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Can Paleo heal the "metabolic damage" of an eating disorder without triggering a relapse?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created October 18, 2012 at 4:55 AM

I'm new to Paleo and have been following it 80% for the last two months (planning to go 100% soon). My goals are kind of complicated though. I had an eating disorder for 11 years, and earlier this year I finally reached a place where I could eat normally. Post-recovery, my diet was very "clean" by normal SAD standards. I did eat some grains and legumes but never processed food, sugar, gluten, etc. I also didn't eat a lot of meat, but I ate fish, eggs, and organic yogurt, so not a vegetarian. Anyway, practically overnight, I gained a ton of weight, and I guarantee you I was not pigging out, as I was carefully following a strict meal plan. My calorie intake was maintenance level, yet I still experienced rapid gains. I can't weigh myself because of my emotional reactions to the number on the scale (lame, I know) but I'm guessing I gained at least 50 pounds from an already weight-restored place*.

It has been 9 horrible months, and I went from being miserable with an eating disorder, to being a miserable exhausted fat person. I also have a lot of hypothyroid symptoms, like acne, hair loss, debilitating fatigue, etc, and recent blood work confirms that there is something wrong with my thyroid. I suspect that my eating disorder triggered this, possibly from chronically elevated cortisol and resulting adrenal fatigue.

Obviously I really want to lose the extra weight (and I'm working with my doctor to get to the bottom of the thyroid issues), but in terms of weight loss I can't really diet or exercise like a normal person because I tend to get obsessive and take things to an extreme. But...I'm also unsure if a more laid back approach will work. Has anyone been in a similar situation and had success with restoring health and losing weight? Is it possible to do this without obsessing over every gram of carb or every calorie, or becoming a hardcore daily crossfit junkie obsessed with being "lean", or intermittent fasting? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

*Edit: For those unfamiliar with eating disorders, "weight restored" means that I was back to a normal healthy weight.

F7cf9588bc47db8b3b7ddeb5172a9311

(455)

on October 25, 2012
at 09:45 AM

Sorry this is such a late reply! I'm very flattered, thank you. My e-mail is fernpcawthorne@hotmail.com.

F9638b939a6f85d67f60065677193cad

(4266)

on October 22, 2012
at 01:13 AM

I think that all food-related emotional and psychological problems are all faces of food addiction.

22b9b81bcc649b53faa731f3e6a9aa48

(50)

on October 20, 2012
at 06:45 PM

Oh, that's really interesting. I'm actually not a food addict though. I don't struggle with overeating at all. I'm more of a food phobic and have always had a hard time eating enough. I'm only recently recovered from anorexia and compulsive exercising, and then I gained weight due to a destroyed metabolism, not binge eating.

F9638b939a6f85d67f60065677193cad

(4266)

on October 19, 2012
at 06:58 PM

By the way, I have a friend who never realized that he was a food addict. He gave up flour and sugar, nothing else, no paleo diet or anything, and he was amazed at the difference that made. His wife did the same thing and lost 130lbs. They went to a 12-step program called food addicts in recovery anonymous. You might look it up because it will provide you emotional support and a diet that is pretty hard to call extreme or full of too many rules.

22b9b81bcc649b53faa731f3e6a9aa48

(50)

on October 18, 2012
at 07:35 PM

That's great that giving up grains helped you so much. I tend to be a little too good at dieting and controlling my appetite, judging by my history, but this is still really encouraging.

22b9b81bcc649b53faa731f3e6a9aa48

(50)

on October 18, 2012
at 07:27 PM

Wow, I was really surprised when I got to the end and realized you are only seventeen. You come across as very confident and intelligent in your writing. I assumed you were older. I might take you up on the offer to talk more, as I have a few questions about how you balance Paleo and recovery. If you're still willing to share your e-mail that would be great. Thanks for sharing your experience.

6b365c14c646462210f3ef6b6fecace1

(1784)

on October 18, 2012
at 05:03 AM

11 years is a long time. Your body will NEED time and nutrients to recover - if it means gaining weight in the mean time, then so be it. Stop obsessing, and enjoy the recovery period

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2 Answers

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F7cf9588bc47db8b3b7ddeb5172a9311

(455)

on October 18, 2012
at 07:42 AM

This may be triggering. If references to eating disorders and their machinations affect you, please do not keep reading.


Thank you for posting. I come from a similar place, having had anorexia. I think I am recovered, but I don't think I'll ever really know or understand it. In answer to your question, owing to a lack of scientific or medical knowledge, I do not know if Paleo will heal your "metabolic damage", though I have seen and read some miraculous things.

