This is a review and summary of Set Free, by Linda McGrath.
Linda suffered from bulimia, an eating disorder, and candida infection.
Her problem was due largely to various “healthy diets” that she followed.
Her solution came when she discovered macrobiotics.
LINDA McGRATH used to tape stickers on her arm before she went to bed, to remind herself, “Don’t Eat!”
They didn’t work. They would have fallen off by the time she woke up in the middle of the night. Or she would ignore them anyway. She would then raid the refrigerator and eat the food set aside for her brother’s breakfast and her father’s lunch the next day. Never mind if they would yell and scream when they found out.
Later, she resorted to sleeping pills to stop herself from waking up to eat. That worked too well. Once, she slept till 5 pm the next day. She stopped the sleeping pills. And resumed eating.
Linda could, in one sitting, eat three jelly donuts, three cream-filled donuts, three cheese Danishes, half a cheesecake, a large bottle of soda pop, a package of cookies and two large bags of chips. All this was after she had eaten dinner comprising a hamburger, French fries, a Coke and a piece of cheese cake.
“The monster wanted more,” she writes in Set Free, a book about her food addiction and recovery. “I kept eating in a sort of chaotic frenzy, moving from one food to the next – sweet to salty and back to sweet. The Coke washed it all down.”
Where did all that food go?
Out. With the help of laxatives. She started with 2, then increased to 3, 5… At one stage, she was taking 50 to 60 laxatives a day.
Linda knew she had a serious problem. Only, she didn’t know what the problem was, nor how to solve it. Her doctors were of little help. They attributed it to “stress” and prescribed valium.
It was only in 1981, about seven years after her problem started, that she finally discovered what it was: bulimia. The word means “hunger of the ox.”
“Bulimics are food addicts,” a newspaper article said. “They binge and then purge”. The article added that victims often “eat like birds in public, binge in secret, and are only a few pounds overweight.” And, they tend to be obsessed with physical beauty.
Linda’s problem, her obsession with physical beauty, arose partly out of a difficult and unhappy life. Her father liked to say that Linda wasn’t as pretty as her younger sister, Eleanor, and that Eleanor would marry first.
Well, Linda proved him wrong. She married at 19. But by the time she was 22, she had divorced and had also gone through a failed relationship with a married colleague.
It is perhaps not surprising, then, that she sought comfort in food. There was, however, another reason why Linda developed her food addiction. And this may be surprising:
“I had been studying nutrition for years as a hobby and wanted to create a diet that was satisfying, healthful, and would naturally keep my weight down.”
Linda, then, was not just a victim of an unhappy life. She was also a victim of strange diets – diets recommended in popular “health books”.
Her first such book was Let’s Get Well by Adelle Davis. She recalls:
“The diet Adelle Davis described as ideal was high in protein and fat from dairy products, meat, eggs and some oils. She urged people to eat fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains and whole grain breads. But overall, the emphasis was on an abundance of protein, starting out the day with plenty at breakfast.
“Health drinks containing brewer’s yeast, protein compounds and other nutritional supplements were also highly recommended.”
The diet helped Linda initially. But not for long. Linda developed strange food cravings and began to put on weight.
This led her to other diet plans, particularly the low carbohydrate diets of Drs Stillman and Atkins – with lots of red meat, chicken, eggs, cheese and fats.
While Adelle Davis was concerned with general health, Stillman and Atkins focused exclusively on weight loss. So while Davis recommended whole grains and fresh vegetables and fruit, Atkins and Stillman forbade carbohydrates as foods that increased weight.
During this period Linda also started the Scarsdale Diet.
On all of these diets, she ate lots of meat, eggs and dairy products. She loved cottage cheese and sometimes ate cottage cheese for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Yet she did not lose weight. “I hit 115 pounds and stayed there. I just stagnated.”
It was not just her weight that stagnated. Since young, Linda had a problem with constipation. Now, it became chronic.
was at this time that I began to take laxatives on a much more regular
basis,” Linda recalls. “I took the prescribed two before bed; sometimes I
stretched the dose to three. I didn’t know that
those 2 or 3 would skyrocket to 50 and 60.”
Linda then read about fibre, from Carlton Fredericks’ The High Fiber Way to Health. Fredericks, too, advocated a high-protein diet and his “way to health” involved adding wheat bran to skim milk and everything else.
This Linda did.
“I felt more uncomfortable and bloated. Meanwhile, my food cavings were getting stronger… “
She tried fasting, eating only fruit juices or fruits. It stopped her cravings, but only as long as she fasted. Linda hated it. She wanted to eat normal meals.
In another desperate act, Linda adopted the Beverley Hills Diet – fruits only. “I’d consume a lot of pineapples, mangoes, papaya and watermelon. It was winter. I’d carry these large bags of fruit through the snow and rain… On the third week, the cravings became unbearable and I was eating out of control again.”
Next, Linda read about food allergies and tried “rotation diets” in which only certain foods could be eaten at certain times.
She was allowed to eat wheat products, like bread and pasta, only once every few days. And she had to avoid the foods that she was supposedly allergic to.
Next, Linda consulted a “nutritionist” who did a hair analysis as well as blood and urine tests to check for nutritional imbalances.
“Dr Walker prescribed 5 to 10 grams of vitamin C a day! I was taking teaspoons of the stuff… I felt uncomfortable when I took large doses of vitamin C. I bloated terribly. The cost for all this was $200 and, still, no answers.”
Linda tried hypnotherapy as well.
It didn’t help.
Deep down, she was convinced that her problem was physical, and not due to “stress” or emotional difficulties. Deep down, she knew there was an answer. A partial answer came when she read about bulimia, and found a doctor who knew about it.
That doctor traced her problem to candidiasis – the overgrowth of yeast in the intestines. Linda had too much yeast. And she remembered all the brewers’ yeast she had taken, as advised by Adelle Davis.
A “Perfect Diet”
The doctor gave Linda a drug to destroy the yeast, and recommended a yeast-free diet. Finally, her food cravings stopped. But the drug had side-effects. And the yeast-free diet, with heavy emphasis on meat, did not make her feel well.
She was determined to find a “perfect diet” – one that would solve her problem, make her feel well and allow her to enjoy foods that were restricted in yeast-free diets.
That determination led her to macrobiotics.
“The efficacy of the macrobiotic approach was being proven to me,” Linda writes. “Whenever I ate well, I felt well. Whenever I deviated from the recommendations, I suffered.
“I learned to understand the effects of individual foods on the body. With this understanding, I was able to make responsible choices. I also did not like the idea of taking vitamins, which had struck me as artificial and confusing.
“Macrobiotics did not promise perfect health; what it did was offer a deep insight into health, illness and nutritional needs as no other program offered before.”
Still, Linda felt empty. So she explored Eastem philosophy and New Age teachings. “I attended sessions with channellers and people who used crystals for strength, power and physical and emotional healing. I learned to meditate and read about reincarnation, karma and how to use affirmations and visualisations. None of these things worked.”
Linda found her personal God in the Christian faith, a faith she grew up with but had later rejected. She ends her story with a quote from the Gospel of St John, which she found particularly meaningful:
Moreover, she was uneasy with references to God as “divine source”, “universal energy,” “the oneness” or “higher power”. These terms, she felt, denied the existence of a personal God.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”