It has been a long time since I shared a Green Recovery story, and I’m pleased to be jumping back in tonight with this particularly thoughtful and heartfelt piece of writing from Lacy Davis. Lacy is a health coach with a practice of her own, a contagiously enthusiastic and empowering attitude, and a lot of fascinating thoughts about EDs, self-esteem, veganism, and life in general. I hope you’ll read her narrative, check out her website, and share what moved you in the comments section. Lacy, thank you for sharing with this community. And CR readers, I’ll return tomorrow.
If you had told teenaged me I would have an eating disorder in my 20’s I would have thought you were out of your mind.
I was punk, you see, queer identified, a feminist, into veganism by the time I hit the ninth grade and actually mostly just disconnected from my body. I didn’t love it, but I certainly didn’t hate it. Basically, it was just kind of THERE. Nothing to write home about or lose sleep over. I was much more interested in writing band reviews for independent magazines, dropping out of high school to travel the country by greyhound after my Sophomore year, and making art. I considered myself to be a writer, a creative and an intellectual. Through my adolescence my body was simply not on my mind.
In my third year of college I met a man that I thought was absolutely amazing. He was also a creative– a brilliant painter, actually, and as soon as we met I had this strong instinct that he was the one for me. I knew I wanted to be with him and when it seemed my affections were returned, I was all-to-happy to call him my partner.
Within a few months, I started noticing some strange things. My love made odd comments about women’s bodies, would frown and mention that so-and-so had gained weight or that someone else had a really big butt. He grimaced when he said these things and although he never directed his comments to my body I couldn’t help but start to compare. I thought the women he would frown over had amazing bodies, that they looked GREAT in fact. They certainly seemed no smaller than I, and every time he’d make a casual remark I began to feel a little stab. I felt like he was actually talking about me.
About a year in, things really started to unravel. Despite a very fun, satisfying relationship in some regards, some days started to feel off. He’d get so caught up in his work that we wouldn’t talk for a while and I found myself on pins-and-needles, waiting for him to call me up. He’d get frustrated with my waiting and wonder why I couldn’t just do my own thing (actually a really great question). He would be standoffish when we were physical and I noticed him starting to judge other women’s bodies more and more harshly.
One day I said, “Sometimes I feel like you want me to be smaller”
And he responded, “Sometimes I DO feel weird, but that’s my issue—not yours.”
Although retrospectively it seemed so clear that it was coming, when things finally ended I was blindsided. He said he loved me but just wasn’t sure he was attracted to me, and that he wasn’t really willing to do the work to stick around and find out. I was crushed.
I had been on my own since I was sixteen years old, and suddenly I felt like I had no clue how to take care of myself. I couldn’t sleep at all, despite dosing myself with sleeping aids nightly. Every time I tried to process my feelings with friends or my therapist I sobbed through our time together, not even choking out a word. When I ate I felt deeply nauseated, like I was swallowing paste and tacks. I cried in coffee shops. I fell asleep in my classes. I no longer wrote or really made art. I was paralyzed.
Weight fell off of my average sized frame and then the compliments started to role in. People said I looked “slim and trim” and “chic”. They asked me what I was doing, and how they could do it too. Some of my closer friends started to pull away in confusion. I went to a check up with my OB/GYN and it was confirmed that I’d lost 20 lbs. since our last appointment. This put me officially in the “underweight” category.
“Is that bad?” I asked.
And my nurse practitioner responded “No! You look great.”
With my doctor’s support of my weight loss, the effortless way that clothes fit my new body, and the compliments pouring in, I dove head first into anorexia. I was still vegan, but then I didn’t eat grains, beans, soy, fruit, oil, avocados, coconut, gluten or processed food. I refused to eat anything I could not measure before it went into my mouth. I exercised for many hours every single day. If I ate anything besides vegetables I had a panic attack.
My boss at work requested that I take a leave of absence to deal with my problem. I was angry for a few moments, sat stewing with thoughts that she was just jealous, and then she reached out and touched my hand.
“We are really concerned about you,” she said. “We want you to be better.”
