Intermittent Fasting and Bulimia?

The lovely image above comes from pxhere.com.

It’s all the rage these days, though nothing new: intermittent fasting. Fasting is a regular practice in many religious traditions, and people have implemented it for themselves for centuries. Scientific reports dating back to the early 20th century show that periodic fasting and/or low caloric intake over the lifespan is correlated with longer life expectancy and better health outcomes compared with the standard eating pattern (i.e. daily and full caloric consumption). There are a few different types of intermittent fasting that are most common:

16:8

  • Eat during an eight hour window, and fast for the remaining 16 hours of the day. Most folks choose to eat between 12pm and 8pm. Basically, skip breakfast and don’t eat at night. This is one of the most popular forms of fasting among dieters today, with droves of bloggers, vloggers and media personalities touting their success on this plan.
  • Similarly, some folks choose to eat during a 12 hour window every day (rather easy), some choose 10 hours, and still others opt for longer or shorter fasting times. The point is, lean into your body’s normal fasting phase (after all, we all must fast when we sleep) by not eating several hours before bed, and in most cases, several hours after waking.

5:2

  • Eat five days a week, no restrictions. Fast completely for two days a week.
  • Some folks fast three days a week, others one. Some argue that as part of this fast, it is permissible to consume up to 500 calories in one meal on a fast day.

Prolonged fast

  • This involves fasting for a few days in a row (or longer), rather infrequently– once per month or even less often.

Low-calorie long-term

  • This requires consuming between 50% and 80% of the ‘standard’ caloric requirement for one’s body for years on end– usually over the entire lifespan. Reflecting on my anorexia I find this fact dubious, but the science evidences its efficacy. Look it up.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about 16:8 and 5:2, which are probably the most popular today. Google the former, and plenty of videos will populate with dieters’ testimonies glorifying their weight loss success using one of these approaches. Naturally, I decided to try it for myself.

I went for 5:2 (fasting two days per week), without any specific reasoning in mind other than it appealed to me to have what I consider two “pure” days every week– no eating, which means no bingeing, weight gain, or food obsession. In short order, I found myself in a familiar pattern. I was fasting in alternation with wild, out of control binges of food and alcohol on eat days. It’s a pattern I’ve lived nearly ten years.

Bulimia is widely misunderstood to necessarily involve vomiting or laxative use. While these purge methods are popular, there are two significant exceptions to the rule. Purging, according to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness, Edition 5 published in 2013) may involve forced, excessive exercise to compensate for a binge, or it may involve a fast. That’s right– years of binging followed by fasts and hours-long compulsive exercise signaled bulimia after all, contrary to my previous knowledge which dismissed this destructive pattern as sub-clinical.

So what about intermittent fasting? Is it possible, as an ex- or especially as a current bulimic, to engage in this practice non-pathologically? No doubt there are recovered individuals out there who find total, freeing success with intermittent fasting despite their disordered past who would respond, “Yes! It’s possible!” But I won’t lie, I have serious doubts, driven by my past, present, and recent foray into intermittent fasting that a bulimic can engage in fasting behavior in a non disordered way.

Fellow recoverers and sufferers, beware: intermittent fasting may trigger disordered behaviors. Doubtlessly, this practice works for lots of people, and even saves some from food and weight issues. However, for ED folks, it can quickly turn into another abusive behavior in disguise.

Unlearning Pressure: Why I’m Done with School

Cover photo from 2017 Sony World Photography Awards Nominations List, link here

On this rainy afternoon, let me take a break from the hours and hours of finals preparations that I’m enduring to share a short post with you. I’m graduating from college in about 35 days, and I’m wrestling lately with the desire and compulsion to continue my education at graduate school. I won’t sugarcoat things– I’ve been very successful academically all my life, and will be graduating summa cum laude from a top university. It’s not surprising that all of my advisors, professors, and family members are pushing me to consider graduate school. Think about it– research! Publishing papers! Tenureship! Why wouldn’t I go?

