Letting Down My Wahls: Autoimmune Eating Insights from an Emotional Eater

food, lifestyle, personal

As I alluded to in an earlier post, I am pretty sure I felt my insides get tugged on by an invisible thread that connects my person to the candid author and foodie extraordinaire, Andie Mitchell. After reading her book, It Was Me All Along, I honestly felt like I had just read a page out of one of the many journals I kept as a kid, teen, young adult, young woman, and hey, maybe last week. Without going into too many of the personal parallels we share (family problems with alcohol abuse, depression, anxiety, over-worked mama, falling in love with gay men) I want to wax poetic for a moment about my abusive, lifelong, relationship with food.

As a kid, I remember grabbing at my sweet cherub love handles and pressing curse words into them with every ounce of self-hatred I could muster. I remember writing diary entries about the horrors of back-to-school shopping because none of the clothes I wanted to wear (like the iconic Old Navy Polar Tech Vest or the sensible velveteen jumper) fit me. I remember hating my body for the things it wasn’t and wouldn’t be for me– for the ways it made itself visible without my permission and made me invisible at the same time. Like Andie Mitchell says — a part of me is grateful for my Rubenesque kid body. She forced me to develop a personality and to learn to take the hits life presents with a grain of salt.

All at once, I rejected my body, sought after diets from 3rd grade forward — but found solace in food. If my brother hurt my feelings, my mom could comfort me with a spin through the drive-thru for a double cheeseburger and fries. If that asshole Tim Swan was mean to me in Catechism class (which he was), I could walk a block to the laundry mat behind our house and fill up on vending machine candy bars to take back to the safety of my bedroom. In high school, my friend and I would circle the grocery store after particularly bad days and buy whatever looked like a hug, bring it back to her room, and fill up. On those days, I went home to torment myself in my ashamed fullness, and she disappeared to her bathroom for similar reasons. I spent time attempting to purge after the binges, but I could never bring myself to see it to fruition. I am wildly grateful for that, now.

Somewhere in my early-mid 20’s, I stopped hating the body that carried me through life. I started to be more tender with her. I held her, even in the places we both know caused us hurt. And just as I surrendered to the body I have, I started to give her permission to do the things she wanted to do but never felt allowed to try. We did yoga together, in public. We learned to devour food we cooked ourselves and truly savor every bite. We lavished other people with our cooking, unashamed to let another person see us eat.

Somewhere concurrent with this timeline, we gave ourselves permission to stop trying to lose weight. The great majority of my life was spent implementing crash diets and failing, and failing, and failing. And just as I surrendered to the weight of my body, I started to find that I was developing a shape in my midsection, definition between my ankles and calves, and something of a feminine jawline. At every turn, I remind myself that I made a decision to love my body in its entirety, how it moves, its hows and whys — and that this change did not negate or amplify that love.

Skip ahead a couple chapters to when this recovering emotional abuser of all things food and body shaming is newly married to the kindest human being, and learning to feed herself along with another human. In my first year of marriage, I believe my husband started to witness my patterns with emotional eating. It was easy to hide my occasional reactionary food ways in the year we spent long-distance. But when I ordered pizza on a whim after a particularly horrific speech team meeting without telling him, as he sat next to me on the couch, it wasn’t so discreet any longer.

Seeing the way I treated myself after moments like this, my sweet husband was fully on board for our first round of Whole 30 in January of 2017. In doing this elimination style way of eating, I looked at whole foods in a way I had not before. I thought about vegetables and proteins as puzzle pieces I could fit together to create something balanced, nourishing, vibrant, and delicious — revaluing the way I derived the “comfort” in “comfort food”.

In the Choose Your Own Adventure version of the diary of my life, I probably wouldn’t turn the page to an MS diagnosis. But in the real diary of my life, not too long after that first round of Whole 30, that’s exactly where the story led. By now, you likely know that I have implemented (with stumbles and shortcomings) The Wahls Protocol as a means of fighting my MS fatigue — and ideally– healing some of the damage this pesky autoimmune disease has wrought on my brain.

Even as I choose to embark on this way of eating as a means of healing and loving my body, I still carry with me that girl told to hate her body, while splitting open Double Stuffed Oreos to ease the sting. All that to say, what does it look like to continue to recover from emotional overeating and binging while you’re knee deep in a program like Wahls? I will tell you, first, it’s not as sexy. If that pizza binge comes knocking, the pizza at the door has a gluten-free crust and no cheese on it, and just doesn’t have the same grease-sparkle it once did. Second, ever the crafty emotional eater, you learn how to abuse the healthy choices you’ve introduced into your daily life. Did you know that sweet potatoes are particularly high in sugar and carbohydrates and taste exceptional with melted coconut butter and cinnamon on top? Did you know that unrefined, virgin coconut oil, when melted with cocoa powder and maple syrup makes an incredible, insatiable, chocolate ganache? Or, did.you.know. that there are myriad gluten-free, dairy-free sweet and savory treats gracing our grocery store shelves, at this VERY moment, WITHOUT SUPERVISION?! Did you know?!

Certainly, the moment exists for all of these delicious foods. But as a human being with a tendency toward excess, my body is learning a new vocabulary for what the emotional abuse of my food looks like. To be honest, in an elimination program like Wahls, there are sincere moments of feeling like the toddler screaming at the grocery store because Mom won’t buy (or let you eat) the cookies you want. In some moments, I do miss the me that ate Chinese buffet with abandon, ate stuffed crust pizza backwards, and skipped the bowl when Ben & Jerry’s was in play. The emotional labor required to do the work of meal planning & prepping is (dare I say) HARDER than the alternative.

But, as I continue to find, day in and day out of implementing Wahls — my body — that same body I decided to love in her every capacity, can do so much more if I feed her this way. She finds that her nasal passages are clear, not puffy and constantly in need of Flonase & antibiotics & Mucinex to facilitate breathing. She finds that her body hurts less, and feels lighter with each step. She finds that in the morning, she can lift herself out of bed, and find joy in the opportunity to strive toward 9 cups of fruits & veggies (even when she falls short of the goal) that day. Some days are harder than others to keep tumbling forward, but the vitality I am only beginning to feel is pretty unparalleled to any other moment in my adult life. (And that’s WITH the MS diagnosis, y’all.)

Lest you thought this #wahlsnewb had it all figured out,

I will forever miss pizza.

Love & light to you on your own healing journey,

-Sarah Jean

 

 

3 thoughts on “Letting Down My Wahls: Autoimmune Eating Insights from an Emotional Eater

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