Finding Balance After A Lifelong Eating Disorder

It’s Friday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Friday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!

 I clearly remember my first experience with binge eating. I was only about ten years old, but my home life was in chaos. My dad had recently lost his business and declared bankruptcy, and we had to sell our home and almost all of our belongings. The turmoil was hard for my parents, but was absolutely traumatic for my younger sister and me. I remember waking up during the night and hearing them fighting over the situation. My sister and I were too young to understand the details, but old enough to know it was really, really bad.

At some point during that very rough time, I bought a bag of candy. This was an unusual occurrence for me because for most of my early life I was not allowed to eat sugary foods, and especially not candy. Once I had that bag of candy in my possession, though, I was obsessed. On that same day, within the course of an hour and with nobody watching me, I ate every last piece. For that brief time, I felt safe and happy. A drive in my brain was turned on that I had never experienced before. I had to eat it all and right now.

Not surprisingly, eating all that sugar in one sitting made me sick. I had a terrible stomach ache that lasted the rest of the day. I knew exactly what had caused it, but that didn’t deter me from wanting more. As soon as I found a way to get access to candy again, I followed the same patterns of sneaking it into my room and settling in for a binge that provided comfort for a fleeting amount of time.

Sadly, I battled binge-eating disorder for about the next two decades. Whenever things evened out in my life, it was a habit that faded into the distance. But, in times of increased family stress or other life events involving change or stress, I turned to binging as my source of comfort. At that time, I didn’t know that my problem had a name, but I was ashamed of the habit and never spoke to anyone about it.

Candy and sugar were always my choice of poison, and my health suffered as a consequence. As I moved from childhood to adolescence, my hormones were unbalanced and I developed signs of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) in my early teenage years. I never had a normal menstrual cycle and I experienced depression, problems with weight management, and acne.

resize_Carrie Forrest 2004Later, once I was in college, I started hormonal birth control. While the pill helped control the symptoms of PCOS, starting this prescription medication also initiated migraines that later became a chronic problem. My eating habits were still terrible, and that was the age when “fat-free” processed junk was marketed as health food, so my diet consisted of skim milk and sugar cereal, salads with fat-free dressing, a baked potato with fat-free cottage cheese, and giant bowls of fat-free chocolate ice cream.

As my health problems started to add up throughout my 20s, I finally started to make the connections between food and health once I hit my early 30s. The final straw when I realized things had to change was when my family physician suggested I try a daily prescription medication originally created to treat seizures to see if it would help my migraines. I was horrified that this was my fate, and at such a relatively young age. I was also diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune thyroid condition, along with multiple thyroid nodules.

There were further challenges ahead. Around 2010, I discovered veganism and thought that a 100% plant-based diet was the answer to all my problems. This strict approach that excluded all animal products seemed to work well at first. I lost weight and was feeling energetic with no migraines. I built a business creating recipes for the healthy, vegan community.

My thyroid disease took a serious turn in 2012 when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I had surgery to remove the tumor, but had a very hard time adjusting to life without a thyroid gland. I started experiencing symptoms including chronic skin hives, fatigue, depression, and increased food sensitivities. I also became overly vigilant about my food choices and developed a type of eating disorder known as orthorexia. My binge habits returned after several years of remission. I realized the vegan diet was no longer serving my needs.

I wrote a blog post in June of 2014, where I shared with my readers that I was expanding my diet outside of a strict plant-based approach. It took a lot of soul-searching to get myself in the right mental space to admit that I could no longer identify as a vegan. It was a very rough transition that essentially had me starting from scratch in building my identity, community, and business.

resize_Carrie Forrest 2017A friend had referred me to Mark’s Daily Apple around this time, and I also got a copy of The Primal Blueprint. So much of what Mark wrote made common sense to me, especially the comparison of Grok to his modern counterpart. It became clear to me that Mark’s work is more inclusive than exclusive, acknowledging that everyone’s needs are different and updating the primal definition as the community and body of evidence around nutritional science evolves.

In just the last 2 years of so, I began working with functional medicine physicians and practitioners who helped me develop a plan to address the root causes of my health problems and figure out the foods that would nourish and sustain me. I also consulted an eating disorders specialist to address some of the unhealthy beliefs I had around food.

Now, fast forward to 2017, I feel like a primal “clean eating” approach is the best description of a flexible, real food way I choose to eat. I enjoy an abundance of colorful, nutrient-rich foods that I find support my health and are absolutely delicious. As a result, my overall inflammation has decreased tremendously and my health issues are much more manageable. The crazy blood sugar swings I used to experience without a balanced approach to my nutrition are 100% gone and I feel satisfied and wonderfully nourished after eating this way. My hormones have restored and balanced out naturally, and I rarely experience bouts of depression or the desire to binge-eat anymore. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I had that urge – it has been at least 3 years.

