Please remember that I am not a doctor and no post of mine is ever intended to be medical advice. I am telling my story to give a bit of background and context about my journey to intuitive eating and whole wellness (which is always ongoing!).
^ forgive me for this cheesy title, but it felt important that this post be self-explanatory. I’d also like to apologize in advance for the lack of photos, because my computer crashed mid-college and my late teenage years are not well documented anymore…
All throughout childhood, and middle and high school, I had what I would describe as a fairly healthy relationship with food. I didn’t crash diet, I wasn’t concerned about my weight, and I more or less ate intuitively without knowing what to call it. I wish I had appreciated how valuable that natural intuition was at the time, but hindsight is 20/20 right? I was also active growing up, attending dance class 3-4x every week and eventually marching in the band and competing in winter color guard (yeah, not the most conventional movement, I know – but it kept me from sitting all day and it felt good and I don’t need any more than that). I did also play a season of softball and I’d like to take the time to publicly apologize to my teammates, 8 years later, for my lack of hand-eye coordination.
Then, going to college, I was told right and left about how to avoid gaining weight during my freshman year, which let me tell you is not something we should be putting on the shoulders of 18-year-olds. Or anyone. So, during my first few weeks I started to restrict my food intake. And then, because we know that diets don’t work, I would binge and eat way past my fullness then feel terrible about myself and restrict again. It’s a fairly classic pattern, and it comforts me to know I’m far from the only one that’s fallen into that trap. I was also forcing “exercise” without actually learning anything about how the body works OR what my body likes. I would use the elliptical for 30 minutes and be bored the whole time, or try to run on the treadmill, get bored 10 minutes later, and leave the gym.
And as a side note, it’s perfectly normal for your weight to fluctuate once you find your set range, and also it takes some time after adolescence to reach that set range. It’s likely that any weight I gained during this period was from a combination of the binge-restrict cycle and my body needing to gain to support a possible pregnancy in the future (far future, but still).
The point being, I was trying to “eat right” and exercise, hating everything about my attempts, and therefore “failing.” I was feeling more frustrated and out-of-touch with my body than ever before, which is unsettling as it is, but especially when you’re in a new city at a new school. I could literally only think in black and white terms, so if I ate one food I considered to be “off my plan” per se, the whole day was “ruined” and I’d binge haaaaard. I also expected my body to be able to complete official sounding workouts like a full 5k or a complex weight-lifting workout, without actually working up to being able to do these – so basically I jsut felt like I was failing left and right.
During my second semester of freshman year, I started having major digestive problems. We won’t get into it for the sake of politeness, but it started interfering with my social life and my happiness. I saw student health on campus and was given a diagnosis of IBS plus put on medication. The med helped a little, but I was still having problems so I was sent to a gastroenterologist and then for an abdominal ultrasound, where it was revealed that I had gallbladder abnormalities and would need my gallbladder removed. Fast forward a few weeks to my surgery, and I was blessed with a relatively low pain level and quick recovery, or so I thought.
I left the hospital with a bandaged abdomen and no dietary restrictions whatsoever (and this was before I was a nutrition major, so I barely understood what the gallbladder is let alone how food can affect you medically). My surgeon told me to eat whatever sounded good, though I bet he wasn’t banking on higher-fat items to be what I was craving. Seriously, my first meal out of post-op was Kraft mac and cheese (theeee best) made with real butter. Completely and totally fine on an everyday basis, but not when you’ve just had an organ that plays a key part in the digestion of fat removed. Note: I can pretty much digest fat well nowadays, but I do think it took some time for my body to learn how to do things without my gallbladder and easing into it would have been extremely helpful. I returned to college 5 days later and prepped for finals (why did I not take time off).
One week after my surgery, my boyfriend took me out for frozen custard because it’s my favorite, and he knew getting out of my dorm room for something other than class would be great for me. Later that night, I woke up with the most severe stomach pain of my life. I’d rank it at a 9, and I think it was probably comparable to labor (one day when I’m a mom I’ll look back at this post and laugh). After I threw up from the pain, Drew drove me to the ER for an abdominal MRI and fluids. They couldn’t find an answer for my pain and sent me home to take a warm bath and ride it out. Looking back after reading similar surgical horror stories, I think it may have been pain from the gas they pump into your abdominal cavity during surgery (I’ve seen lots of stories about the pain it can cause if you can’t walk around immediately and help it dissipate), but at the time, I thought the frozen custard was to blame (also possible, since it’s high fat and my body had had a whopping 7 days to recover).
This trip to the ER and my consequent belief that custard had made me sick instilled a deep fear of food in me. I’d spent some time before surgery eliminating different foods, but never nailed down a specific group of foods that upset my stomach. After my gallbladder removal, I continued to have stomach problems that I managed with IBS meds and OTC digestive meds, but I was (and still am, really) searching for answers.
Part 2 coming tomorrow.