Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Nutrition Talk

I cannot stress enough the damage improper nutrition/self-starvation has on our bodies. I know that many people with anorexia simply don't care about poor nutrition or poor health--I know I certainly didn't. When anorexic, I didn't take multivitamins. I didn't take Calcium supplements. I didn't care whether I lived or died. Obviously I was able to overcome that deranged thinking and am able to think with clarity now. And I am left now, older and wiser, trying to mend the damage years of malnutrition has had on my body.

I went to the doctor yesterday to get the results of my last round of blood testing. I've known for years now that I am anemic (low iron) and Vitamin B-12 deficient. However, I learned yesterday that I am critically low on Vitamin D. A normal range of Vitamin D present in the body is somewhere near 50. Mine is 5. The doctor stressed the importance of returning my Vitamin D to a healthy level. Without it, I could face serious, serious issues such as osteoporosis, osteomalacia (soft bones), heart problems, etc. Proper amounts of Vitamin D are crucial for maintaining Calcium and Phosphorous levels in your body. Unfortunately for me, an irresponsible vegan who doesn't take her multivitamins, I know that my diet is the reason I'm vitamin deficient. Vitamin D is found in egg yolks, fish, meat, dairy-- all things I strictly avoid. It's also found in sunshine, so I'm going to make an effort to spend more time outdoors. Plus, the doctor gave me a prescription to slowly raise my Vitamin D level over a 12-week period (she said raising it too quickly can cause kidney stones). I try to manage my protein levels and iron levels by making smart food choices, but obviously I've neglected to take the importance of vitamins seriously. I had no idea how bad it was.

So I started thinking about all of my lovely readers. Do you know if you're getting the proper amounts of vitamins? Do you take multivitamins regularly? Do you care or know anything at all about nutrition? I understand that many of you see nutritionists and dietitians regularly, or have seen them in the past. I never have. As I've said in previous posts, I have avoided proper treatment for years, to my own detriment (mostly because I've had no medical insurance, but also due to the lack of trust I have in doctors).

I took a nutrition class when I was an undergrad during the height of my anorexia. I told everyone, including the instructor, that I signed up for the class to help get over my eating disorder. In reality, I was only looking for ways to better starve myself. I thought somehow learning the ins and outs of the human body would give me some sort of advantage, a way to further manipulate and control it. It turned out to be the hardest class I had ever taken. Not because the material was difficult to understand, but because in my eating disordered state, I couldn't accept anything the instructor said as true. On tests, she asked questions like, "How many calories should the average woman eat per day?" My brain wouldn't let me write down a rational answer. And for our final project, we had to record everything we ate over a three day period then calculate the calories, fat grams, protein, vitamins and minerals for those days and compare them to the numbers the book said were healthy based on age. As I said, at the height of my eating disorder, I was eating between 0-800 calories a day. Needless to say, all of my levels were lower than they were supposed to be and my grade suffered. At the time, I was offended the instructor didn't take my eating disorder into consideration, appreciate my honesty, and give me a good grade. But now I see I should have been offended that I didn't stand up for myself and feed my body the nutrients it needed. Even now, this far into recovery, I'm realizing I'm not as healthy as I thought I was. I still have a lot of work to do as far as a healthy diet goes. My body is no longer the enemy. I want to nurture it, to heal it, and to make peace with it. Today is the day for change.

I've been reading a lot this morning about the thirteen essential vitamins we need to be healthy. Here is a description of each of them that I copied and pasted from Medline Plus (here's the link) in case anyone is interested. Please try and understand the horrible things your eating disorder is doing/has done to your body. Maybe you don't care now, but one of these days, you'll wish you'd been kinder to yourself. There's no time like the present.

Each vitamin has specific functions. You can develop health problems (deficiency disease) if you do not get enough of a particular vitamin.

Vitamin A helps form and maintain healthy teeth, bones, soft tissue, mucous membranes, and skin.

Vitamin B6 is also called pyridoxine. The more protein you eat, the more vitamin B6 is needed to help the body use protein. Vitamin B6 helps form red blood cells and maintain brain function, among other things.

Vitamin B12, like the other B vitamins, is important for metabolism. It also helps form red blood cells and maintain the central nervous system.

Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is an antioxidant that promotes healthy teeth and gums. It helps the body absorb iron and maintain healthy tissue. It also promotes wound healing.

Vitamin D is also known as the "sunshine vitamin," since it is made by the body after being in the sun. Ten to 15 minutes of sunshine 3 times a week is enough to produce the body's requirement of vitamin D. However, many people living in sunny climates still do not make enough vitamin D and need more from their diet or supplements. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which you need for the normal development and maintenance of healthy teeth and bones. It also helps maintain proper blood levels of calcium and phosphorus.