Maybe one day I will want to go to graduate school. For the time being, however, I certainly will not be going. Here’s why: since I was young (maybe about nine or ten years old), I’ve mindlessly followed the societal compulsion to endure the sometimes intense stress of getting an education, because it’s just what you’re supposed to do. If you’re a good student, as I have been since I was in kindergarten, you take advanced classes (even though your anorexia is preventing you from focusing during placement tests), you go to a top college (even if the thought of going to school sends you into months of constant panic attacks), you write a senior thesis (even if you can barely stand the thought of finishing your degree), you get a competitive job, and you go to graduate school. I’m somewhere between graduation and getting a competitive job, and realizing that my pursuit of the expected path has done me very little good in my life.

I’m graduating summa cum laude. I’m also graduating with very few friends and personal connections, with lots of scars on my arms, an eating disorder, and a dependence on alcohol. Excluding my earlier education for a moment, which fits neatly in with this pattern, college alone has been a rotten experience for me, and I can say confidently that never before and never again will I allow myself to endure four straight years of crippling depression, anxiety, and maddening mental illnesses. Is it because I’ve pushed myself academically, taken difficult classes, and kept an eye relentlessly on the goal of academic achievement? I don’t think so, but it definitely hasn’t helped.

Looking back over my life so far– my accomplishments (lots of awards, and very few happy memories)– I’m left to contemplate the next step. And as much as I’m struggling to do so, I’m beginning to recognize that I can’t continue on this path. Do I really need an uber-competitive job (because I should), when I know it will continue me down a path of poor physical and mental health? Do I really need a PhD, when the last several years have demonstrated to me what happens when I dedicate myself to academia?

I am terribly guilty of this admission. Guilty that I’m not grateful enough for my academic awards, and guilty that I’m not going to push myself as hard in the future. But here’s what I keep asking myself: when I’m on my deathbed, will I look back and feel grateful that I got a bunch of advanced degrees, and no doubt a prestigious fellowship, or will I regret the resultant depression and isolation? I want to die knowing that I spent my life enjoying family, friends, and cultivating a rich social, mental, and physical lifestyle– not academic or career advancement. I just need to keep reminding myself of this, day in and day out. Maybe it’s not very glamorous to have a happy, slower-paced life, especially in modern America– but I’ve never been one for glamor.

I’m Ready to be Normal, Please

Hi Internet, long time no see. There’s a reason for that– that last few months (and years) have been tough, especially for the eating disorder/alcohol abuse stuff. The good news is that my anxiety and depression are at a low right now, and in general, I’m feeling pretty good! As long as you exclude the daily binges and constant reliance on alcohol from the equation.

I woke up yesterday morning after the seventh straight day of (serious) bingeing, hungover, and was absolutely miserable. The voices in my head (metaphorically speaking– if you are hearing real voices, seek medical attention, please) were berating me more than ever. I wanted to self-harm. I always pick at my fingernails and cuticles, but it was worse than normal– my fingers were bloody stumps by the end of the morning. Every day is the same. Wake, and resolve to change. To stop bingeing, starving, and drinking. To eat well, not obsess, and finally get thin. That’s the problem, though. As long as I sought to lose weight, not only would I never succeed, but I would keep on experiencing binge eating disorder, or what have you, for years and years to come. Evidenced by the last nine years of my life.

I’m resolving to recover– for real. Not to eat smoothies and lose weight for graduation. Unfortunately, that dream is down the pipe. I’m resolving to stop obsessing, planning, and counting calories, and to hopefully stop gorging myself every day, and then compensating with a starvation diet and despair.

I’d like to share my plan with you because I think it’s a solid one. Balanced, reasonable, and it might even free me from this psychological pain and physical nausea, day in and day out.

