Ten minutes ago I was locked in a battle of wills with a ginger biscuit. Not even a WHOLE ginger biscuit – less than one quarter of a ginger biscuit. The prospect of putting it into my mouth terrified me – it was like I was considering eating one of those slugs which keep appearing in my bathroom. Now, you might be surprised by this confession, because I am two years into recovery, maintaining my weight and supposedly doing well. Here’s the plot twist: this anxiety had nothing to do with any eating disorder. For goodness sake, I ate a five-hundred-odd calorie chocolate muffin with my dinner, I’m hardly likely to be reduced to a shaking wreck by a mere ginger biscuit.
What scared me about the ginger biscuit is this: it was made from wheat. Dum dum DUM. Oh yes.
During weight restoration in 2009 I started to reintroduce some of the foods that made me so ill four years ago, after my digestive system had been battered by switching between seven different psychiatric medications in six months and rapid weight loss/gain from the side effects. I’ve had a milk allergy since birth, and that was the first thing to cause problems – by the end of 2007 I couldn’t eat anything with milk in without immediate digestive and respiratory distress. I know this is a real allergy and not a figment of my eating disorder’s imagination because my whole family have problems with milk, and in their early twenties two of my other (very non-eating disordered) siblings were also forced to go dairy free due to the increasing severity of their symptoms. I am not lactose intolerant, I am allergic to casein, one of the proteins in milk. The intolerances were a bit more controversial. I had a blood test done with the most reputable company I could find, but even so the science is not universally accepted as science, if that makes sense. I do know that once I cut out milk, wheat and yeast (there were half a dozen others but those were the main ones) I started feeling better – but I also know that I had a genuine milk allergy and that wheat can be hard on sensitive digestive systems anyway, so that is not exactly definite proof for the existence of intolerances. But I was terrified of how ill I was in 2007 – I could barely eat, couldn’t sleep, was rapidly losing weight without trying to and was so run down I became suicidal – and I wanted an answer and a way to solve the problem.
Of course, it became more complicated once I relapsed into the eating disorder, because first of all I was grateful for the restrictions – they gave me an excuse not to eat with other people – and secondly I did more damage to my digestive system during the relapse. My emetophobia also threw an extra spanner in the works, because having spent six months of 2007 feeling like I was constantly on the verge of throwing up, I would have done pretty much anything in my power to never feel that way again. I gradually became terrified of reintroducing foods that I had previously cut out.
This worked fine while I was ill, but during weight restoration it began to annoy me. One huge frustration was that I was doing everything I could to avoid becoming orthorexic, because I’d seen too many friends decide that they would accept recovery as long as they could gain all the weight on broccoli. Swapping one eating disorder for another is not exactly a route to long term health and happiness, so I wanted to feel free enough to eat anything. I wanted to be able to challenge myself by eating things like pizza and ice cream to prove to myself that I was totally committed to overcoming my anorexia – but of course I had to make do with gluten free pizza bases and vegan cream cheese and ice cream. If I had eaten real ice cream I would have been throwing up and wheezing within minutes, which is hardly conducive to weight gain.
But I did start challenging myself to work down the list of foods which I was either intolerant to, or which set my IBS off. I discovered that none of the foods on the intolerance list upset my stomach any more. The foods I had flagged as upsetting my IBS seemed to be okay in small quantities: for example, I can eat rye bread (gluten) one or two days in a row, but four or five would be silly. I can eat garlic and onion a couple of days a week. Chilli always makes me feel sick the next morning, but I can cope with that every once in a while. If I were to eat chilli, garlic and gluten on the same day I would probably feel dodgy for 24 hours, but not to the point of incapacity. Just some discomfort.
The only food I didn’t reintroduce (other than milk, because – again – allergy, not intolerance) was wheat. Probably because it fit into both categories – a food that had been flagged as an intolerance in the blood test, and a food which triggered my IBS. For some reason it seemed far more scary than the others, almost on par with milk. But being able to eat wheat would be so great – it’s not hard to find vegan food, my sister manages to eat at restaurants which cater to her milk allergy all the time, it’s the combination of avoiding milk AND wheat which makes things difficult. If I could eat wheat I could go out to dinner with Jonathan to normal, non-specialist restaurants. I could go to Pizza Express – I know they do vegan pizza on request. I could eat Asian food without worrying about the wheat in soy sauce. Hmm. So, despite procrastinating on the reintroduction test for months, this evening I eventually found myself staring down a quarter of a McVities ginger biscuit.
I started writing this nearly an hour and a half ago. After ten minutes of not being killed by a quarter of a biscuit, I ate the rest of it. I actually DID eat chilli last night, and garlic and gluten today, so from an IBS point of view this isn’t going to be a completely objective test. But I felt reasonably okay when I started, and I still feel reasonably okay.
I’ll give it 48 hours and try something else containing wheat. Something a bit more complex than a biscuit. I don’t think I’ll be eating massive bowls of pasta for a couple of months, and I don’t think I will ever be able to eat four slices of bread every day again, but if I can get to the point where I can treat wheat like rye or garlic, I will be very happy 🙂
In other random news, if you have me on Facebook you might have noticed that I was single on Saturday, and you might be wondering why I’m waffling on about ginger biscuits when I just broke up with my boyfriend of fifteen months. Well, I kind of unbroke up with him. It’s all okay again now 😉 these things happen. We bought tickets for a festival taking place in a couple of weeks too. When I think back to how horribly agoraphobic I was five years ago, and how I remember telling my last boyfriend that one of my goals was to be brave enough to camp overnight at a festival one day, I can’t believe that I am completely blasé about the idea of swanning off to Scotland for four nights. Fiona, I doubt you will be reading this given all your revision, but I still credit our trip to Manchester as the beginning of the end for said agoraphobia, so thank you again for that! I was such a nightmare in the month beforehand, totally terrified and changing my mind about going every five minutes. It’s inconceivable to imagine feeling that way now. This is like my reward for being brave enough to stick with my make-shift exposure therapy 😉 I’ve never been to a proper festival before, it’s going to be great!
I’ve also been having fun at the ED charity today – I was there for four hours this afternoon, brainstorming a new display with the development officer and then taking part in the management meeting. It’s a pretty exciting time to be involved with them, the development officer is a fairly new post – she’s been here for five months now – and she has such good ideas on how to expand the charity. I’m so looking forward to seeing how some of them work out 🙂
And now I am going to bed, crossing my fingers that the wheat continues to not make me ill!