Diet Before Diagnosis – Is There a Connection?

“I’m not blonde, and I’m not skinny. Therefore, I’m not attractive.”

That’s a line straight from my journal in 1999.

I have healed from many things in my past, but I don’t think I ever grieved for the young girl who thought that people would only like her if she was skinny.

According to my January 1999 journal entry, I was on a mission to weight 130 pounds. Thanks to Zoloft, I had gained a good 30 pounds or so from end of sophomore to beginning of senior year, and by the first semester of my senior year I spent a lot of time isolating, reading historical romances, and pining away for a college soccer player I cared about who played me like a fresh fiddle.

This diet gave me new life. A new identity. A new way to really love the skin I was in  – because it would come in a much smaller body. According to my journal, I was drinking two special protein drinks a day and going off of carbs, sugar, and caffeine. I was supposedly “retraining my body” to digest and store food, and there was an 85% chance I would NEVER gain my weight back.

Listen, I have struggled with the way I look since I was 8 years old, but this diet had me OBSESSED. I wrote a lot about what I couldn’t have and the food I dreamed of, but how it was worth it. According to later entries, I almost passed out at swim team practice because I was so calorie-deprived. However, I was growing more confident. I started going out more. I developed an interest in not one, not two but THREE different boys at my school, and I was so proud of all the attention I was getting with my newly improved smaller body. I couldn’t wait to get a belly button ring when my waist measured 26 inches.

img_9584I never hit 130. My body halted at 135, and during the summer after I graduated, the weight started to creep after I got out of starvation mode. It depressed me. I was a failure. My body was a failure. Nobody would want me at my higher weight. I started engaging in self-destructive, risky behaviors, and my entries turned more manic-sounding.

It’s no surprise I would be diagnosed with bipolar disorder by that November.

Did my dieting induce hypomania? Did my body biologically respond to the starvation with an increase of cortisol and adrenaline and end up altering the way my body and brain worked?

I will always wonder. My parents say they saw the mania in me as a young child. The depression started in 8th grade. I’ve always run on high energy until I crash. Add to that teenage hormones and insecurities, and I was a mental disaster waiting to happen.

Here is what I know for sure – I received a lot of value when I lost all that weight in 1999. I associated my worth with my size. That experience would lead me down a long quest to be the perfect size – and of course, that never happened.

Diets lied to me. Dieting never helped my mental health; it only made it worse. It wasn’t until I decided to quit dieting, quit restricting, and focused on ADDING yummy nutrition and healthy behaviors that I really started to find healing – both mentally AND physically.

Dieting treats external symptoms, but I like to address the root. The 30 pound weight gain I experienced in just one year had many contributing factors.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to make lifestyle changes, there is nothing wrong with wanting to lose weight, but going on a crash diet without addressing what caused the rapid weight gain to begin with set me up for failure, whether I lost the weight or I didn’t.

As I continue to unravel my journey to mental healing, I cannot ignore how my negative body image and constant striving for a smaller size played a role in my constant striving for mood stability.

I grieve for that young girl – for her self-imposed isolation, her fear of others’ opinions, her guilt for not being able to maintain the size she wanted, and her shame for having a mind that she couldn’t control in the first place.

I grieve for her and I learn from her.

What I consume does fuel my brain – but that doesn’t mean consumption of food. Staying in the present, being filled with gratitude and truth – those nourish and sustain me. Those impact everything else. Those are key components of my nutrition today. All else is secondary.




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