Green Recovery: “Veganism Is Opening The Doors Anorexia Shut”

emma

Thanks, everyone, for all of the lovely comments on my last post. It was really lovely to begin NEDA week with such frank, open, and caring conversation.

I thought it would be nice to share a new Green Recovery post this week, and I’m so excited that today’s story comes from Emma Vitz, author of the blog This Kind Choice. Emma is a regular CR reader and commenter, so you may recognize her already. If you don’t, I highly recommend you check out her blog, which is focused on ethical fashion, but also touches upon consumerism and mindful living on the whole. Emma is a New Zealander studying fashion and business. In her bio, she says “I love the colour orange, wearing prints with more outrageous prints, and the amazing transformation a piece of clothing can have on your mood, the way you see yourself and ultimately, your life. Once I’ve completed my degree I hope to be part of a social enterprise, creating beautiful clothing that also has a positive impact on the environment and the people involved in making it.”

I love Emma’s honest, self-aware thoughts on the recovery process, and I hope that you will, too.

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Anorexia first pulled me under when I was on an exchange in France at the age of fifteen. I had been told, again and again, that this would be the “time of my life” and yet the reality was the complete opposite – a cruel, controlling host family, classmates that shunned me at every opportunity and a culture I felt absolutely no affinity to.

High expectations had been set, and until then, I had always met them with determination, persistence and relentless hard work. Yet these qualities could not help me relate to people who had no desire to welcome me into their lives. So I turned them elsewhere. To myself. Controlling the way I looked through restricting my eating and over exercising became the one area of my life that I felt successful in.

When I returned to New Zealand, things improved – the excitement of seeing my family and friends again, a feeling of belonging and the desire to do well in my final year at school all turned my attention elsewhere. The beginnings of an eating disorder slipped under the radar.

It reemerged however, almost two years later, when I returned home from a trip to Europe during a gap year. The lead up to this 3 month holiday had been intense – as well as organizing the trip, I had been working 3 jobs, entering an international art competition and preparing my portfolio for university. After all these goals, commitments and hard work, followed by the excitement of travel, returning home left me feeling like there was a gaping hole in my life. With nothing to strive for, no deadlines to meet and no challenges on the horizon until university would start 5 months later, I once again turned my attention onto perfecting myself.

I took on 3 jobs again and used this to avoid eating with others and the concerned comments from family and friends. I would run before my first shift, swim before my second, and be so tired after my third that I was able to convince myself I wasn’t hungry. For months, I fed myself a steady diet of dry salad and self-hatred. I was faint all the time, incredibly exhausted, and so cold I was constantly wearing multiple layers of wool in the warm New Zealand summer. While once I had been interested in art, fashion, languages and travel, my focus was becoming ever narrower. Food dominated every aspect of my life, and creating, which is my ultimate passion, fell by the wayside.

There were several moments which woke me up to the fact that this was not how I wanted to live my life.

There was the night where, while I was working as a waitress, a group of girls came in for a farewell dinner. One of them was so fragile and completely absorbed by picking apart the tiny fish starter she ordered, that not once did she truly notice the friends that she was here to say her farewells to. That whole night, I was in her head – I heard every word she said to herself, every self-loathing thought. Because they were mine.

There was the moment my best friend told me about her grandfather having a heart attack, and me realising that all I was thinking about was how many calories the sushi I was eating had in it. There was my dad bursting into tears at the difficulty I had with eating the dinner he had made. There was my little brother’s overjoyed reaction to me eating a muffin. I vividly remember thinking that a fifteen year old should not worry this way about his sister eating.

Using these moments, I found the desire to get better. Slowly. I moved out of home and began creating an independent identity from the extremely strong role models my mother and older brother (who had both suffered from eating disorders) had been for me. I sought out counseling, began creating again. And I found veganism.

I wanted to inflict less suffering on animals and the environment. I wanted to eat food that was genuinely good for my body. But like many people who have suffered from an eating disorder, I was afraid that veganism would fuel my restrictive tendencies. My family was strongly against it, my counselor gently cautioned me to wait.

For years, I had listened to others opinions of my body.  From my mothers actions, I interpreted that eating very little should be natural. From my french host family, I got snide comments on my snacking and praise only when I exercised obsessively. From the world around me, there was the constant message that a woman is only valuable if she is thin. This time, however, I listened to myself, and I tried a vegan diet.

