Thursday, March 1, 2012

Information and Fear Hangover

Well, I did it again.

My little celebration of positive changes and 20 pounds gone lasted a few hours, and then the next challenge presented itself.

Some history: I have these nagging unpleasant sensations throughout the right side of my abdomen, and some swelling around my right ribcage. This has been going on since mid-2009 and it scares me. I've had tests done: bloodwork, CT scans, a special gallbladder test, ultrasound, endoscopy. I've consulted with my internist, gynecologist, and gastroenterologist. They can't find anything wrong with me. They did notice my spleen is slightly enlarged, but I feel nothing out of the ordinary on the left side of my abdomen where the spleen is located. My bathroom habits and periods are the same as they were before these sensations started (sorry if TMI).

After all those tests resulted in no answers, I just went on with my life. I felt the sensations--ranging from weird to annoying to very occasionally slightly painful--every single day. My upper right abdomen remains bloated and tender to the touch. It's been just over a year since my last round of tests and inquiries and my side has been bothering me much more lately. I'm grappling with a sense of panic, shame, and regret for not continuing to pursue answers. I worry something is actually terribly wrong with me and I'm gearing up for another round of medical fun, starting with an annual physical and going from there. This time I'm going to push harder for explanations and solutions.

All this is background to what I really sat down to write about. Yesterday, I was thinking for the millionth time about trying an elimination diet to see if that could help my symptoms. Perhaps I could eliminate dairy for a few weeks and observe, and then repeat the experiment with wheat/gluten. At the same time, I think about the reality of binge eating disorder, the way I'm JUST NOW starting to get better and normalize my relationship with all foods, and the fact that forbidding something as common as dairy or wheat might create a real mental and behavioral backlash. I don't want that to happen.

A bit later, I found myself on the Whole9 website. These folks have created a paleo elimination diet called the Whole30. I must have browsed the site for hours, even though I had already familiarized myself with it the first time I researched paleo and primal eating in the middle of last year.

By the time I was done reading, I had concluded I was a weak piece of shit, will probably end up with a cancer diagnosis next month, and will die shortly thereafter. Or if that doesn't happen, I will likely develop multiple sclerosis by age 32 and ruin my husband's life. That I'm killing myself with every bite of grains, dairy, sugar, and legumes I take and if something bad happens to me, I completely deserve it because I completely caused it.

I went to bed miserable and scared, and did not get up until this afternoon. I did not want to deal with my thoughts, feelings, or life in general. When I finally got up and got moving around, I honestly felt hungover from the night before and the first thing I wanted to do is eat both pints of ice cream in my freezer. Two unopened pints of premium, limited edition flavor ice cream that have been sitting there, ignored, for days. That I had been looking forward to savoring at some point, but had no urgency to eat whatsoever. (And these are the kinds of changes I've been so pleased with lately!)

I quickly realized this was a reaction to the fear-inducing material I had read the night before. Either I was starting to think about a strict elimination diet at the back of my mind and therefore creating the urge to rebel or "get it while I still can"--or I was wanting to numb myself from the panic I'm feeling about my health and my apparently suicidal eating of black beans and yogurt. Either way, I did not act upon my fleeting thoughts. I did not binge.

I'm sure there is value in the Whole9 approach. I'm sure they are right about several things. But I am also sure of the following:

I don't respond well to a tough love approach. If you check out the site I'm talking about you will quickly pick up on the tough love/dietary badass tone that many people dig and that I personally find exhausting. I take the "know thyself" bit seriously, and I do know this about myself.

Fear and stress are bad for your health. Surely as bad as canola oil or brown rice. Enough said.

Fear, guilt, and shame are not good foundations for behavioral change in most people. Fear has sparked me into action before, sure, but never sustained action leading to long-term change. And I'm seeking sustainable actions and long-term changes!

