When I first became sick in 2009 , I weighed around 115 pounds. Some days a little more, others a little less. If you are wondering, I am 5’6″.
With every passing day of my illness, I weighed less and less. I was doing everything in my power to gain weight, yet all I did was lose it. This slow yet steady march of weight off my body caused immeasurable emotional distress. At a certain point, I began to fear my intestines were simply no longer capable of absorbing nutrition.
My hair started falling out. I was fatigued all the time. My menstrual cycle stopped for years. I stopped weighing myself. I just couldn’t look any more.
If you need a reminder, I have a motility disorder that either is or isn’t related to lyme disease, depending on who you talk to. When you have a motility disorder, food moves through your GI tract at a painstakingly slow pace, which means you feel uncomfortably full nearly all the time. And you get full from eating very little. Also, you have a lot of stomach pain, nausea and general discomfort. Sounds like a blast, doesn’t it?
It is against this backdrop that I was trying to gain weight. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see why I was not successful.
My husband recently told me that back in those days he would put his hand on my hip during the night and just cry. I was nothing but bones, and they seemed to be protruding more with every passing day.
We were scared. Very scared. We considered a feeding tube and Picc line, but both felt like such drastic measures.
Out of desperation, we tried one last consult with a new nutritionist about two and a half years ago. She suggested a liquid diet comprised of elemental protein shakes. Elemental protein powder is broken down as far as food can be broken down, so the GI tract does not have to do much to digest it. Rather, the shake is simply absorbed. Hence, the name Absorb Plus.
I wasn’t too excited about the prospect of a liquid diet, but I wasn’t too excited about being a bag of bones either, so I didn’t see I had much choice. My nutritionist asked me to weigh myself so we could get a a baseline before starting the shakes. I told her I couldn’t do that, so she asked me to do it with my eyes closed and have my husband report back to her.
To this day, I don’t know how my husband kept a straight face as we dealt with the scale.
I weighed 81 pounds. Remember, I am 5’6″.
I started the shakes, and hoped for the best, completely unaware of how little I weighed. I knew I was scary skinny, but I never would have guessed just how scary.
I crossed my fingers as I tried the shake, as I had already tried several other protein powders that I was not able to tolerate. At first, my GI symptoms remained the same, but after about two weeks, my symptoms slowly started to decrease, and I did not feel painfully full all the time. I had less stomach pain and nausea and I generally felt better.
Each week, my husband weighed me while I didn’t look, and he reported the results to my nutritionist. I was gaining weight for the first time in years, although, I still didn’t know how much because I didn’t feel safe looking at the scale. One look in the mirror after the shower told me everything I needed to know.
At that time, I told myself if I could just get back to 110 I would feel pretty good about life. Yes, it’s less than before I got sick, but it seemed like a pretty solid number, given where I’d been.
Well, I hit 110 a couple of weeks ago! Just typing that brings tears. It’s taken me two and a half years. I could never describe how hard it’s been. The foods I’ve given up. The times I’ve watched others eat while I sipped. The hassle of brining my shakes everywhere. The daily commitment to stick to the program no matter what.
But I can honestly say it was worth it. Because along with the weight, I gained confidence, and a stronger sense of the person I used to be. I don’t feel so physically fragile. I don’t feel like I need to spend every waking moment strategizing how to gain weight. I don’t feel like I need to freak out if I don’t get all my calories in on a given day. I’ve been able to resume working out and I even put on muscle.
This all amounts to a burden lifted. A burden I’ve been carrying for 9 years. Man, was it heavy. You have no idea.
As happy as I am to weigh 110, I’m not giving up, because I’m not at the end of the story yet. I gained weight by being on a liquid diet. And I see the liquid diet as a band aid, not a cure. If I went back to real food tomorrow, I have no doubt my 24/7 GI issues would return, and my new weight would go back to where it came from. Nothing has really healed. I just found a way to work around my problems.
So, I’m carrying on. I’m continually looking for new doctors, new options, new anything that will help me. I have a few things in the hopper, but nothing nailed down yet. I will report on that when I get it figured out.
In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy 110, which is my new favorite number.