  1. Eat three meals a day, at more or less the same time.
    1. That means no snacking unless I’m really hungry.
    2. The same time for me means that I’ll have breakfast between 8-9am, lunch between 12-2 pm, and dinner between 5:30 and 7:30 pm, but that’s flexible, too.
  2. At each meal, eat until full. No more, no less. 
  3. Eat balanced meals that are physically and spiritually nourishing. 
    1. That means that “junk” foods are okay in moderation. It also means that fruits, veggies, and whole grains are important.
    2. This is different from a lot of recovery advice which says that if you want five slices of pizza for dinner, you should have that. In my view, that can perpetuate disordered eating. Instead, one or two slices with salad, fruit, and maybe some soup is a balanced meal. Or no pizza. Or no salad. You get the point.
  4. Move every day, not too much.
    1. For me, that means getting a walk in every day at a moderate pace.
    2. The reason I say not too much (and this might not work for folks) is that I struggled with exercise addiction in high school and I’m wary of triggering that impulse. No 3 hour walks for me.
  5. When eating, sit down. 
    1. Don’t rush. Taste it. Savor it.
    2. This isn’t always possible, of course. But, it should be the norm. 
  6. Don’t restrict anything. (Except meat).
    1. I’m a vegetarian, hence no meat. It makes me happy, but might not work for other people. You do you.
    2. For me, that means not restricting the things I like but that I think are less than healthy, like cheese, chocolates, and fried foods. Of course, everything in moderation– but if I want a bit of cheese here and there, I won’t stop myself. I’ll sit down and eat it (mindfully).
  7. No more drinking alcohol.
    1. This has been a goal for me for a long time now, and I obviously haven’t been successful yet. So here’s what I’m going to try to get this moving:
      1. Drink more diet soda instead. I know, I know, it’s bad– but I’ll take a slightly toxic Diet Coke over six glasses of wine and a hangover any day.
      2. Read blog posts by (women) people who abstain from alcohol, to get social support.
      3. When visiting a place where you know there will be alcohol, prepare in advance. Meditate, and resolve to abstain. Then bring a Diet Coke with you. That’s what I’ll do.
  8. For the most part, save desserts for special occasions.
    1. A bite of something sweet here and there is no problem. But there’s just no need to eat a slice of cake (or five) every day. It triggers addictive binge behavior.
    2. With that said, if you make cookies, just eat one. Indulgence is not only okay, but it is necessary– just don’t keep sweets a major part of your daily life.
  9. EAT LIKE A NORMAL PERSON. 
    1. Would a normal person be panicking about eating two chips right now? No? Don’t panic.
    2. Would a normal person be watching hours and hours of YouTube videos of diets instead of getting a snack? No? Don’t do it.
    3. Would a normal person order what they want at a restaurant, eat until they’re satisfied, and take the rest home? Yes? Do it.
    4. You get the memo.

Well, wish me luck. So far today, I had a bagel with cream cheese for breakfast and a veggie burger with fries for lunch. It was AWESOME, and also pretty frightening. I haven’t been this full in a long time, excluding binges.

Trigger Warnings Are Valuable… Here’s Why

I get it, for those of you that think that trigger warnings, or content warnings, are yet another manifestation of overly sensitive liberalism. On the surface, trigger warnings can appear grossly superfluous– grow up! If you’re offended by discussions of violence, inequality, or anxiety, then you can’t function in the “real world.” And I attribute that, at least partially, to the overuse of trigger warnings when they may not be warranted. Here’s an example I saw the other day that I have to concur seemed over-the-top and self-indulgent: in an article about stress and schoolwork for college students, there was a content warning at the top that stated simply, “stress, anxiousness.” Come on, people. When we use trigger and content warnings that are that banal, we lose sight of the times when they are very much valuable.

Here’s an easy analogy. Would you ever bring an alcoholic to a bar, flaunt alcohol in their face and say, “Grow up! Be in the real world”? No, or at least I hope not. There would be a recognition that alcohol is “triggering” to an alcoholic– that is, it has the potential to cause very harmful behaviors, and that alcoholic might experience intense stress and even a lack of control around that alcohol. Okay, now let’s take depression, or panic disorder (those are trigger warnings that I often see). For a person with these or other mental disorders, a detailed description of someone’s experience, such as in an editorial piece in the paper, can be triggering– for a depressed person, it can cause a dark, suicidal spiral and a worsening of the disorder. Or, for a person who has a history of panic attacks, it might invoke the panicked feelings once again. With a trigger warning, a person with mental illness (past or present) can at least make the judgment for themselves of, “Do I want to be reminded of my own mental suffering today when I am just trying to relax on the Internet?” Maybe not. But, importantly, many will choose to read on. A trigger warning is not a barrier– it is just an alert.

