Three weeks ago, I introduced the idea of a “green recovery series.” What’s that, you ask? Well, its my attempt to highlight stories of the many men and women who have moved beyond disordered eating patterns (at least in part) with the help of a plant-based diet. As most blog readers probably suspect, there’s a very high incidence of ED histories in the plant-based community of eaters—myself included. And I realized not so long ago that there were many others who felt, as I do, that eating a plant based diet helped them to overcome their struggles, and redefine their relationships with food in a positive and productive way.
Some of the traditional attitudes within recovery circles maintain that any sort of strong selectivity about food (such as eliminating animal products from one’s diet) or overt emphasis on food’s significance is inherently at odds with the recovery process. My goal with Green Recovery is not to suggest that veganism is the right choice for all disordered eaters, or that it’s a “cure” for disordered eating, but rather to explore the notion that a world view in which food choices have political, ethical, and personal significance may actually heal, rather than hurt.
Today’s guest poster is my friend Casey. Casey, who is a fellow raw foods coach and lifestyle consultant, was one of the first friends I made virtually through blogging. In fact, she emailed me all the way from Australia to complement me on CR! I was very touched, and we’ve been penpals ever since. I knew a bit about Casey’s fraught history with food before I received her submission, but now that I’ve read it, I feel that I understand her relationship to raw, plant-based diet even more. It’s a rich and thoughtful piece, and I hope you all enjoy it!
Green Recovery by Casey Lorraine Thomas
I battled with my weight and body image from a young age. As I progressed through my teens, I felt more and more pressure to be thin and look a certain way – specifically blonde, blue eyed and…oh, did I already say thin?
I wasn’t any of these. My weight fluctuated, normally on the chubby side, and being a natural redhead didn’t help either. I am sure you can all relate to this in one way or another. With my struggle to stay at an average weight (a low weight seemed completely unattainable to me) came an unhealthy focus on low calorie and low fat foods early in my teens. I was always either trying to lose weight, or going the opposite way and eating whatever I wanted in large quantities.
Fortunately, I had a foundation and interest in healthy eating. I was completely disinterested in eating any meat products from an early age and became a semi-vegetarian, eating only chicken, eggs, fish and cheese. I didn’t enjoy the taste of meats and hated the thought of eating an animal that had been killed purely to satisfy my appetite. I started reading and researching natural health and nutrition as early as 14 and the overwhelming conclusion I came to was that red meats were not particularly beneficial for health (this is of course arguable and should be a personal decision based on your body). Soon after, I saw a documentary on the hormones in chicken and how they are treated in factory farms and stopped eating chicken.
When a very emotionally challenging and upsetting situation happened in my late teens, I was left feeling shattered, vulnerable, and like my life and everything I understood it to be was flipped over. Everything felt like it was spiraling so out of control around me that I let my eating habits spiral out of control, too, and put on a good amount of weight. The combination of feeling disgusting in my own body and the feeling of life happening to me, without my control, led me to micro-manage the only thing I felt I really did have full control over – my body and what I chose to consume.
This period cemented the unhealthy relationship with food I had begun to develop in earlier years. The result was years of trying various ways to try to stuff my body and emotions into the tight little mold I thought they should be kept in – contained, neat and tidy. I tried restricting my intake to just fruits, vegetables and no-fat diet foods (I shudder at the chemicals in these diet foods now). Then I would binge and binge some more. Occasionally I would unload it all into the toilet, cursing myself for my weakness along the way – not for purging but for not having the “strength” to resist binging in the first place. I also tried overexercising. That didn’t last too long.
After a few years of feeling trapped in this cycle, I started to take even more of an interest in nutrition and took off to travel the world solo and live abroad. This was my first turning point. The more I learned about how to feed the body to experience optimal health, the more I wanted to give my body what it needed to be healthy, not just slim. I gave up the diet foods and switched to a mostly whole foods diet, alongside the large amount of fruits and vegetables I was already eating. My mindset shifted but I was still a way from healing my relationship with food and my body.
My experience shows that it’s not just about changing the types of foods you eat, such as to a vegan or mostly vegan diet, that will help you heal, but about building more respect and love for yourself too. I found that when used in parallel, these two factors can facilitate powerful shifts in disordered eating patterns.
