Deluded, or just Unconventional?
The feeling of being able to subsist on little food can be glorious. You have gained a degree of independence from one of the things you need to survive. You are now less of a resource-sucking animal, and more of a man. You can put more of your mental energy toward higher endeavors.
Best of all, you get to avoid the paradox of eating endlessly yet never feeling full. Well, maybe. Sometimes.
When you start eating differently, such as by starting your day with a hit of protein- as you would on the slow-carb diet- or by changing the content of your diet (e.g. reducing carbohydrates and increasing fats), it may seem that you need to consume less food, in terms of volume, overall. This is likely true: it would make sense that if you eat more nutrient-dense food- particularly in regards to calories- you don’t need to eat as much food.
However, it can be easy to take this enthusiasm for reduced food-attachment too far, particularly if you are trying to lose weight or, perhaps, if you have autonomy-related issues (like me). When you make significant changes in your diet, you might find yourself crossing the line of sustainable change.
This isn’t necessarily bad: overshooting can help you to better define your [healthy] limits than can caution. I don’t recommend making sudden, drastic changes when it comes to your physiological health, but if you do there’s no need to beat yourself up about it.
It seems that a nice portion of the writing I do focuses on trying to distinguish two entities that are similar on the surface, yet very different in essence. Usually one is considered “good” and the other “bad.” Insanity vs. strong belief is a solid example. When an author gets turned away by 30+ publishers yet persists with his efforts, can he see something in his work that no one else does, or is he deluded with his own greatness?
Insanity vs. strong belief (or, conviction) underlies a number of gray-area conflicts. One that I swear I've written about but can't seem to find where is denial vs. strength: are you being strong by hiding your pain or are you merely denying how serious it is, and thus are setting yourself up for disaster?
Right now I’m trying to differentiate unconventional nourishment to undernourishment. Or, it might be plain nourishment vs. undernourishment (and malnourishment). We shall see.
Undernourishment vs. Malnourishment
First, I must clarify: undernourishment and malnourishment are not the same. Undernourishment indicates insufficient caloric-intake. Simply put, you aren’t eating enough. You are probably quite small, and might be described by some as a skeleton. You could probably do with some more fat and protein in your diet, though even some carbs will help at this point. Roughly stated, anorexia is deliberate undernourishment.
As a side note, I’d like to think that the only people who truly have an issue with protein-deficiency are the overall undernourished. In other words, if you’re a hefty-enough vegetarian, you probably don’t need to concern yourself too much with protein consumption. Vegetarians worried about protein-deficiency probably are not eating enough in general, are missing out on some other nutrient, or may even be getting something they shouldn't be having.
Malnourishment, on the other hand, indicates that you are deficient in certain micronutrients, such as iron and calcium. I’d think it’s safe to include fat and protein here also.
You can be obese and be malnourished: I would speculate that many overweight people are indeed malnourished. The deficiency may even be the cause: the body craves food because it is “starving” in regards to a macro or micronutrient(s) (or may be due to other issues, such as endocrine dysfunction), and that starvation remains because the nutrient is not received or absorbed. As long as that starvation remains, caloric-intake is high. You can pile it in without ever truly filling yourself.
Generally, you can be just malnourished, or you can be both malnourished and undernourished, but it’s fairly uncommon, I would think, to just be undernourished.
I know calorie-theory is sensitive: I am reluctant to define undernourishment by a lack of calories. I often like to think that as long as you consume sufficient fats, proteins, and micronutrients, the number of calories you eat doesn’t really matter. It could be 10 or 10,000. I have yet, however, to do well with either frequent binging or with calorie-restriction, so maybe calories do indeed matter. :P
Symptoms of Starvation
There are a number of signs which indicate that you likely are not eating enough. I will note that my experience with calorie-deprivation has always been roughly-deliberate, and never due to circumstance (e.g. lost in the woods without food). Malnourishment- that is, lacking in certain micronutrients (e.g. iron, calcium), possibly in spite of sufficient calorie-intake- has generally been the result of ignorance. I suspect this to be the case with most Americans.
Based on my experience of undernourishment, its symptoms include the following. Those highlighted in bold, in my mind, indicate that there almost-definitely is an issue. Remember that this list is based on my experience, and thus is nicely-biased.
· A feeling of blood “rushing” through your face, head (at the forehead, top, and back), upper back (the latter is experienced more often during physical activity), or various other parts of the body
· Weight drops quickly, particularly if you had a low percentage of body-fat to begin with. A 10% reduction in body weight (e.g. if starting weight is 100 lbs., you lose 10) makes you game for anorexia.
