It’s always a joy to start a weekend with a Green Recovery story. This beautiful tale from CR reader Claire (who’s currently reading and sharing with us from Vienna!) almost made me cry when I read it for the first time. It was so honest, authentic, and insightful. I know that Claire’s story will strike many chords, and I hope you’ll all read and respond with your thoughts.
A word about the lovely drawings that you’ll see throughout this post: I asked Claire for some images, and she sent not only a photo of herself, but these as well. She told me that she hadn’t mentioned it in her recovery story, but she used to do life modeling as a side job in London. Claire said that “this was also such a helpful recovery tool, to see that people could make beautiful art inspired by a body I didn’t always find beauty in.”
This sentiment alone is uplifting enough to constitute a Green Recovery post. But read on.
When I began to write this post, I just didn’t know where to start. I felt extremely emotional, and almost gave up after writing three lines. Not a great start. Or maybe it was great, because it reminded how deeply intertwined eating disorders are with our personal lives: our experiences, the people we met on the way, as well as the one that were left behind, the habits of a lifetime and the traumatic triggering events which all combined create our unique story.
This is a short extract from my own story, and I hope with all my heart that it can somehow resonate with some of you, and give some hope, encouragement and maybe even a little faith to some readers.
For as long as I can remember, food was always a very central preoccupation in my family. Being French, from a family of very good cooks, there was always a meal to accompany any significant social event. Food equalled celebration and was synonym of joy, togetherness, and comfort. I learned to cook and bake very early, mainly with my grandma, and always found it very exciting to prepare breakfast or dinner for my family.
And indeed, I was raised to believe that if I was sad, a little cake and hot chocolate could make everything go away, which back when I was 4 years old was mostly true. However I also noticed that women in my family seemed to take pride in resisting that comfort and that somehow when a bigger issue was coming up, their reaction was usually to stop eating altogether. Of course I was unaware of those patterns back then, but when I grew older and became an awkward teenager, I found myself trying out those two options: need comfort, here’s some bread with Nutella. You’re actually upset: no dinner it is! Unfortunately, this made me very confused regarding the relationship between food and feelings, and when I first got my heart broken by a boy, I just didn’t know how to deal with it.
So, this first love opened the door to many firsts: the first time I didn’t eat for 3 days straight, the first time I made myself sick, the first time my tight jeans needed a belt, the first time I went to a store just to buy food which I knew would end up down the toilet, but also the first serious lies, to myself and to my close friends and family. And that secrecy became a habit, as if I knew that what I was doing was wrong but I just couldn’t bear to be exposed, I couldn’t ask for help, I was fine, I still functioned, it was ok, maybe just a bad habit I took I told myself. And I became so good at hiding it that not even my family with whom I lived everyday realized what was really going on.
One thing that I feel like I should mention is also that I had been training in (mainly contemporary) dance for my whole life, and even though I don’t believe that this is the reason why my eating disorder developed, being in front of a mirror every day, especially at that time of my life was definitely a struggle. There is however a strange balance of priorities in the dance world, and a huge dose of hypocrisy when it comes to body image, and how sometimes the word “fit” replaces “thin” but is actually used as a synonym. I have encountered this misunderstanding in many other practices such as yoga and fitness, but this is another topic.
Coming back to my story, I am now 18 years old and have been accepted in my dream dance school in London. I thus moved to a new country which language I didn’t speak, away from anything I knew. By then I had developed a very serious case of bulimia, which faithfully accompanied me abroad. However, it got even worse as I now lived away from home and had to deal with my own food shopping, preparing all my meals, eating by myself as well as training in a highly competitive environment. I remember this period as both wonderful and excruciating. Wonderful because I met some incredible people which have been crucial in both my recovery process and my life in general, and found my way as a choreographer, a job that makes me so happy today. Excruciating because I was making myself sick almost every day, sometimes more than once, putting myself through hours of intense physical training, struggling to “act normal” during social events of the student life, and mainly I was so unhappy in my own skin it was sometimes too hard to pretend. I didn’t find any actual comfort in food anymore, but I didn’t know where else to turn to, I didn’t really cook, what was the point since most of this was going down the drain anyways? I also was scared to bake, what used to be such an appeasing activity became a source of major anxiety since I just feared I would eat the whole thing by myself. I hit a point when I just accepted that there was no way out. I would feel like this forever and I’d just get by. Those thoughts would always be with me and I had to learn to live with it. I was hopeless.
My health deteriorated, my weight was fluctuating constantly, my period were even more irregular, my teeth became sensitive. My diaphragm was so tense from the vomiting that some days I could hardly breathe. Eventually I got badly injured, dislocated my knee, and it was the wake-up call I had been waiting for: I couldn’t do this to my body anymore because it was going to break. In fact, it was breaking already.
I opened up to the physio-therapist of the school and she was the most incredible support I could have asked for at the time. She mentioned that she guessed something was up with me, but understood that I was not ready to act upon it at the time. I was extremely grateful for this because it made me able to trust her. And there I decided, I was going to fix it. The thing is, I had decided to fix it many times before. I had told myself I would not do it anymore, that this was the last time I was hurting my body in such ways, that from now on I’d eat three healthy meals a day… But that day was different because now that she knew and was going to check up on me almost every day, I had to stop lying.
Extremely slowly, I started to open-up to more people, my housemates, my brother, my friends… It was tough but their support was invaluable. At first, not purging after a binge was the hardest, I felt so uncomfortable in my body. But also the coping mechanism that I had been familiar with for so many years was not reliable anymore, and even though I still wanted to give in, I knew it was not worth it. Though I didn’t know yet how to cope differently. My physio recommended I tried a high protein diet, since I was mainly binging on carbs, it seems like eliminating them entirely would make things easier. She was not a nutritionist and was just trying to help giving me the advice she believed would make this process easier on me. And in some ways it did work as I was so addicted to refined sugars by then, that anything cake-like I would eat, would trigger an urge for me to surrender to the binge and purge cycle. On the other hand, it created severe cravings and another unexpected phenomena: I was the only French person around who was terrified of bread.