Finally, I learned my lesson that my ideal diet is much less about perfection or following a strict plan, but doing my best each day to eat foods that nourish and satisfy me. I’m so grateful to Mark and his team for all the education, recipes, produces, and resources that support the primal way of living in the modern world. I am so excited for the Primal Kitchen restaurants! I continue to share gluten- and dairy-free recipes, plus updates on my health journey on my blog, so please visit me there and keep in touch.

Carrie Forrest, MPH in Nutrition
Clean Eating Kitchen

July Keto Month
Primal Kitchen Frozen Bowls

About the Author

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

21 thoughts on “Finding Balance After A Lifelong Eating Disorder”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Thank you for sharing your story – it really resonated with me. I too struggled with orthorexia, and have walked a log road toward balance. Coincidentally, I also was vegetarian/vegan for over a decade. Though I no longer eat strictly plant-based foods, I still adhere to many many of the beliefs espoused by the vegan community, especially those that are compatible with the ancestral health movement (esteem for produce, coconut oil, minimally processed monounsaturated oils, and the medicinal effects of garlic, ginger, turmeric, etc). As you say – one of the best parts of the MDA posts and community is its constant fine-tuning and rejection of a “one-size fits all” approach. Your progress and perspective is inspiring!

    1. Thanks for sharing your story, Gracie! I also still retain a lot of the thinking around the plant-based community, but mostly with a focus on nutrient-dense foods. I’ve found the primal community to be so wonderful and accepting of individual needs and I so appreciate that open-mindedness. Sending you love on your healing journey.

  2. Love your story and can relate to a lot of it. I was vegetarian for over 30 years, and mostly raw vegan at one point. While I learned about some wonderful foods that I still use today, like seaweed and coconut products, ultimately being a vegan really set me back. Living a primal lifestyle does not feel restrictive at all…it is so nourishing. So happy for your success…you have overcome a lot, and it’s great that you’re spreading the word.

    1. Thank YOU, Elizabeth! I so appreciate the comment and words of support. It’s so interesting how many of us have been on similar journeys, thinking that veganism or vegetarianism is the answer. I agree, there are so many great lessons picked up along the way. For instance, I never even ate vegetables before I became a vegan, so that was a valuable step on my journey. I’m so grateful to be where I am now, though, with a much broader diet that fits my needs and makes me feel nourished and balanced. Sending you love on your journey. XO.

  3. It is amazing to me how many of us have had similar journeys, finally finding freedom and peace with the primal lifestyle. Thank you for being truthful and vulnerable. I believe that the more we share our stories and talk about these issues the more we expand the health and wellness of the planet.

    Congratulations on your success!

    1. Thanks, Katie! It is quite amazing that real food within the context of a mindful, balanced lifestyle can make such a difference. I wish I could have avoided all the suffering, but I’m thrilled if sharing my story can help end someone else’s suffering.

  4. Intense story thanks for sharing! Like your web site, awesome. I never was vegan, even when I was a vegetarian for about 12 years, I ate a lot of eggs and drank a lot of whey protein and ate goat yogurt. Now I eat salmon, sardines, turkey, chicken and drink two cups of bone broth daily … and I no longer do dairy, whey or eggs (lots of veggies, nuts, berries and oils too of course). I understand the ethical concerns of vegetarians … cause I love aminals LOL. I think health and your diet is an evolving thing, and technology may get to the point in the future where we can get the right kind of protein, collagen and fats without needing to eat meat, but we’ll have to see.

    1. I agree with everything you said! I also have the dilemma of loving animals and not wanting to hurt them, but I had to make that hard decision about choosing to support my health vs continuing to be a vegan. I can’t tolerate eggs or dairy so that makes it hard to avoid meat. I love the idea of hoping that one day there will be an easy answer (like the stories you hear about growing meat in a lab, kinda weird but okay), and I also agree that the “optimal” die is always evolving, for humans and for each individual!

  5. I sometimes wish I could continue to ride on my high horse as a vegetarian/vegan. I was vegetarian for more than half of my life, but once my first daughter was born we had so many food intolerances to sort out that it eventually led from gluten/dairy free to grain free. It is possible to eat a vegetarian diet without grains, beans and dairy, but right now, it’s a bit out of reach for me. I am always very curious about what other people eat and it still always seems to me that the vegetarians are the healthiest looking overall–though it could be multiple factors at work that make them lean towards healthier habits (exercising/walking, using green cleaning products, yoga/meditation, etc…). I don’t usually get a chance to get details about their health, but some close friends of mine have lingering things that I believe could be helped with dietary adjustments (whole grains for breakfast/lunch and dinner aren’t going to do favors for anyone) that they’re unwilling to try because of the vegetarian umbrella. I really try to keep my mind open to trying new things and to always be open to the fact that some foods just don’t work for me. I really admire your story and growth because it’s hard to go back (especially when you have a whole internet following) and say, “Oh, that didn’t really work too well for me after all!” I always hate it when I read a great book about nutrition and come to the last chapter where the author reiterates something along the lines of, “Everyone is an individual. What works for one may not work for another.” I am often feeling a little peeved at that point wondering just what it is we’re supposed to eat. The primal blueprint makes it really simple for me–just eat real food. Pop Tarts? Not real food. Oreos? Not real food. Just don’t eat it. Pretend Paleo Oreos with odd combinations of real food ingredients and a boat load of honey? Eat sparingly, and take a walk after.

