First, I’m not here to preach. I’m writing from my own experience. And I know that not everyone who follows a strict diet automatically has an eating disorder. However, it’s very easy for those of us with disordered eating to use strict diets as covers for our disorders.
Take the vegan diet for example. It’s possible to construct a very healthy, entirely plant-based diet that still nourishes your body with enough proteins and fats. Were I to “go vegan,” however, my goal would be to remove protein, fat, and sugar completely from my diet and subsist solely on vegetables or “safe” foods.
It wouldn’t be about saving animals or rescuing the climate for me (not that those are the only reasons to go vegan). Going vegan would be a convenient way for me to cover my desire to restrict my calorie intake.
Let’s talk about “safe” food. Safe food to me means food that will not make me gain weight. Vegetables (not carrots or starchy root vegetables). Lettuce and celery specifically.
Anything Any vegetables you would find on a salad are safe. Salad dressing is not safe. When I am in a restrictive frame of mind, I dress my salad with a bit of vinegar and nothing else. Canned tuna is a safe food for me. It’s high in protein and low in fat.
These foods are “safe” because I can eat them without anxiety. I can eat them without feeling like I have to purge.
I want to bring up safe foods because I want to talk about the Keto diet. My husband and I started the Keto diet several months ago. We haven’t followed it strictly, but we keep in mind the 70-25-5 rule (that’s the rule where 70% of your daily calories should come from fat, 25% should come from protein, and only 5% should come from carbs).
Cutting out carbs was pretty easy for me at first. Carbs, as a general rule, are not safe. It was a relief to stop eating them.
But adding so much fat to my diet? That was a challenge. At first, it was glorious. I had the freedom to indulge in all my “danger” foods – cheese, butter, heavy cream, eggs, nuts and seeds, and avocados and bacon. All these foods are on the diet!
But over time, my eating disorder took over. How many carbs were in those peanuts? Better to eat cashews (but cashews are expensive, so better not to eat nuts at all). Avocados and tuna? Maybe just the tuna. Nut-based yogurts (dairy-based yogurts have sneaky carbs) worked for breakfast at first, but again, they’re expensive. It wasn’t long before I started skipping breakfast again.
I started keeping track of my calories. I told myself I just wanted to make sure I was hitting that 70-25-5 goal. I wanted that dramatic weight loss that the Keto diet promised.
My goal quickly shifted from 70-25-5 to calorie restriction.
One positive thing I noticed about the Keto diet is that the healthy fats filled me up. And it was pleasant for a time to munch on a handful of nuts and seeds and not be hungry. I enjoyed making omelets in the morning and eating them with a side of salsa. For a while, it was good to eat.
I had energy too. And my mind was clear. I had ideas, I was writing. My work life felt vibrant and vaguely important. It’s amazing what healthy eating can do for your body and mind!
But my numbers didn’t add up. I was eating about 1700 calories a day. And the number on the scale didn’t budge. I dropped my calories to 1200 a day…then 1000. Then the only meal I was eating was dinner, and I was anxious about it because I couldn’t ever properly track the calories of a home cooked meal. The number on the scale still didn’t change.
Now, what I needed to do was practice acceptance of my body – exactly as it was. But I’m obsessed with being thinner – always thinner. So I ate less, and naturally my body started to crave sugar.
The holidays were difficult. We didn’t maintain the Keto diet over Christmas or New Years. I tried to learn how to bake sweet treats with almond flour and sugar substitutes, but the chocolate chip cookies just weren’t the same. Sometimes you just want what you want, and I’m a recognized customer now at our local bakery.
Then I started bingeing and purging.
For the space of about two weeks, I could not eat without purging. My obsession for food was intolerable, but I avoided eating whenever I could because I knew my urge to eliminate all food was completely overpowering. I did not lose any weight. Instead, I bloated from my body’s attempt to retain water and stay hydrated.
I was only more miserable the last time I was drinking. But at least when I hit my bottom with my alcoholism/addiction I had people to turn to. There were people who understood what I was going through. I could talk to them about it.
Who do you talk to about not wanting to eat? Eating is a primal urge. People don’t understand not wanting to eat. My husband does his best, but he doesn’t understand why I put my dinner plate down after a few halfhearted bites.
So I went to a place where people would understand. I went to an EDA meeting… And no one else showed up. I’m in the process of finding out whether or not the meeting has been completely cancelled or is just being restructured.
The good news is my binge/purge cycle has moved on.
I’m eating again. And I have given myself the freedom to eat whatever I feel like eating. I do not always eat “safe” foods or Keto-approved foods. I’m not completely back on the diet yet. The desire to purge is still in the background of my mind – ever present – just like my obsession with my weight.
All that long story to say what?
I’ve learned a few things from my Keto experience. The biggest thing I learned is that I can overcome my aversion to “danger” foods. I can eat healthy fats, and I feel damn good when I do. Here are some other things I learned.
- Restriction in any form is bad for me. When I want potatoes, I should eat potatoes.
- Don’t ever, ever, ever record your calories. This is a major red flag.
- There’s nothing wrong with eating safe foods if that’s what you feel like eating.
- It’s okay to spend money on your own groceries. You get to eat too.
- Eat before you get hungry. You’re addicted to that feeling of hunger.
Going Keto gave me an excuse to indulge in my eating disorder. It gave me an excuse to count calories and restrict certain food groups. It gave me an excuse to label certain foods “bad” and other foods “good.”
I need to change my attitude. I need to practice acceptance of all food. I need to practice acceptance of my body as it is. I need to spend more time caring for my brain and less time worrying about the number on the scale.