I do not know how many of you who are on the autoimmune protocol or some other therapeutic or elimination diet (or you have some chronic health problems and are thinking about trying the autoimmune protocol, the GAPS diet or a similar diet) have ever suffered or are still suffering from an eating disorder. I think there are quite a few of us. Of course, there is an increasing number of people, who suffer from a chronic illness in general, but I feel that the percentage of people with a history of disordered eating or a full-blown eating disorder, who are struggling with their health, is really high. It might be only me who keeps coming across such stories. People attract things, to which they devote their energy after all.
People who have had an eating disorder often have a problem with accepting their body and with the relationship to themselves, at least I do. At the same time, it is so important for our health how we look at ourselves and take care of ourselves, how we love ourselves. Our thoughts shape our future. If we just keep saying to ourselves what we do not like about our body, it will eventually somehow influence our health. Believe me that I have been working on loving my body for years, practicing yoga, doing affirmations, EFT and other practices. It has all helped me a lot. Sometimes I am doing better, sometimes worse, but I cannot say every day, “Yes, I love my body just the way it is.” Sometimes there is a whispering voice in the back of my head (sometimes it is screaming), telling me what is wrong with my body, whether it is about my proportions, eczema, my inability to get pregnant, digestive problems or just my bloated belly. Nonetheless, I still try to work on my self-acceptance and my self-love, because if I did not, it would be probably much worse. I am not saying that I do not have good days, not at all. I have many good days, but I also want people to know, that even more than fifteen years after someone had healed from bulimia or another eating disorder, she can still have problems with the relationship to herself and her body, especially when she has to deal with some health issues. I want to talk about it because someone else might be going through something similar and not many people talk about this. I believe that when I will talk about my problems, I can help not only myself but also others, because I have gone through this and I know what they might be struggling with. I know how helpful and inspiring it is for me to read stories of people who have gone through something similar like me.
I recently spent a long weekend traveling, and after a month when I did not eat almost any fruit (because I suspected it was contributing to my digestive problems), I decided to add it back in. When traveling, it is not always possible to prepare all your meals in advance (as I would normally do) and fruit is the easiest snack on the go. It is not beneficial to overdo it with fruit and eat it all day long, but it is also not the best in the long term to avoid fruit completely, as it contains many beneficial vitamins. Furthermore, I did not feel that there was any significant improvement in my symptoms without the fruit anyway. The only thing that the avoidance of fruit brought me was the impression that I cannot do anything, and that I have to restrain myself even more. Additionally, I started to have unpleasant thoughts, the kind I know very well from the time when I had bulimia.
These unpleasant feelings were even aggravated when I found that I had gained about four kilos since the beginning of the year when I started with AIP. It is not very common and I was quite surprised, because most people lose weight on AIP (no wonder when you cannot eat almost any carbs and are allowed only vegetables, meat, healthy fats and a bit of fruit). I do not have a scale at home, but I started noticing that it was becoming more difficult for me to get into some more advanced yoga poses, and then I started to feel my jeans getting slowly tighter. When I finally weigh myself at a friend’s house, I was quite surprised. How is it possible that I am getting fat when I do not eat almost any carbs?!
I thought of it myself (and then two nutritionist colleagues of mine confirmed it) that gaining weight on a low carbohydrate diet could be the result of an insufficient carbohydrate intake. The body is in distress (read famine) and it starts storing fat for worse times. I have already thought of trying to reintroduce some foods into my diet anyway, so why not carbohydrates as well. Although not all of my symptoms have disappeared yet, I have to also take care of my mental wellbeing. Because of my bulimic past, putting on weight gives me a lot of unpleasant feelings and thoughts, and it is not always easy to come to terms with it, especially when I know that I was eating this way with best intentions. I thought that I am doing the best for my health and me.