A similar argument can be made for trigger warnings that are often given regarding homophobia, sexual violence, or racism. What is evident for many but might be difficult to grasp for straight people (me), white people (me), or people who’ve experienced minimal to know sexual violence (also me), is that these topics can be similarly triggering. Panic attacks are terrifying, and talking about them triggering– most folks can grasp that. But talking about homophobia/queerphobia, for example, can be just as terrifying, because homophobia (and other experiences) also carry violence, pain, and serious emotional distress.

Sometimes I feel ambivalent about trigger warnings, and do struggle with the idea that there really is no such thing as a trigger warning that’s been institutionalized outside of liberal academic colleges and think tanks. So are we just spoiling ourselves with our handy warnings in a way that actually sets us up for harm in the long run? I don’t think so, but the question deserves asking. I struggle with my ambivalence because there have been two separate occasions when a lack of a trigger warning set me up for a difficult time. Usually, this happens with eating disorders, or used to happen. A professor would begin sharing her own experience, or show a video of an anorexic, without warning, and I would have a panic attack and have to run from the classroom. I wish I was exaggerating, truly. But for me, watching or hearing about a person with anorexia immediately takes me back to the worst place I’ve ever been– I immediately feel self-loathing, repulsive, and suicidal. Just from hearing about it. And I won’t lie, watching movies or videos about eating disorders will often trigger the worsening of disordered behaviors for me (and I know that’s the case for other people as well.) Whenever there is a trigger warning available, I’ll often remove myself from the situation if I know I’m in a bad place emotionally to spare myself the emotional despair.

Furthermore, most people don’t require trigger warnings most of the time. Most of the time, I can read a story about rape and feel disturbed, but not shattered. Sometimes, a rape story will keep me up at night for weeks. What I desire is the ability, conveyed in something so simple as a trigger warning, to decide before reading an article or watching a film whether or not I can manage. When I see trigger warnings that seem superfluous, I remind myself that they don’t serve most of the people who will read it– but they will almost inevitably help a couple people choose to make a decision to spare their own mental health. I can watch a film about addiction, but I would be so kind as to spare a heroin addict from viewing by providing a one-worded warning, just in case they feel that it might delay their recovery. At the end of the day, it’s a small ask.

But what about trigger warnings on your website, Anna? You’ll note that I don’t use warnings, and that’s because the entire site is dedicated to mental health, illness, eating disorders, etc. and I provide a sort of warning by disclosing the focus in the About page and in my bio. There’s really no need when a reader will expect what they’re getting in to. However, if I were to share one of my posts about bulimia with an outside source, I’d be sure to write “trigger warning: bulimia” just in case an unsuspecting reader felt that they did not want their purging to be triggered that day.

Lemon Chickpea Soup

I love this lemony soup with spinach and chickpeas and often eat several bowls at a time. It’s filling, refreshing, and of course, vegan. Not to mention cheap.

download

Estimated cost: $6 for 5 servings ($1.20 per serving)

  • 1 fresh lemon, juice and zest
  • 4 cups fresh spinach
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • Fresh parsley chopped, about 1/2 cup
  • 6 cups Vegetable broth or some bouillon cubes dissolved in water
  • 1 can chickpeas or other beans
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 T Goya seasoning or garlic powder for extra flavor
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • Salt to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. Dice carrot, celery, and onion (about medium dice). Mince the garlic and roughly chop the parsley.
  2. Heat a little bit of olive or vegetable oil in a large saucepan. Add onion, carrot, and celery (the mirepoix) and saute until beginning to soften, about 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic, saute 1 or two more minutes. Add parsley and thyme.
  3. Add the vegetable broth (or, 6 cups of water with a large cube of vegetable broth dissolved in). Add some salt and pepper, to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low to a simmer.
  4. Drain, rinse and add the chickpeas. Add the juice and zest of one lemon.
  5. Continue to simmer until the vegetables are tender. Once the vegetables are done, add the spinach and wilt for one or two minutes.
  6. Remove from heat. Adjust for seasoning, and add a little more fresh lemon. Serve hot. Enjoy!
  7. Optional: add rice or orzo along with the broth, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the rice is cooked.

LENTIL STEW

I made this lentil soup topped with fresh lemon and parsley and ate it all week. The flavor was wonderful, and it left me feeling full but not weighed down.

