Hey friends. As I mentioned over the weekend, it’s NEDA week. Last year, I created a lot of long and thoughtful posts for this event. This year, I’m keeping it simple. Rather than ruminating on eating disorders in any abstract way, I’m simply sharing my own green recovery story.
Green recovery began in 2011. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first invited CR readers to share their recovery stories, but the series quickly took on a wonderful life of its own. Green recovery posts have become a safe space for us to share, reflect, and encourage each other.
I’ve thought about creating my own submission for a while now, but every time I sat down to write something I found myself struggling. My ED history, as you’ll see, is long, and it involves multiple chapters that occurred in multiple phases of my life. My recovery story isn’t simple, either: it happened in waves, each one stronger than the one before, and it was anything but straightforward.
This afternoon, I finally sat down and put it all on paper. I hadn’t intended for this to be a faithful narrative of everything that happened; I wanted it to be more of an analysis than a retelling. But I wanted that in part because it would allow me to share less and guard more. I’ve tried to keep some of the details–especially the ones that might be overtly triggering–private, to focus more on the consequences of my disorder than on my methods. But some details did make it in, and I guess it goes without saying that this post merits a trigger warning. I hope you’ll read, though, and that you’ll share your thoughts.
My green recovery story begins unremarkably. I was a healthy kid with a big appetite, and I grew up in a home where food was celebrated and savored. Between the ages of eight and ten I gained some pre-adolescent weight. It wasn’t much, but any body changes can feel traumatic for girls this age, and the fact that certain family members had started to tease me about my appetite certainly didn’t help. I started to become hyperconscious of my body. I found it monstrous and ungainly, and I often fantasized about looking different. At times, I even became preoccupied with fantasies of self-harm—slicing into my flesh to cut away the excess fat.
The summer I turned twelve, my pediatrician remarked upon the fact that I’d gained weight, and advised me to lose a little. He didn’t say much about how I should go about doing this aside from portion control.
That was the summer I taught myself to diet. I brought to this project the same focus and determination that I brought to everything. I learned to count calories, to split up my portions, to winnow away indulgences. I lost weight, quickly. I continued losing weight well into the following school year, picking at romaine lettuce and balsamic vinegar during my lunch period, hiding my breakfast in my backpack so that I could throw it away when I left my home in the morning, skipping recess. My mother became alarmed, and her concern was echoed by my pediatrician when he saw me a little less than a year later. I understood that adult figures in my life were worried, so I dutifully gained back some of the weight that I’d lost. But the realization that I could manipulate my body with food had left its mark.
For the remainder of middle school and high school, I cycled in and out of restriction. I wouldn’t classify myself as “sick” during this time, but I would say that I had a troubled relationship with food. I avoided cafeteria lunch; I developed anxieties about eating in other peoples’ homes. I thought about food all the time. I read nutrition labels obsessively, and I often skipped meals. I ate well at home, but I welcomed the chance to flirt with hunger when I was on my own.
Needless to say, my restrictive tendencies worsened when I got my first taste of autonomy in college. I hovered above any serious incidents for the first two years, but my eating habits were apparent to others, and they became a source of concern among friends. Once, catching my wide-eyed stare as she ate some popcorn at the movies, a friend asked if I’d like a handful. I shook my eyed. She sighed and looked at me with a mixture of frustration and sadness.
“Why do you always say you’re not hungry when it’s so obvious that you are?” she asked.
Early in my junior year of school, I was confronted both with a family crisis and the dissolution of the relationship in which I’d been entangled on and off since my freshman year. This was the start of my first “clinical” bout of disordered eating. I lost weight, stopped menstruating, and was constantly cold. I came home from class and sat on my own radiator to stay warm. I was ravenous, all the time; at one point, I ate food from my own trashcan in the middle of the night. Hunger kept me awake, so much that I sometimes took Tylenol PM to sleep. I also took diet pills, caffeine pills, and energy drinks. I discovered the elliptical machine that year, too.
