Green Recovery: Marlena Celebrates Her Body with “Beautiful, Hydrating, and Nutrient Dense” Food
August 2, 2012

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

me at pure


I love that photo of Marlena at Pure Food and Wine!

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.

xo

Categories: Food and Healing

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    39 Comments
  1. So proud to know Marlena going on almost 20 years. (Whoa, we are getting old haha) She continues to flourish and inspire me as a woman and as an artist. While we are very opposite in many ways, I feel confident to say we relish in our differences and learn from eachother with every passing day.
    I look forward to 20+ years ahead and watching her journey continue. Endless love for her and this beautifully written post!

    • Dear “Anonymous”, I’ve received a lot of comments on my chest in my life, none negative, so I’ll take that as a compliment. Thanks!

  2. Hi Marlene,

    thank you for sharing your story.

    I love how it focusses on mindset, rather than behaviour. The chronic dieting, yoyo-ing, the stress and anxiety around food and so on. I do think there’s still too little attention to that part of eating disorders in general society. I myself do label myself as a ‘binge-eater’, yoyo-ing to the extreme, but even when I get a handle on my binging, the foord-related stresses and anxieties never fully disappear. Recently I’ve discovered eating a high raw diet is taking me in the right direction, like you, feeling celebratory of my food and happy to be eating such beautiful creations. It is important for me to follow my own path, trying to ignore the different voices out there of what a healthy raw food diet should look like, and just do what feels best to me. But at the same time, I can’t eat intuitively either, because for some reason I am an overeater at heart, and I need to plan and disciplin my eating. There’s a lot of pressure out there to eat intuitively and I often feel like I should be able to do that, in order to be truely healthy, but you made me think I should revisit that idea.

    Someone once shared this picture with me: our ED is a monster, standing at one side of the cliff, and we at the other. During our really disordered years, we are pulling rope with it, trying to make it dissapear in the abiss, and all our energy goes into the struggle, but never succeeding in pulling harder. But then one day, for one reason or another, we find out we can just let the rope go. We don’t have to struggle anymore, but that doesn’t mean the monster is gone. It’s still standing there, and we can still hear it. So there’s still things we have to do to manage that and that doesn’t mean we’re still “sick”. If the monster is saying to overeat, it’s ok to be disciplined around food. It just depends on what your own personal monster is saying.
    if that makes any sense at all..

    either way, thank you for sharing your insightfull story. And thank you Gena, for this forum.

    • Your second paragraph is definitely what I needed to read today!
      Also thank you Gena for posting Marlena’s story- I find myself pretty much in the middle of the yo-yoing and it’s time to make the change for myself.

    • I just was talking to someone about what you wrote about in the second paragraph! I was telling my friend that rather than viewing food or our behaviors as the enemy, we have to get our hands dirty with it. So many times I have tried to abstain from food in an effort to heal from my obsession with it. Instead, I’ve learned that I have to indulge myself. I have to LISTEN to myself. If I really want to eat chocolate ice cream, sure, there may be a reason that I am desiring something sweet and creamy for dessert that has nothing to do with what my body needs nutritionally or calorically, but does that mean that I need to find another form of pleasure, write, or meditate the craving away? No. At least I don’t think so. I think by making healthy options such as avocado puddings, or a banana based ice cream we are celebrating our desires and our bodies. We are physical beings in a physical world, and I think that we are happier when we celebrate that fact, rather than trying to escape it, which I think is so much of what all of this diet and food obsession is really about: escaping the physical.

      I hope that makes sense. Thank you for commenting!

  3. Thank you for sharing your insight and wisdom. I first became familiar with your writing on DTW, and then through your website. Like so many other women–particularly those reading and writing on sites like these–I had a fairly severe eating disorder. Now in my mid-twenties, I’m far from where I was but still have many a food issue. More, I’m realizing that the anorexia and food obsession made a convenient shadow universe for my brain to live in. Coming into the light…not so easy! In large part because I know the work is to integrate my past with where I am now…to acknowledge that as loved and beautiful (yeah, I’ll say it!) as I’m blessed to often feel now, I know what it is like to feel alone and dark and ashamed.
    All this to say: as I try to work it out, I’m grateful for voices like yours, and like Gena’s. Thank you for sharing.