Estimated cost: $6 for 6 servings ($1 per serving)

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  • 2 cups green lentils
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 T Cumin
  • 1 T coriander
  • 1 T paprika
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp Goya seasoning, or a bit of garlic powder
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 can crushed tomato
  • 6 cups vegetable broth (or bouillon cubes dissolved in water)
  • 1/2 cup fresh spinach, chopped thin
  • 1 lemon
  • Fresh parsley, chopped

DIRECTIONS

  1. Soak the lentils beforehand, at least a few but up to 8 or 9 hours. They may start to sprout. This can be made without soaking, but soaking improves the texture, cook time, and nutritional value. After soaking, drain.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan. Add carrot, onion, and celery (mirepoix) and saute about ten minutes, until the vegetables are softening and aromatic.
  3. Add the seasonings (cumin through oregano) and a pinch of salt and pepper. Mince and add the garlic cloves, and saute with the spices another 2 minutes.
  4. Add the canned tomatoes, lentils, and vegetable broth. Add the chopped spinach. Bring to a rolling simmer. While simmering, skim the foam and oil off the top.
  5. Reduce heat to medium-low (a lower simmer) and cook about 30 minutes or until the lentils are tender. This may take longer by 5-10 minutes if you didn’t soak the lentils.
  6. Remove from heat, and add the juice and zest of one lemon. Remove bay leaf, if you used that. Add the chopped parsley. Taste, and adjust for salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Note: Store leftovers in the freezer for several months, or in the fridge in airtight containers for about five or six days.

My Binge Triggers

Last time I posted about binge eating or BED, a lot of people responded positively and were excited to think about that conversation (check out this post I wrote: You Don’t Have Binge Eating Disorder).

So, I’ll be posting a little bit more often about my experiences with BED and bingeing– it’s incredibly important to talk about since BED is highly stigmatized.

Last night, I had a bit of a binge. It was the first time I’ve binged since I switched to a plant-based vegan diet (or in about 18 days), which is a very long stretch for me. In that past, I’ve gone through months-long spells where I binge anywhere from 3 to 10 times a week, so an 18-day dry spell is something that I’m proud of. In any case, I did binge last night, and since I’ve been bingeing a lot less, I was able to sit and think. Why am I bingeing right now?

A gave it a thought and came up with this list of triggers for my bingeing. Let me know if you have any of the same.

  1. The end of the month. At the end of every month (whether for a week or a day), my bingeing always spikes, probably because I’m looking to the month ahead, expecting to make a significant dietary change, and telling myself that “Today is the last day– better binge!” subconsciously. The end of December and then January, I had massive binges which lasted pretty much constantly for about ten days. Last month (February) was a bit better, with a much shorter-term binge.
  2. Being with my boyfriend. This is a tricky one. For years, whenever I would see him, he would help me feel less depressed by giving me my favorite foods– rice and beans, ramen noodles, ice cream, etc. That evolved into using him to help me binge. I would visit him and demand that he drive me to a series of fast-food restaurants to satisfy my binge urge, and a toxic pattern developed. Now, even just being with him briefly triggers the urge to eat tons of food, since I’ve associated him with food and being happy. Yikes.
  3. Nighttime. Simple enough.
  4. Small meals early in the day. Pre-binge yesterday, I didn’t prep well enough and had an energy bar for lunch rather than a real meal, so that by the time dinner rolled up, I was a bit over hungry. That didn’t help.
  5. Stress.

Yesterday, I succumbed to the binge, but here’s the thing– because I’m eating a mostly vegan, plant-based diet, I only binged on vegan plant-foods. Did I eat too much? Yep! My stomach was in a LOT of pain. But here’s what I binged on: rice, beans, salad, popcorn, dried dates, some oatmeal, peanut butter, etc. That’s a far cry from the pizza-ramen-hot fudge sundae binges that used to dominate me. I’m not thrilled that my crazy brain still took me for a whirlwind, and that I felt out of control and anxious about the calories– but I’m really glad that I didn’t compromise my food beliefs and that I filled my body with excessive amounts of healthy carbs, fiber, omega-3s and other good things, rather than lots of saturated fat and added sugar.