Time passed by, and I my body started to heal as I finally ate more regularly, I was so proud when I finally counted my first year without making myself sick. My mind however, even though I gained a lot of self-confidence by getting better, was still not at peace. I knew that I was on the way of recovery, but my relationship with food was still fearful, food was still something I should control, regulate, and be careful with. In some ways, I still didn’t trust myself and my diet enough to believe that I was safe again.
When I turned 21, I finished my bachelor with surprisingly high grades considering the chaotic ride those three years had been, and moved to Austria where I still live today. There I kept studying dance but focused on choreography. It seemed like that year would finally allow me to digest (interesting choice of word, aaah the unconscious!) my experience in London and I think I was ready for a change: it was time to grow up.
That year was also an important turning point in my story with food: I met Nigrita, my first vegan friend! I was doing well in the school, but then I got injured again. As if my body was telling me that I wasn’t quite there yet. And so once again, I tried to listen. I could not practice for several weeks, and spent time focusing only on choreography rather than my own movement practice. Giving my body this break away from daily dance classes was probably one of the most precious gift I ever received; it allowed me to rest and it allowed me to breathe. At the same time, Nigrita and I became very close and spent quite a bit of time together. I have to admit that I was totally sceptical when talking about her diet. But she dared me to try it for a week “just to see”. I honestly was sure that I would crave a steak by the end of those dreadful 7 days, but I promised I’d do it. I was still not dancing anyways so I didn’t need protein right?
But I stuck to it, most probably because I was still looking for a change in my diet, and to my surprise something shifted: there for the first time since as long as I could remember, I felt light. Not because I lost weight nor because I restricted the amount of food I put in my body, but because the foods I ate were actually fuelling my system. They were nutritious and wholesome and gave me so much energy. I slept better during that one week than I had in years. At the end of a meal I didn’t feel drowsy and like I needed a nap, I could just carry on with my day! I was amazed, but also intrigued and so I began to research the topic. I became a nerd and wanted to read and see everything I could put my hands on. Once again, lies were unveiled, and things I discovered could not be unseen. I never used to care where my food came from, I never really was an animal lover (aaaah sorry!) and I always felt like my own choices would make no difference in the big scheme of things. But after watching documentaries such as earthlings and food inc, I realized how much I did not want to be part of this.
This awakening gave me a strong sense of responsibility and after being so self-centered for many years (do I look ok, will this food make me fat or thin? Me, me, me…) realizing that choices I made every day drastically affected the world around me was a big reality check. Not only did it give me a sense of being connected to the rest of the world after years of isolation but it also made me feel compassion. And by finding compassion for animals and their condition, I somehow started to feel compassion for myself (well this took a while, but a seed was planted) (other interesting choice of word, seed, vegan, get it?). If I could comprehend that it’s not ok that cows are treated badly, why should I treat myself with so much harshness? (not the most obvious thought-pattern I know… but whatever works right?)
Also for the first time in ages I became curious about food again. It was a challenge to adapt recipes and to discover new ingredients. I was excited about making food that people would enjoy and that I could enjoy with them. My body changed, my mind was more focused, and I started to bake again. And that’s when I knew this was gonna be good. I was not scared. I could have a cookie because it is vegan and delicious and it will do me good. Not only as a quick emotional fix like I use to see it, but in the long term (it’s healthy!) and in the big picture (I’m not harming anyone nor the planet).
Often people ask me if I was vegetarian for a long time before going vegan and it makes me smile as I can’t believe myself that I changed from one day to the next (well I made a few exceptions in the first few weeks but within a month I was completely vegan). But what I do know is that this process was much longer: I struggled for years to find a healthy relationship with food, the search was so long and tedious and exhausting, sometimes it seemed so hopeless. I’m not saying that being vegan is the ultimate miracle, I think that I was ready to finally embrace a lifestyle that was good to my body but also good from an ethical point of view. It gave my everyday choices an even more important purpose and thus I felt (and feel) at peace with what I eat. Sure I still have bad days every now and then, but it is nothing like what every day felt like a few years ago. If you had told me at the time that I could ever feel this good, I would not have believed it. But now that I am writing this I actually realize I have recovered. It’s a long road and I don’t think one can find a perfect solution right away. Baby steps. But with a lot of patience and kindness to yourself, when what works for you will come by, you will be ready to recognize it. And then you’ll become good at recognizing those positive things around in general: a healthy meal, a good friend, a loving partner, a job that makes you thrive. It doesn’t just get better from there. It also gets great.
At the start of her post, Claire said “I hope with all my heart that it can somehow resonate with some of you, and give some hope, encouragement and maybe even a little faith to some readers.” I’m positive that the post will do just that for so many people who read my blog. It was difficult for me to read about Claire’s realization that her body was deteriorating; it reminded me of my final relapse, when for the first time I looked in the mirror and saw how frail I’d actually become, and I felt such a sense of pity and sadness for what I’d put my body through. I also felt a sense of elation as Claire described her journey into plant-based diet. I so relate to the experience she had of recognizing that food can be a source of beautiful nourishment. I’m happy that a plant-based diet has anchored her recovery and allowed her to move forward.
I’d love to hear what spoke to all of you. Thank you, Claire, for sharing with us. If you’d like to learn more about Claire’s work and life, you can check out her website.
I’ll be back on Sunday for Weekend Reading. Happy Friday!
I’d love to hear what spoke to all of you. Thank you, Claire, for sharing with us.I’ll be back on Sunday for Weekend Reading. Happy Friday!