How having a mental and a chronic illness has messed up my eating habits

I have had a problem with food for as long as I can remember.

It started when I was quite young, 6 or so I think. I was always a little bit chubby but as a little girl that wasn’t a concern of mine. I enjoyed my food, maybe if even a little too much.

But my dad had started taking me swimming in order for me to lose some weight, and there was this one time where we’d gone to the shops for a new swimming costume. I tried one on that I liked, but was told that I couldn’t wear it because I looked far too fat in it.

While this wasn’t what led to my eating disorder, which saw me hospitalised in 2011, it was definitely a stemming factor and likely one of the first factors to the following years that saw my self-esteem completely deteriorate.

But anyway, this isn’t just about my trouble with bulimia – you can read all about that here.

This is about how both bipolar disorder and my ostomy reversal – of which came as a result of a battle with Ulcerative colitis that saw me having an ileostomy bag for 10 months – alongside my past weight struggles have affected my eating habits and the way I view myself.

You see, since having my ostomy reversal, I end up using the bathroom at least eight times a day.

This can be incredibly disruptive to my daily routine and can mean I’m often unable to leave the house for longer than a few hours or even at all. Of course, there is medication to help slow my digestive system down – but I haven’t yet found one that hasn’t left me in horrendous amounts of pain a few hours after taking them.

To help myself, I have been advised to eat less fibre-filled foods, such as white bread, white potatoes and basically anything that you’d avoid when dieting.

Which would sound easy enough – if I wasn’t absolutely terrified of gaining weight, and if I wasn’t on medication that makes me gain it faster than normal.

And this is where the bipolar disorder comes in.

For my bipolar disorder, I take mood-stabilising medication and anti-psychotics. Unfortunately, most mental health medication comes with a weight gain side effect – and this can’t always be managed by good eating, as some medications actually change the way your body stores fat and makes you gain the weight quicker than usual.

But even so, to keep my weight steady, I need to eat healthily. But this, as you can tell, is a huge issue when I’ve been told to eat things to slow my digestive system.

So I feel as though I’m constantly stuck in limbo.

When I eat these carby foods, I feel bloated and horrible in myself. I feel unattractive and I hate looking in the mirror. I know some of this lack of self-esteem stems from the eating disorder habits I still harbour, but it has an incredibly negative effect on my mental health, and can often make my low periods feel even lower.

I often avoid going out or wearing certain things because I feel so uncomfortable in myself.

When I eat better, more fruit, vegetables and grains, I feel more confident. Happier in myself, non-bloated, but I end up limiting myself because I’m stuck in the bathroom more often and I end up with awful stomach pain.

It feels like a never-ending cycle that always has the same end-result of feeling crap.

I really, really, just wish there was a way that I could feel good in myself both physically and mentally without risking one bout of good-health for the other.

While suffering with both a mental and physical illness is hard enough, it’s even more difficult, when you’re constantly subsiding one or the other just to feel good about yourself.

It almost feels that to live a ‘normal’ life, I am either going to have to pick a team: my mental health or my physical.

But sadly, I know that even when picking a team – one is always going to be negatively affected.

Words by Hattie Gladwell


One thought

  1. It’s so incredibly frustrating, isn’t it. Eat the things that are the worst possible things you could eat, so that you feel better. Who ever heard of a “no fiber” diet?! That’s what I was advised to eat. Hattie, I hope you find your balance and your happiness.


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