TJ passed on this incredible tale of her lifelong struggle battling an eating disorder that essentially ruled her adult life. She endured food obsessions, emotional roller coasters, life and relationship disruption, “purging” to deal with weight issues . . . only to finally discover the answer.
It all started around puberty. I had been kind of a pudgy child, but around the summer before I entered 6th grade, I miraculously shot up to my current height (5’5) and weighed under 100 pounds. It was heavenly. I had lost my baby fat. Until the first menstral cycle: Oh goodness, it was harsh. I was up to about 140 lbs overnight, or so it seemed.
Then, the pressure from family to lose weight. My mother had me at Weight Watchers in no time and I was constantly consumed with calorie counts and weighing my portions—all at 13! All the cookies and fattening foods in the house were strictly inventoried and checked on a daily basis. A cookie missing? Well, it must have been that fat kid of ours.
My breakfast was traded for a Tab. My best friend used to smuggle me in good ole’ Wonder Bread and processed peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches. I chucked the whole wheat offerings from my mother or traded it for Ding Dongs. Then I discovered restricting: limiting myself to a mere 500-700 calories a day, exercising for hours and, if necessary, purging by inducing vomiting.
My other friend in the neighborhood turned me on to bulimia. She used laxatives as well, but I could never let myself even digest the food, let alone wait for a laxative to work. I would panic once I swallowed more than was on my portion control list. By the time I was 16, I had probably gained and lost 45 pounds over and over a few times. I was on my way to yo-yo dieting.
The summer before I entered my senior year in high school, I discovered that food could medicate me. Whatever was going wrong in my “complicated” life, I knew that the food stash under my bed and in my closet would fix all of it. And, looking back, these were all high-carb offerings, loaded with sugar and wheat.
By the time I arrived at college, I had spent the entire summer exercising and dieting. Who wants to begin a new life at college fat? Well, I arrived skinny, but by Christmas, I needed a whole new wardrobe. Fat, again. To make matters worse, many of the girls in my dorm were bulimic and it almost became a cult lifestyle. Do you . . . or don’t you?
I managed to lose some of the weight before I came home for the summer (I knew my mother would kill me) and managed to live on nothing but apples and peanut butter and Diet Coke for about 5 weeks. But, it really didn’t matter. 3 more years of the gain-lose-gain-lose cycle.
I also discovered another way to keep the craving at bay: cigarettes. A pack of Marlboro Lights 100’s and a 2 liter of Diet Coke comprised my daily menu most days if I was in “lose” mode.
My senior year of college my mother found out about the vomiting and sent me to a therapist. It was useless. The therapist just said that I should try to hold off purging as long as I can and substitue a manicure instead. Then, if I can’t resist, then go ahead and throw up. And my parents paid money for this???????? I shoved it off and went on my merry way. Graduated, moved away to take my first job, binged and purged in my little crappy one-bedroom apartment I shared with my cat.
By this time, I was just fat. Almost 180 pounds. It fluctuated a bit by 10 or so pounds, but I was heavy. I got married, of course going on another crash diet to prepare for the event, but the morning after my wedding, I remember bellying up to the breakfast buffet and letting the diet go. Whew. I was glad that was over. My husband (now ex…) seemed to be alright with my weight. He would get frustrated at times, because I was so frustrated. We would get ready to go out to eat and I would cry because I had few clothes that would fit me. I would resort to the old spandex and we would go out. I would eat twice as much as my husband, feel like a failure, come home and go right to bed to sleep it all off.
Now, just under 200 pounds and only 26, I had to do something. I was binge eating, but not purging. So, I joined a gym. I cut out all fat from my diet and started my real love affair with wheat. If it didn’t have any fat, it was fair game. I did lose weight, but probably not in a very healthy way. I got down to 120 pounds in about 9 months. And, then I continued to lose more over the course of about a year. Also, at this time I took up running seriously. So, I was very physically active. But, my diet was not good and I went from eating very little most days and then completely losing all control because I was so hungry. The excessive running took the place of the purging. I found it difficult to engage in my past behavior now that I was married. It took a few years to perfect the new routine, but I found myself learning how to secretly vomit in the comfort of my shared bathroom, where to hide my food stash, all without my husband knowing.
Well, it certainly didn’t get any better. In a few years, I was diagnosed with anorexia (I still was a closet “binger-purger” and feared that someone would find out about my dirty little secret.) 33 years old and weighing in at under 90 pounds, I was carted off to a hospital.
In a way, I was proud of the fact that I, a former fat-ass, could qualify as “anorexic.” I was running 60+ miles a week and limiting myself to digest 1 plain bagel and some lettuce a day. Now, I was still binging and purging, but I made sure that I vomited up as much as I could and exercised the rest away. Inpatient treatment was absolutely horrific. I basically ate my way out of there. I had to get out as soon as I could to get back to my old lifestyle. I did continue treatment when I returned home, but I really had no respect for any of the people I was paying so much money to. I did not want to listen to them and thought they were absolutely insane. Maybe they were, thinking back on all of it.
Fast forward 10 years. Divorced over the whole mess. Still struggling, but worse. I have been going through this deadly cycle now every day, often 2 and 3 times a day. I resolve to quit. I empty the junk food out my refrigerator and freezer, leaving the 20 boxes of whole grain cereal in the pantry and the 2 loaves of bread, resolving to only eat low-fat foods. Follow the food pyramid, exercise, get plenty of sleep. Instead, I starve until 2pm, load up on a big bowl of cereal (no milk!) and fruit, then feel so sick and dizzy that I can’t function. I can only think about when I will get to eat again. It drives me crazy, I have one more bite, then another, then another.