What amazes me looking back on this year is not what I forced my body to endure. It’s how my personality was transformed. I became furtive and private. I went from having a robust social life and a full circle of friends to spending most of my time alone in my dorm room. I was irritable and defensive; I lost much of my humor and readiness to laugh. I became, honestly, pretty dull. If you’d held a mirror up to me during that time, I’m not sure I would have recognized myself. The memory of that year frightens me still, because it’s evidence of how profoundly eating disorders erode our true selves.
I recovered that spring, but my motivations had more to do with sparing the people in my life worry than any genuine acknowledgment of how unwell I’d become. In my mind, I’d taken weight loss too far, and I was simply correcting it. On some level I knew that my relationship with food was disturbed, but I had little interest in changing it. I simply didn’t want to be the focus of attention, and I didn’t want to appear sick to others. (To appear sick would be a flaw, a sign of poor self-control, and this was my worst nightmare.) Beyond that, I’d never wanted for people to know how hard I worked at maintaining my thinness. My fantasy was to be rail thin while also being—or at least seeming—perfectly well adjusted. To be a paradox, in other words.
In spite of all this, I did recover, and I went on to have one of the happiest summers of my life. I got a job that was demanding and thankless in a lot of ways, but exciting and glamorous in others. Each Friday I would drive upstate with my best friend, where we’d sit on her family’s porch and listen to crickets and Van Morrison. I felt, for the first time in a long time, carefree. I entered my senior year with a healthy body, and much to my own surprise, I felt OK carrying around some new weight. It was a little uncomfortable, to be sure, but in indulging my appetite for food I’d also been able to indulge my appetite for life experience, for friendship, for intimacy, and for fun.
The next few years were full of change; I graduated and embarked upon life as a young adult. I had my first big love affair and got my first job. It was as wonderful and intense and as turbulent a time as I imagine many peoples’ early twenties to be. My relationship with food was similarly dramatic. In many ways, this was a good period, a period of plenty. I was socializing a lot, as all young editors do, and with that came food and drink. At the same time, I resented my indulgences. I felt that I’d lost something, a rock-hard discipline that had once upon a time given me a sense of identity. Over time, I started to develop purging habits—obsessive exercise, days of under-eating or juice fasting to compensate for a period of overindulgence, enemas, and laxatives.
These habits worsened as I transitioned from the gaiety of my post-college years into my mid-twenties, when life started to suddenly feel real. My initial excitement and pride at landing a job had given way to a predictable set of worries about my future and self-worth as an editor. Many of my friends were moving away or moving confidently onto grad school, and I felt discomfited by the tides of change. I was in love with a person—a much older person—who loved me, too, but somehow couldn’t create space for me in his life. I came to realize that our affair was finite and that I’d have to be the one to leave. I was frightened and sad, and I felt very much alone
So, I reverted back to the habits that had always given me so much comfort: restriction and control. This was my worst relapse, in physical terms: my lowest BMI, my most pronounced physical symptoms. It was also my shortest relapse, for which I’m grateful. And in spite of the fact that it was my most difficult and circuitous recovery, it was ultimately the one that lasted. This was the first time that I was able to see my disorder for what it was and recognize what was at stake in the recovery process. As a younger person, my disordered periods had felt oddly inconsequential: on some level I knew that restriction was unhealthy, but the symptoms I suffered as a result weren’t quite drastic enough to scare me. On the contrary, I was always amazed at the fact that I could eat so little and be so incredibly productive, such a good student, so active.
Now, all of a sudden, I could see the impact that restriction was taking on my body. I was tired all the time, I was diagnosed with osteopenia, my hormones were woefully low, and my digestion was so poor that I routinely had to leave work because of cramping. I knew it had to stop. I also knew that I had more to lose than I had in the past: deeper and more longstanding friendships, a career, and the knowledge of what it felt like to give and receive love. Life felt meaningful and poignant and worth cherishing in ways it hadn’t before.
And so, for the first time, I sought out some professional support in the form of a wonderfully insightful therapist. I was resistant to her at first, claiming that I’d come to see her for reasons other than the real reason, the only reason. But over time, she encouraged me to face my problem head on, and I did. I began weight restoration and started eating regularly again. It was difficult, but I worked hard at it, and I began to climb my way out.
