“75 percent of women report disordered eating behaviors or symptoms consistent with eating disorders; so, three out of four have an unhealthy relationship with food or their bodies” -University of North Carolina Medical School
Food is often at the center of discussions involving PCOS. It should come as no surprise that eating disorders are prevalent among those of us living with the syndrome. Carrie Forrest understands the struggle. Listen (or read the transcript) as she shares her story of recovery as well as some of the coping and healing mechanisms she has employed. Among other things, we discuss:
- Possible triggers of eating disorders
- Why extreme diets (Keto, etc.) are possible red flags
- Healing your relationship with yourself
- Perfectionism and control
- Finding a sustainable way of eating (and indulging) and exercising to improve your quality of life
Full transcript follows.
Carrie Forrest, MBA, MPH in Nutrition
Carrie Forrest is the creator of the blog, Clean Eating Kitchen, where she shares gluten- and dairy-free recipes and resources. Carrie is also the host of the Clean Eating for Women podcast, designed to inspire women to take control over their health.
Carrie Forrest has masters degrees in both business administration and public health nutrition. More importantly, Carrie is a woman who has used real food and a balanced lifestyle to manage a variety of health conditions, including PCOS, autoimmune disease, eating disorders, panic attacks, chronic migraines, and thyroid cancer.
Carrie can be found online at her website, www.cleaneatingkitchen.com, or on Instagram or Facebook @cleaneatingcarrie.
Clean Eating Kitchen: https://www.cleaneatingkitchen.com
Instagram link: https://www.instagram.com/cleaneatingcarrie/
Facebook page link: https://www.facebook.com/Cleaneatingcarrie/
Clean Eating Every Day e-cookbook sales page (use code CLEANEATING for a discount): https://gumroad.com/l/cleaneatingeveryday
Podcast episode index:
Amy: Today we have a really special guest and somebody that I met through the online social media community. She’s a woman with PCOS, and she has a really fantastic Facebook page that I really love following, so I encourage you to follow her, her social media feeds as well. Very happy to have Carrie Forrest on the show today. She’s the creator of the blog Clean Eating Kitchen, where she shares gluten and dairy free recipes and resources. Carrie is also the host of the Clean Eating For Women Podcast, designed to inspire women to take control over their health with a focus on holistic health.
Amy: I’m so excited for Carrie to share her story. It’s very powerful how she went from struggling with emotional eating, and eating disorders, and PCOS, and autoimmune issues to really thriving. You know, I find these inspirational stories really inspiring for me to keep me moving forward, and I think you will too. Welcome, Carrie, to the PCOS Diva Podcast.
Carrie Forrest: Thank you, Amy. It is such an honor to be here, and it’s such an honor to connect with you, because I have really been very focused on my PCOS recovery and management for about I would say three solid years, the last three solid years, although I really suffered with PCOS symptoms and everything that comes along with that really since I was about 11, and I’m 43 now, so we’re talking about three decades. But the last three years I finally made a commitment to managing my PCOS, and your website and your podcast has been so intimately connected with my recovery and management. So, it’s an honor to be here, and I’m just very grateful for all the resources that you’ve put out there for women.
Amy: Oh. Well, I’m just so happy that it helped you. You know, I think what you said about it’s been kind of the last three years, it’s been a journey towards healing and recovering, and I just … I think that’s a good point. I think so many of us are kind of looking for that quick fix magic pill, but you’re really here today to kind of tell us that just taking small, consistent steps over time, it can happen, but it takes some time. You know, I just don’t want people to get discouraged if it’s not happening for them overnight, because it does take some time to heal.
Carrie Forrest: It does, and I love that we’re going to focus on this disordered eating, eating disorder, emotional eating component, because that’s really been probably the key to my long-term recovery, so I think it’s an issue that a lot of women have. I mean, I’ve talked to … I am not a practitioner. I am a woman like you. I do have a master degree in public health and nutrition, but I’m not like a clinician. I’m kind of like all my interest is based around my own healing, and then I try to share what I learned with other women who might be suffering, but, I mean, I’ve talked to clinicians who they estimate that 80 to 90% of women can have these emotional eating tendencies. In that sense, jeez, it’s like an epidemic.