Nine years of on again-off again bingeing isn’t going to go away in a couple of weeks, no matter what my diet looks like. That’s something that I’m learning. My goal is to reduce the disordered behaviors over time, and hopefully, I will break the binge pattern altogether. Today, I’m working hard to not count calories (and it’s hard). But small steps are good, and learning what my binge triggers are is a small but necessary task.

 

Strange Things Are Happening to Me: 10 Days Vegan

The beautiful cover photo was found through The Bojon Gourmet, a recovering pastry chef, in her recipe for Green Noodle Soup (See it here)

Today is my tenth day of following a whole foods, plant-based vegan diet. Basically, I’m eating loads of fruits and vegetables, whole grains (mostly quinoa, oats and brown rice), legumes (mostly lentils and chickpeas) and some nuts and seeds (peanut butter, pecans, chia seeds, flaxseed meal, etc.) Some very unexpected things (good and bad) have been happening to me which I attribute to the diet change. So I’ll just jump right in.

THE GOOD

  1. My body dysmorphia… has vanished. I’m not kidding. And this is coming from a person who has had dysmorphic body image since she was twelve. After about 24 hours vegan, I looked in the mirror and was startled to see a thin face, thin back, a neck with tendons variously straining out… it was a far cry from the self that I normally perceive (fat, fat, fat). And it happened overnight. I’ve lost a small amount of weight so far, but in my mind, it looks as though I lost 20 pounds. It’s hard to explain, but for folks who have BDD or eating disorders, imagine suddenly seeing the body(part) you’ve been obsessing over all along… overnight. It’s exciting, and yet troubling, to realize that your body imagine may have been so incredibly distorted all along, and you didn’t even realize it.
  2. My cravings are also gone.   This is something that caught me off guard, since I really thought that I would be ravaged by cravings. And yet, I’m not. In fact, I haven’t been this craving-free in all my memory. Can you imagine seeing, or smelling a piece of hot pizza, and not yearning for it with your whole being? Or having a tray of warm cookies placed in front of you, and not taking at least one bite? I never could, and yet now… I am.
  3. I’ve lost several pounds rather quickly. I’ve been obsessively trying to lose a certain 4-5 pounds for almost a year now. Usually I lose one or two, then have a binge-fest and gain it back. I’ve dropped four pounds without even trying, and I feel really good. I haven’t been at this weight in over a year, and it somehow took far less effort than I was trying to give. 4 pounds in 10 days is a lot for someone my size, so I know that some of it is excess bloat from all the bingeing, and that the weight loss will level out and stop pretty soon. But it still is exciting.
  4. I’m wired. Maybe it’s coincidental, but I’ve noticed a sudden and dramatic increase in the amount of energy I have. I’ve been a lot more productive. It’s a huge contrast to how I’ve been living for the last 6-8 months, where I’ve been lethargic, sleeping a lot, and too fatigued to even change my clothes sometimes. It feels awesome. Plant-based? I’m not sure, but I’m hoping that’s the reason, and that it will continue.
  5. My blood sugar and energy levels have completely stabilized. This was another thing that I didn’t expect at all. I’m totally the type of person that gets super hungry between meals, snacks all day, eats every two hours, and has dramatic blood sugar drops where I get shaky and feel faint at least once a week. In the past 10 days, that hasn’t been the case at all. I’ve actually been satisfied and energized eating 3 main meals a day, without snacks in between. I’m going about 5-6 hours after a meal before I start getting hungry again, which amazes me. I’m also less hungry in the mornings, and am not having to eat until nine, ten, or even eleven o’clock in the morning, while in the past I would need to eat first thing.

