When my mom came to visit me in September, we took a trip to Rome. On this trip, I decided to mindfully eat whatever I wanted because I couldn’t imagine visiting Rome without indulging in pasta and gnocchi at least once. Or twice. Or every night. Since coming back to Germany, I have continued this liberal way of eating, and while I have not always felt my best – something good has come of it.
My motive behind eating more food of all kinds was partly because I get so sick of eating extremely restricted, partly because I still don’t know the best way to eat to feel well, but mostly because I struggle with hypothalamic amenorrhea. I lost my period for the first time in Jan 2014, and it was 100% MIA for just about three full years. Within the last six years I’ve had eleven periods: two in 2016, three in 2017, five in 2018, and one in 2019…just a couple weeks ago.
Each time a period comes I get VERY excited, but I also know that one time isn’t consistent and I’m still aware of the fact that my body needs very specific conditions in order to trust me. Conditions like low stress, low physical activity, and eating enough calories. While I think my free for all eating has a lot to do with my recent period, I also think now that its winter and my activity level has dropped my body is feeling a little more safe.
My activities lately have been slow bike rides, casual walks through the fields behind where I live, and laying on my bed for hours after work. We had a big snow recently and while I used to dislike when it snowed, I don’t mind it as much here. I went for a walk to a nearby lake and the quiet stillness of this freshly fallen snow was intoxicating for my mind. A simple reminder to slow down.
I admit it’s been hard to see my body changing. I’ve gained weight (though I couldn’t tell you how much, I don’t use a scale) and my clothes feel snug at times, but I have continued to remind myself why I am eating more freely. I still need to fine tune my eating (which has felt like a marathon endeavor the last five or so years), because despite the recent period – I don’t feel well when I eat too many grains or foods I’m sensitive to.
Food can give me a hangover similar to alcohol, that lasts for days.
My job is stressful as hell, so I knew it had to be something else. I knew it had to be eating more and moving less. Plain and simple. Funny how we’re taught to do the opposite, but when things go awry in the body we have to go against what we know and do something much more difficult. For me it’s harder to be inactive than it is to be active.
I used to decompress by going for long runs, or intense hikes. Now I go for walks, do yoga, or listen to music.
I still daydream about the days I’d go for a long run, or find an intense mountain to climb. If I were to do that now my body would scream at me in more ways than one. I never realized how much I appreciated intense exercise until I was no longer able to do it. I still go on intense hikes, but I move MUCH slower, and go less often.
I have to be extra mindful of my decisions to ensure I do whatever I can to work WITH my body and my hormones rather than against them. Getting a period after a year in Germany was like a small piece of validation that I am doing something right and to keep going. To keep pushing though the discomfort and to keep finding the right food for my body even when the process feels never-ending.
I don’t want to get too complacent, and I don’t want to eat too many foods that really disturb my body because that will do more harm than good (inflammation is no joke for an autoimmune disease), but I do want to keep challenging myself to let go of the idea that my body needs to stay one size at all times. Bodies change, just as much as our minds change.
The recent freedom of this acceptance has been helpful, and while I am still a work in progress I am much further today mentally than I ever have been. Progress is all I can ask for, and progress is what I’m making. What a miserable life it would be to stay locked in a box of narrow-minded thinking and miss out on the possibilities of life because I fear my body changing.
I never asked to have a disordered way of eating, it just sort of happened when I noticed changes in my body – most related to my autoimmune disease. While I am overjoyed at the return of my period last month, it didn’t come without a cost. I have had more brain fog than normal, more itchy crawling skin with rashes, more eczema flares, more dry blotchy skin, more swollen eyes, and much more inflammation.
It’s hard not to fear food when it is the leading cause for symptoms like the above. I am forever my own science experiment.
Food is medicine, and I will forever believe this, but no way of eating will ever compete with a balanced, low stress mind and body. So yes, I need to be mindful of food I am allergic to, and yes I need to be aware of my stress, but no I don’t need to be obsessive and allow these things to control my life. Some days are easier than others, and some days I just want to quit life and live in my bed forever, but I only fail if I quit trying.
This post is a reminder to myself, and to anyone else out there struggling with food, and life, and balance, and autoimmune diseases – just keep going. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be fun, but it will be worth it.