It’s been a while since I posted a Green Recovery story. This is not because I’m not always thinking about them, and apparently it’s not because you don’t care for them! When I started Green Recovery, I was nervous that the idea wouldn’t resonate with anyone. To my delight, most of the emails I get from readers nowadays are to express their gratitude for the safe, open space that Green Recovery creates.
The reason I don’t post them when I’m super busy is because I like to think about each story carefully, write a thoughtful conclusion to each, and give them all the attention they deserve. I’m happy to post a slapdash recipe or photo, but I can’t rush through somebody else’s testimony of recovery. Thankfully, I’m on the train right now with a quiet hour ahead of me, en route to Blogher 12, and I have a moment to share the following Green Recovery narrative from Marlena Torres.
I met Marlena years ago, when we were both interested in Natalia Rose’s work and philosophy. Our own work has taken different directions since then in some ways, but we’ve both remained passionate about raw and plant-based foods, digestive health, and eating disorder awareness. We’ve also remained friends, and Marlena has done me the honor of sharing her ED story with me—first privately, and now here on CR. When she sent this to me, she said “I’m so proud of myself for finally writing about this!!”
Marlena, I am so proud of you, too.
Ever since I was very young, I disliked my body. I can remember being seven years old and knowing that I was the fattest girl in my gymnastics class. I was a heavier kid, and I was also taller, which made me very self conscious. As we all know, growing up in our skinny crazed culture really feeds body insecurity in young girls. I was no exception.
Like Gena, in the past I did not enjoy food. I saw food only as a means to becoming fat or skinny, I found no enjoyment or pleasure in eating because it was always a low calorie food I was consuming in order to lose weight, or an indulgence in an unhealthy treat that I felt guilty about for days.
As a kid I found myself in a conundrum because while I loved food and felt quite addicted to packaged and processed foods, I also desperately wanted to be skinny. I found myself constantly choosing between eating food I liked, or counting calories and somewhat restricting myself in order to lose weight. I can remember in grade school attempting to go all day without eating only to cave into an ice cream sandwich or something of the sort at the end of the day. It was incredibly frustrating for me.
I don’t identify myself as a former bulimic, anorexic, or binge eater. I’ve dabbled in all of these disordered eating patterns, for sure, but having never been diagnosed and never staying engaged with any one pattern for any specific length of time, I always felt that I didn’t have an eating disorder, but was just seriously messed up in the head about food, nutrition, and my body.
My “eating disorder” was very typical. It was that of the chronic dieter who yo-yo’d from one extreme to another, who lost and gained weight a bit, was always obsessed with food, fat grams, calorie counting, and at times exercise, and was always heavier due to the yo-yo-ing, and the stress that accompanies that sort of food and body obsession. This is definitely not an ideal mindset and lifestyle for anyone, especially not a young girl.
I felt no matter what I did, I could never have a body that I loved. I was constantly at war with food and my weight. It was a constant struggle and source of distress in my life. There were days when I felt so fat and so ashamed of my body that I honestly couldn’t bare to leave the house. Finding an outfit to wear was an emotional drama, and I would spend hours scrutinizing myself in the mirror. It wasn’t just my body, but my hair, my teeth, the circles under my eyes, everything, it seemed, that some part of me rejected. I completely disapproved of myself.
Once I discovered plant based eating and a holistic lifestyle, in particular raw foods, juicing, and gravity colonics, I really felt free. I couldn’t believe the difference I felt mentally, physically, and emotionally. However, after about a year, my old habits got the best of me, and I realized that I was dragging my old patterns of over eating, restricting, and obsessing about food minutiae into my new healthy lifestyle that I thought was my saving grace. Now that I’ve been into eating this way for over four years, I’m much more clear about what my core issues are: a lack of celebration, and being dishonest with myself.
Let me explain.
I always joke with my husband that the more frequently he sees me taking pictures of my dinners, the better I’m feeling about myself. That’s because I take pictures of my most beautiful meals, and I take the time to make those meals when I am valuing myself. In other words, making a beautiful, nutritious meal becomes my priority. I stop telling myself that responding to text messages, answering emails, or making sure the house is perfectly clean is more important than taking care of my body. None of those things are more important to me than the nurturance of my body.
