There’s a part of my past that I haven’t really shared with you.
I’ve been pretty irresponsibly open about the anorexia in my past, but there’s also another part of my history that was equally defining, perhaps even more so. And that’s Ulcerative Colitis.
If you don’t know what that is, it is the “sister disease” of Crohn’s disease, which is more well known — they just affect different parts of the intestine. Basically, it is an auto-immune disease, meaning the body attacks itself, and it affects your digestive system. And there is no cure.
And the reason that I haven’t really shared much about this is that it is so intertwined with my development of anorexia.
I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis when I was sixteen, and subsequently developed anorexia shortly afterwards – in large part because of the pain from eating due to the UC. The UC made me lose weight, as I was unable to absorb nutrients because my intestines were lined in ulcers and I had developed gastroparesis (paralysis of the pyloric valve in the stomach), but it was exacerbated by my fear to gain weight from the anorexia.
They were happening simultaneously.
Which also allowed me to use UC to my anorexia’s advantage.
Top it off with having to take literally the highest dose of the steroid, Prednisone, which made me hyperactive, and you’ve got the recipe for disaster. And fun fact, Prednisone is nicknamed the “dirty drug” because of its negative mental and physical side effects.
The thing about UC is that you go through periods of remission, and periods when you’re in an active flare, which can range from anywhere from 1 month to -as I found out, 10 months. I don’t need to go into detail, but flares are excruciating. My mom always jokes that childbirth will be nothing for me after the pain I’ve had to endure.
So I was actively flaring when I developed anorexia. The steroid did work after about 3 months, and put me into remission, but it left some long lasting effects that I still deal with to this day.
Fast forward five years later to 2012, and I started to flare again. And it was worse.
This time, I went to a different doctor. The highest rated GI doctor in the midwest. He was appalled that my previous doc had put me on Prednisone, given its dangerous side effects for young women in particular. Namely, the mental side effects, and the fact that it significantly increases your risk for osteoporosis. So he will not prescribe it.
That was music to my ears, because after the episode with it in high school, my parents and I vowed that dirty drug would never cross my lips again. #ItNearlyKilledMe
But this second flare, it was out of control. I had to move home from NYC. I was on bed rest for 10 months. Nothing was working. I went to probably 5 different GI doctors within the tristate area, I went to naturopaths, specialists. Took mega drugs, natural medicines, pills, powders, drops, homeopathic remedies, experimental drugs that were still in trials, herbs, supplements, chlorophyll. We even tried faith healing. Nothing worked. My condition kept getting worse and worse.
Hospital Visit for UC ~2012
Given that UC is an auto immune disease, in the most severe cases, the symptoms can become extra-intestinal, meaning that they show up in other areas of the body, outside of the ulcers in my intestines. During this flare, I was experiencing erythema nodosum. Google that shiz. For two months, I was getting nodules the size of oranges and grapefruits on my knees and shins, making me unable to walk. Mine spread to my forearms too. Unsightliness aside, it was also excruciating. The ulcers in my intestines also spread to my mouth, and for several weeks, the sides of my tongue became covered with ulcers, and I was unable to eat. Period. Additionally, given the fact that UC is an inflammatory disease, I would get fevers of 104 degrees, as fevers are the body’s way of fighting inflammation. Nights consisted of cold compresses to break the fever, followed by debilitating, tooth chattering chills.Things were dire. And my family and I were becoming more and more desperate as the days and weeks went on and on.
The last and final option was to undergo surgery to remove my intestines.
During all this time, I had been researching. Reading different books and looking into different studies on the internet about UC and how people have gotten better and even healed from it.
And the one thing that I had been reading – and also experiencing – was that none of the doctors were talking to me about what I was eating. None of them were talking about my diet.
Which, when I stopped to think about it, was really odd. Ulcerative Colitis is a digestive disease…shouldn’t the food I was eating be the first thing you look at?
I’m not a doctor, but that just made sense to me.
And so I got to researching.
During one of my early visits to the naturopath, he suggested that I go on the Specific Carb Diet, an anti-inflammatory therapeutic way of eating.
He explained it as a very restrictive diet: No grains, gluten, dairy, sugar, soy, beans, legumes, potatoes or corn. But although very rigid, has produced promising results in people with Crohn’s, UC, and autism, surprisingly.
But I am in recovery from anorexia. There’s no way I could adopt a restrictive diet. I do not want to be restricted again. I am free from restriction in my life. I am not going back to that place.
So I put it out of my mind.
That is, until I was facing the last option of getting my intestines removed.
So I tried it.
And you know what? It worked.
It put me out of my flare and into remission. For good.
Ten months after starting that horrible flare, I was back in NYC, living vibrantly and abundantly.
I have my health back. I have my life back. I have my future back.
And it’s thanks to the Specific Carb Diet – SCD.
But let me give credit where credit is due – I know that it was truly God who healed me.
When I told my doctor that I wanted to wait on the surgery and give the SCD a try, he “poo-poo’d” it, saying it would never work. That I was writing my own death wish. He literally said that my healing was a miracle. Something that he’s never seen.
God facilitated my healing through the SCD. And for that, I am forever grateful.
But obviously, it’s hard to talk about food on an anorexia recovery blog, when a person could look at the way I’m eating – following the SCD – and proclaim that I’m not truly in recovery, when I’m still eating a restrictive diet. That I’m a “faker.” That I’m disingenuous.
Especially given the fact that I used my UC in the past to my anorexia’s advantage.
So up until now, I’ve left it out of my story.
But the fact is, it is a huge part of who I am. And how I live my life. And the roles God and faith and trust have played in my life. And in what I’ve had to overcome.
During that time, I never lost hope. I knew that God was going to heal me. He had gotten me through my anorexia, He would get me through this flare too. He was going to teach me something, make me grow, give me a perspective that I could have only gotten through that suffering.
While I was sick, I began documenting the foods I was eating. The recipes I was making that ultimately healed me of my UC. What started as a blog for my own personal records quickly took off and developed into a pretty highly trafficked blog. I even published a e-cookbook.
But I haven’t talked about it for fear of people doubting my credibility. Doubting the authenticity of my recovery.
So I’m just addressing it head on.
Being home this week, inhabiting the setting where I have so many memories – from the dark days of my anorexia, as well as the dire days of my UC flares, I can’t help but reflect on my journey so far. The journey that hasn’t always been the road I would have chosen. But it’s the road that has gotten me to where I am today. To who I am today.
I don’t know why things happen, or why we have to endure the things that we do, but I do know that we are never in it alone.
I can safely say that I could not have gotten through those periods in my life without God. He held me up. He supported me. Gave me the grace, moment by moment to endure. And ultimately overcome.
So thanks for letting me share that with you tonight.
I know there are no funny cat gifs or flashy Ryan Gosling appearances, but you guys mean a lot to me, and you deserve to know my whole story.
Consider this one step closer to me working up the courage to fully introduce who I really am.
Sending the biggest hugs and love.