Carrie Forrest: Since it was this management of my eating disorder or kind of like I guess recovery has been so key to my success, so I just love that we’re kind of … I mean, you’re giving me a space to talk about it, and so it doesn’t have to be something that women have to hide from, because I hid from … I mean, I hid my eating disorder for a very long time.
Amy: Yeah. You know, I think that there’s a lot of shame around disordered eating, and you’re right. You know, 80%, 90% of women, so many women … There are statistics out there. I don’t have them in front of me, but women with PCOS that have disordered eating patterns. I mentioned vast majority. You know, I think a lot of it stems from blood sugar and hormonal imbalances, but then I write about this in my book. I think a lot of it too stems from this feeling of not being enough, you know, we’re not good enough, or it’s kind of the flip side of that is trying to achieve perfection. I know for years I tried to be a perfect Weight Watcher. If I used up all my points by the end of the day on Monday, then I would throw the towel in for the rest of the week. A lot of my disordered eating was driven by perfectionism.
I know we’re going to talk about that. I think that for a lot of women that are listening, they’re going to be able to relate with what you say. I just want to open the dialogue, and kind of come out of the closet around emotional and disordered eating, and kind of take that shame away, and to know that you can take steps to heal. Carrie, why don’t you start from the beginning of your story, like when did you start noticing kind of this sort of relationship with food for you?
Carrie Forrest: Yeah. Also, just to kind of give women an overview, disordered eating, it can range. It’s almost like a spectrum. It can be anything from having a fear of food, and it can also go to the very extreme, which I’ve had, like diagnosable eating disorder. I’ll talk to you about my experience with Binge Eating Disorder, as well as I actually have had several diagnosable eating disorders. I mean, I’m laughing because it’s sad, but I did, and they were at different points in my life. Just so women kind of … You know, if you’re listening, you’re like, “What is an eating disorder?”, it can be a range of different things.
Carrie Forrest: So, for me, my first experience with an eating disorder was Binge Eating Disorder, and it started very early. I was about 10 years old. It coincided with an extreme stress family event, where my dad went through a bankruptcy, and then it extended to our personal finances, so we lost our home. We had to move. My sister and I had to move in with relatives for a year. So, unfortunately, this was also like when I was going through puberty. It was kind of at the beginning, so that actually ended up I think also coinciding with the start of my PCOS, because I really never had a normal menstrual cycle.
I had Binge Eating Disorder, and for me that meant that I would buy candy. I mean, I was babysitting, so that was all the money that I had, but I would secretly get to the store. I would buy a bag, like a Halloween size bag of candy, and then would consume all that in like one or two sittings, so like within a half an hour. Then that habit became my way of coping with the family chaos. Obviously, eating that much amount of sugar was not good for my blood sugar, and so I think maybe that kicked off my PCOS.
That habit, like that Binge Eating Disorder, it did extend to a perfectionist … I don’t know if I was always … I don’t think I was always a perfectionist, but it just became my way of coping with stress, and then I was also a perfectionist in high school. I was really disconnected from my body and my feelings, so it really kind of, this Binge Eating, this separation from my body, just it affected everything.
Amy: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Interesting. I’ve had Dr. Lara Briden on the show, and in her book, The Period Repair Manual, she talks about different triggers of PCOS, and one of them is kind of an inflammatory trigger. I think that for me, looking back at my childhood, I do think that why I spent a lot of time eating lots of bread and ice cream, which now I’m sensitive to gluten and dairy, and I think that inflammation could have been a trigger for me. Sugar is one of the most inflammatory foods, so I think you have a good point there.
Carrie Forrest: Yeah. I think you’re right, for sure. Yeah. I mean, I grew up eating a standard American diet, so my breakfast was cereal in fat free milk and a glass of orange juice. I’m sure you’re right. I also now eat gluten-free and dairy-free and have multiple food sensitivities as well. You know, as I progressed into high school and college, then I was of course disturbed. I actually really didn’t have a normal menstrual cycle, so I would go like a year between periods. Then when I got to college, then I was put on birth control. That was the way that I put a Band-Aid on my PCOS symptoms for about 15 years. Looking back on it, I just so wish I had tried to use the lifestyle techniques instead of the birth control pill, just because then I think that affected my gut permeability, because then I ended up having like leaky gut and having like thyroid issues once I came off the birth control pill. It really just was a Band-Aid.