    • I would add that for me, a key component in truly recovering–in mind, not just in the physical aspect–has been figuring out a way of eating that feels nourishing for my body and soul and mind. Juicing, not eating animal products–these things work for me.
      But I think being honest and conscious about what nourishes you individually is the essential point–as Marlena wrote in an above comment, the honesty requires climbing into ourselves, feeling ourselves. Making sense of the complex requirements of our physical, moral, mental, & aesthetic needs, and being okay with where that leads us.

      I am so far from being sure of anything, but I remember reading this website during times when I thought I was not capable of approaching that. Turns out, I was. Things change. Everyone can grow–even if you, whoever is reading, is unsure of that as applied to you. Everyone.

      Ok. This got way too deep I never comment! But Marlena’s writing inspired it..

      • Hey N,

        I wish you’d comment more often! I’m happy to hear that you are far from your darkest days. These things take a lot of time to process and heal from. I like that you refer to disordered eating behaviors as our shadow side. I do think these are shadow behaviors, they are not our real self at all, but just a coping mechanism. For many of us, it is a mechanism we used since very young, and we don’t need it anymore. For me at least, getting past my issues was a matter of changing the way I viewed myself and breaking bad habits (and finding food that I loved and could eat in generous portions)!

        We are complex beings, and healing requires taking the process in layer, being patient with ourselves, and celebrating every little success!

        This comment inspired me, so I hope that you share your thoughts more often.

        Lots of Love,
        Marlena

  4. Marlena,

    I won’t reiterate what has already been said by others, although I completely agree and say Yes and Amen! But may I add also that your photo is exquisitely beautiful? It speaks volumes, as do your words. Blessings to you and your family!

  5. “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.” How can you get your best body from self-hate? Marlena knocks it out of the park as usual by showing that through self-love and following one’s own path our hottest bodies shall emerge!

  6. I was very moved by your clear and honest post, Marlena. Those of us who have recovered from eating disorders sometimes hold ourselves to a very high standard, especially when we have made it our life work to guide and support others struggling with similar issues. It’s important to recognize that “relapsing” (frequently in the form of what the mainstream simply considers normal, indulgent eating, lol) happens.

    When it does, the only thing to do is figure out WHY did it happen? What need am I really trying to meet here? And HOW do I get back on track so I can feel my best, brightest and happiest in my body? (Which is when veggies again become our bff, right?!)

    I can really relate to your statement: “I take pictures of my most beautiful meals, and I take the time to make those meals when I am valuing myself.” Me, too! And doesn’t it feel good to value ourselves?! Who else can do that job best? Nobody.

    Bravo for all your hard work, and for bravely shining a light on truth. And thanks to Gena for inviting you to write about your journey, and maintaining this wonderful blog as well.

    xo Diana

    • Thank you, Diana! Figuring out why a relapse occurs is the important lesson. Valuing ourselves is so crucial to healing, and unfortunately, often the hardest thing to do. XO

        • Yrsalindholm,

          Hi there! thanks for the comment. I think most vegans are well aware that all vegans need to supplement their B-12. The good news is that, for most people, supplementation with a simple Vitamin or B-spectrum vitamin eliminates the need to worry about a B-12 deficiency. Thanks for pointing it out, though: being savvy about B-12 is part of being a healthy, happy vegan!

