Laura wasn’t gaining weight, and I was puzzled. Now most practitioners who have been working with eating disorder patients might laugh at me and call me naïve. She has anorexia, after all! How odd is it for her not to be gaining weight, when you think she’s eating all that she tells you? You can’t trust the eating disorder!
Laura, a woman in her early thirties, had struggled with anorexia for years before first seeing me. She was painfully honest about her unsuccessful attempts to eat amounts we had agreed upon, to follow a plan we had negotiated. At times she made some progress with eating a bit more but it was never sustained enough to change her weight or her health. And in between she cycled through numerous hospitalizations and eating disorder programs.
Several months had gone by and Laura was now in a very different place. She had shifted her will, in favor of recovery, of change. She asked great questions in our sessions and strategized about practical changes to boost her food intake. There was a notable change in her food records, which supported what I was hearing in my office. I was impressed by both her determination and the significant increase in food she had reported eating.
Yet Laura wasn’t gaining weight.
So I called her doctor, the best MD around for eating disorders. I told her it just wasn’t adding up. Yes, she reminded me that Laura has a long history with this eating disorder, and that I shouldn’t forget this. But, she trusted me and accepted, albeit reluctantly, my recommendation for a GI consult. If there were no clinical explanations for the lack of weight gain in spite of her reported intake, than I’d accept my foolishness in believing, in having some faith in this patient.
Following the procedure, the gastroenterologist report read like none I had ever seen. As head of a GI department, with a specialty in celiac disease, he stated that never before had he seen such a progressed case of celiac disease. Celiac disease is an intolerance to a protein called gluten found in many grains and foods, including wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten is also found to contaminate grains, showing up where it shouldn’t occur. For those with celiac, taking in gluten causes damage to the intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients, and results in discomfort and often weight loss and other consequences.)
Despite eating all she was eating, her body was unable to use most of these calories. Her reports of eating were likely not exaggerated. And so for many months Laura followed the prescribed celiac diet, a gluten free plan, and finally began to gain weight as expected.
|But it's going to take some work!|
The reverse is also true. Just because we knew Laura had celiac disease, didn’t mean that her lapses in progress with weight restoration were directly linked to her celiac disease. Sometimes they were, the direct result of restrictive eating. And sometimes the two diseases were linked, like when her eating disorder side sabotaged her recovery and chose to eat gluten-containing foods, leading to more malabsorption and poor weight gain.
Laura’s case is rather atypical. But there’s a lot we can learn from it. We, all of us, need to watch our assumptions. We are quick to attribute everything to a single condition—and that includes obesity, as well as eating disorders. Remember that post where I shared I have high blood pressure http://dropitandeat.blogspot.com/2011/04/lies-theyre-feeding-you-about-your.html? Yes, in spite of my normal weight and active lifestyle, I take meds for hypertension, as did my slim father.
That being said, even medical conditions, including eating disorders, can be changed, so don't give up! No, there’s no medication to resolve it, but even individuals like Laura, and like Jamie http://dropitandeat.blogspot.com/2010/09/insanity-or-recovery.html dealing with anorexia and bulimia and Maggie http://dropitandeat.blogspot.com/2011/02/maggies-152-lbs-weight-lossthis-time.html and Erin http://dropitandeat.blogspot.com/2010/09/meg-hit-300-pounds-wednesday-and-was.html dealing with binge eating disorder, with significant obesity for most of their lives before changing it, can recover.
It takes some faith in your self and some good supports, including a treatment team that believes you can move on. And a willingness to change course when you need to—to learn how to manage obstacles, to explore additional therapies and levels of care that might get you over a hurdle.
Laura has had her share of ups and downs over the many years I have worked with her. But she is the best I have ever seen her. And she wanted me to share her story with my readers. I continue to try to support her as she balances her newfound interest in food and eating (including foods such as lasagna) with guidance for preparing such foods gluten free.