When I came off the birth control pill, then I was 35 years old, so fast forward, and then my PCOS symptoms that were kind of under control while I was on the pill, they really did come back. Then I did have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, which required annual monitoring. Then at a certain point, I think I was about 37, so about five years ago, then I had some nodules on my thyroid. They were biopsied and found to have cancer, so I ended up having my thyroid removed. Interestingly, going through that process of having thyroid cancer, that became a development of a second eating disorder. The Binge Eating Disorder had kind of been in my past.
You know, over the years, I had gotten married, and I met a really supportive man, my husband. I had started to adopt really more of a balanced lifestyle, but then after this cancer situation … So, again that was about five years ago. I had been hearing about like a vegan diet and a plant based diet kind of on the extreme side and fasting, doing those kinds of things to prevent cancer from recurring. I bring that up because, you know, looking back on it, it was kind of an extreme situation, and that really brought up those old eating disorder tendencies. You know, now, because I work kind of in the same health space as you do, Amy, and when I hear about kind of extreme diets like, Keto diet or-
Amy: I was just going to say that. Yeah.
Carrie Forrest: … like a really extreme plant based diet that kind of takes out all animal protein, it can be triggering for old eating disorder tendencies, so I think it’s great if you’re listening, and maybe you are drawn to an extreme diet, and you’ve had issues with eating disorders in the past, that can be kind of a red flag, because I learned the hard way, because then I really developed a second round of eating disorder, which was orthorexia, which is kind of fan unhealthy fixation on eating healthy foods. Then it ended up I became underweight.
I lost my period again, this time to hypothalamic amenorrhea, so I really wasn’t eating enough to support my hormones, and exercise bulimia, which is I was exercising up to three hours a day, because I thought if I stayed skinny enough and I didn’t eat, you know, even one bite of anything remotely what I considered bad, then that would prevent my cancer from coming back. Actually, it ended up not being a good strategy for me, because as I mentioned, I lost my period. I lost too much weight.
Amy: And you probably had some adrenal fatigue after all of that, right?
Carrie Forrest: Definitely. Definitely. That was around three to four years ago, and Amy, I just, at a certain point, I just I could see my life slipping away. I mean, honestly, I had no motivation, no energy. I was a cancer survivor, and I was just so ill, and I was so confused. That’s when I dug deep. I delved into like the PCOS management, a balance way. I brought back animal protein into my diet and balanced my blood sugar. I ended up regaining weight, but actually gaining back about 10 pounds restored my menstrual cycle, and it really helped rebalance my hormones.
Amy: You know, something that I’m hearing in your story that just reminded me of my own story and what I hear from a lot of women who are kind of fixated on diets and all of the foods that you can’t have, I feel like we leave out … Also, sort of that exercising in a way to punish yourself is like we lose the concept that we deserve pleasure, you know, in our lives. It’s okay to eat something that is really pleasurable that we don’t have to deny, deny, deny. We can find a balance, and I think it is about balance, where we can add something in that’s really delicious and really pleasurable once in a while. It’s like that Pareto’s Principle, right? It’s like moderation, and sustainability, and making room for things that feel good.
Carrie Forrest: Oh. Absolutely. You know, when I was in kind of the depths of this second round of eating disorder, which I was really just so afraid of food, I would not go out with friends to restaurants, because it was like a loss of control over maybe how much I would eat, or the ingredients, or whatever excuse I would come up with. Now that I’m in a much healthier place, I get so much enjoyment with going out with friends to a restaurant, and just spending that time with friends, and then taking a break from doing all the cooking at home. It’s been so rewarding to be in this healthier place now and to, yeah, be able to give myself that time with friends and like that just being able to afford myself, yeah, like that grace to just say, “I’m going to go to this restaurant and enjoy it.” Maybe it’s not perfect. Maybe it’s not what I would eat at home, but I do it, and I enjoy it. I don’t even think about it anymore.
Amy: Yeah. I remember thinking to myself, “The amount of brain power I spend on obsessing about food, if I could take that and put that into some other outlet, I mean, I could change the world.”
Carrie Forrest: Yes. You are.