Lots of well-meaning, knowledgeable people don't know anything about binge eating disorder and therefore are not equipped to advise someone with it. Even the experts "don't know what they don't know", so to speak. It still amazes me how rare it is to find someone talking about obesity and binge eating and general health in holistic brain-body terms. In most discussions, it seems we are either all brains or all body.

So, I need to go to the doctor. I may experiment with reducing or eliminating dairy and/or wheat and/or gluten in the future, on my own terms. I cannot disrupt the progress I'm making with my eating disorder right now. And I need to stay far, far away from nutrition websites. Especially the badass kind.

Edit: In the spirit of honesty and also because my food record for the week clearly states it, I want to record here that I did binge later in the day, after writing this post. Nothing like my old binges in terms of amounts, but I would classify it as a binge nonetheless because of my mindset and approach at the time of eating.


  1. I hope the doctor/medical staff will have some clear answers for you regarding your pain. I also encourage you in continuing your journey as you see fit. I'm not terribly familiar with Paleo but stress and guilt will not help your health. I guess I'll die too from all those legunes :)

  2. Everything you are saying is right. Fear can be a catalyst for change, but it can't sustain it. I've found that fear that is induced by contagion (the fear-mongering of others) is never productive and one of my many efforts in terms of changing my thinking has been to stop allowing the sort of thing you just experienced to happen to me. It's far easier to talk about than to accomplish though. People feel anxiety and they want their fears validated so they vociferously spread and defend their views. They're so powerful that you can find yourself buying into it, but that doesn't make them right.

    The truth is that no one food is likely to create illness in the average individual. In fact, no one food is likely to do it even for someone who is compromised in some fashion unless they are allergic or sensitive to that food in a way which defies extreme odds. Those who exercise extreme restriction in their diets (such as those who do Paleo eating) should only be trusted when their attitude is "it works for me, but it may not work for others in the same way." Anything else is zealotry and a manifestation of their fears of being wrong coming through.

    Humans are meant to be omnivorous and eat everything edible, including scavenging disgusting remains from animal kills, food that would probably be considered close to rotten by today's standards, and grains. There is evidence that early humans did not eat Paleo but ate flour from dandelions. The idea that we did not eat grains prior to agricultural practices is almost certainly erroneous. Your body may or may not be sensitive to certain things, and if you are worried, surely talking to a doctor may help (especially discussing whether or not food sensitivity can cause your pain and tenderness), but I wouldn't start throwing more confusion into the mix of your already difficult relationship with food.

    As for being "weak", not one person in the world does not have some areas of their life in which they could "do better" according to someone else's standards. I judge myself not by one standard (food), but by my entire life. My entire life is highly disciplined - I'm never late, always studied as I went and never crammed for tests and graduated with a 3.8 G.P.A. from university, do my work well and on time, exercise moderately every day, cook copiously and from scratch, clean, and look after my hygiene without fail. I don't drink alcohol, never did drugs, and was a virgin when my husband and I met. I in no way show a lack of discipline in life except in one area, and that is driven not by any intrinsic character weakness, but in a lifelong difficulty psychologically. Look at who you are on the whole, not at one little part, and then assess your strength.

    I'm pretty sure I could run circles around nearly anyone when it comes to discipline in every area except food, and even then, I'd give them a run for their money now... but then I'm not competing with people to prove I'm better than them. That's not one of my particular problems. I don't go around judging other people as "weak" in order to make myself feel strong. People who do that are showing you one of their weaknesses, and that doesn't make them bad, but it does make any reflection what they say has on you highly dubious.

    1. Zealotry: that's the word I was looking for. I don't like it in any form--dietary, religious, political...I don't respond well.

      I know better than to look at myself through one lens only. I know that I am not weak or bad as a whole. There are many aspects of my personality and behavior that are amazingly disciplined, much like you were talking about. :)

      Thanks for your perspective--for the reality check!

  3. Hold your own against the food Nazis! Keep up the good work!

  4. Thank you, NewMe. I'm feeling pretty low right now so the kind words are much appreciated!!!