Eat the Food to Heal Metabolic Damage

Warning:  This is a longer post  but it’s an important one.  It was important for me to write it down anyway.  I hope you get something out of it.

When I first got into health and fitness (about 5-6 years ago)  my goal was to tone up a bit.  Maybe drop just a few pounds.

Well, that’s what I did.  And then I did some more. I’ve always been on the smaller side so I really had no business losing as much weight as I did.  I also became really strict about “eating clean”, restricting my calories, doing cardio 5-6 days a week plus strength training several days a week, plus eating 5-6 times a day, and making sure I was eating a carb, a protein, and a fat but not too many carbs or fat.  blah blah blah.  My story is not unique in this sense.  I know of many people through blog reading that have gotten caught up in this trap.

For awhile I was ok with being in this trap.  I was fine because I was toned and I had a flat stomach with visible abs.  But guess what I didn’t have.  A period.  Spontaneity.  A dinner out with my husband that didn’t include me being a stressed out grump because I didn’t know what exactly was in my food.  A life.  I hardly ever wanted to go anywhere or be away from the house too long because I didn’t want to mess up my eating schedule.  How responsible of me.

I looked good on the outside but the inside (which is what really matters) was struggling.  My body was shutting down just after a few months of this craziness when my usually very regular period stopped.  It shut down even more when I began having lots of digestive issues about 3 years into it.  I suffered from a lot of pain, bloating, and constipation (sorry tmi, I know).  I tried to fix things.  I cut out grains for awhile and then just gluten for an even longer time.  I cut out peanut butter for a time (some of the saddest days;), I cut out beans.  I tried a lot of things.  Eventually I became a vegan.  That helped a lot!  At least for a time.  Eventually I reintroduced eggs and fish back into my diet.   And although in the long run being a vegan hasn’t fixed my issues I have no intention of going back to eating meat.   But anyway, the point is I became even more restrictive than I already was which only put more stress on my body.  I had no idea what was happening to me.   Why was this happening to me?  The truth I soon found out was I did this to myself.

The first part of my healing started around the beginning of last year.  I still didn’t have a period (that’s 4 years, no period.  Kind of awesome, but in the long run, not awesome)  I knew I needed to get it back if I wanted my body to start acting normal again.  I had learned about how not having a period can really affect your hormones which can affect pretty much every part of your body including digestion.  So I started trying to eat a little more (although still not consistently enough), stress less, eased up on cardio, etc.  In March I stopped calorie counting which reduced my stress because calories weren’t consuming my thoughts anymore.   Eventually in July after about 6-7 months of focusing on this I got my period!!  There is still more work to do though.  I have had it a few more times since then but it’s not yet regular or consistent.  Fast forward to the beginning of this year.  My priorities shifted even more to really healing my digestion.  I went to a holistic doctor who put me on an elimination diet (no gluten, soy, peanuts, citrus, vinegar, yeast, nightshades, etc.) for a few weeks.  I’ve recently been able to reintroduce all the foods and guess what, as far as I can tell no food intolerances!  Not even gluten.  Actually I feel really well eating gluten:) (yay for that because sometimes you just need some fresh baked bread with avocado!!)  I’ve also had to take a high dose of probiotics and some digestive enzymes.  I’m very happy I don’t have any food intolerances but if I don’t have any intolerances, what’s wrong with me?

As I’ve learned recently, calorie restriction can cause a number of digestive problems among other things.  See this post for more info.  Or listen to this awesome and super helpful and insightful podcast.   Basically, my body wasn’t getting the energy it needed to perform all of its functions.  So it conserved energy by shutting down my reproductive system and slowing down the digestion of food also know as Gastroparesis.

“Gastroparesis is a survival mechanism whereby the stomach doubles its emptying time to the small intestine, meaning the food is churned in the stomach for longer to try to allow for the small intestine to maximize the too-little energy coming in to the body.”  This is totally me.  Whenever I did try eating more I was always so full and even when I ate a small amount I felt like my body took forever to digest it.  This made it hard to eat enough because my body was still digesting what it ate 5 hours ago!  Not fun!

Also, when you’re not eating enough, the good bacteria in your gut dies which only makes things worse.  Thus the reason I have to take probiotics to repopulate my intestines with helpful bacteria.  This leads us to the good news.  If you eat a low calorie diet or have eaten a low calorie diet for even just a few months (it doesn’t even have to be extremely low.  for the past 5 years I ate anywhere from 1100-1800 calories, more recently I would say around 1500-1600 which is NOT ENOUGH!!) and are suffering from any of these symptoms, you can fix it!  Please take my advice and change things!  After reading this post and this post I have decided to increase my calories in a major way so I can retrain my body to thrive on more calories which actually is more like the right amount of calories.  After calculating my calorie needs with an online calculator I should be eating closer to at least 2200 cal a day.  Although I’m not into calorie counting anymore I will be for the next little bit just to make sure I’m getting enough.

It’s day 5 of me eating more and I’m feeling better already.  For real.  My goal for this week is to eat 1900-2100 cal and add about 100 cal every week until I’m eating 2500-3000 calories a day. (Which is the amount recommend to fully restore metabolism which will include restoring my period and digestive function)  Doing it slowly will reduce any fullness, bloating, discomfort as well as reduce the amount of fat I gain.  The first 2 1/2 days I was very uncomfortable (bloated and full) but I ate anyway.  Our bodies are smart and things have normalized.  I’m actually feeling hungrier during the day and I have lots of energy.  That’s a good sign.  This means it’s working.  It can be scary to eat a lot more-no one wants to gain a bunch of weight/fat but even if I do, it’s ok because I know my body/metabolism will eventually normalize and any weight/fat I gain will drop off and things will be normal again.  Until then  I’m going to enjoy a few (or several) extra servings of guacamole and nut butter.

I know this is long but I hope it helps somebody.  Our bodies are a gift.  Our bodies are all we really own.  Lets treat them right.  We need so much more food than the media tells us.  Don’t listen to them.  Listen to your body.  Listen to your mind.  Don’t let food and exercise and having the perfect eating schedule run your life.  Run your own life.

Food is good.  Lots of food is even better.  Food is not the enemy.  Food is just food.  Rules and restriction are the enemy.

It takes time to heal but it is worth it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, post them below!