This is the second post in my series ‘Healing Beyond Diet‘ where I am sharing stories of those in the chronic illness community who have dealt with eating disorders or developed disordered eating habits as a result of following restrictive “healing diets”. You can read more about the start of this series here.
Today, I am sharing Semia’s story. She discusses her journey with Lyme disease while maintaining recovery from an eating disorder.
I want to first provide a trigger warning (which I will do before each post in this series): This post contains (intimate) discussion about eating disorders. I trust that you will take care of yourself and do what is best for you in regards to putting yourself first for ultimate healing.
Hi! My name is Semia and I am 29 years old. I was born and raised in New Jersey, but have been currently living in Florida for the past 4 years. I am a nursing student and working on pursuing my bachelor’s degree. My whole life I’ve dreamt of becoming a nurse because it is my passion and I get so much fulfillment through helping and caring for others. While this dream will continue to remain my number one goal, I was forced to put it on hold and go on a medical leave when I was diagnosed with chronic Lyme Disease in 2015.
Despite ongoing treatment, I still continue to struggle with this disease and continue the search for a treatment that will work for me. When I was diagnosed, I was still a bit early on in recovery from my eating disorder that I had battled since I was 19 years old.
It was my freshmen year in college where my eating disorder all began. I have a history of trauma that I do believe had played a role in its development. It was in my sophomore year that I had to take my first medical leave from school because my anorexia had become so severe, I was knocking on deaths door. From that point on, I was being bounced around to treatment centers all over the country, desperately fighting to get my life back yet somehow continuing to fall deeper and deeper into this sick and twisted illness. Eventually, my anorexia turned into a combination of bulimia, laxative abuse, and over exercising. It took me 6 years of treatment centers, physiatrists, doctors, therapists, you name it, to finally get on the road of recovery. This journey was what I thought at the time would be the hardest thing I would ever have to endure and that if I can overcome this – there was nothing else in this world that could bring me down.
Well, finally, in 2014 I did just that. I reached recovery which was the most beautiful feeling in the world and I sure as hell felt unstoppable. I was happy for the first time in over a decade and I finally felt free. I went back to nursing school and was so blessed and grateful that I actually was about to pursue my one and only dream.
Unfortunately, that time was very short lived. I started getting sick with multiple symptoms that doctors couldn’t explain and 8 months later was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease. Now I had a whole other battle in front of me. I did exactly what I was told to do after getting diagnosed which was to seek out a Lyme literate physician. One of the very first things she told me to do was to start eating completely all organic, as well as gluten, dairy, and sugar free. I remember thinking to myself “oh no, if I eat this way my eating disorder is sure to come back!” Although at the same time I was willing and ready to do whatever it took to get better from this awful disease and all the debilitating symptoms that were stripping my life away (I know anyone suffering from Lyme can relate). My doctor made it very clear to me that if I didn’t follow her diet recommendations that my symptoms would get much worse. I needed to get better so from that point forward I became strictly paleo and stopped thinking about my eating disorder (or at least tried to) because my mind was only focused on getting rid of Lyme disease.
One thing I’d like to point out is that while I consider myself fully recovered from my eating disorder, I still continue to have the thoughts. For example, whenever I feel too full, I sometimes get this immediate thought of “well I could always just throw that up.” It’s almost like a reflex, it’s something that just happens. It doesn’t bother me because its fleeting, the thought just goes away. I never act on it anymore and it doesn’t impact my life in any way like it used to. I don’t think these thoughts will ever go away and to be honest, that is totally OK.
This did however become an issue a few months into eating strictly paleo when those thoughts started to become a little louder and more consuming. I had found myself wanting to eat less and portion my plates smaller. At the time, I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it, especially my family. They were beyond proud of me when I finally recovered from my eating disorder so, I didn’t want to let them down if they knew my thoughts/urges were becoming more intense. It started to become very difficult as a recovered anorexic/bulimic to ONLY consume certain types of foods and not slip back into old behaviors. Eating this strict “healing diet” made me want to lose weight again, made me start to crave foods my doctors told me I could never eat again, and made those thoughts in my mind so much more chaotic and hard to cope with.
I am and always will have a serious sweet tooth. One of the best things about being in my ED recovery is the ability to enjoy eating chocolate cake and cookies again without the guilt! Now that I had to deprive myself of these comfort foods that we ALL are entitled to have once in a while, it was obvious my ED would try to rear its ugly head, especially since I was so early in recovery.
Another factor that played a role was the fluctuating weight that started happening as a result of Lyme. It is very common for Lyme to start messing with your hormones and thyroid and as a result my weight would fluctuate all the time. One week I would lose weight, then the next week gain more. This also made me want to take this “healing diet” to the next level, especially when my weight would go up. All in all, this restrictive dieting made it really difficult to enjoy food again. When it comes to treating my Lyme disease, I am extremely stubborn in the sense that I wanted to do everything perfectly; take all the recommended supplements and medications, detox, and eat well religiously. I found myself no longer enjoying my meals because I just felt deprived and as a result it was fueling my eating disorder even more.
In order for me to listen to my doctor’s orders AS WELL AS my body’s orders, I had to find a balance. Staying in recovery from my eating disorder is just as important as treating my Lyme. I started reaching out for support to those I felt most comfortable with. I had a session with my therapist explaining the frustration and the feeling that I was losing control. I had to let go of my perfectionist mentality and start really listening to my body and giving it what it needed. I had to remember that I LOVE myself and with loving myself comes taking care of all of me in the best way I knew how. I continued to eat paleo but also started venturing out into other ways I can satisfy my sweet tooth without completely falling off the diet. I found that dates happen to be a very nutritious fruit that also taste pretty darn good! Dates are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. This sweet and tasty fruit even has the added benefits of reducing constipation, anemia, diarrhea, and even boosting energy levels. I got creative and would do things like take the pit out and fill it with almond butter. To me it tastes like cookie dough! yes, it’s not entirely sugar free because all fruits have sugar, but it’s a much healthier version then most desserts. A healing diet doesn’t have to be limited or strict by any means.
Our bodies are designed to have the ability to heal themselves and while food is not the only factor in doing so, it is still a component. I want my body to get everything it needs to continue to fight this disease, but I also know not to deprive myself. When my ED thoughts became overpowering, I reached out for support with my therapist who I trust with my life and also some close friends that I shared my ED journey with. One thing we never want to do is sit alone in our thoughts because that will more than likely lead to poor decisions. I also found that meal prepping was helpful to stay consistent. And lastly, I stopped punishing myself for having that piece of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving that was loaded with sugar and carbs. Or the day I decided to indulge in 20 gluten free cookies. Yes, sometimes I pay for it the next day, but it is completely OK to treat yourself once in a while.
I strongly encourage anyone who had or is currently struggling with an ED and needs to be on a healing diet to reach out for support and let someone know you’re struggling. It sure as hell isn’t easy sometimes and it can become very exhausting, but remind yourself that you are a warrior! That you have come so far and sure as hell won’t give up now. There are ways to cope and to stay in recovery. There is always a middle ground and we just need to find our balance.
I hope this was helpful to anyone who has battled an eating disorder or is still currently struggling with one while also fighting a chronic illness. Please know that I would be more than happy to offer my support and love. Thank you all for reading ❤
You Can Find Semia Here:
FB name – Semia Radwan
IG – @semiaradwan
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org