How Alexandra won her battle with anorexia

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A few years ago, Alexandra’s life was turned upside down. She felt like she had lost control of her life and to cope with it, she started to manically control the only thing she felt like she could control — her weight. She became anorexic. Below, she shares her darkest moments and how she got out on the other side:

Hello! My name is Alexandra, and I’m a 36-year-old woman from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. As I’m writing this, I’m sitting at my desk with a smile on my face and a sense of well-being.

This would’ve been a very distant dream a mere five months ago.

You see, back in 2015, my life got turned upside down. Things had been going wrong before then, so in a way, my descent to chaos had been inevitable with the lifestyle I had been leading. My biggest secret was my anorexia, triggered by a general sense of loss of control in my life. I was stressed, in my attempts to overachieve, and felt that things were spiraling out of control. The only thing I felt I could control was my weight, which made my relationship to food extremely unhealthy.

I’d stop eating – for days at a time, robbing my body of nutrients. I became obsessed with calorie counting, chain-smoking my life to death, doing anything I could to suppress my appetite. Most things didn’t work, and though I had been hitting my “goals” on the scale, I found myself binge eating on sugary foods, as my body’s last-ditch attempts to get some sort of fuel in it. It didn’t help that I had a major sweet tooth, and would spend my days longing for the next “scale goal” so I could maybe reward myself with a sweet. Of course, once I starved enough to eat sweets, it would avalanche, and the vicious cycle continued.

I managed to keep this a secret from everyone, including my family and partner. It wasn’t long before I started collapsing. At bars, in the street, at home one night when I was alone, waking up on the floor with a chipped tooth.

Then the panic attacks came.

Sunday, April 26th, 2015. I was sitting at home with my then boyfriend, when all of a sudden, I felt that I was having a heart attack. It hit so fast. I couldn’t breathe and the ambulance came to take me to the hospital, where I was told nothing was wrong with my heart or lungs and got sent home. It took me three months to leave the house again. Ever since, I have been captive to anxiety. I dabbled in SSRIs, then quit them immediately. The panic attacks became a staple, accompanying me through my wedding, my honeymoon, and the start of my married life. Therapy helped, but only marginally.

Eventually, we decided to start trying for a baby, and this was enough to force me to quit smoking. I visited a nutritionist so I could take control of my nutrition, and was put on a 1200 calorie a day diet which included all food groups. The weight started piling on. Determined to stick to what would surely be a healthier alternative, I persevered, except now I had crippling body image issues to contend with. I started avoiding social outings, embarrassed about my bloated stomach, which caused people to bombard me with questions on whether I was pregnant yet. I wasn’t. You see, we were hit with a male factor infertility diagnosis, to add to the mix. On top of my weight skyrocketing, my anxiety was now worse than ever. To prepare for IVF, I tried everything – meditation, yoga, walks, runs, therapy, hitting the gym, quitting my hobbies, staying home, going out. Nothing worked. My love of life dissipated, and one day I realized that I could understand why people chose to end their lives. This terrified me.

The temptation to go back to not eating became greater than ever.

One day, a dear friend who had been battling depression, told me about keto. I was extremely skeptical – any diet that cuts off an entire food group must be a fad, I said. I had heard about these diets before. “Don’t eat fat”, they’d say. “Don’t eat sugar”, they’d say. “Don’t eat gluten”, they’d say. “Bollocks”, I thought. But my friend, the recluse, who couldn’t leave the house because of depression like I couldn’t leave the house because of anxiety, got better, got himself a job, moved out of his parents’ home. Last ditch attempt, I thought. I disagree with fad diets, but I had read about keto in IVF support groups, and besides – I was desperate.

Cutting back on sugars was my biggest concern. Glucose had kept me from total collapse on a number of occasions, when I was hit with the biggest anxiety attacks. It helped my brain recover, whether at home or at the hospital when I could be put on a drip just so I could be half-functional. The thought of starving my body of glucose was terrifying, but I decided to grin and bear it. It couldn’t possibly be worse than what I had already been through, anyway. So I googled all about keto, researched for a couple of months, read everything I could get my hands on, and eventually found Diet Doctor, subscribed, and hit the supermarket.

This was January third. The panic attacks disappeared two days into it. The keto flu was so mild, that I didn’t even notice until I realized I was just feeling slightly sleepy. That was it. Then my energy came back. The bloating went away, revealing a figure which, though 10 kilos (22 pounds) up from what I was used to seeing in my anorexia days, wasn’t half bad. I finally had a waistline. The scale never budged, but for the first time in a decade, I didn’t care. My clothes started fitting better. I was having three delicious meals a day. I started cooking at home and loving it.

When I felt confident enough, I tried intermittent fasting, which came naturally. Unlike my starvation days, I was feeling sated, and full of energy, with mental clarity so intense that I was able to get my life back on track. The wonderfully supportive Diet Doctor community was there to answer every question, dispel every myth, and offer support every step of the way. I’m smiling again and achieving my goals, and finally loving myself. I no longer make excuses to stay home when invited out. There’s always something to pick out off the menu, and I don’t feel that food dictates my life anymore. I even stopped craving sweets and snacks!

I so wish I had known about keto sooner!

Comment

Alexandra,
Congratulations on all your success, and thank you for being brave and sharing your story with others!

I have to add the caveat that a keto low-carb diet has not been scientifically studied for people with anorexia. Furthermore, there’s reason to believe that some caution may be required.

If the focus is on eating enough real low-carb foods to stay satiated and maintain a normal weight, then a low-carb diet might be helpful for some with anorexia, like it was for you.

However, if the focus is mainly on avoiding carbs (on top of other food avoidance), and becoming more underweight, then it could obviously be very dangerous. This should be discussed with a medical professional before attempting a low-carb diet. Full disclaimer

I’m very happy to hear that it worked well for you!

Best,
/ Andreas Eenfeldt, MD

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