I'm answering with the intent of addressing your question about the approach as a means of recovery from the controlling nature of an eating disorder. Please keep in mind that this is wholly anecdotal, but my answer is: it worked for me. I went from counting calories and maximising protein and conventionally 'good' fats and minimising carbohydrates and conventionally 'bad' fats to eliminating processed food, back to counting calories but Paleo (with hesitations towards eating 'bad' saturated fat) and now to Paleo. I'm not completely free, as sometimes I think about the caloric content of my meals and still occasionally respond emotionally if I feel that I have eaten 'too much'. But I am a far cry from what I once was. Paleo has enabled me to choose what I wish to eat and listen to my own hunger in a way that I have never experienced before. I have not been in a situation where I have had to eat non-Paleo yet, so I don't know if Paleo has just replaced my anorexically-driven guidelines for my diet. However, I have been able to eat foods that I know have had processed oils in them without spiralling out of control.

I don't suppose I'll know if I've ever truly recovered, because I don't plan on eating any other way. Paleo in itself, regardless of what is said in the online community, is nevertheless a recommendation for a certain way of eating. I am immensely happy with it and feel happier than I have since the onset of my eating disorder, but to be truly and completely honest I am not sure that I have fully recovered because I haven't eaten much of anything else. When I consider it, I think to myself that if I had not other choice, and did not wish to fast, I would be okay in eating non-Paleo. But then, you can almost always find something Paleo (really, it's as simple as steak and veggies ... I always have options).

I love Paleo whole-heartedly because it's given me a tool for working towards recovery, but it's a bit of a catch-22 in its own restrictions and tenets. I think it is possible to "do this without obsessing over every gram of carb or every calorie, or becoming a hardcore daily crossfit junkie obsessed with being "lean", or intermittent fasting" as long as you (and it pains me to say this) steer clear of excessive time spent at places such as PaleoHacks that, eponymously, discuss every facet of the Paleo lifestyle. Don't get me wrong, I love PaleoHacks, I love the information and the data and the discussion and the knowledge that is so prevalent here, but I think it could be disadvantageous for someone recovering from an eating disorder. I feel that I'm at a place where it's okay for me, but I think you'll need to decide for yourself whether you will be okay discussing hacks without descending into the madness of a hardcore crosfitter or regular intermittent faster.

It's not impossible. I think it can be done, with the right approach and mindset (geared and aiming for recovery, of course, which it appears you are). If you want to talk, feel free to comment and I'll leave my e-mail.

I also just want to clarify in that I am seventeen, considered very young by most people's standards. So please take what I say with a grain of salt if you so wish. I speak only from my own experience and personal opinion and interpretation.

Good luck!

*Edit: I just re-read your question and realised that you have been doing 80% Paleo. I see that as very positive as you haven't become consumed by the guidelines. For the sake of your health concerns, it could be worthwhile to go 100% as long as you take precaution about how strict your are being as I have discussed.

22b9b81bcc649b53faa731f3e6a9aa48

(50)

on October 18, 2012
at 07:27 PM

Wow, I was really surprised when I got to the end and realized you are only seventeen. You come across as very confident and intelligent in your writing. I assumed you were older. I might take you up on the offer to talk more, as I have a few questions about how you balance Paleo and recovery. If you're still willing to share your e-mail that would be great. Thanks for sharing your experience.

F7cf9588bc47db8b3b7ddeb5172a9311

(455)

on October 25, 2012
at 09:45 AM

Sorry this is such a late reply! I'm very flattered, thank you. My e-mail is fernpcawthorne@hotmail.com.

0
F9638b939a6f85d67f60065677193cad

(4266)

on October 18, 2012
at 06:25 PM

I don't know if things for me would be different if I just gave up gluten vs. giving up all wheat products and almost every grain product, but giving up all wheat and almost all grains gave me much better appetite control. (The only grain product I eat is very infrequent and small quantities of rice.) I always thought there was something wrong with me. I even envied those who were anorexic for the level of control they could achieve. Giving up wheat and other grains showed me I wasn't "out of control" or a glutton. Those foods just make me eat too much. So yeah, it might help you. You may also need real medicine because of a thyroid or other disorder.

22b9b81bcc649b53faa731f3e6a9aa48

(50)

on October 18, 2012
at 07:35 PM

That's great that giving up grains helped you so much. I tend to be a little too good at dieting and controlling my appetite, judging by my history, but this is still really encouraging.

F9638b939a6f85d67f60065677193cad

(4266)

on October 22, 2012
at 01:13 AM

I think that all food-related emotional and psychological problems are all faces of food addiction.

F9638b939a6f85d67f60065677193cad

(4266)

on October 19, 2012
at 06:58 PM

By the way, I have a friend who never realized that he was a food addict. He gave up flour and sugar, nothing else, no paleo diet or anything, and he was amazed at the difference that made. His wife did the same thing and lost 130lbs. They went to a 12-step program called food addicts in recovery anonymous. You might look it up because it will provide you emotional support and a diet that is pretty hard to call extreme or full of too many rules.

22b9b81bcc649b53faa731f3e6a9aa48

(50)

on October 20, 2012
at 06:45 PM

Oh, that's really interesting. I'm actually not a food addict though. I don't struggle with overeating at all. I'm more of a food phobic and have always had a hard time eating enough. I'm only recently recovered from anorexia and compulsive exercising, and then I gained weight due to a destroyed metabolism, not binge eating.

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