I'll start with a summary in case you haven't been following my journey.
At the end of November 2015, I began to suspect I had an eating disorder. I even knew what type, I thought. Binge eating disorder. This is where you eat large amounts of food, beyond the point where you're full, beyond the point where you want any more, and in fact you keep stuffing food into your mouth whether you want it or not.
The loss of personal control is very alarming, and I begin to think I might need to do something about it. But it was only the one time, right?
It happened three more times before the end of December and at that point I thought I really needed to do something.
About that time I came across an app, which allowed you to record your food with great ease, including recipes you made yourself. So being the scientist that I am, I decided to gather data before I made a decision.
After two weeks of gathering data, I realized several things. First, I didn't have binge eating disorder. I had binge/starve eating disorder. And the starving part, all unbeknownst to me, was actually what was triggering the bingeing.
Yes, that's right, I didn't even realize I was starving myself. I thought this was a normal amount of food for someone my size to be eating. I was eating about half of what I should be eating. It's no wonder that I started bingeing. My body was desperate for food.
The other thing I realized, was that I was eating a quarter of the protein that I should. Part of this was due to the fact that I am allergic to chicken, and part of it's due to the fact that meat protein is expensive.
Now that I had data, I needed to do something about it. It was obvious (to me, anyway) that what I needed to do was even out my calories, so that I was eating the same amount each day. This would prevent me from starving or bingeing.
I looked up on the web in multiple places how much I should be eating. Turns out there are two different calculations, but they both came out to about the same amount. I didn't believe either one.
So I set my base calories in the app to 1200. Which is about 300 more than I had been eating on a regular day. This was at the end of January 2016.
Over the next few months, I increase my protein intake. I also had to keep increasing my base calories. Mostly because I kept losing weight. I know that at this point many people would have loved to be in my position, but the fact is, I had lost so much weight that I was getting into the danger zone. I seriously did not need to lose any more.
I finally got my base calories to the point where I was no longer losing weight. Want to guess what it was? The exact amount that has been recommended by the calculations on the web. I guess I should've believed them in the first place.
In addition, because protein is expensive, I decided to try and do something with it: try to gain muscle by getting an exercise bike and using it while I played my video games. This meant that I had to eat more, to compensate for the extra exercise.
The results of this side experiment were absolutely fascinating. For the first time in my life, I actually gained upper body muscle.
I found a really good website, called Eat More to Weigh Less. While I was not trying to lose weight, it really helped me understand how your metabolism works, and the damage I had done to myself by eating so little all those years.
Granted, I hadn't been eating at quite that lower level, all my life. But I had been doing it to some extent and it just got worse in the three years before 2016. A lot worse.
At first, increasing my metabolic rate led to nothing but annoyance. I had to start cutting my fingernails more often. I had to start washing my hair more often, as my head's oil production increased.
And oh my goodness, eating all that food. It takes ages to eat enough food. Unless of course you go to a restaurant and then you can do your entire days' allowance in one meal. However this leaves me hungry for the rest of the day, and I don't exactly appreciate being hungry.
And that was another thing I did not appreciate about increasing my metabolic rate. I started getting hungry again. Apparently, if you eat a small enough amount for a long enough time, your brain turns off your hunger signals.
In addition, remember my social anxiety that results from being around people? It was one of the reasons why I had stopped eating in the first place. I don't get hungry when I'm anxious. I still don't. But there's no way I can eat that much food at night, so I had to start eating at work anyway.
So there were a lot of roadblocks along the way. Including the reactions of other people. Most people did not understand, and thought that my sudden calorie counting was an indication of an eating disorder, not a solution to one.
The few people that I did explain it to, while supportive, still did not fully understand. I believe there was only one person who actually got it.
This made it very difficult to eat while being around other people. Added to that, was the fact that when you start eating twice as much, you start paying twice as much for groceries. Which meant I had less money to go around for say, going to a restaurant.
I tried, for a while. Going out to eat with friends was part of my routine, and being autistic I hate giving up my routines. But it just got too difficult, to watch other people eating what looked like massive amounts of food, when I knew that if I ate that much, I couldn't eat anything else for the day. Add in the judge-y stares from other people and I just gave up.
(I'm not kidding about the restaurant meals. The burger I used to get at Ruby Tuesday's is over 2000 calories. That's without fries or any other kind of side.)
I even got a pressure cooker in July, and started cooking a lot. I had always been a baker, not someone who cooks.
The reason why am writing this post, is that I am a year into this recovery process. I'm more comfortable talking about it, and I wanted to record my progress.
So if you add in my exercise calories, I am now eating over 2000 calories a day. This still seems slightly incredible to me, but I've gotten used to it. I even get a little resentful, if I don't get to eat everything. For example if on a Sunday I don't exercise as much, and watch TV a lot.
I'm finally starting to see good things coming from increasing my metabolic rate. I can function well with less sleep. I'm not quite as cold, usually, although this is still a problem.
And I can carry all three cats in one crate, although I cannot lift it or lower it to the ground. That's over 45 pounds. Never in my life did I think that I would ever be able to lift that much. OK technically I'm still just carrying it, not lifting. But still.
Physically I feel stronger and more able to do things. It's nice to be able to lift stuff, even stuff that doesn't weigh as much is 45 pounds. And not be exhausted.
Emotionally I am still struggling with this whole eating disorder thing. I can still feel the impulse to eat less when I'm stressed, and to eat more when I'm not. This is not a good thing.
It's kind of like being a recovering alcoholic. Other people around you can have that one drink with dinner, but you can't. In my case, that means other people can have that celebratory cake and go a little over their calories and then eat a little less the next day to make up for it. I can't.
I think at this point, that's the hardest thing for other people to understand. I cannot let up on this yet. Maybe someday I will be able to "have that one drink," but not now. Yes, it's been a year since I started "fixing" this, but it's going to take more than a year to fix the habits of a lifetime.