Sarah Ballantyne writes in The Paleo Approach that some people can gain weight on AIP because they are nutritionally malnourished and their hormones (insulin, leptin, gherlin and cortisol) are out of whack. When you begin to provide enough nutrition to the body, it first begins to store it for worse times, and you will only be able to start losing weight when your body is nourished enough. I was already eating well before starting AIP, so I am inclined to the option with a lack of carbohydrates and possible excess of fat in my diet. I do not think however, that I consume as much fat as some other people who are on paleo or a low-carb diet. Moreover, when I eat too much of something fatty, it makes me sick, so I do not generally overdo it. When gaining or losing weight, it may also be about how much energy we put in and how much we give out. Most importantly, it all depends on what is our natural weight (it does not have to be as skinny as most people think today). I was often hungry on both AIP and paleo. I just do not feel satisfied eating only vegetables. Therefore, if I did not want to eat meat three times a day, I often had to fill up on nuts when I was on paleo, and on coconut when on AIP, to curb my hunger. It is quite possible that my body simply needs to eat more carbohydrates. When I started to deal with my health problems, for almost a year I was on a vegan diet that is high in carbohydrates, and I lost almost 10 kilos during that year. Everyone is different. I do not really want to belittle the effects of paleo or AIP, both approaches have helped me with my health problems a lot, but a person needs to be taken as a whole, and their psyche plays a big role in healing. Hence, if someone on AIP or paleo is getting fat and her thoughts start resembling those she had when she had an eating disorder as a result something has to change.
You can also often read about the benefits of fasting and intermittent fasting, but it is certainly not recommended for people who have suffered from an eating disorder in the past. I also did not know this before. Furthermore, I thought I was way pass these problems, as it was such a long time ago. However, when I tried intermittent fasting and then even all day fasts as a part of my healing journey last year, every time I would break the fast, I would always get such a wolves hunger and such food cravings that I would want to devour everything I came across. That caused such unpleasant feelings and thoughts for me that I had to stop, whether fasting would be beneficial for my gut healing or not. For my psyche, and therefore, for me as a whole person, it was definitely not good at all and I do not intend to try fasting again, even though I do not suffer from bulimia anymore. For someone who was ever addicted to food it is not the same as for alcohol or cigarette addicts. You cannot just quit and not have it anymore. You have to eat to survive, and for someone with a history of disordered eating, I believe that it is important to have regularity in order to avoid such fluctuations and possible overeating attacks. Any kind of restriction may be a trigger for unhealthy thinking and behavior.
I have read many stories of people who have not had the best experience with AIP, and I have a growing feeling that neither AIP, nor any other protocol is almighty or universal in the treatment of chronic illnesses. Everyone is different and we need to customize our diet according to individual needs. Therefore, I decided to start slowly reintroducing some foods, including carbohydrates, into my diet and to see how it goes. I have already included caraway seeds, which I missed a lot in my cooking, and I intend to continue. I will follow both Sarah Ballantyne’s recommendations and my food intolerances test results. I will definitely start with foods first to which I had low responses to before, than those I had a high response to. I definitely do not intend to eat gluten or egg whites in the near future, as I had very high test results in both cases.
Fianlly, I would also like to correct a mistake, which I made myself, and which happens to many people who are on the autoimmune protocol. I thought that one should stay on AIP until all his or her problems disappear altogether, but I studied this topic on various AIP websites and forums in the past few days, and most of them reject this widespread misconception. AIP is primarily an elimination diet and one should not stay on it long term. It is just a steppingstone. Its purpose is to eliminate the most problematic foods for a while to calm down your immune and digestive systems. After a while (at least one month, but it may take two, three or even more months, it depends how each person is feeling and how quickly their symptoms disappear, or at least improve significantly) non-AIP foods can be reintroduced slowly one by one, and you track your reactions to them. Sarah Ballantyne says that one should see significant improvement in digestive issues and other symptoms, before you can start reintroducing foods. You should also have under control your stress management and take care of other aspects of AIP, such as adequate sleep, spending time outdoors (ideally in nature), movement, mental well-being, and spending time with family and friends.
AIP is not a permanent solution and it is not desirable to stay on the protocol long term. If you stay on AIP too long, it often happens that people develop a fear of foods that are not allowed on AIP. This can lead to the development of an eating disorder called orthorexia, and this is definitely not the goal of AIP. The goal is to eliminate foods that are pro-inflammatory and most likely to be problematic, and as soon as our immune system and our intestines calm down, we can gradually try reintroducing foods and monitor how we react to them. I have already been asked a few times about reintroductions and I promise to write this article soon. However, the topic of eating disorders is resonating with me more at the moment, and I needed to write it out. Maybe this way I will help someone else who is suffering like me. You are not alone!
If you have any questions or comments about this article, please let me know.
For those of you who would like to know more about the autoimmune protocol (AIP), you can find more information here.