A plant based, high raw diet allows me to celebrate my meals because they are beautiful, healthy, and delicious. I get to be creative when I make my salads and dressings and my cooked vegetable entrees that often mock old favorites of mine (such as barbecue seasoned carrot fries, avocado pestos, and juice pulp burgers!) that I always felt so guilty for indulging in when I was younger. By eating vegetables, my diet feels more indulgent than ever because the plants give me maximum taste, variety, and pleasure without the physical drawbacks and addictions that I experienced from eating ice cream sandwiches as a kid.
The other issue is the subject of intuition. I hate to follow rules or guidelines as dictated by someone else, and especially with diet. For this reason, the subject of eating intuitively always appealed to me, but at times, (especially when I’m stressed out or upset about something), my “intuition” will tell me to eat a bag of chips or an entire tray of baked macaroons! I realize now that this is my mind playing tricks on me. So I have to exercise a bit of discipline with myself. This is very unique to me, and I don’t recommend taking a disciplined approach with diet to everyone, especially those with a history of extreme restrictive eating, but for me, this is completely necessary. This sort of discipline feels much more like honesty. It’s important to be honest with yourself if you want to get past destructive eating behaviors.
When I combine this moderate discipline with a celebration of plant based food and I do forms of exercise that allow me to feel amazing in my body: such as long, early morning walks outside with my daughter, jumping on my rebounder, and my favorite yoga poses, I am in the best shape I can possibly be: mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Writing this post means a great deal to me. Gena has always inspired me and has been supportive of me as I sorted through my food and body demons, and the fact that I can articulate how I feel about my food and body relationship with words shows how far I’ve come from the confused little girl feeling guilty for eating cookies and ice cream, and hating her fat thighs.
Instead of feeling dread when it comes to food and my body, I focus on the joy that it can bring me. I view my body as strong, safe, and smart. My body carries me through a life where I make my own choices and navigate my decisions wisely and with confidence, so I value it. My body is a fortress for my daughter and a source of optimum nutrition for her, so I value it. My body houses my brain, so instead of using it to obsess about calories, fat grams, and the numbers on a scale, I read books that I love and learn about subjects that fascinate me.
Food and body drama still come up for me, but for the most part, I can brush it off and move forward with my life. I celebrate my beloved, beautiful, hydrating, nutrient dense and delicious plant based diet, and how it lets me love and enjoy my body in a way that I never experienced before.
And I also really love this post. I am so happy that Marlena has found the same things that I have found in a whole foods, plant based diet: beauty, indulgence, a sense of abundance and satisfaction, and—most importantly—a profound appreciation of health and her body.
I think this post gives us a lot to think about (as usual), but I am particularly impressed with how well Marlena seems to know herself. In my experience, that kind of deep self knowledge is hard won, and I commend her on the work it’s taken to get to where she is. I think it’s interesting that she mentions a certain level of discipline in her eating. As someone whose particular habits tended toward habitual restrictions and rule-making, the “discipline” I most often need to assert in my life after recovery is the discipline to eat more abundantly or more freely, rather than less, but I also realize that all of our recovery stories are different. Ultimately, what seems to matter most is consciousness: a sense of your own needs, and a firm understanding of what it takes for you to be healthy. For some, it seems that the ability to get in touch with consciousness and exercise restraint in situations where overeating seems imminent is healthy and important.
What do you think? What stood out to you most about Marlena’s story? I’d love to hear all of your thoughts. Note that Marlena also does food coaching and recipe development, and that her website features a ton of tasty, high raw eats!
On that note, I’m off to Blogher, where I’ll be giving a lot more thought to discipline, restraint, indulgence, commitment, freedom, and satisfaction in the realm of healthy living. Can’t wait to tell you all about it soon. On the way here, by the way, I had a packed lunch of massaged kale and my leftover sweet potato, puy lentil, and rice salad from yesterday (which I’m so happy you guys loved so much!). I feed myself well on the go, I must say.