· A feeling of blood “rushing” through the head, light-headedness, and/or nearly falling over when you stand up
· Hypotension (low blood pressure): when I was anorexic, mine was 100/40
· Amennorhea: Menstruation ceases for at least 3 months
· A sense of hunger is felt but is almost always ignored
· The heart “races” during eating
· The heart “races” during periods of low physical-activity, such as laying down
· Fear of heart attack
· Can periodically feel the heart beat without touching it, particularly during periods of low physical-activity
· Frequent nausea; feeling near-vomiting after eating
· Significant and sudden drop in resting heartrate (<60 beats per minute is considered low)
· When it comes time for physical activity, you sense you will be lacking in energy
· Teeth, tongue, and/or skin turn gray
· Face is frequently pale
· Bleeding around the gums; fear of teeth falling out
· Significant hair loss; body hair may grow more slowly (unsure on this one)
· Frequent gastrointestinal (GI) pain, particularly right in the gut (near the abdomen)
· Reduced appetite
· A sense of constantly being cold, particularly “to the bones” (cold is felt more “inside” yourself than on the skin)
· Increased susceptibility to bodily pain and injury, particularly related to physical activity
· Slower recovery from physical activity (unsure on this one)
· Periodic feeling of weakness in the muscles, such as the quadriceps
· Frequent watery stools (unsure on this one)
· Fainting, particularly during physical activity (not experienced by me)
· BMI of less than 16 (<18.5 is considered underweight, but that doesn’t mean there must be a problem)
· At least occasionally you find yourself binging uncontrollably and without satiation, particularly in environments where you don’t normally eat (e.g. outside of your home)
· You constantly count down the hours until your next meal- even while you are eating
· Sex drive has a minimal presence and/or has dropped significantly
· Most of your thoughts are related to food
· Difficulty focusing on anything but food most of the time
· Odd cravings or cravings for food you don’t normally eat, “junk” food in particular (soda, marshmallows, and burnt hot dogs were my go-to thoughts, all of which I had not consumed in months)
· Apparent memory-reduction (likely due to a constant focus on food; what is there to remember but what your attention is on?)
· Mood is generally “bad”: angry, irritable, depressed, anxious
· May tend to withdraw from social situations
· Due to nausea and/or psychological conflict, you dread eating
· You have a sense of being saintly or “pure” due to your eating habits
· Numerous people say you have a problem…
· … And you deny it
Some of these symptoms are sensitive in that having one or some of them doesn’t mean you have an issue. For instance, on the slow-carb diet weight loss tends to happen fairly quickly. In addition, many healthy athletes have low blood pressure and heartrate.
My blood pressure is roughly lower now (85/50) than when I was anorexic: this is likely due to an overall increase in physical fitness and in continuing to “clean up” my diet. I also am 14-18 pounds heavier than I was then. Sheer number of pounds (or kilograms!) is not everything; but, what single metric is?
In addition, some symptoms may seem to contradict each other, such as being repulsed by food yet thinking about it all the time. Perhaps the body is sick from not getting what it needs, but it still needs what it needs (the heart wants what it wants, fellas). On top of that, hatred almost always equates to obsession (though the converse is not always true). If you hate food and eating it you are, by definition, obsessed with those things.
For the beloved last two bulletpoints: when most people you know are concerned that you have an eating-related problem, you probably do. I know that with crazy business and book ideas this isn’t always the case, but with eating is much more often is. If you’re too small or too big, people will see right through you. I’ve been there; I know. I’ve been the blind nut (though I’ve never heard of a nut with eyes).
Your refusal to see the truth does not nullify that truth. It will continue to rule you.
Troubleshooting for Nourishment-Lack
When you are trying to lose weight or become saintly, it can be difficult to accept that these symptoms may indicate a problem, rather than just your body undergoing a soon-to-be-healthy change.
Of course, I’m typically not too big on warnings (I think), and I will reiterate that having some of these symptoms may not mean there is a problem. Don’t get hypochondriasis on me here: give innovation a chance! However, even if you can’t quite pinpoint the cause, you can probably tell when something’s wrong. If you’ve recently made some neat-o dietary changes, they might just be a factor.
On the surface, solutions can seem simple: read the labels of the foods you eat, and whatever nutrients you appear to get little of, eat more of. That, and just plain eat more if you’re undernourished.
It can be more complex than this. You can account for nutrients that aren’t normally listed or discussed, such as selenium. In addition, diet may not be your only issue. However, there’s a good chance it is one of the most important. Diet does a lot for us, both bad and good. I suspect that more health issues can be linked to diet than we realize, just as can health successes.
Some people seem less affected by diet than others, just as some lifetime smokers appear relatively unphased by their habit. If this is the case for you, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to improve your health in these ways. An absence of bad effects doesn’t mean that there won’t be any later, nor does it mean that trying to improve won’t make you feel better. Just toy around (safely!) and see what magic may happen.
Anyway, making dietary changes can be hard in that people can get attached to their diet, both in regards to what they eat and the structure of how they eat (i.e., when they eat and how often). I’m uncertain of the reasons for this, but I will admit to having these issues myself.
If you are undernourished, and it is within your means to do so, I suggest adding another meal to your day if you currently eat 2 or less, and trying to eat more at those meals. The latter was my means of “curing” anorexia: I just started to eat more (both in volume and in number of different foods) for breakfast and, bam, my weight skyrocketed in no time.