          G

  7. I love the Green Recovery stories; they showcase how startlingly *individual* eating disorders are (even the eating disorders that fit diagnostic criteria for say, anorexia, they do manifest differently) and how *personal* the recovery process must be. Marlena’s recovery looks like mine in many ways in that it is marked by a transformed relationship with food, and with her body.
    I have found my way to a place where I eat pretty much intuitively, maybe sometimes “too much” going by so-called normal serving sizes, but it all balances out, I think. I don’t snack and I’m not a big daytime eater so four macaroons would be (is!) a very normal dessert for me, even if most people would have only one!
    It’s not as if I never needed discipline, however. There was a period, early in my eating disorder, when my eating got very messy, and it was very anxiety-provoking (compared to the first couple years when my rituals around food were more calming). I was definitely keeping two demons at bay over the next several years. I did it through a kind of truce: on the one hand, I stopped skipping meals, trying to lose weight. On the other, I got caught in a meal-planning (from a list of about 14 foods)/calorie-counting/weighing-daily pattern that I didn’t break out of for a very long time! Over those years, I developed a *habit* of eating only three times a day (which is the way I ate as a child), and habits, when well-established, can mitigate need for discipline.
    I think my tendency to restrict/deny myself runs slightly deeper/stronger than my tendency to over-indulge. I feel sometimes when I am indulging (on, say, macaroons) that I am feeding/nourishing some part of myself, even if my physical body doesn’t need the calories …
    I’ve got 15 years of recovery but I’m still a waif, so I guess I feel ok about “overeating” when I feel like it. Reading your story makes me wonder if I’m not being honest with myself … it’s a very tough call, I think. I just have such a strong visceral reaction to what I perceive as restriction in any way, shape, form … I didn’t actually thrive on Raw Food Detox Diet until I added protein powder/banana/bee pollen smoothies. I think I just need more food than most … not very interested in learning to live on less, in any case!
    Thanks for sharing, Marlena!

    • Hi E,

      I think this is such a fascinating comment! I know you see parallels with Marlena’s story. To some degree, I also hear many echoes of my story in yours (or what you’ve shared of it here on CR), with a few distinctions, of course. My main ED tendency has always been to restrict, or to create rules and fear foods that allow me to winnow down my choices. I certainly did some overeating after recovery, but I never had a bulimic phase, and to this day, feelings of stress or unhappiness are more likely to manifest as me finding an excuse to skip a meal than they are as me overeating.

      For this reason, I too feel that indulgence (that is, enjoyment of chocolate on some nights, or a particularly large meal) is me feeding my body and soul, restoring what was lost for so long. I’m aware that this kind of logic could ultimately become a slippery slope, but so far (quite a few years into lasting recovery) it has worked for me. In my case, it’s not so much macaroons as it is big portions. I order a LOT in restaurants (so much that I’m often warned by waiters “that’s going to be a lot of food, you know…”), and I eat big meals. Unlike you, I have also found that I just can’t skip meals, and I also snack much more than I used to.

      And like you, I often realize I’ve given myself calories that exceed those of a physical “need,” but I also sense that something more spiritual is going on when I offer my body the abundance I do. I wouldn’t want to abuse this, but I guess my point is to say that I don’t think you ought to question your habits, or wonder if you’re being dishonest with yourself. Recovery creates needs that go beyond one’s literal needs from a nutrition perspective, and heeding them is often the healthiest choice in a broad sense: healthiest for mind, body, spirit.

      Thanks for commenting!!

      G

      • Eating beyond caloric needs can definitely be an emotional and spiritual need! I still do this regularly and enjoy it. It is wonderful to indulge freely in foods that don’t leave you feeling unwell or guilty afterwards. For me, it is when old symptoms come up: poor digestion, skin issues, irritability and depression, that I know I have to get honest with myself. I should have clarified that. Elizabeth, it definitely sound to me that your indulgences are not too much for you. It sounds like your feeding your body and soul. 🙂

        • Gena, you make a very good point! I will say that I’m most likely to “overeat” (I hate putting it like that, but I know ordinary folks won’t eat a pound of cherries for lunch, so it is in a way “overeating) when I’m feeling particularly happy / joyful / celebratory. And my stress-response, like yours, is most certainly to under-eat (if at all!). I love big meals too! Just that I’m probably more likely than you to include dessert. 🙂

          • Ha! Actually, it’s a funny thing about dessert. Though I’ve never had a sweet tooth, I find myself more drawn to sweets in the last year or two. I think some of this has to do with my post-bacc: life is often so stressful, and I think I’m yearning for something sweet, both literally and figuratively. Raw puddings and such are little gifts I give myself, different from the meals I make because it’s dinner time (which are certainly artful and lovely, but often also rushed and a matter of necessity). It’s interesting. Also interesting that, 8 years ago, an increased taste for sweets would have scared the living daylights out of me, whereas right now I just think, well, if/when I want them, it’s because I need them, in ways both literal and profound.

    • Thanks for commenting, Elizabeth! If you think your tendency to restrict is more common than over indulging, you’re right. Like I said, the discipline I incorporate is unique to me. There are many, many people who have read the Raw Food Detox Diet and don’t do well with it. We all need our personal tweaks!

