I enjoy giving speeches, but I hate making slides. It’s so friggin’ tedious. Putting slides together is pretty much all I’ve been doing the past few days, and I still have a long way to go before I’m ready to give my presentation in D.C. next week.
I’ve been grumbling a bit as I’ve been working, so it was good to receive a little reminder of why I’m dedicated to the cause. I received this email from a woman I’ll call Linda, who recently saw Fat Head on Netflix:
Dear Mr. Naughton,
I don’t enjoy talking about myself, especially not personal stuff. But I’m going to. At length. About things most people closest to me have no idea about. So please bear with me while I tell you my story, regarding my life-long struggle with food.
I am a 25-year-old woman who was raised as young as I can remember to feel guilty about food. My first food-related memory was just before I entered kindergarten and my mother, a chronic yo-yo dieter, was arguing with me to “Give that Oreo back, you could have 2 heads of lettuce for the number of calories in that cookie.” My parents were not only subscribed to a low fat, high carb diet, they were depressed alcoholics who both left work when I was 10 and went on disability, never to recover. They were drunk every night and attempted suicide about a dozen times each when I was between 7 and 14 years old.
Naturally, as an only child and loner, I found comfort in food – specifically the “bad” foods my mother told me I should not eat. However, after secretly binging in my closet and hiding the food wrappers under my bed, I always felt repulsed with myself, so I would restrict my food intake until the urge to eat became overwhelming, then I would binge again, etc. By the time I was 11 years old, I was a few inches above average height and about 170 pounds. That same year, I ate a trough-sized portion of potato salad at my grandmother’s house, contracted food poisoning from the rancid mayonnaise, and proceeded to vomit for about two hours straight (I know this because the drive from grandma’s house was 2 hours and I puked the whole car ride home).
Gross? Yes. But this is not gratuitous information, because that was the day my bulimia came to be. Something snapped in me that day. I went from 200 pounds at the age of 12 to 110 pounds the following year (I was about 5’7″ by the age of 13). It is also worthy to mention that as a small child who was in love with animals, I adopted a vegetarian lifestyle and decided to stop eating meat at 5 years old. My parents believed it to be a phase, but it stuck, and at 13 I went fully vegan. I was diagnosed with major depression and ADHD that year.
By 14, at 5’9″ and 90 pounds, I was hospitalized on medical bed rest constantly, for 2-3 months at a time. My heart was giving up. I did not care about myself and I did not fear death. I ceased to be a person; I was a walking eating disorder. Ironically, my bulimia had very little to do with counting calories or “being fat”, but instead the emotional association I had attached to those “bad” foods, the foods you should feel disgusting, gluttonous and ashamed for craving and eating.
It took me many years to function again, even on a basic level. I had to drop out of high school, despite a straight A average, because I was missing 2 months at a time for chronic hospitalizations. I have been at war with food for as long as I can remember. A decade later, despite the fact I have it under control, the feelings are still there. A few years ago, I attempted suicide. Seriously, not halfhearted. I would have been successful if a friend with my spare key hadn’t come by to check on me because I wasn’t returning her calls for a week.
After that scare, I began taking control of my life back. I stopped taking my antidepressants, pills that did nothing but make me feel like a doped up zombie, and substituted them for vitamins and St. John’s Wort. I was able to slowly bring my binging and purging down from a dozen times a day, keeping in no nutrition whatsoever, to once a day and keeping in about 1500 calories a day. I am now a healthy weight for my height, 5’10″ and 145 pounds, but thanks to everything I was told in eating disorder treatment by dieticians, in addition to advice from my doctor, my diet was mostly carbohydrates, a small amount of bogus protein (tofu, fake soy meat, yuck) and no fat.
Despite being in “better” health than ever, I was exhausted all the time. Despite being identified as a “gifted” child with a “genius” IQ at a young age, I could not concentrate on anything and had to leave university not once but twice. Last year, I had my gallbladder removed due to a large gallstone, was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, and had emergency surgery to repair an intestinal obstruction, which was so excruciatingly painful and debilitating. With my long history of bulimia and digestive problems, my doctor fears I am a high risk candidate for developing stomach or colon cancer.
I stumbled upon your documentary completely by accident a month ago. I cancelled my plans to go out that night (not that I had the energy to anyway) and instead watched it 4 more times in a row. It was not only groundbreaking, extraordinarily informative, brilliantly written and hilarious, it was an overwhelmingly emotional experience for me. I cried, for the first time in too long. I cried bitter, angry tears, tears of frustration, followed by hopeful tears of relief. I can’t believe I was blind to all of this for so long. I pride myself on being informed, on questioning everything, on being passionate about world issues, on opting out of the Western bubble of ignorance. Yet I had no idea about anything you described in your documentary. I blindly trusted “experts” like doctors and dieticians.
The morning after I watched your documentary, I went to the grocery store and bought three things: eggs, bacon and butter. I ate 3 sunny side up eggs, cooked in butter, with two slices of bacon. I did not feel guilt. I did not make myself sick. Then I cried yet again, because I never thought I would live to see a day when those shackles were broken.
Within an hour, I felt more energized than I have in years. I showered, got dressed, did my hair and makeup and did something I love but haven’t had the energy to do in years – I went for a hike and took nature photos. Before even realizing it or feeling tired, I had walked the entire 4 mile path. I stopped at a nearby restaurant and had a mushroom swiss burger and a salad for lunch. Again, no guilt, no shame. On my way home, I picked up a well-marbled steak and fresh cauliflower for dinner. I began reading up on the paleolithic diet that night and decided to adopt it.
Over the course of the month of February, my mood and energy level has improved at a shockingly rapid and consistent pace. The chronic, painful digestive problems I was experiencing have almost completely subsided. I went to my doctor this morning, who read me my blood work results from last week. She was baffled by the improvements and blatantly asked what the $%&# I did differently this past month.
My body fat has gone down, my muscle mass has gone up. My hair, which was previously falling out in clumps so badly that I chopped off 20 inches out of frustration, is thick and shiny. My skin went from sickly pale to glowing porcelain. I even applied to begin school again in September. Best of all, this has been the first month I can recall since my bulimia started – 14 long years ago – that I have lived completely (aside of 2 slip-ups) without it.
The precise version of this overly verbose, borderline incoherent rant is that you have completely changed my life; that is indisputable, and because there is no possible way I could have gone on living the way I was, nor did I want to, I don’t believe I’m guilty of hyperbole in saying you may have saved my life, and given me a second chance at it. For the first time, I feel like I am actually living instead of just barely existing. And I truly have absolutely no idea how to begin thanking you for that.
I wish you, your beautiful wife and precious children all the health, happiness and success this world has to offer.
Yours very truly,
Linda, you put a lump in my throat. I wish you all the best on your path back to real health. Thanks for reminding me that this is why we do what we do. (And no more slip-ups, okay?)
I’m going to busy making slides and otherwise preparing that presentation for the next several days, then flying off to D.C. to deliver it. Fortunately, The Older Brother has agreed to take over the guest-host chair for a couple of posts next week.