Disclaimer: this is my story and is in no means intended as medical advice. If you are experiencing food anxiety or feel you may have an eating disorder please talk to your doctor or seek professional help (some good sources can be found at end of this blog post).
This article was reviewed by Registered Dietitian Alida Lacobellis.
I originally wanted to call this post “Keto is evil”, but then realized I was getting too emotional and that this post was going to be about a lot more than my feelings on the keto diet or more accurately my current state on all things diet. You see as much as I think keto is evil, it also brought me to a place of self-discovery. Keto is what pushed me over the edge and made me come to terms with the fact that over the last two years I had been digging myself into a dark hole of disordered eating.
This all hit me one day as I found myself in front of a plate of a low carb high-fat salad. I sat there frozen in a total panic. Not the panic I am used to. The one that stems from fear there may be a trace of sesame, which could lead to anaphylaxis. No. It was a: oh-my-god-this-salad-is-going-to-make-me-fat fear.
Food has always had an element of anxiety/fear for me due to my allergies, but it mostly held a place of enjoyment. Over the last year, my relationship with food became overly complicated and confusing. It didn’t just change how I was eating, it infiltrated into who I was as a person.
I had lost my joie de vivre, my sense of pleasure, my easy going side, my niceness, and my understanding of others. I had replaced it with judgement of what other’s ate, a nasty snappy way of talking to people, general unease and grumpiness. Basically, I was hangry all the time and couldn’t think of anything else other than food. I became a mean girl.
My disordered eating
Over eating with feelings of loss of control propagated by fear of developing new allergies and my first taste of weight loss.
My journey to disordered eating probably started a long time ago. I would say during my teens as I developed more food allergies and OAS. The disordered eating I experienced (and am currently working on) is over eating. I would do this because I was in constant fear that it was the last time I was ever going to eat something.
I only recognised this is unhealthy behaviour recently when I admitted that after many different diets my over eating with feelings of loss of control got worse and the post-meal guilt grew. The more I dieted the more I was adding to the fact that this could be the last time I had X forever. I was adding self-imposed restrictions that were meshing into and becoming one with my allergy anxiety.
The start of dieting
My first experience with proper dieting came after running two marathons and still not losing any weight. I got pretty fed up and was determined to shed 5kg. I could not for the life of me figure out why I couldn’t shake the weight, I ate well and moved, but my body held onto that weight. (You’ll find out more about this if you keep on reading).
So I hired an online trainer and she helped me develop an exercise regimen and a meal plan. It worked, I started to lose weight and feel really good. Weight loss is a seductive thing.
At the same time, my eczema was becoming unmanageable. As I did research about “healthy eating” and natural healing, I stumbled upon Whole30. And this is where the spiral of elimination diets commenced. Even though Whole30 is only 30 days, it has taken me almost two years to get over what it did to me mentally.
The shame and guilt I developed about eating ‘unhealthy’ foods became a constant mental battle. The need to control what I was eating and to stay thin became an obsession, and I started to jump on all the diet trends.
Hiding my disordered eating behind “Food is Medicine”
Food is medicine was how I covered up any disordered eating. Let’s be honest, it is trendy and socially accepted. I was seen as brave and praised for taking on my own health and doing it naturally. I had gotten caught up in the social media circles where cutting out sugar or gluten or dairy for eczema is the in thing to do.
The praise, like weight loss, is also addicting. So, I told people my insane eating habits were for my conditions, but who was I kidding? The root was fear of gaining weight and putting ‘poisonous inflammatory’ foods into my body.
The cherry on top of it all is that the literature is so appealing. The last diet I ended up doing was Keto. When I read about the diet I felt like they were talking directly to me. You can pretty much spin anything you want to fit your theory.
Those who knew I was doing Keto thought it was because I wanted to naturally regulate my hormones and of course for my eczema. You see throughout all of this I didn’t get my period (also a sign of disordered eating). That is 23 months without a visit from Auntie Flow.
I was in deep. Dieting became my religion, my salvation, my search for a cure. It was also killing my soul and I was forgetting who I was.
Starting to heal & trusting medicine
That moment with the salad was a wake-up call. I realized just how silly this fear was because it is not a life or death anxiety that I knew and could understand. It was a fear I felt was unjustifiable put into the perspective of food allergies.
As I slowly came to terms with the fact that I was becoming a total psycho that no one wanted to be around, I had two big medical discoveries. The first happened at my allergist/dermatologist. I explained how I had been dairy-free for three months and how it has been helping my eczema. Well, he certainly did not think it was. According to him, my skin was in really bad shape and that diet alone was not going to help me. He told me that eliminating diary only really works for a handful of people and I am not one of those people.
Thank the cheese gods! This was the first sign of awakening.
The second came when I went to my gynaecologist and was finally told why I had not menstruated in nearly 2 years. I was diagnosed with PCOS, which explains the trouble with weight and a few other things I was attempting to solve (this is where I made the diet theories work for my conditions).
I was given some prescriptions by both doctors and have since seen improvements in all areas. Since then I have gained some weight, and guess what I am feeling ok about that. Why? Because I am slowly making peace with food and never want to experience the anxiety I had during Keto again. Allergy anxiety is enough, thank you!
I have also met an amazing Registered Dietitian, Alida. She helped me learn about intuitive eating and how to regain trust in myself and my eating. Alida has two guest posts coming this month about how food fear plays an impact on food allergies and how intuitive eating can help. So stay tuned.
Caught up in the diet trends
Elimination diets and food as medicine are super trendy. They are an alluring answer to all your problems, but the truth is the success stories you read about online are the tip of the iceberg. Who knows how many people it actually works for. It’s like when you find a great new free from brand and need to let everyone know about it. People who have had success doing something preach about it, but it does not mean it will work for you. Why? Because every body is different.
Why am I telling you about this?
My fear is that we as allergy folks can get caught up in too much. We manage allergies and do not need to manage the pressures of diet culture on top of it all. #soyfree and #dairyfree are mixed in with #keto, #whole30 and clean eating, so it can be easy to find yourself down the diet rabbit hole.
If an elimination has worked for you then that’s amazing and I bet you feel so good (I thought this would be me). If an elimination didn’t show any results, don’t beat yourself up about it. Not everything works for the same people and as I learnt sometimes you need to trust your doctor. There is a reason medicine exists and it’s ok to take it.
Food anxiety comes in a lot of forms and the one I hope you don’t experience is that from diets. If you want to know more about disordered eating, check out the two posts from RD Alida:
→ Understanding Food Fear and How It Is Related to Food Allergies
→ How to Challenge Your Food Rules and Reduce Food Fear
p.s. there is no harm in asking for help. Recognising disordered eating is not easy and asking for help is even harder.
Kortney is your typical atopic triad! She manages asthma, eczema, environmental and food allergies. Kortney is a co-creator of the online community Allergy Travels and co-host of The Itch Podcast. She wants to spread joy in a community that can easily see the hard side of life with atopic disease and believes that you can have a full life with food allergies, it may just be lived a little differently!