My years of travel, adventure and living abroad allowed me to get the distance I needed from the situations which were causing me emotional pain. Although you can’t outrun an emotional problem, I was able to gain better perspective and acknowledge and address my real feelings and needs away from the people and circumstances I felt out of control and repressed by (yes, they can be felt at the same time!). In combination with my plant based whole food diet, I experienced a deep healing within myself over the following years. I found out what my body and spirit were crying out for, and I gave it to them – real nourishment, respect and joy.
Since then my path has continued to an almost completely vegan diet and my relationship with my body and with food has blossomed to a whole new level. I now choose to eat food that I adore for its taste, nutrition and ability to make my body run beautifully so that I can focus on the parts of my life that really make me happy and whole – my relationships, my career, my contribution to others and to our world, my hobbies, the daily practices that keep my emotions and mind healthy.
More than that, I choose foods that contribute as minimally as possible to the destruction of our land, that don’t require animals to be killed, and that support the farmers and businesses who invest huge amounts of their time, energy and money doing everything they can to foster and facilitate a more compassionate, kind and sustainable way of eating and living.
If I had seen veganism as just a way to get skinny (which I don’t, although it can certainly be a tool for weight loss) when I was at the worst of my disordered eating habits, it would have just been another way to restrict or monitor my consumption. Instead, what happened is that my love for my body and real food grew (particularly the amazing cuisine I create with vegetables), and I became more educated in nutrition, health, agriculture and animal cruelty. As a result, I found myself very organically and over time choosing the almost vegan way of eating and lifestyle I have today, and that I’ve been relishing for more than five years.
A plant-based lifestyle has served to support me in achieving freedom from disordered eating — an unhealthy obsession with food and being thin. It has given me more healthy appreciation and love for food than I could ever have imagined possible; food is no longer a solution to pain or unmet emotional needs. A vegetable focused, mostly vegan diet also played a huge role in my healing from debilitating eczema and countless other health conditions.
Now I see my food choices as just one more way to show myself that I am worthy of the best quality foods that will give me the healthiest, happiest and longest life possible. Just as importantly to me, I see my journey with disordered eating as a gift, because now I can help my clients to eat in a way which works for them, to love themselves and their body more, and to heal their unsupportive relationship with food and their body, just as I did. I can help others find passion, purpose and nourishment from the areas of life that are often ignored when you have all your mental and emotional energy exhausted by your disordered eating habits–just as I did.
While I would never suggest that veganism or a mostly plant based diet is the solution to recovery from disordered eating, it has been my experience and countless others that coming to care what you put in your body, where your food comes from, and how it affects not only you, but also the world around you, can bring a new appreciation of real food and help you to make healthier choices. This in turn helps you to gain a new perspective on food as nourishment rather than punishment, and to see the larger impact of your food choices. You get out of your own head – somewhere you typically spend a lot of time when you suffer with disordered eating!
In combination with addressing your real emotional needs, uncovering root causes of your disordered eating, allowing full self-expression, and building your acceptance, love and respect for yourself, a powerful opportunity for healing can occur.
Wow. Thank you, Case, for such wise and thoughtful words! I especially like this:
My experience shows that it’s not just about changing the types of foods you eat, such as to a vegan or mostly vegan diet, that will help you heal, but about building more respect and love for yourself too.
…coming to care what you put in your body, where your food comes from, and how it affects not only you, but also the world around you, can bring a new appreciation of real food and help you to make healthier choices. This in turn helps you to gain a new perspective on food as nourishment rather than punishment, and to see the larger impact of your food choices. You get out of your own head – somewhere you typically spend a lot of time when you suffer with disordered eating!
Both wonderful points! No eating style (even one that’s as philosophically driven as veganism is) can do all the work of unraveling the legacy of an ED. One must also learn to foster self-love through other passions and projects, and to immerse oneself in the world again. But it’s also true that giving more attention to the politics and consequences of food choices—not to mention the power of food to generate health and well being—can offer freedom from the isolation and self-involvement of an ED. Thank you, Casey, for such an insightful perspective!
I’d love to hear your reactions to Casey’s story. What struck a chord with you? And stay tuned for a recap of breakfast with two of my favorite bloggers tomorrow!