    1. I love this, Jennifer, and have also been really frustrated by the lack of one answer or diet that can apply to everyone. That as partly what sucked me into the vegan diet was thinking that it would solve all my issues. It’s funny because I also know what you mean about vegans/vegetarians looking healthier, but I look at the pictures of myself when I was vegan (and suffering horribly from orthorexia) and I looked lean and mean, but I am truly much healthier now than I was then. Anyway, it is super complicated. I’m encouraged by all the great lab testing available now that can help people figure out which foods work best. For instance, I found through food sensitivity testing that I can’t do eggs or dairy, plus also random things like black beans and sunflower seeds. Anyway, thanks for the note and for being real. XO.

  6. The positive effects on the mind and mood that come from eating clean, “species appropriate” food never cease to amaze. A long journey, you had. Glad you shared so that others can share your good results maybe without having to walk through the fire. Carry on!

    1. Thanks, Jeb!!! Ironically, when I was vegan, my blog was called “Carrie on Vegan.” I wasn’t able to carry on in that sense, but now my mission is to keep inspiring folks to figure out what works for them. Take care!

  7. What a great testimonial. I have had friends who go on extreme diets and your story is one I’ll share with them. Thanks and keep it up!

  8. Hello Carrie. Thank you for sharing your story, which seems quite similar to my own. Can I ask – when you say inflammation decreased in your body – did this show up in biological markers scientifically? Did your calprotectin levels decrease, for example (if they were tested?) The reason I ask is that I have crohns disease, and I am trying to find an eating lifestyle that will lower my calprotectin levels without medication.

    1. Hi Elizabeth, I just saw your note here. I did not have my calprtectin levels tested, but other inflammatory levels like C-reactive protein (is that the same?) show that my inflammation markers are better on a strict gluten- and dairy-free diet. I would suggest working with a functional medicine doctor to figure out your specific triggers. I have a podcast where I explore these issues further, it’s called Clean Eating for Women. 🙂

  9. Hi Carrie, thanks for sharing your story. I have battled Binge Eating Disorder (B.E.D.) for over 30 years and it has completely and utterly devastated my health, both physically and mentally. I am at my highest ever weight (290 pounds) and I have been officially ‘morbidly obese’ for about 15 years, having been put on my first diet age 13 and been and on and off them ever since. I have PCOS, very severe and chronic HS (Hidradenitis Suppuratvia-a dreadful skin disease), Asthma and a recent diagnosis of Fatty Liver. As you would expect, at 5’5″ and 290 pounds my mobility is now very much impaired and I have chronic knee problems.

    I have despaired at the lack of recognition of this eating disorder and the lack of help available from the – chronically underfunded -mental healthcare system in the U.K.
    Ultimately at my lowest ebb, my ‘failure’ to beat this behaviour had led me to consider taking a ‘permanent’ way out of my pain and suffering – thankfully I did not act on it. I have suffered from depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember and a lot of this is linked to not ever being able to be a healthy weight or size.
    I have been attempting Primal and low carb and researching these approaches off and on for about 4 years now and although I feel much better when I eat this way, I simply do not yet have the psychological tools to maintain it.
    When a person had been using food to deal with difficult emotions for most of their adult life, the mind has to be healed along with the body and I often feel like this gets forgotten about. Approaching this as yet another ‘diet’ or dogma unfortunately fires up all the conditions for the eating disorder.

    It’s complex and confusing.

    I’m pleased to say that after my (most recent) 6-year battle with the healthcare services in my current local area I have finally been given a referral to a psychologist in the Eating Disorder service, rather than yet another referral to a Weight Management service that only seeks to educate me to once again eat low fat, high carb and to be constantly hungry.
    I hope that this will help support me mentally to rebuild my relationship with food (and myself) to the extent that I can maintain a Primal approach for more than a few days. I hope I can learn to take care of myself and to learn to cook and to plan meals, as well as finding a way to follow through on doing some exercise.
    Thanks again for highlighting B.E.D. and I hope you can continue to help and inspire others. You have helped to inspire me today.
    All the best to you.

  10. I’m so interested to see your story! I too was vegan about the same time frame, and I even followed your blog. I found it through a link from a nutrition guru’s website. Although I loved the idea of being vegan, it never worked for me. Thankfully I never developed a severe physical illness, but I would experience grave depression while vegan. I’m so glad to see you here, and that all is well!