 THE BAD

  1. My skin is breaking out. Chin, nose, cheeks, even my forehead (which is usually really clear). I don’t know if it’s residual from the massive grease-bingeing that I did earlier this month before I transitioned to plant-based vegan, but either way, since the ten days I’ve started I’ve noticed a lot of acne. I’ve read online and watched YouTube videos where this appears to be a common ‘symptom’ in the first couple of weeks, for unknown reasons (some people call it detox). They all say it goes away on its own in short order, so I’m banking on that and wearing a lot of makeup for now.
  2. I’m having a surge of digestive difficulties. Last week was the worst– tons of bloating and diarrhea. This week is a little bit better, although last night I had sharp stomach pains (the kind I used to have in high school and early college, when my digestive system would become inflamed for no known reason and become very painful). It could just be from the diet change, but I’m also looking in to whether it’s a nut allergy (I had an allergy test come back positive for a mild tree nut allergy, and I’m starting to think my increased consumption of almond milk and cashew bars has a lot to do with my worsened discomfort). I’m limiting nuts for now, and will have to keep testing to figure out what’s up.
  3. I’m having a hard time getting enough calories. And it’s not because I’m intentionally restricting, at least not consciously. It’s because I’m actually full. All the time. I can only eat so much brown rice and bok choy before I’m stuffed to the brim. I haven’t been actively counting calories (a miracle, I know) but in the evenings I have done a quick calculation for the day just to gauge where I am, and I’m coming in pretty low without trying to. I have lots of excess fat reserves, so I’m not that concerned, but I do need to keep in mind that I have to eat high-calorie plant foods like seeds and avocados. That’ll be tricky with the possible tree nut allergy.

 

That’s where I’m at now with my plant-based vegan diet. I need to sift out the nut allergy (or sensitivity) problem– I’m switching from almond milk to coconut milk, for one thing– and I need to be cognizant of getting enough calories in my diet. Otherwise, I feel like I’m really thriving on this diet, and I haven’t had the urge to binge or restrict once, in TEN DAYS. I can’t tell you enough how much of an anomaly this is for me, since almost every day for the last nine years has been dominated by the urge to binge, restrict, and purge. And at least for the last 10 days, I’ve been completely free of that.

Warm Spiced Lentils

Note: Cover photo from The Wanderlust Kitchen, link here.

One day I’ll start taking nice pictures of the dishes I make!

The first time I ever tried this dish (which is called dal in Hindi, also pappu), my roommate made it for me. I was amazed by how simple and how delicious it was, and as a perk, it’s healthy (and vegan). My roommate, whose parents are Indian, sent me her family’s recipe– this is my (very slightly) altered interpretation. It’s easy to make, and very filling. Love and thanks to Priyanka for introducing me to this dish!

Cook time: 20 minutes
Level: Easy
Vegan and gluten-free, if that’s your thing

Ingredients:

1 cup red lentils (masoor dal), rinsed and picked through; green and yellow lentils also fine

1 T coconut oil (alternatively, use olive or canola oil)

1/2 large onion, any kind; medium or fine chop

1 clove garlic, minced

1 can good chopped tomatoes OR 1 large fresh tomato

1 small dried chili pepper, seeds and stem removed, chopped fine

1 vegetable bouillon cube (I also use Better than Bouillon in a jar)

2 cups water

Salt and pepper

Optional: fresh cilantro or other herb

The spices (popu):

1/2 teaspoon of mustard seeds (black is better, but yellow or brown is fine)

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon whole cumin seed (ground is fine)

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger or fresh ginger

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

Directions

  1. Rinse the lentils. Soak for a few hours, and even overnight, although it is okay to skip the soaking. The soaking leads to a shorter cook time, better texture, and less gas-producing compounds.
  2. Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add onion and garlic, good until translucent, about 3-4 minutes. If you are using fresh rather than canned tomatoes, add them to the pot and cook with the onion mixture about two minutes.
  3. Add chopped chili pepper, then the spice mixture. Some folks add the turmeric later, but I like to add it all together and let everything warm and toast together in the pot. Cook for a minute.
  4. If using canned tomatoes, add them to the pot at this time, along with the 2 cups of water and the bouillon cube. Stir to combine, breaking up the bouillon cube to dissolve it.
  5. Bring to a gentle boil, uncovered. As soon as it is stably bubbling, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes covered, or until the liquid is absorbed and the lentils are tender. If the liquid absorbs too quickly, add more water. Taste, and add salt and pepper as needed.
  6. Remove from heat, and eat! I like it as-is, no toppings or sides. You may enjoy some fresh cilantro, or a side of basmati rice and naan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Antidepressants Cause Mania

I’ve been thinking about an experience I had a little while back that might be worthwhile to share in this blog. Who knows what the purpose of this blog is… eating disorders? Food? Mental health? In any case, what I’m going to share was a significant, and frightening, event in my life, and might inform those of you who are considering or taking SSRI antidepressants.