I feel sicker and sicker and sicker, and then I have to throw up. I go out to eat with family and friends and vow to eat low fat. Load up on the bread, 1, 2, 3, 10 slices. I get all heady when my blood sugar goes through the roof and I can hardly concentrate. I zone out, eating more and more and more and more. I can’t stop. I go home, eat more and throw up. I’ll have an afternoon snack, Diet Coke and pretzels and vow to only eat as many as are in one serving. Yeah, right. 1 more, 2, 3, 30. Now I’m sick again. I have to stop but I can’t. Let’s clean out the freezer and then go vomit! I fall into bed late at night and sleep like a dead person. I can never seem to get enough sleep. It’s like a carb-induced coma! And the muscle cramps wake me up, and the nightmares. I dream that I eat and eat and can’t stop and then have to resort to keeping my food. Or throwing up in public. It’s haunting. Then I can’t seem to wake up in the morning.
The morning exercise program has gone out the window. I can barely do the basic things, let alone get to the gym. No energy. Having emotional ups and downs. Worrying constantly about finding more to eat. Obsessing about what I’m going to eat next. Dreaming of the new bakery down the street.
Then, there are other health issues. My gums have receded from all the regurgitated stomach acid and sugar that I would consume. The enamel is gone, probably from all the Diet Coke. I have terrible acne on my chin area. I have a permamently swollen left foot which no one knows the cause of (I have been to all sorts of doctors). I have terrible arthritis in my knees from the running. A few years back a routine blood test showed that I might have leukemia. The oncologist later ruled that possibility out and sent me to a rheumatologist. Many more tests, but no one could find out why my blood counts were so out of whack. They later returned to normal. Terrible edema. Fatigue. You name it . . .
That is, until I cut out the wheat and processed sugar.
The Wheat-Free Turnaround
8 days and counting. No urge to binge. No highs and lows. No emotional roller-coaster. The swelling in my left foot is almost gone. No queasiness. No acid reflux. Acne cleared up. I can’t believe it. I have never been in such control of my eating and appetite in 30 years. I had forgotten what it was like to be “normal.”
In a way, I’m still skeptical. I have tried everything in the playbook and still have lost the game. Who knew that I was probably just perfecting my wheat allergy with all that high carb eating? I could probably own Panera Bread with all the money I have spent there over the years!
This is big. I have never ignored the bread isle and gotten excited instead about the avocado sale. Just not my normal way of thinking. I think about how good I will feel in 18 days, 38 days, 365 days.
The possibilities are endless for me now. I can start to rekindle relationships that have been strained and brought to the breaking point by my terrible food addiction. I can save money. Food for bulimics is not cheap, even the off brands at the Dollar Store add up. I can get back to old hobbies and playing my piano because now I can focus. I am clearheaded and even-keeled.
Life suddenly is much more interesting now that sugar-highs have no hold over me. And all this because of an over-sized genetically-modified grain of wheat. Amazing. I found my cure. God bless you and your courage to go up against that freakish Triticum aestivum.
Some additional updates from TJ, another week into her new wheat-free lifestyle:
Things have been going remarkably well. I feel like I have regained about 20 years! The fatigue is gone and I feel blessed to have a few more waking hours in my day. Heartburn is completely gone. I can go down steps with ZERO knee pain! And to think I spent so much money and time in physical therapy for my achy joints. Also, I have suffered from foot pain for many years and find this to be subsiding as well.
Now I find that I’m able to listen to my body instead of ignoring and abusing it. My mind says “eat something” but my body doesn’t really want to eat every few hours. I think now that I’ve had almost two weeks of “re-feeding” and no purging, my system is in shock . . . a good shock, though. And, now that I have finished your remarkable book, I learned that the constant grazing is a sign of wheat addiction. It’s so much of a shift from how I have been living for so many years that it’s like learning to feed myself all over again.
I’m finding that my body is so very sensitive to sugar, as well, that I must cut down on the fruit and any food that will raise my glucose. Yesterday, the bowl of fruit with plain yogurt made me so dizzy. Also, another thing is that the binges, although I felt paranoid and guilty about them, did bring a bit of mental comfort. I’ve always sat down to my favorite tv programs with a large amount of nasty carbs and fast food, intent on making this binge the last one! My body now says “Stop! I don’t want that!”
Incredible. Stories like TJs remind us that wheat elimination is NOT just about losing a few pounds, or that gluten elimination is only for people who have “gluten allergy.”
Wheat gliadin is an appetite stimulant. In people without tendencies towards eating disorders, it triggers an increase in appetite, increased calorie intake of 440 calories per day, every day. Many people without eating disorders experience intrusive thoughts of food: food obsession. In those susceptible to eating disorders, the food obsession is so overwhelming that it rules their lives. Yes, a slave to wheat (and thereby the people who understand this phenomenon).
In all likelihood, eating disorders are just one way the gliadin protein of wheat exerts its effects in genetically susceptible individuals. In a child with ADHD, wheat gliadin causes behavioral outbursts. In a schizophrenic, it causes paranoia and auditory hallucinations. In someone with bipolar illness, it triggers the mania (the “up” phase). And in someone with tendency for an eating disorder, it triggers food obsessions that result in anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating and purging, behaviors that can change the course of a life in astounding and disturbing ways.
Is TJ just imagining that her lifelong struggle with food is now over since she identified the culprit that caused the food obsessions in the first place? I don’t think so. I think this is very real.