I have experienced panic attacks since high school. Very infrequently for the most part until the last year of college. I didn't know what they were until then. One way my anxiety has manifested itself, both in the past and now, is through my eating habits. Not as an eating disorder per se, but as a means of me trying to gain control in times where I feel I am spiraling out. For anyone that has ever felt that out of control, you know that I mean.
In my last year of college, I had a lot to think about and a major chapter was ending - lots to think about! Also happening simultaneously was the national news coverage of stories about various food items being recalled because they were contaminated with salmonella, E.Coli...you name it. This was jarring to me - I thought raw meats were something to avoid, not things like peanut butter (a favorite) and bagged spinach. I need to take action. I needed control.
It started with me swearing off those potentially contaminated items and slowly, my food safety window became smaller and smaller. By the second semester of my final year, I was not only applying to grad school and seeking out employment options for that summer and following academic year - I was also obsessing over how to prevent myself from getting food poisoning or being contaminated in any way. The school cafeteria became a very scary place...though it was already given the "mystery meat" and other goodies that the then-food service company tried to pass off to us overpaying students as "food."
Eventually, as I neared graduation, I was eating maybe 10-15 designated "safe" foods that I felt were OK to eat because they posed a low contamination risk. I was also eating many of my supermarket-purchased frozen meals in my res hall room or from the local mostly-vegetarian restaurant in town. So this was both costly and embarrassing for me, yet I managed to conceal my issues. The only noticeable symptom was my weight drop from a healthy 105-110lb to 96lbs. Folks in my life were concerned, but I blamed it all on high metabolism and no one questioned it.
It wasn't until halfway through my first semester of grad school (and many, many panic attacks later) that I sought out some good quality therapy (that thankfully came to me at no cost thanks to the university's Counseling Center) that I returned to gradual food normalcy. When things are stable (no major life changes, strong sense of security) and I am managing my anxiety and panic effectively with the aid of therapy (as of today, I am officially diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia), I am cautious and mindful about what I consume, but it doesn't consume me. It's annoying, but manageable.
Over the past 2-3 years or so, I underwent a great number of big life changes. And never allowed myself to process and tried to be strong and push it all aside to power through. I've been what I believe to be clinically depressed/anxious for the past year and this time I used food as a crutch. I weighed more in my late 20s than I ever did in my life. And then my breakdown happened - it all came to a head. Going through so many panic attacks in such a short time period is hardly an appetite stimulant. But thanks to therapy, an appetite-stimulating antidepressant and a positive support network, it hasn't been as much of an issue as it could have been.
I had a great Monday this past week with a successful doctor visit and three trips to the outside world (my beloved Target, to-go lunch at a pizza parlor with my love and a trip to grab groceries ALL BY MYSELF), but the rest of the week has been difficult with adjusting to new medicine and pushing my limits too much following my victory early in the week. When in the throes of my bad times, the last thing I want is a snack. But when things are good and I focus on the good thoughts that I trust, I am learning to use food in moderation as a comfort source. I have been cooking to help give me purpose and feel accomplished. A good nourishing meal gives me something to look forward to. And the meals I've eaten this week have been among the most healing and soothing ones I've experienced in some time.
This great big thing won't be cured overnight - but I am learning to accept the lows and enjoy the good times. And one of these days, the good times will outnumber the bad. I continue to thank all that read this for their prayers and support. I am eternally grateful.