Vitamin E is an antioxidant also known as tocopherol. It plays a role in the formation of red blood cells and helps the body use vitamin K.

Vitamin K is not listed among the essential vitamins, but without it blood would not stick together (coagulate). Some studies suggest that it helps promote strong bones in the elderly.

Biotin is essential for the metabolism of proteins and carbohydrates, and in the production of hormones and cholesterol.

Niacin is a B vitamin that helps maintain healthy skin and nerves. It is also has cholesterol-lowering effects.

Folate works with vitamin B12 to help form red blood cells. It is necessary for the production of DNA, which controls tissue growth and cell function. Any woman who is pregnant should be sure to get enough folate. Low levels of folate are linked to birth defects such as spina bifida. Many foods are now fortified with folic acid.

Pantothenic acid is essential for the metabolism of food. It is also plays a role in the production of hormones and cholesterol.

Riboflavin (B2) works with the other B vitamins. It is important for body growth and the production of red blood cells.

Thiamine (B1) helps the body cells change carbohydrates into energy. It is also essential for heart function and healthy nerve cells.


  1. Thank you for bringing up this today. You are right, it is so important to have Vitamin D and E, and many more. I am anemic and I am supposed to take iron pills. I struggle with taking them on a daily basis because I still wonder if I am "worthy" enough to take care of myself. It feel so wrong because I am so used to taking care of others.

    But, then I remind I really want to end up being stuck in 80-year old body at 50 years old? No. I better take care of myself.

    Thanks for sharing this with us!!

  2. I love learning about nutrition and what the body needs. It's obvious that as anorexics or any of us suffering with ED, we abuse our bodies and don't give it the proper nutrients and treatment it deserves.
    This is a great reminder that food isn't scary. It's necessary in order to live a long, productive, and happy life. Thanks :)
    <3 Haley

  3. I've become a bit of a nutrition maven but there is a HUGE part of me that relates to this "internal struggle" in my head saying "that can't be true, can it?
    I have vitamins, do I take them? spurts maybe. Now I ask myself WHY Missy? Thanks
    I just whipped out my recent lab work to check what my vitamin levels were and they are not on there....hmmm...maybe I have to order thart test special.

  4. So true, EDs wreck havoc on our bodies nutritionally. I think it is even more important if you are vegetarian/vegan to be even more vigilant as it can be harder to get the substantial nutrients your body needs.

    I remember in the worst throes of my ED, I was pretty anemic and had a low zinc level.

    I also did a similar thing to you in taking a nutrition course. I was up front with the instructor about my ED and said I was recovering. It's true I was, but at the same time, it fed the ED a bit as well I think. I had to do a similar project with a food journal and calculations. She was incredibly understanding and glad for my honesty but still it just felt weird all together But then again, I never did well with food journals at all.

  5. I am a dietetics major (almost done!), so I have had a lot of projects like the one you described. I never did them on myself. My ED was widely known to professors (not only by looking at me)because I was court ordered into treatment 2 times during my career there. That and all of them are dietitians themselves, so they can spot it. I always asked the professors if I could do the study with a family member or close friend as I knew I wouldn't do well on it. Also, I have always had a strange fear of writing down what I eat/ate, and if I had to write it down, I would definitely not be eating anything that day. In my experience they were all very understanding and willing to work with me.

    Nutrition is so important and can affect so many parts of your life. I struggled with anorexia for 11 years (I'm now 25), I was court ordered (for what I am deciding is the last time) on April 9th of last year... according to the doctors, I had maybe six months left to live. My kidneys and liver were failing, and my heart is forever damaged. With all my knowledge on nutrition, I did the same thing as you described: used it to better starve myself (and of course, I thought I was being "smart" about it) Taking a multivitamin on an empty stomach just caused me to vomit, so that was out of the question. I ended up permanently damaging myself. =(

    If you ever have any nutriton questions; I'd be more than happy to help, though it seems as though you've got some amazing resources. I'm rooting for you. Never give up hun.

  6. coral marie leslieOctober 20, 2011 at 7:55 AM

    This is a beautiful blog.
    Thank you so so much for creating something
    like this, it is extremely inspiring.

    I suffered from anorexia since when I was about 13. Although I am nearly 18 now, I still struggle with trying to overcome the ghosts the disease has left me with.

    People need to hear things like this. So often, I hear ED sufferers & recovers make excuses for themselves that allow them to continue trying to control their eating & weight.

    It's nice to see someone who is so honest about their condition. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!