Along the way, I found veganism. Most of my regular readers know the story: a GI doctor advised me to eliminate dairy, and it made a big difference. This led me into veganism, and I fell instantly in love. Veganism showed me that life was bigger and more connected than I’d ever realized. It made me aware of the impact I could have on the world through compassionate and loving food choices. Perhaps most importantly—at least in the short-term—veganism allowed me to fall back in love with food.
This was the time when I discovered vegan food blogs (the PPK, Bittersweet, Vegan Yum Yum, and so many others). It was a revelation—all of these women who loved the experience of crafting food and who also ate in alignment with their values. For the first time since my pre-disorder years (which is to say the first time in over a decade), I started to take pleasure in food. I taught myself to cook (I couldn’t do much more than scramble egg whites, assemble salad, and make smoothies at the time). I allowed myself to admit that I love food and I love to eat and I am worthy of nourishment.
But here’s where my recovery story has a bend in the road. Before I entered longterm recovery, I took a brief detour into the realm of orthorexia.
Soon after I discovered veganism, I also discovered raw food. At first, it was a wonderful experience, and it only enriched the love affair I was having with cooking. Raw food was unlike anything I’d ever seen: bright, colorful, fresh, and somehow so connected to the earth. It was also uniquely innovative, and it introduced me to ingredients I’d never tried before. It drew me out of my longstanding phobia of fats, and allowed me to indulge in rich and nurturing meals with a sense of peace and calm. I was so enamored with raw food that I first had the idea to start this blog as a way of sharing my recipes.
But my foray into raw foodism had complex consequences. At first it was all delightful desserts and sumptuous dishes piled high with nut pate, but the deeper I moved into the raw community, the more I was exposed to various nutritional theories that hinged on the vilification of something or another: fat, sugar, oils, acidic-forming foods, poorly combined meals, whatever. I wasn’t far along enough in my recovery to resist the lure of these theories. I began restricting again, not because I wanted to lose weight (on the contrary, I had never fully weight restored after the last relapse, and I was ashamed that the process wasn’t happening more easily), but because I was becoming genuinely persuaded that everything save for greens and avocado was “toxic” or unhealthy.
Fortunately, there was a turning point. I distinctly remember sitting down to dinner one night, probably the hundredth kale and avocado salad I’d eaten in a row, and feeling profoundly sad. When I first went vegan, I had delighted in hearty tofu scrambles, awesomely filling grain bowls, incredible and diverse bowls of oatmeal, tempeh and avocado sandwiches, creative casseroles, and so much more. When I first got into raw food, I had allowed myself to savor sumptuous raw cheesecakes, decadent raw brownies, creamy, sweet smoothies and rich raw lasagnas. What had changed? How had my diet become so constrained? Worst of all, was it possible that my new fixation on health had taken me to a place no less impoverished than the food prison I’d dwelled in as an anorexic?
That was the night I snapped out of things, and in a lot of ways, I see it as the true start of my lasting recovery. I took a few important, proactive steps: first, I went back to therapy. Second, I made a very conscious choice to dissociate myself from some of the extremist dietary philosophies that I’d become so trapped by. This meant distancing myself from certain online communities and actively, forcibly editing my own reading material to remove the blogs and books that enforced restrictive ideas about food. Finally, I decided to become serious about my own nutrition education. I got my nutrition certification, and I taught myself to read nutrition studies closely.
In many ways, nutrition science was my saving grace. I’m often asked how I “unlearned” some of my orthorexic theories, and the answer was that I educated myself in their scientific shortcomings. Nutrition science does not support the idea that it’s healthy to subsist on a small handful of “pure” foods, nor does it validate extremism. Time and again, the nutrition research we have supports moderation, balance, and variety—things I lost sight of when I started to winnow down my diet. Anorexia scares and saddens me, but in many ways—at least in the context of my own story—I find orthorexia more frightening, because it is so monstrously deceptive. Whereas I never fooled myself that my anorexia was founded in anything other than the desire to be thin, orthorexia perverted and manipulated what was initially a positive impulse: the impulse to be healthy. It slipped under my radar in ways that still baffle me, and it took me a long time to write about it because I found it so difficult to reconcile how completely the experience suspended my own self-awareness.