It had been many months since my restricting started, and it wasn’t until that moment that I realized I wasn’t just “being really healthy”. I looked down and saw the truth for the first time: my clothes hung off of my body. I got winded when I stood up. My body was growing a weird coat of fine fur all over it. I hadn’t had my period in far too long. I couldn’t go to the bathroom despite all the water and fiber my body could hold.
I wish I could say I got better at that moment, but I didn’t. My eating disorder was shifty, it went from anorexia, to compulsive over exercise, to bulimia, to being just plain obsessed with food and body, in a way that didn’t exactly have a name.
I finished my undergraduate degree still heavily mired in eating disorder behaviors and went on to get my Master’s degree. I got straight A’s through my program, made a wonderful thesis exhibition that I was really proud of, and continued to try, and mostly fail, to recover. In my recovery I dealt with severe digestive distress, which made me feel like I couldn’t stay vegan and get better (soy, gluten, grains, and beans made me feel actually severely sick to my stomach). I added eggs into my diet, ones that came from hens that I knew were not treated cruelly, and I still did not fully recover.
My recovery needed a mind shift.
That shift came the day I began to teach high school health. Suddenly, I was put in a position to be a role model and I couldn’t help but watch my students watching me. It seemed they absorbed everything that I did, and it made me cringe to think of the teenage girls in my classes counting their calories or running off their meals. They were acutely aware of my food and always asked me why I ate so many vegetables. One day a student asked me “Are you vegan?” and I sadly shook my head. “I’m not vegan” I responded. “But I used to be”.
The topic of influence clamored around in my head. I knew I wanted to be a role model, but that my current state of affairs was not doing that title justice. Despite knowing the source of my eggs, I knew that in general I thought the egg industry was awful and torturous. When my students saw me eat my hardboiled egg with my salad they didn’t know that I had walked to my farmers market, talked to the farmers about my eggs before buying them, and checked in about whether or not they were de-beaked, and if the male chicks were culled. They just knew I was eating an egg, that I was their health teacher, and that therefor it was safe to assume that eating eggs must be healthy and ok. That didn’t sit right with me.
Slowly, I figured out ways to work around my sensitive digestion. (Full report here, for those who are interested.) I quit eating eggs. I started teaching students about veganism in my classes, and promoting it as a very healthy way to eat. When I got anxious about food I would think “influence, influence, influence” in my brain, and slowly behaviors that were ingrained in me sloughed away. I stopped considering bulimia in option. I stopped calorie counting; I started adding rest days into my exercise routine. I started eating out with friends again. I talked openly about my recovery. I started lifting weights and I let myself get both stronger and bigger.
I spent the last half of my twenties defining my time by my eating disorder’s rules and with that, I learned some truly vicious self-talk. I avoided mirrors at all costs, and when forced to have a run in with one, I often cried at what I saw. With my intention to be a good influence I realized my attitude about myself was just as important as my behavior. I started looking in the mirror on purpose, confronting the entirety of my body so that I could truly get to know what I looked like without restricting my food. When I said something negative to myself I took a moment to replace it with a positive thought. At first it didn’t feel authentic, but eventually it got more natural.
I look at the fateful breakup and know that it was not my former partner’s fault that I got an eating disorder. Despite my politics, I was constantly served messages about my body’s inferiority and I truly believe every human on Earth is vulnerable to the demands that the media gives us about how we should look. In a time when I felt like my body was what kept me from being with the person I loved it seemed only natural to try to change it, because the culture that we live in tells us that that is the key. I am so happy that I was able to find a way to feel differently.
Today I am vegan, a health and wellness coach with a focus on plants, body image, and self esteem, can lift a lot of weight, love to eat healthfully and exercise, occasionally have a vegan milkshake, and love every square inch of my body. I do not surround myself with people that speak negatively about other people’s bodies. I look at myself in the mirror and I smile.
I truly believe that veganism is the most peaceful, healthy, and integrous way for me to eat. I consider re-affirming that concept to be a gift, one that has helped me to have pride in my dietary choices and encouraged positive self-talk. I am incredibly grateful for blogs like Choosing Raw, for encouraging a proactive, honest, vegan recovery community. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to tell my story!
Lacy Davis is a health and wellness coach, and runs Super Strength Health. She enjoys green smoothies, feminist art, creative non-fiction and building useful things with her hands.