Amy: You know what? I feel very blessed that I’ve been able to move beyond … I mean, I had a lot of issues with compulsive overeating, and I think a lot of it was tied to, again, that feeling of perfectionism, but my blood sugar issues, but it’s such a … Now that everything is in balance, such a beautiful feeling to feel free from it all. Not to say that I’ve got to watch out for triggers. Certainly potato chips are a big trigger for me. I can’t eat potato chips, but I know that now. You learn what things can trigger you and how you need to live to maintain balance. I’d love for you to kind of share some of your ah-has that you’ve had. You’ve kind of talked about your journey. What helped you move towards healing?
Carrie Forrest: Well, I mean, I think a huge, huge component of this has been healing my relationship with myself. You know, I’ll be honest with you. I had to work with an eating disorder specialist. I had to work … I spent some time in a tele-group that was all about learning how to manage my feelings. I worked with a dieticians, and then I now work with a functional medicine physician on the food side, but healing that relationship with myself was probably one of the biggest components of that.
When I was a child in this binge eating, that was a way … I’ve heard this expression, a lot of numbing out. That was the way … Eating massive amounts of candy like curled up on my bed, that was my way of numbing the emotions, all the fear that I had around what was happening with my family. Then later, you know, after going through the thyroid cancer situation, it was almost like the opposite, like not eating was my way of managing the fear of the cancer coming back.
Amy: It was like something you could control in a situation that felt very uncontrollable, right?
Carrie Forrest: Yeah. Healing this relationship with myself, realizing that this voice in my bed is not the enemy, but the voice in my head, I try to use … When I speak to myself now, I try to speak as if I’m talking to my cat, who I adore. I have two cats actually. Or the voice that I speak to like my husband. You know, it’s like a very loving voice. You know, I had to change that voice in my head from honestly like a really harsh, critical voice to a loving, very kind voice. That helps a lot. It’s something I have to work on every day.
Amy: Can I share a couple things about that? I’m reading the Untethered Soul by Michael Singer right now. He has a concept in there that was like a huge aha for me. He said, “You are not the voice in your head. You are the observer of the voice.” That was so powerful to me. I can sort of pick and choose who I want to listen to and what voice is speaking to me, and you don’t has to listen to that mean voice anymore.
Carrie Forrest: I know.
Amy: Another thing that I think is really powerful too, and I do this in my Jumpstart program, is find a picture of yourself when you were … I don’t know. I think about my daughter when she was four years old. She was just really like this little cherub. Find a picture of yourself when you were four. Would you ever, ever speak to that little girl in the way that you often speak to yourself?
Carrie Forrest: I know. It’s so hard, especially if you were spoken to in a harsh way, you know, like maybe … I mean, I don’t know that I was taught … I don’t know if my mother spoke … My mother I think had these same harsh issues, and then I was kind of taught that that should be the voice in my head. Anyways, it is a big challenge, and then I think another one is learning how to express anger. It sounds kind of funny, and it was really scary for me to recognize that anger that I feel during the day is not to be like not … I don’t have to run away from that. Anger is as valid of an emotion as joy or gratitude.
We hear so much about gratitude journaling, which I think is totally valid, but I’m sorry. If I’m having a horrible day, the last thing I want to do is sit down and write some BS list of, “I’m grateful for the sunrise,” like I’m not feeling it. Maybe I’m feeling really angry, but I was not taught that anger is like an acceptable emotion. There was a lot of anger, and rage, and, yeah, unexpressed emotion in my household growing up, because it was so high stress. Whenever I sensed anger in my parents, I would retreat from that, and that was another emotion that I covered up with food.
Carrie Forrest: Now, learning how to manage my anger and to express it, and that it’s not to be covered up, that has been really powerful for my recovery. Actually, the way that I do it, because I’m not flipping people off on the freeway, I’m doing that through journaling, so I’m allowing myself to express. Nobody reads my journal. It’s private, so I can write, you know, “I hate this,” and use swear words, and it’s fine, like get it out. Then I feel so much better. It actually it points me in the direction of … You know, it usually ends up, because I’m feeling disempowered about something, and so my anger when I express it, then it points me in a direction of something I can actually do about it. In that way it can be empowering, and it makes it … almost like it just gives me an actionable step.