The rest of my recovery story is a very fortunate one. With the help of therapy, friendship, continued nutrition education, and a serious commitment to savoring the pleasures of food as well as its health benefits, I made my way to where I am now. My recovery has been as complex as any recovery—it’s a journey, and I’m always humbly surprised by new revelations or discoveries that happen along the way. But I’m proud to have maintained a healthy body and a conscious, self-caring mindset for many years now.
When I look back at my disorder and its evolution, there are of course things that I regret. I regret all of the things I didn’t do because of my disorder, all of the invitations I said no to, the dinners I turned down, the experiences I avoided because I didn’t want to eat the food. I regret the concern I caused my loved ones. I regret the food I never ate, the flavors I didn’t have a chance to savor. But one of the nicest things to have emerged in my recovery is a truly wonderful relationship with food, and I think it’s all the more precious because it is so hard won. Body image is still a complicated issue for me, sometimes problematic, but food isn’t anymore. My love of food anchors me in recovery, and I think it always will.
A few things stand out to me as I survey the highs and lows of this story. One is how deeply linked my disorder was to fear in general, and fear of adult freedom in particular. All of my ED bouts happened on the cusp of transitions, steps toward greater maturity. I think that apprehension of my own autonomy frightened me (the Marianne Williamson quote comes to mind—except in this case it wasn’t my own power that scared me, but rather my own power of choice). The disorder gave me a place to hide, and it was also a way of abnegating adulthood, personal responsibility, and self-care. When life felt confusing or vast or dizzyingly open-ended, anorexia created an illusion of shelter. To this day, the moments that challenge my recovery the most involve uncertainty or an abundance of choice. It’s my job in those moments to seek out safety in ways that don’t involve self-control. Human connection is one safe space. Therapy is another. Ironically, nourishing myself through food has become my favorite ritual of safety and comfort. Times have changed.
Relatedly, I’m struck by how deeply my recovery efforts have been linked to the desire for a bigger, fuller, and richer existence. For me, appetite for food has always reflected a greater appetite for life. If anorexia and orthorexia served as my vehicles for avoiding life and its many possibilities, then recovery has been my pledge to embrace life fully, even when it’s uncertain. Accepting nourishment in the form of food has helped me to the other sorts of vital nourishment that life has to offer: love, connection, pleasure, and joy.
Finally—and most relevantly to green recovery—I’m so grateful that I found veganism. Today I had lunch with a friend, a woman who is also vegan and also a veteran of eating disorders. We were speaking candidly about the ways in which veganism can be a healing tool. We also spoke about the complex gray area, the cases in which veganism might be used as a way to sublimate or perpetuate the disorder. In my mind, I’ve always felt sure that my initial impulse to go vegan was absolutely untainted by the urge to restrict. But today, as I wrote out this narrative, I wasn’t 100% sure. How can I say with rock solid certainty that I wasn’t just a little pleased to have a new set of things that I didn’t eat? At that point in my life, I was so accustomed to shaping my identity around restraint; it may be optimistic to think I could have gone vegan without at least some of that tendency at work. Fortunately for me, veganism kicked open the doors to lasting recovery, and it was without a doubt the single best decision I’ve ever made.
At lunch today, my friend and I spoke of how important it was for us during recovery to catch a glimpse of a bigger, broader world. Eating disorders are so isolating and myopic; it was crucial for me to see how much existed outside of the box I’d created for myself. I don’t only mean all of the beauty that existed on the outside; I also mean the suffering and the pain and the harsh realities. Learning about animals’ plight was my first step in developing a more humane perspective, a greater desire to look beyond my own problems and send my energy out into the world. It gave me an important sense of perspective, and it motivated me to redirect my focus away from my own obsessions and toward a cause. Within the realm of food, it showed me that eating is not an isolated act; when we sit down to a meal, we make choices that impact our animal neighbors and the planet as well as ourselves. Having spent years thinking only food only within the context of how it would affect me and my body, this was a seismic shift.
As I put this all on paper, I tried to think about how I’d like to conclude. I thought I’d mention some of the things that keep me grounded in my recovery. Human connection is one. Secrecy and isolation were always hallmarks of my disorder, while intimacy and trust were antidotes to it.