A few weeks into starting Zoloft in 2015, something strange began to happen to me. I felt wired. I wasn’t sleeping very much, and found that I couldn’t sit still. For the most part, I kept this under control, and it didn’t disrupt my life– it was only a few days, after all. Except that within this 5 or 6-day long episode, a number of stranger things did happen to me. I remember studying in a center with my friends, and being unable to focus. My brain and body were buzzing. I started doing somersaults on the floor. Yoga (downward dog). I couldn’t stop moving my body, even though we were in a semi-public place, and I shouldn’t have been. The feeling got worse. I took off my socks and shoes and ran outside (it was nighttime, and about 30 degrees Fahrenheit, or quite cold), and I ran around the outdoor track at school a dozen times until I couldn’t breathe. I returned to my friends with frozen feet embedded with grit, my eyes darting back and forth frantically. I felt totally manic. And this kept on happening.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only time this has happened. The following year, I stopped taking the Zoloft for several weeks. When I resumed, there soon followed a similar period that felt like a form of mania, or probably hypomania. I was racing, and felt out of control. I felt manic, and suicidal. I jogged around campus, and then around town, at night and without a coat despite the cold, frightened and yet exhilarated by the idea of jumping into the street. After one of these panicky jogs, I came home and began to destroy my bedroom. It was midnight, and I was dismantling the wooden boards of my bed, tearing down pictures from my walls. The next day I crashed, and didn’t leave my bed, or shower, or go to classes, or eat a meal for about two weeks.

To be clear, what I experienced was probably not a full manic episode, like the ones that occur in bipolar disorder type one. From what I understand, those episodes often result in reckless sex, violence, crime, or other harm. They’re extreme. Maybe I’m misguided, but that’s what I’ve learned. Contrastingly, hypomanic episodes, like those in bipolar disorder type two, match more so the experiences that I had. Racing, out-of-control, and perhaps engaging in some reckless behaviors, but to a lesser degree. I’m not bipolar, to the best of my knowledge, which is affirmed by the fact that starting Zoloft preceded both major events of hypomania. Which is why I want to talk about Zoloft, and the risks associated with it.

I’m not the only person that has had a manic or hypomanic episode upon starting antidepressants. It’s one of the side effects they don’t tell you about so much, and one of the particularly dangerous ones. The majority of people don’t experience this side effect, to be clear, but for those who do, the experience can be frightening, overwhelming, and down right exhausting. Also, let me mention a few misconceptions about mania following antidepressants that misguided me and made me afraid to seek help right away:

  1. Mania does not occur because you “didn’t need the antidepressants” and so they are making you “too stimulated.” Actually, the chemicals in our brains are far more complicated than that, and a manic episode can be an indication that the drug is being administered in the wrong amount, or that a different drug would be more suitable.
  2. Because mania is not a sign that you’re “not really depressed” (I was quite afraid of this), nobody is going to just take away your medication and not provide you some kind of substitute. If you’re having mania on Prozac, for example, your doctor will probably advise you to stop taking it gradually, but don’t worry– you still deserve, and will still receive, treatment for the depression/anxiety that you were trying to help in the first place.
  3. Mania does not necessarily or even usually occur because there is underlying bipolar disorder. As a matter of fact, if an episode occurs in conjunction with antidepressants, bipolar disorder should not be considered as a diagnosis at all at that point in time, because the antidepressants can significantly alter brain chemistry on their own. This is a major misconception that I had. I thought that I had bipolar disorder, and ignored the fact that I had just started medications which alter serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain that are similarly affected by mental illnesses.

I want to share this experience in the hopes that someone who went through, or is going through, the same thing can relate and know that they are not ‘crazy’, they are not alone. And if you think you had a manic or hypomanic episode, don’t ignore that fact. I’ve never told anybody about these episodes, because I’ve diminished them in my head (“It was probably nothing, I was probably just depressed, or hyper”), but thinking back on those times I’m troubled by how erratic and disturbed my behavior was. And above all else, I’m grateful that the episodes did end on their own, and that I didn’t have any lasting harm. Please, be cautious when taking or considering antidepressants, and if you do experience an episode, get immediate help.