Amy: There’s a really great book called The Yoga Of Eating. I think it’s Charles Einstein that wrote it. I’d have to double check. He has a really great exercise in there about feeling your emotions. When you kind of have that craving, sort of that binge craving, to just sit with it for a while and kind of chat with the craving or the emotion, like you’re having a friend over for tea, where you’re kind of looking at it from sort of a third party view. Then he also says how your emotions, kind of like a wave, you know, peak, and crest, and subside. You can’t maintain that strong anger emotion forever, so if you can just sort of ride it like a wave, and not be afraid of it, and let it go, I think that that is so healing. Doing that through journaling, like you suggested, is excellent, but I think you probably could see how those feelings do crest, right?
Carrie Forrest: Oh. Absolutely. It’s not just anger. It could be sadness. It could be grief. It could be fear. Fear is a huge one for me. It could be guilt. I think so many of us who have PCOS, you know, we’ve had … For me, I abused my body for so long, so there’s a lot of guilt and then shame, and so if I can get in touch with that, that just can be … Once I feel it, then I can move past it, but if I’m not allowing myself to feel it, then, yeah, I just get stuck in it.
Amy: What’s working for you now and is helping you thrive with PCOS, in terms of diet and exercise?
Carrie Forrest: Yeah. I have come back to a very much more in the middle …. I used to kind of laugh when I heard like everything in moderation. I mean, in a way that does apply, and I know that can be hard for those of us with PCOS, because maybe we do need to stay gluten-free, which I try, dairy-free, which I do really try. I try. It’s not like so black and white, where it was before. It’s my choice.
Amy: Yes. I love that.
Carrie Forrest: Yeah. I like to call it clean eating. That’s why I named my website Clean Eating Kitchen. It can vary for every woman. I know you’ve mentioned recently that you found you had an egg sensitivity, and I have that as well, but for plenty of women, eggs can be very nourishing and a wonderful addition to the diet. This just clean eating, kind of figuring out what works for me, approach, not that is how I look at diet now.
Then as far as exercise, I definitely had to take a huge step back and realize how was exercise going to be part of a sustainable health recovery? What I like to ask myself now is with every workout, at the end I say, “Do I feel better now, at the end, than I did when I came into the gym or at the start of whatever activity I’m doing?” If the answer is no, if I feel exhausted, or I feel sick, then I know the next time I need to make some changes.
For me, what that looks like is I’d say about 45 minutes of medium exercise about every I would say five to six days a week, but really just depends. I do a lot more strength training now, and I don’t do a lot of cardio. I do like the minimal amount of cardio, just to help my heart and my blood, you know, like balance my blood sugar, bring down my blood pressure, but I really like to focus on strength training. I usually don’t feel … I mean, I usually do feel better, so I don’t feel exhausted after a workout, and that’s really kind of my benchmark.
Amy: That’s excellent advice. I think in terms of diet, I think you hit the nail on the head. We’re all unique. You have to figure out what works for you. I think under that framework of clean eating, maybe you could tell us a little bit more about what you mean by clean eating, you know.
Carrie Forrest: Yeah. I know. It’s kind of an interesting term, and I know some people don’t like it, and it can be a little … It kind of puts a moral … like, oh, clean versus dirty. I don’t know. I don’t see it like that. I see it as real, whole foods. I do try to eat organic and sustainable, but, you know, I’d rather eat a vegetable, any vegetable, than not. Yeah. I just think of it as clean, real foods, based on an individual’s needs, and then trying for organic and sustainable options as much as possible.
Amy: Yeah. I like what you said too about if you have something that might be off plan, it’s because it’s your choice. For me, there’s this wonderful restaurant in town that has this brick fired pizza that’s just to die for. We went there for my husband’s birthday, and you know what? I had a piece of pizza with gluten and dairy, and it was delicious. I knew that I would probably feel kind of crappy later, and I did, but I enjoyed every single moment of eating that, because it was a special occasion, and I was living in the moment, very mindfully indulging, and it was my choice. It was right for that moment. I think that that’s a powerful way to live.
Carrie Forrest: Oh. I think so too. Actually, you know, a lot of us, we start to feel overly restricted. Being gluten and dairy free is a restricted diet, and even … I don’t even avoid … I don’t crave sugar anymore, but after lunch I like a little treat, so I’ll even have these little … Okay. My binge food used to be peanut butter cups when I was young. Now there are, quote unquote, healthier options, where the little peanut butter cups are made with dark chocolate, and they maybe have better oils than before. I can eat one or two of those, and I don’t feel crappy, and I don’t feel like my blood sugar is out of control, and I don’t want to binge, and so in a way it’s kind of cool that I can kind of mark my progress by having treats and seeing that I can enjoy them. I can not go overboard, and I can not feel crappy. It doesn’t apply to everything, but it’s worth experimenting.