Yoga is another. During my disorder I experienced sensations of disconnect from my body, no doubt the result of so many years spent battling and denying my appetites, my needs. Yoga has forced me to inhabit my body, to feel and touch and look at it. It was a difficult practice to cultivate for that reason, and I nearly quit when I first got started with it, but it has changed my life.
I believe that storytelling in all of its many forms—writing, theater, dance, drama, and more—can be a healing tool. I found tremendous power in learning to call my disorder by its name and speak about the experience openly. I continue to be motivated and inspired by the narrative act, which is why I’m glad I chose to share today. The more of us speak up, the safer and stronger this space becomes.
Finally, and most importantly: this blog has kept me grounded in my recovery. I was still struggling with orthorexia when I began Choosing Raw. It took me a while to recognize that, and when hindsight brought it into relief I felt such guilt. I know that my approach to nutrition when I started blogging was restrictive, and I’m sure it was triggering to some. I’ll always regret this. Still, the fact that my blogging years have coincided with my ongoing recovery have meant that I can share my process publicly, and I’m glad about that. I like to think that I’ve been able to address some of the realities of the recovery process, to demonstrate that it is not a neat or a tidy experience. It is messy and full of complexity, and the more honest we are about that, the better equipped we’ll all be to deal with it. Blogging has compelled me to stay real with myself and with others. And the dialogs on this blog have enriched my understanding of my own history immeasurably.
In other words, I couldn’t have done it without you all. Thank you.
And that, I think, is where I’ll wrap things up. NEDA week continues until Saturday. I encourage you all to do whatever you can to spread awareness and lend support, whether that’s having a loving conversation with someone who’s struggling or speaking up about your own experience for the first time. If you’re struggling right now, please know that you’re not alone. Know that recovery is possible, and know that life is so much richer on the other side.
Leave a Comment
Oh Gena. I just discovered your blog. I am a Spanish who moved to the US two years ago. I’ve suffered bulimia for more than 20 years now. It is so sad…. Being an omnivorous for all my life, the decision of changing to a plant-based diet came last summer. My initial motivation was, of course! Loosing some pounds, but the truth is that I started loving this way of cooking, the respect towards animals and the amazing flavors I had not enjoyed never as a meat eater. It was good for months, but with my ups and downs: restricting oils, sugars, gluten… It is like a roller coaster, and I am not still recovered.
I admire you and your story. For me, I am much better than years ago but food is still my obsession, in one or other way.
Now, my therapist has told me it is not good to have food restrictions. I agree with her, but my only license is cheese sometimes. Anxiety is my worst enemy, so in stressful weeks… You can imagine. And then the guilt. And more restrictions to “balance”…. oh, it is sooooo frustrating…
I’ll read all your posts and follow you. I like your wise words and loved reading your story.
You have a new fan here.
My best wishes!
Thanks for sharing this! Must have taken you quite a while … to write it in such a way.
Your story is a beautiful one, much like the transformation of a butterfly. You had a hard time overcoming things, but transitioned into this being that radiates health & happiness. I am so grateful that you shared your story. I’m sorry I’m so late reading it, but I was worried it would be triggering to me, so I put it off. It had the opposite effect, it is empowering. Some parts of our stories are eerily similar and I read with relief to discover I’m not alone (especially the part about orthorexia).
“Whereas I never fooled myself that my anorexia was founded in anything other than the desire to be thin, orthorexia perverted and manipulated what was initially a positive impulse: the impulse to be healthy.”
I had the same thing happen to me. It’s a tricky beast all of this ED stuff.
I want to thank you for starting the Green Recovery stories so people have a safe place to share about something that tends to have a bit of a stigma associated with it.
I’m glad to see you have triumphed and are humble in your recovery. I’m writing my story for you now =)
I greatly appreciate the beautiful and brave reflection that you’ve shared here. As someone who was also involved in the “deep tissue cleansing” wing of the raw community in NYC, I also found it difficult to extricate myself from its unscientific framework and was met with shaming criticism when I spoke to the persistence and exacerbation of key health concerns. I find it validating to see your exposure of some of the limitations of these approaches and the ways that you model a healthier relationship to food in your work today. If only more people in that community could read this and find strength for charting another path. Thank you!
