I first noticed that I couldn’t go for long without eating when I spent a summer being quasi-anorexic. It was the summer between my freshman and sophomore year in high school; I was swimming a good two hours a day on swim team, taking a lifeguarding class, and walking or riding my bike to the pool and back from home, approximately one mile each way. I babysat the same kids all summer most weekdays so their mom had a chance to do some part-time work, so I’d feed the kids but take pride in eating nothing myself. I spent that summer counting every calorie that went in my mouth, and I’d do things like eat an apple in the morning and then not eat anything until after swim team practice at 7:30 or 8 PM, when I’d devour a small lunch-size package of doritos, eat half of what my mom served me for dinner, and go to bed starving. I knew I wasn’t as fast in the pool as I’d been the summer before, and I knew that feeling like I was going to fall over on the bike ride home was probably a bad sign, but I thought it showed that I had determination and willpower, and hey, I was looking pretty good in my bathing suit, right?
By the end of the summer, I had become a raging bitch, justifying to myself that I should keep on forgoing food because I’d lost all the weight I put on from ages 10-12 (I was the kind of kid who grew wider before I grew taller), but man, was I ever moody, depressed, and manic about every bite that went in my mouth. I specifically remember going out to eat at a fast food place with my family, ordering a small fries, and eating ten of them – when my mom said, “Don’t you think you should eat something a little more substantial? I’m worried about you” and I totally snapped at her.
That was the only time in my life that I was really borderline anorexic, but my eating has been disordered at times since – freshman year in college, for example, I would eat salads every day in the dining commons and not eat anything else in order to save money, and then I’d get dizzy and sick working out in the gym. Or when my college boyfriend decided neither of us should eat meat, so I didn’t, and he was also lactose intolerant, so I didn’t have any cheese or milk for months either.
While I could go on and on about my history of disordered eating, the point of this post is about my blood sugar issues. I’ve been tested as borderline low blood sugar, and I show many of the signs – if I sit or lay down on the couch, I get dizzy when I stand up, sometimes to the point of falling over. There’s also a specific sequence of events that happens when I don’t eat.
These are the things that happen to me, chronologically, when I go for a while without eating. Or sometimes they’re the things that happen if, for whatever reason, I eat only processed carbs with no fat or protein – especially if I eat a lot of sugar or white flour. First, I start to get lightheaded or absent-minded, just a little slower in thinking than usual. Then I get moody – most of the time I’m pretty even-tempered, but if I haven’t eaten or eaten right for more than about 5 or 6 hours I can be pretty bitchy. Then I get withdrawn and don’t speak and start to feel sullen and shaky. I develop a one-track mind – food at all costs; doesn’t matter what it is. I get a headache and sometimes get nauseated, and then my energy level quickly falls to zero and I might fall over and not be able to move. If I eat some sugar, I will feel OK in a few minutes, but then will crash harder afterward if I don’t also have some protein or fat.
These symptoms are all worse if I’ve been exercising. I MUST eat something after I work out within 30 minutes or an hour or I get extraordinarily dizzy and feel like I will pass out. Sometimes it’s so sudden and strong that it’s kind of scary. When we were training for the marathon a few years ago, one day we did a training run and then went to the grocery store, and I pretty much fell over and couldn’t move. Hulk got me some orange juice and I could get up and walk in a few minutes, but while I was down I was pretty scared, because it happened so quickly.
It took me years to figure out that I needed fat and/or protein on a regular basis; in college I’d mostly eat carbs and avoided fat whenever possible, plus I wasn’t eating meat so I didn’t get much protein. When I went to Europe for the summer after I graduated I lost some weight and felt dizzy most of the time because I *still* wasn’t eating meat but mostly yogurt, bread and fruit, trying to save money. It wasn’t until I started traveling with someone else on that trip that I was really eating enough or regularly. I think it was maybe 5 years ago that I realized that my blood sugar issues got much better when I ate more protein and whole grains and stopped eating much processed carbohydrates, or if I did eat those I needed fat or protein with them – yogurt with my bagel, guacamole with my chips. Now I’m much better about balancing everything and I make sure to have my small handful of walnuts, almonds or pecans every day – they keep my skin looking nice and help keep me on an even keel.
One of the first things I told Hulk before we met was how I got when I didn’t eat. He got in the habit of bringing food with him in the car when he’d pick me up at the airport so I would have something to eat on the way to Greeley. He only had to see Unfed MLE once and decided he never needed to see that again. I’m not nice, pretty, or attractive when I haven’t eaten or have only eaten sugar. So I prefer to keep my blood sugar constant if at all possible, because my symptoms have only gotten worse as I’ve gotten older.
Today we were running errands in the car for most of the day. We had a nice big breakfast that included eggs with veggies and salsa, turkey bacon, orange slices and homemade biscuits at around 10 AM, and by around 3 PM I started to realize that I needed to eat something. But we didn’t have much to munch on that was appropriate to stave off Unfed MLE, and we had more errands to run since we have the car, and we didn’t get home until about 5:30 PM. I made a beeline for the freezer and inhaled my daily 5 walnuts and am hoping my headache doesn’t get worse. Hulk is currently making dinner (burritos) that will have plenty of protein, vegetables, and we only eat whole grain tortillas, so within an hour after I eat I should be OK. But I really hate the “Unfed MLE” feelings and wish I’d remembered I had an energy bar in my purse. Because I just remembered that, and had I eaten that I could have staved off all the unpleasant things and bad mood of the last two hours. But that’s Unfed MLE brain fog for ya.
Ooh, burrito’s done! Time to eat!