The following is a guest post from Rachael Steil. Enjoy!
“You’ll want to include more carbs like bread to reduce the binging,” Trina said as she pointed out the different portion sizes on the handout.
I had finally gone for help. After seven months of returning back to cooked food after being on a raw-food diet, I felt lost. How did I know when to be done with a meal? After the massive crates of fruit, after eating and eating and eating, how did I know when to stop any more? Was I an endless pit, had I fallen far and beyond ever being able to eat normally again? Was my body broken?
Is bread the answer?
My dietician encouraged me to eat bread again. I felt like after everything I had researched, after everything I had gone through, I had to at least take out two whole food groups and follow the paleo diet. I couldn’t let all of this time, effort, discipline–of everything–come and go for nothing. It wouldn’t be fair.
“I don’t know if I can eat bread,” I said tentatively. I looked down at the meal plan she had given me with a distant longing. Was it a longing for ignorance, for me to erase everything I had learned about food? I wanted to eat simply again, to not think about anything.
Despite the internal voice that told me I would mess up everything, I decided to include bread in my new meal plan. Even if wheat products weren’t meant to be digested by humans, even if they really were bad for our bodies, maybe they would at least be good for the mind—my mental health.
I can do anything
I thought I could do anything. I thought I could be disciplined with food, thought I could be stronger than anyone else. After all, hadn’t I been the one to drop twenty pounds in a matter of months from my already light frame? I could restrict because I had power and control.
I could take on the raw food diet.
Flash-forward two months after starting the diet; I found myself secretly scraping away at a cake, desperate for any bite of sugar, for any source of calories. I tried so hard to cut back, to stick to all raw food.
That’s when I realized that maybe discipline could run out, that maybe the body would find a way to rebel back, to take back the control after I had suppressed every desire, every scream of longing for any “forbidden” food; food as simple as an apple to end the day or the smallest bite of cheese.
I learned to shut out my body’s cries and it eventually learned to speak up for itself. I gained back the twenty pounds, plus some—a fear, a nightmare turned reality.
Carrying my eating disorder with me like a precious child, I searched for the Holy Grail, the answer as to how to “fix” my body. I wanted to lose weight again, but this time without having to suffer the hunger pains. I wanted to get my body to do what I wanted it to do; I wanted to fix everything. I would take back the control. I would show my body who was boss.
After many trials I thought I found it at last—the Paleo diet. But sometimes eating goes deeper than simply following a diet. The binging continued and my depression, my spiral into my eating-disordered world kept me trapped.
I had yet to fix my mind.
Sandwich for the win
I wanted a sandwich. I felt hungry and didn’t have any food with me, but the café at my college was open. Walking into the cafe I scanned the refrigerator. My eyes caught the yogurt and granola, one of many food choices I fell into during my binges, when I couldn’t feel satisfied off of just fruit and salads. Looking lower, I found the sandwiches. I stood there, observing each one, turning each package over in my hands, deciding, thinking, and counting the calories in my head. Luckily the café was fairly empty so I could be alone to my thoughts, to make the best decision for my body.
I decided to buy it—the whole-wheat sandwich with what I used to see was holding animal flesh (turkey), cow pus (cheese), death (mayo) and a sliver of vibrant raw-food life (lettuce and tomato).
And yes, there was the bread to hold it all together. It hugged the food in place. It was my final danger, now turned into food again. The warning light dimmed in my mind. This is food.
I was aware of how loud the wrapping was around this sandwich as I pulled it out of the clear plastic. It made me feel self-conscious as the wrapping crinkled. I did not want eyes on me as I ate. I felt embarrassed of everything I had done, and what I was about to do now. But there was also a sense of normalcy. I was eating a normal sandwich, like a normal college student getting lunch. A normal lunch.
I stared at the sandwich. I found a small table off to the side to sit and concentrate, to understand my body and what it was about to behold in my mouth, what it would do to my taste buds. Would it be as stimulating as the health advocates had warned me? Would it make me lose control?
It smelled delicious. As I moved it toward my mouth I inhaled the aroma of fresh bread and deli meat. It reminded me of my childhood when I ate a simple meal for lunch. Now it felt like I was back to square one—eating a sandwich.
I nibbled into my first bite. The combination of the bread, thin slice of deli meat, the acidic tomato, and smooth, creamy fat of the mayo sent my taste buds into a frenzy. It was the best thing I had eaten in a long time, and I did not feel disturbed by my excitement over this combination of all of the food groups stacked together into one meal. It made me happy.
Months later, I am still counting calories as I eat bread, still feeling that uneasiness of the “forbidden.”
“You don’t trust your body, do you?” my dietician asked recently. I stared at her. She was right; I wouldn’t be able to stop counting calories, to release that measure of control until I could allow my mind to let my body do what it needed to do to get sufficient nutrients. I couldn’t relinquish the control my mind wanted to have over a body that knew what was best for itself.
Trust your bodies signals
I think we all want our own means of control. I think we all want to help ourselves, to do what is best for our bodies—so much so that it is difficult to stay in tune to exactly what our bodies want. It’s not about letting your cravings go wild and eating twinkies just because you “crave” them of course, but to allow yourself that bite of bread, that occasional touch of peanut butter even if you are “paleo.” I had to go back to square one to understand this concept.
I still eat bread on occasion but I am taking the transition to paleo much slower. I am trying to eat potatoes and other vegetable starches in place of bread and oatmeal more often than not. But when I find myself desperate for food—especially carbs–and only have bread in my backpack, I allow myself to eat it without much guilt. Like my dietician suggested, getting enough carbs does help me to avoid binging, and bread can aid me in that process when I don’t have potatoes or other starchy vegetables at the ready. It sure is better than attacking a cake!
I realize I have discipline, but I have a body, too—a body that will not be forced one way or the other so dramatically; because in the end, the body does know best.
I just have to learn to trust it.
Rachael is a collegiate runner who experimented with raw food and other diet trials in the search for “ultimate health” under the throes of an eating disorder. Become part of Rachael’s journey into veganism, paleo, and the emotional side of eating disorders at www.runninginsilence.com as she shares past journal entries. She hopes to give others insight into eating disorders, nutritional and emotional health information, and to inspire you to learn about your body and its needs while she goes back to the past to uncover hers.