This is the third 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 Dani’s story. She discusses her journey with Lyme disease and how she developed a rough relationship with food after following a restrictive healing diet for treatment.
I want to first provide a trigger warning (which I will do before each post in this series): This post contains discussion about eating disorders/disordered eating. 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.
My name is Dani, I’m 25, and I have chronic neurological Lyme disease, Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy, Dysautonomia, Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth, and Hypoglycemia. I’m currently at home focusing on healing since graduating physical therapy school this past year. I love to hole up with a book in coffee shops, draw, write, and color!
1. Can you talk a little bit about your history with or WITHOUT an eating disorder and if you are still struggling or feel like you are recovered from it. I do not have a history with ED, but I do have a history of a distorted relationship with food. I was consistently compared to my very thin sister and from a young age felt pressured to lose weight. I struggled with eating healthier and would feel a lot of guilt if I ate something that wasn’t healthy, or ate too much.
2. If you began a restrictive “healing diet” for your illness, can you tell me why you chose to do that? A restrictive diet is a common part of treatment for Lyme disease. Lyme disease is an inflammatory illness and a lot of the symptoms from it are either caused directly from uncontrolled inflammation or can be improved by reducing the amount of inflammation in the body. My doctors informed me that by eating a clean, whole foods diet free from processed foods, sugar, gluten, and dairy, most patients will benefit from some level of symptom relief. So I switched to a more restrictive diet to attempt to decrease my inflammation.
3. how did going on the “healing diet” or getting sick with a chronic illness impact your ED/relationship with food? By the time I started treatment for Lyme and was told I needed to change my diet to heal, I went at it full force because I would’ve done anything to get better. I was strict with the diet and never cheated. No processed gluten-free foods, everything from scratch, no wiggle room for what I could and couldn’t eat. As you can imagine, eventually it became impossible to maintain. There was a period of time where I was too fatigued to cook for myself, but couldn’t eat out or order in while maintaining the diet. I often found myself choosing not to eat at all rather than eating something that didn’t align with my diet perfectly. I started to resent the diet, Lyme treatment, and even other people who didn’t have to follow such a diet and took their own freedom for granted. I was under enormous self-imposed stress to be perfect at the diet and do everything I could to heal. After some time, I would have something I shouldn’t on occasion and I’d be drowned in guilt. I was surrounded by all of these negative emotions from a diet that’s supposed to be healing!
4. Were you able to find ways to cope with/keep your ED under control while on the “healing diet”? If so, can you share some of those tips with the readers? If not, how did/have you move forward? It took me a long time to realize that the amount of stress I had over my diet was worse for my health than just eating one or even a couple “non-compliant” things on occasion. I slowly loosened the reigns on my dietary restrictions. For example, I love the peppermint mocha coffee from Starbucks in the winter. Is one peppermint mocha per year going to keep me from reaching remission? Of course not! Once I started getting comfortable with that, everything got a lot easier. So, now I focus on nourishing my body with healthy foods as often as I can and refraining from being too hard on myself when I can’t. Overall, my goal now is to choose healthier options when I can, rather than perfection. Since I’ve been doing this, I’ve been under a lot less pressure! Talking to my friends with chronic illnesses who are also on healing diets is probably what helped me the most. As I opened up about it more, I realized that I wasn’t alone with this pressure to be perfect. We were ALL struggling with the idea of perfection in the name of healing!
5. Do you have any tips on how to manage ED recovery with chronic illness recovery in terms of diet/food. I don’t have an eating disorder and never did, so I can’t speak to that specifically. I’m included in this series to give a voice to others who have struggled with disordered eating patterns that emerged from following a healing diet, WITHOUT a history of ED. From my experience, I think the absolute best way to manage all of this is to speak with a therapist or a trusted friend about your struggles. Like I said above, I found a lot of relief by finding common ground with others regarding my newly distorted relationship with food. If I felt guilty for eating something outside of the diet parameters, speaking with friends who would be like “oh my goodness do NOT feel guilty about that!” really helped me to step back and realize that I shouldn’t feel as guilty as I had been. This of course will not work for everyone, but it’s been immensely helpful for me.
You Can Find Dani Here:
Youtube: Lyme With It Rock With It