Gena, thank you so much for sharing this. I’ve been meaning to comment for many weeks now, and putting it off. Being able to bring these painful memories to light, to put down all the phases of recovery and relaspse into words, and to figure out what you’ve learned from them is essential, I think, and so incredibly challenging. Sharing your story, and sharing others’ green recovery stories, has been very helpful to me. It’s been so many years since I thought I had recovered, but only this last year did I realize there are still more phases of recovery to be worked through. In my latest phase, I’ve learned how powerful it is to be glaringly open and honest, and how just the process of doing so invokes more intensive healing. Thank you!
Gena – as a reader and fan for years now, this post is my most favorite to date. I love how through are darkest days we choose to see and share the light it has shed on us. As a former bulimic and overall bad outlook on food, it has been the hardest obstacle I have dealt with… and continue to deal with.
Thank you for your rawness. I love you.
Just…thank you. Your post has been sitting, patiently, in my inbox waiting to be read as I’ve poured myself into work these past few weeks.
I hope, deeply, that your regret about the potential effect your approach may have had when you started it fades quickly and into love. The path you have taken since then can only have helped provide a safe, healing space and a guided path for anyone who has been with you since back in those days. The impact you have had is already, and will continue to be, so much greater than any perceived error (IMHO). You could never have become such a powerful healer and guide had you not been through all that you experienced.
The first time you wrote about orthorexia (that I remember, sometime this past year), I cried. Then I slapped my forehead with relief that what I was going through was a real thing and that I wasn’t losing my mind. I found veganism, like so many people in this community, in a search for greater health and in recovery from health issues (although not technically from ED – was seeking to lose weight, weaning off an SSRI and years of BC). But I got lost along the way. Really lost. Didn’t recognize myself lost.
Some of it was from missing some key nutrients in sufficient enough quantities in my lifestyle (B12, iron, protein and DHA/EPA), but I think much more from how quickly I got trapped in the restrictive result that came from wanting so SO deeply to only put the healthiest things in my body. The lifestyle that was supposed to be healing me, it seemed, had turned on me and food was ruling my life.
What you said in your story rings so true for me:
“I find orthorexia more frightening, because it is so monstrously deceptive. Whereas I never fooled myself that my anorexia was founded in anything other than the desire to be thin, orthorexia perverted and manipulated what was initially a positive impulse: the impulse to be healthy.”
Ah, but now I’m just filling up your comments section…perhaps I’ll send in my own green recovery story one day.
For now, suffice to say there are hardly words to thank you for what you do. At least from where I stand, it seems you’re about as clearly on your path as anyone can be. You always seem to say or write about what’s been on my (and I’m sure many others) mind. You share those things that it takes guts to share, that your readers need to hear, and your empathy shines through in a really special way. Thank you. <3
Clap clap clap clap! It’s really wonderful that you remain open and changing. When we allow the wisdom of our experience to be our guide, the whole world softens… we can appreciate all the layers. We can continue to unfold and stand boldly in our truth. Thank you for sharing this with such courage, honesty and integrity! Namaste’
Thank you so much for sharing your story Gena. I’ve been reading Choosing Raw for a long time and it’s been wonderful to see you blossoming over the years, even more so as our journeys run so very parallel (in all their messiness!).
I hugely relate to the sideways step into orthorexia but thankfully am in a good enough place these days to be able to take a broader view of health and mostly overlook the endless stream of diet-related talk and trends which crop up every other week.
Thank you also for your honesty about body image struggles. It’s interesting that you found yoga so helpful. I’ve never done regular yoga myself but perhaps it could have a similarly positive effect for me….
It makes me happy to see you so happy these days and truly embracing life, love, happiness and health!
Still waiting for you to come to London 😉
P.S. Hurrah for finding veganism! So what if you maybe initially came to it for the “wrong” reasons.)