Adding more meals and/or more to your meals means that you may eat certain foods more than once in a day. I know this can feel bothersome, but as long as you are getting enough of each micronutrient there is nothing inherently wrong with it. You will likely have to accept buying these repeat-foods more often. It may seem like a vice, but, hey- isn’t putting food on the table your first aim of earning money?
If you are undernourished there’s a chance you could do with varying your diet a bit more also, but it may not be necessary. Changes in the content of your food should (in regards to health) be based on an individual food’s macro- and micro-nutrient content, your overall nutrient intake, and the food’s ingredients. If the food is mostly sugar-laden fluff and is lacking is micronutrients, for instance, you can probably do away with it. If you eat an apple a day, you probably don’t also need 10 strawberries, an orange, and 6 blueberries to meet your Vitamin C-related needs.
Basing food choices off ingredients seems to be more individualized than nutrient-content. For instance, some people must turn away from foods with “milk,” “lactose” or “wheat,” on the label if they want to avoid unnecessary pain, while others do not. If “sugar” or one of its many codenames or cousins (evaporated cane juice, malt, agave nectar, aspartame) is listed first, you may do well to avoid that food.
I have a thing for avoiding ingredients that I can’t pronounce easily or imagine a concrete picture of. I know what “cheese” and “parsley” look like, but “potassium sorbate”? “Monosodium glutamate”? “Soy lechitin”? No idea. I know “synthetic” doesn’t always mean “bad,” but in my mind these foods are not real. I’ve undergone too much pain and suffering to give them anymore chances. If I don’t know what it is, I’m probably not going to eat it.
In High-fat Dieting/ Are We Entitled to Animals' Bodies?, I railed on processed, factory farmed meat for quite a few words. This particular tribe of meats has always rained intense gut-pain upon me. I’ve assumed food additives to be a factor, and I’d like to add here that the antibiotics animals on factory farms are fed probably have contributed to my pain also. The death of gut-bacteria can hurt.
What I’m suggesting about food additives and antibiotics is that some food-related problems may not just stem from a lack of something (as obesity may), but from something that shouldn’t be consumed as well. Antibiotics can be highly destructive to the body, the gut in particular. You need those little guys in your intestines to digest food and contribute to Vitamin K production, which helps to clot bleeding from open cuts and wounds. I’m sure they do all sorts of other magic I’m unaware of as well.
These bacteria are a part of us: thus, when they die, part of us dies. Getting off antibiotics and replenishing your gut bacteria is probably one of the most important things you can do to increase overall health. Be wary of meats that have no “antibiotic-free” label.
If your dietary issues are related to psychological conflicts, you could try allowing yourself to go all-out one day a week (which is required on the slow-carb diet) or even for a whole month, which I am on Day 20 of as described in An Unusual 30 Day Trial. I’ve run into a slew of physiological and also some psychological problems, which is basically why I’m writing this article (I will explain further at the end of the trial). However, my shame around eating has been significantly reduced, and this change has been amazing. I hope that once I better figure out how to eat smartly I will be psychologically better able to experiment with my diet and enjoy eating more.
Please note that "all-out" doesn't have to mean that you completely bare yourself of standards. You certainly can go outside the guidelines of your diet, but I regret it every time I do. For me, "all-out" simply means "eat as much as I want of the foods I always have."
The [not-too] Skinny
To conclude: if you are experiencing physiological issues without a highly obvious cause (e.g. a car accident), diet may be a factor. It may help you to monitor and increase micronutrient intake and reduce intake of non-nutritive substances (this tends to make actual food taste better, by the way).
If you are undernourished, try to eat 2-3 complete meals per day, and eat more than you usually do during at least one of those meals. If this freaks you out, add just a tiny bit of food at a time. You won’t even notice it- that is, until your bones go back into hiding! Also, aim to consume more fat and protein- even just a little. Don’t totally shun carbs, however: until you reach a sustainable weight, you probably cannot afford to do so. If you’re too nauseous to eat more at one meal of the day, try to eat more at another time. Maybe dinner is plentiful, but breakfast is lacking. Give some balance a try.
If you just plain need to eat a bit less, try eating a bit of high-protein food within 30 minutes of waking up each day, and avoid simple sugars and artificial sweeteners. Carbohydrates, especially the simpler they get, have a way of making you crave more of them. You could try gradually removing foods with added sugars and sweeteners, and then finally taking a week without any- that’s what I did. Typically the cold-turkey week isn’t recommended but, hey, it has worked like a charm for some of us. ;)
Remember: in the realm of food, if a lot of people say you have a problem, you probably do. You are free to experiment, but be careful. Become familiar with your starvation-signs.
If you want to eat more, then you probably need to: it might just need to be something different from what you’re currently eating is all. That, or you may need to eat in a different way- that is, at different times. Play around: if there’s any change you could reasonably put energy into making, it’s your physical health. If you need anyone’s permission to make these changes, you have mine.
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(Written on 19 January 2015)