Amy: Yeah. It’s definitely worth experimenting with. It allows this way of living to be sustainable. You know, you can live like this over the … eating in sort of this clean eating framework, where it’s not super restrictive, like some of these other diets, you know, the paleo, vegan … Well, not paleo. I’m thinking more of like maybe the keto, vegan. … over the course of a lifetime, because as women with PCOS, we have to manage this over a course of a lifetime. It’s not just going on a quick fix diet for a few months.
Also, I love what you said about the exercise and the way you sort of experiment with it. If you’re feeling exhausted, you back off, and you listen to your body, and listen to the cues it’s giving you, because you shouldn’t feel exhausted after exercise. I just don’t think that’s a good sign that we’re being helpful to our bodies.
Carrie Forrest: Yup. I so agree. You know, I just wanted to say kind of … I know we’re kind of coming to the end of our time together, and I just want to say if there is any silver lining to having PCOS and having had it for so long, I would say that if I hadn’t had it, then I wouldn’t have learned to listen to these signals that my body gives to me. I look at some women in my family who have problems with alcohol and they’re older than me, and so they’ve never really figured out those signals with their body, like learning to kind of trust their emotions and trust their body.
I think that could have been me if I hadn’t had PCOS, but it’s kind of … I mean, it’s definitely forced me to build that connection, and really trust my body, and trust in being able to heal. The fact that I have healed is just so empowering for future health issues that I’m … like going into menopause there ae going to be challenges or things like that. That’s the silver lining, that I’ve built this relationship with myself. I just want to share that message with women.
Amy: Yeah. That’s beautiful. I think if women listening maybe have just been diagnosed or are really struggling, to maybe reframe their diagnosis as kind of this wake up call. I know I received it, and it’s been a long journey, but I feel blessed that I had the struggle, because I am a much stronger woman and certainly more in touch with myself and more compassionate with others as a result. I know you are too, Carrie. It can really be a blessing and a gift.
Carrie Forrest: Yeah. I can’t say that my mindset is there yet, but I admire for you, and I know that you’re saying that with full confidence. I hope to get to that point. I can see that it’s a silver lining, but I have to keep working on the idea that it was a gift, because it’s been such a challenge. Yes.
Amy: Before we leave, do you have any other kind of final tips or resources to help women in their PCOS journey?
Carrie Forrest: I would just say that I did create my own podcast in the last few months, and it’s called Clean Eating For Women, so that’s where I’m digging in deeper on this idea of clean eating and how it applies or how other women are kind of living this way, and so I do interviews as well, and it’s really fun, because all of the other women that I’ve met online, now I’m bringing them on my podcast, and it’s so fun to hear their stories, and many of whom have had PCOS or eating disorders. We kind of also explore this idea of balancing really wanting to have optimal health versus not going overboard. That’s an interesting line that I like to explore on my podcast.
Amy: Well, please tell people where they can follow you on social media. As I mentioned in the beginning of the show, you share some of the best recipes and cooking videos. I really enjoy following you.
Carrie Forrest: Oh. Thank you. Yeah. I know you’re talking about my Facebook page, which is Clean Eating Carrie. It’s C-A-R-R-I-E. That is a really fun place to share the gluten and dairy free videos, usually. That’s a really fun place for inspiration. I love Instagram. I think it’s so fun. That’s also Clean Eating Carrie. Kind of my hub, where you can find all the links and everything, is my website, Clean Eating Kitchen. I’ve been trying to put up new blog posts every day, so I just want to be a resource, like you, Amy, for inspiring women to take these big steps, or baby steps, or anything in between, but know that they’re supported, and there’s resources out there.
Amy: Well, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your powerful story with us, Carrie. It’s just really been a pleasure.
Carrie Forrest: Well, it’s an honor to speak with you, Amy, and thank you for all your hard work.
Amy: Well, again, it’s a pleasure. I really appreciate everybody who listened.