure my waist. The food crazy is getting used to me leaving it in that corner. I can’t wait for the time when I can ignore it completely.