Veganism gave my eating meaning and took away the fear I associated with food. As any anorexic knows, it is a very self-focused disease. People who go through eating disorders are not selfish or narcissistic, but every day, your field of vision becomes narrower. All your diminishing energy is channeled into striving for an ever-moving target, and everything and everyone else falls away. Choosing a vegan diet slowly yet surely widened my focus. My eating had more meaning than merely the way I looked – it saved lives, created a better planet, and was actually good for me. Gradually, I was able to include foods that would have been panic inducing when I was going through the worst phases of my eating disorder. Avocados are a miracle, peanut butter a celebration of recovery.

Becoming vegan led me to reconsider other aspects of my life, too. My love affair with clothing and fashion runs deep. I lose myself in colour, texture, print. Sometimes I go into fabric shops, just to be with the fabric. Yet once I began questioning the consequences of my food choices, the blinkers were taken off. Soon I was looking at my clothing choices, too. What did they mean for the people making the clothes, and the planet? A wonderfully exciting, colourful and delicious plant based diet showed me that choices that are better for the environment and the animals can be better for us, too.

I once channeled all my energy into counting calories and obsessively measuring everything I ate. Now, I devote it to finding ways of enjoying clothing that is more satisfying for us, while also being better for the environment and people producing it. I believe that these goals – better for us, and better for others, are not contradictory. They are cohesive, and to truly love our clothing, to truly have a wardrobe that works for us, we need to consider others in our clothing choices.

This is where veganism has led me. Every day, my focus becomes wider, more open. Every day, I look for more ways to create a world I love to live in. This is only the beginning.

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Thank you, Emma!

One thing that stood out to me as I read Emma’s post was that her recovery process underscores point #4 from my post on Monday: the idea that recovery can be a gift to those around you. While I hesitated to share that point, lest it sound as though you recover more for others than yourself, it seemed to resonate tremendously with readers, and I think it’s important. I’m so glad that Emma’s recovery has allowed her to repair some of the pain and/or tension that her struggles created with loved ones. And I am, of course, so happy that by embracing veganism she has found a way to invest her approach to food with meaning and purpose. Emma, I’m so proud of your journey, and thank you for all of the good work you’re doing.

You can connect with Emma via her blog, This Kind Choice, or find her on Twitter.

Comments on Emma’s story, of course, are welcome. Happy Wednesday!

xo

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19 Comments

Thank you Emma, for sharing your story, and giving an example of the point that Gena mentions again (that I really appreciated, Gena!)-how beneficial your recovery can be to others. It’s so easy to feel that it’s ‘selfish’ to spend so much time working on yourself to get better, and I’m really glad I’m finally understanding that recovering allows me to do so much more for others. Honestly, that’s so much more motivating to me-to realize that I can do so much more good if this bandwidth that’s been taken up by food can be used elsewhere. (Also, just checked out your blog-I’m loving it so far! To be honest, I have never really thought about ethical fashion and thinking about clothes more deeply than how they look. Excited to read more!) Thank you to you and Gena both!

Thank you Emily! I found Gena explained that element of recovery very well in her last post, and I’m so glad this is giving you permission to devote time and energy to your recovery. I’m sure you have wonderful things to offer the world, and we truly do have so much more headspace when we are able to look beyond food.

All the best, and I’m glad my blog is giving you a different perspective on clothing 🙂

First: Emma, thank you for sharing! You are such a lovely person, & you articulate so well what is going on behind an eating disorder.

My favorite line about how veganism has helped you: “My eating had more meaning than merely the way I looked – it saved lives, created a better planet, and was actually good for me.”

It’s funny, because I know some people with eating disorders turn to veganism as a way to enhance their eating disorder (ie., it’s easier to not eat when you portray this idea that you “can’t” eat what everyone else is eating), but you highlight (& Gena has done this so often as well), that veganism, when approached in the manner you have, can open the doors to a greater purpose, more compassion. And the focus is no longer just on self but on others. And at the same time–it’s good for you!

Loved this post. Thanks Gena & Emma for sharing.

xo

Thank you so much Janae! It’s always lovely hearing from you 🙂

When I first decided to become vegan, that was generally the reaction I got – that it would fuel the obsession and act as a way of covering up an unhealthy relationship with food. That thought can be quite scary for someone trying to improve this aspect of their life. The Green Recovery series gave me the hope that veganism can actually be part of transforming your relationship with food in a positive way, and the courage to give it a try.

