When longtime CR reader (and frequent, always insightful commenter) Lia sent me this Green Recovery story a few days ago, she told me it had taken about a month and a half to write. That probably isn’t unusual—after all, these stories are very intimate—but I had it in my mind as I read Lia’s narrative, and I could see how much of herself she’s put into it
I have yet to read a Green Recovery post that didn’t have at least one sentiment I could relate to (usually more). Lia’s post really hit home—the childhood perfectionism, the many years of struggle, the adoption of a vegan diet to manage IBS, the gradual, thoughtful reconciliation of veganism with an ED history, and then the stunning realization that veganism was not something I could do in spite of my ED history: it was, in fact, related to my history in all sorts of profound ways, and a very real part of my healing process.
I hope you’ll take as much away from Lia’s narrative as I have!
It didn’t seem like a strange thing at the age of 9 to sneak down to the basement where our old scale was and weigh myself. I stopped eating dessert, again. Just for a few months, to get myself under control. I was a very skinny girl, and proud of that fact. It all seemed so casual and obvious to me that I would want to be perfect in this realm, with the idea that perfect equaled thin and thin equaled beautiful. I’m a very competitive person who wants to be the best at everything and this just seemed like another challenge to master.
I was also a proud carnivore, as I had labeled myself. All through my youth, into my high school years, and throughout freshman year of college my favorite meal was lobster bisque, a rare piece of Filet Mignon, and finally a decadent chocolate souffle. With tastes like these, and a general love for food, it should have come as no surprise that I gained the weight that I did. I was never chubby, but no longer the underweight lady I constantly wished to be. After years of loving food but always comparing my body, weight, and pant size to others, I realized there was something wrong with me, and whatever it was, it seemed like it was out of my control.
I was lucky, in a way, that I had my moment of realization early on. Junior year of high school, after years of IBS, overeating, negative self-talk, and a nasty controlling nature, I had my epiphany that something in my head was screwed up about food. It took me until I was 21, 5 years later, to finally understand that it was my negativity and self-view that was the foundational issue. Again, very lucky, and blessed to have grown up with a mom who was all about self-analysis and objective opinions about one’s self. At the time though, I blamed my issues on her, of course. I told the counselor that I had finally worked up the courage to see after not eating for a week that my mother was the reason for my obsessions and harsh self-criticisms.
Those 5 years were filled with a destructive freshman year where I gained a lot of weight and realized I couldn’t read my body’s signals, an Orthorexic boyfriend who got me into restricting my foods severely and losing that weight plus some, an experiment with veganism in culinary school (my chef hated me!), and a big move to Switzerland. The veganism was pursued out of curiosity for baking techniques and recipe enhancement. I figured I could add some of the unorthodox methods of making sauces and baking into an omnivorous menu. I had, by this point decided I didn’t like what I was doing with my actions surrounding food, so I was making a conscious effort to better myself. Who knew how hard it would be!? There were moments I felt like I would always obsess and it was something I just had to accept. I would always hate myself because it was the only way I knew how to make myself do better. I was going to be stuck and this was my reality. But then, my IBS went away after 1 week of vegan eating.
Suddenly, I realized that food really does have an affect on how we function. Obvious now, but a new concept at the time. I stuck with veganism and learned as much as I could about how to develop my culinary abilities in that arena. It was a health choice for me initially, and I got a lot of grief about my sudden, drastic, change in diet. Many people accused me of just trying to restrict more, and veganism did seem like that, even to me, at certain times during my recovery from my disordered way of eating and thinking. But, over time, with some back and forth (deciding to see if I was using it as a restrictive method or if I genuinely preferred being vegan), and a lot of self-love, I came to understand that the lifestyle and I were something akin to soul-mates. The more I became compassionate toward myself the more appropriate being Vegan was. And the more I learned about its health benefits and creature, environment, and planet goodness, the more it became one with who I am.
I also rediscovered my yoga practice and began teaching at my school in Switzerland, I had been practicing on and off since I was 12, but sharing it with others felt amazing. Contributing to the calm and wellbeing of other people made me want to help people love themselves more and more. Compassion is such an important part of living a fulfilling life, but is often written off. I had found my path, so to speak, and I was going to pursue it with the focus and passion I naturally exude.
During the start of my intentional recovery, I began blogging mostly so my parents would know what I’m up to on my travels. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I found wonderful blogs like Choosing Raw and Oh She Glows that reminded me of the human-ness of people: that we can recover, that we can retrain the way we talk to ourselves, and we can use food as a way of giving love and portraying passion through a healthy and glorious medium. I now teach cooking lessons, both group and private, to people who want to add more whole, plant-based foods into their lives, directing the idea of compassion and love, both for ourselves and all living things, to the kitchen and to the foods we eat. I also assistant manage and teach at a yoga studio, where I host most of my vegan cooking workshops.
To me it is clear that veganism has helped me psychologically and physically through my recovery. And though I still have my moments where my mind wants to go back to a destructive way of thinking, I have so much more joy in my life that the “happy Lia voice” can easily step in and say “do you want to give all of this up?” And the destructive voice slouches away a little bit further than before.
It is somewhat surreal to say these things now, as if from a distance, able to acknowledge and identify what it was that was going on. While you’re in the thick of it, feeling helpless and tiny, you can’t see the forest, just the roots you’re stumbling over.
The line that really stuck with me in Lia’s story was, “do you want to give all of this up?”
I think most people with ED’s go through a phase—and maybe this phase lasts the duration of their disorders—where they try to reconcile their disorder with a normal life. I remember coming up with all sorts of plans about how I could eat just enough to avoid confrontation with concerned family members, mask the limited intake somehow (maybe I could say it was related to my IBS? A food allergy? Stomach flu? I’d think of something…), and then stay whippet thin and food-phobic for life, all the while doing everything I thought I was entitled to: socializing, dating, professional advancement, exercise, fun.
It took me so many years to realize that it doesn’t work this way. To fully embrace life, at least in my experience, you need to leave behind the shackles of your fixation with weighing yourself, constantly denying yourself foods you love, adhering to absurd exercise regimens, avoiding restaurant food, avoiding changes in your routines, and shutting out anyone who expresses concern, or encourages you to loosen up. You can cling to your ED, or you can enjoy a rich, full, and unencumbered life. You can’t do both. You may be able to keep up appearances for a while, and may even fool yourself into thinking you can have it all, but sooner or later, you’ll come crashing up against the fact that eating disorders hold you back from living.
Every time I have had a hard moment in my own recovery—stressful situations that goad to start skipping meals, days in which I struggle to accept my body, tensions and problems that I used to resolve by starving—I ask myself “do you want to give all of this up?” “All of this” is my life, which may sometimes be stressful, but is bursting at the seams with good friends, good food, interesting relationships, travel, spontaneity, and the energy and good health with which to embrace it all. Would I want to give it up, all so that I could shrink back into the person I used to be? (Shrink—what an apt word to associate with EDs.)
Not. For. A. Minute.
Thanks for sharing, Lia. CR folks, I’d love to hear your thoughts!