      It sounds like you know yourself pretty well. Knowing that you need more food is important. It took me a while to face that fact that I did NOT need all of the food that I was eating. I still indulge regularly in things like chocolate and macaroons, but I usually think about it a day or so in advance. If I go into dessert with abandon, I tend to regret it later. Making Vegetables my focus has been so liberating because I literally feast on my dinners every night without any sort of drawback. Vegetables are awesome.

      On another note, reading the Raw Food Detox Diet and raw food books and cookbooks showed me how to do vegetarianism/veganism the RIGHT way. Previously I was a vegan and ate so many processed food that I actually gained a lot of weight and developed a lot of digestive issues. Now I am almost entirely vegan (I eat goat’s cheese maybe twice a week at the most at this point, but usually not even that much, eggs when I’m really in the mood for my chocolate soufflé, and fish when I go out to a restaurant) and I love it. I don’t even think about it as veganism, but I love that this way I eat that agrees with my body so much ALSO is in tune with my love and respect for animals.

      PS- I would hardly think of 4 macaroons as an overindulgence! I could easily eat twice that many! lol XO

  8. What an amazing story Marlena. Very inspiring!
    It is such a “mind of matter” issue and it takes so much strength to say no to the urges, especially in stressful situations.

    I also find when you eat a wide variety of whole based foods you are in a better mind set so it does make it easier to realise what your body needs.

    I too am always in my happiest moods when I take photos of my meals. It shows love, passion, patients and creativity.

    Thanks again!

  9. This is a powerful story. Marlena, I love what you said about your body housing your brain and how you now allow your brain to think about more worthy things than unhealthy food obsession. One thing that might have been helpful is describing how you were able to overcome your “relapse” (perhaps not the best word) into unhealthy habits after you first started eating a plant-based diet. I’m so glad you stuck with it and found the healthy diet that works best for you and nourishes your body!

    • Thank you, Skye! It’s not true that plant based eating alone saved me, but also discipline (being honest with myself) with a mostly raw and vegan diet that did. Both things are still equally important for me on a day to day basis. I can’t say I have or haven’t “relapsed” since getting into plant based eating. Every day I have to be very conscious of how I feel and get very grounded and into my body before I eat, or I could easily overdo it. That’s where the honesty is so important. I have to be sure that I’m not focusing too much on the heavier foods in my meals whether they are seeds/nuts and their butters, or the non vegan foods I still consume (goat cheese, eggs, and fish) because I sometimes have a hard time not overeating them. In the past I would attempt to juice fast after a day of overeating. This would be an example of me tricking myself into thinking that what I overate was OK. Getting honest with myself is really such an effective practice. I do this through writing, meditating, or just asking myself when I enter the kitchen – what am I really hungry for? Focusing too much on what I was putting IN my body made this such a headache for me. I instead focus on the foods that I need to leave out to feel physically well. A plant based diet with lots of raw foods has given me the pleasure of relishing my meals, and highlighting my meals with dense goodies like avocados, tahini, sunflower seed butter, goat’s cheese, and eggs, and fish, makes it feel indulgent and special. It’s a daily thing for me to stay conscious of. I hope that makes sense!

      • Hi Marlena,
        I REALLY appreciate that you explain “it’s not true that plant based eating alone saved me”. It can be really hard to read stories saying, I found this way of eating and “bam!” I was better. Thank you so much for your honesty, like Gena I think “intuitive eating” is a lovely concept but maybe not attainable for everyone/at least for a long time into/after recovery. Discipline and self-awareness are hugely admirable qualities!
        Sending love (if that isn’t inappropriate from someone you don’t know )
        hannah x

        • Thank you, Hannah! It’s definitely been much more of a lifestyle change for me.
          It’s definitely appropriate to send the love! Sending it right back! xo 🙂

  10. Marlena, what a beautifully written and honest expression of your journey. Thank you for your candidness. I agree, so much healing comes with celebrating our bodies, real nourishment and pleasure in food and life.
    Love you sista! Xxx

  11. “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.” So true, Gena! Brilliant!

    PS- What you wrote made me cry. lol XO