It’s my hope that sharing my story can do this for someone else.

I love the title (as well as the wonderfully-told account) of your Green Recovery piece. Anorexia definitely made me feel shut in – by my fears, self-imposed boundaries, self-destructive habits. Also, I lost the passion I had once felt for so many other activities; I momentarily forgot what it was like to find joy in life, to laugh, and, as you said, to create. However, veganism helped me embrace recovery, and both of these things have opened those long-locked doors of self-expression and vivacity. They have made me look outside of myself and how my choices impact other people, the environment, and animals. I love that you are interested in fashion – hopefully, you will do amazing things in the field. Thanks for sharing and best of luck to you!

Thank you for sharing, Elisabeth, and I’m so happy that veganism has helped you improve your relationship with food, too.

It can be quite amazing to look back and see how far we have come (which is easy to overlook if we are constantly looking forward to what we still want to achieve). Suddenly we recognize that there is so much room in our lives now for other passions and pursuits, space that was taken up by a very limiting attitude to food. I try to remind myself of this often 🙂

Thank you and bless you, both of you beautiful ladies.

Emma, wow. When you said “All your diminishing energy is channeled into striving for an ever-moving target, and everything and everyone else falls away” it hit me in the third eye! Wow, So truly said–such precision, and such empathy.
That ever-moving target piece kicks my butt every time, even 20-plus years into the ED. The paradox, too, of parental role modeling and yet the isolation/no pleasing anymore.

I’ve committed to a very long road trip, and the care I’m taking of my car in preparation is serving as my big “aha.”

Now I must look at your NEDA post, Gena!
Love you both,
Ela

I’m so glad you found it interesting, Ela!

It is so true that happiness always seems x number of kilos away, and yet when we get there, it’s still not enough. I think this is important to realise – I remember achieving my ‘goal weight’ and immediately changing that number, and it did make me notice that this would never lead to satisfaction.

All the best to you and your recovery!

What a truly beautiful story! Thank you for sharing this Gena!:)

Emma, you are so lovely, and have so much to be proud of!:) Your story is truly admirable, and I appreciate you sharing it on a special week so important for recovery. I can see how radiant you are just by your smile, and what great fashion taste you have!:)

Good luck to you on your road to recovery!!:)<3

Heather

Thank you so much for your lovely comment Heather! I very much enjoyed reading your Green Recovery story too.

I think it’s a topic that is so important to highlight in all it’s forms and variations. Almost every time I have shared my experience with someone, they have a story of an issue they have or someone they know has experienced with food. Often eating disorders are portrayed as being black and white – either you’re anorexic or you’re fine. But this could not be further from the truth.

By sharing our stories, I hope we give others permission to share theirs and ask for help if necessary, no matter what stage of a disordered relationship with food they are at.

Emma – thank you so much for sharing your story with us. You’ve had a beautiful transformation and have come so far. Your words encourage people like me who are currently trying to muddle through the recovery process and inspire us to come out on the other side =)

Thank you Emma for such an honest account of your experiences. For those of us who have not been in your shoes it can be hard to understand anorexia and associated eating disorders, your account helps me to comprehend what sufferers go through and to hopefully be more understanding.

Thank you Rose. It can be such a hard thing to understand for those not going through it – feeding ourselves is one of the most basic human instincts, and it can be very confusing as to why someone would find it so difficult and conflicting.
I try to always be open and honest because of this and encourage people to ask me a question or tell me they don’t understand rather than feel like they cannot speak up. Hopefully this helps them if they then encounter someone with an eating disorder later or go through difficulties themselves.

Thank you for sharing your story Emma. You look so happy and healthy now; it’s hard to imagine that you went through something so awful. I hope other sufferers can find comfort and hope in your recovery story.

Thank you for sharing your story Emma. I hope it can be a message of hope for those readers out there struggling.
Gena has commented on what especially stood out to me too- the impact on our loved ones. Like you, I found it torturous to watch what my eating disorder was doing to my family and seeing tears in my father and brother’s eyes really shook me and got me thinking about the serious situation I was in.
I’m thrilled to hear that veganism has been such a help in your recovery and has gone on to influence your whole outlook so positively 🙂 I relate completely!