Such perfect words. Your story is so relatable, and your telling is so touching. Thank you for being so candid. I think that with things like eating disorders, we often want to jump to helping people before we are fully recovered ourselves – and I feel that often times it is this desire to help others that really creates the fertile ground for a lasting recovery. I feel much the same way – I want to stay recovered not only for myself, but because I want to be an example to those still in the thick of it – that recovery is possible, and that it is joyful. Thank you for your sharing. <3
Gena, you are such a beautiful and strong human being- thank you for posting. Your piece is so honest and I hope others who are in the process of recovering find hope in it. xo
I can’t help but ask, the “greens and avocado”- Natalia rose, right? I had originally found your blog through her website. Her principles left me with years of questioning what was and was not right for my body, hating my body (because the picture of health can only be quite slim) and ultimately giving up what wAs once so important in my life- veganism.. I started veganism when I was 16 found raw foods when I was 20 shortly after found Natalia rose. When I went vegan I had a very healthy relationship with vegan food. After I had found Natalia roses books website and online community I started questioning whether vegan was right at all because as you say you were really only allowed greens and avocado. I fasted all the time, was at my lowest weight ever and was t really happy. When I started training for a 600 mile bike tour, I gave up on vegan. Between the ‘truth’ that she wrote about, my trainers persistently telling me I woildnt be able to complete the ride as a vegan, and my own inability to see through everything and stay grounded in my values, I adopted her program fully- meat and dairy included. I injured my knee on the ride, but stayed with her diet and ate the amount she recommended of everything (5 eggs are ok so long as they’re well combined, right?). I gained about 35 pounds, and hated myself even more. Eventually, I just didn’t like eating meat but didn’t want to go back to vegan (as she says, it’s not about labels).. Fast forward a year or two and I was sick of always defending vegans (I always told myself if I ever had kids I would got back to veganism) and being called a hypocrite because I wasn’t one and I finally decided to align myself with my values once again. (Still no kids btw) it was the best decision I ever made and feel even more grounded then ever, because now I know the information that’s out there and the effect it can have if you give it too much of your attention. I remember going back to your blog and noticed you were no longer following food combining. I emailed you twice, about food combining and whether or not it was ok to eat beans. Your blog and response helped me get back to a healthy relationship with food and to enjoy a vegan diet without cutting particular food groups out (grain, beans etc). I will never forget how much I hated my body and believed the only way to stay slim was through regular fasting, food combining and excessive exercise. I’ve changed my focus, and always remember now that I’m not just vegan because I believe its best for me, but for the enviornment and the animals who won’t be hurt at my expense. Thank you, for this blog, and for helping me get back to beans- they’re my favorite 🙂
great writing! inspirational.
Thank you for sharing your story – sounds like a tough path to follow and it takes a lot of courage to recover and then share your story. I saw this article in our Australian newspaper and just thought it might be of interest that one of the top politicians in Australia is someone who battle anorexia as a teenager – http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/kate-carnell-shares-story-of-her-lost-teenage-years-after-anorexia-battle-20150302-13t0lq.html
What a beautiful post Gena – thank you so much for sharing your journey and being an inspiration to so many. Your honesty is so incredible……and I love that you could share – and ultimately (I hope) accept , that when you began the blog you were still struggling more than you were aware of at the time. It only adds to the fiber of this blog, the power to heal, the ability to be true, real and open – which is ultimately what is most healing – the ED has no power when we are in that space.
Thank you for sharing YOU, for your courage and your integrity.
So much gratitude to you 🙂
Thank you for sharing the story. I can relate in so many ways. From the fighting hunger, to rejecting the need for help and trying to persuade myself that what I was doing wasn’t actually hurting me, I understand. Looking back now, it amazes me how I still managed to function on days when I was eating so little and working out so much. At the time, I thought of it as testimony to my body being really strong, but it was really a sign of how weak I was and that getting through the day was actually a big accomplishment. I couldn’t deny that there are days when I feel less than happy with my body, but those feelings are nothing compared to the dark days of my ED. Thank you for being so inspiring here and being so open, honest and raw about your experience.
Incredible, Gena. Such a fighter. Such an inspiration. I’m so grateful that our paths have crossed. Love you! xo
Gena, thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s so beautifully written, and incredibly open, sharing, and poignant. I’m sure they were not such easy words to write, and the self-reflection required must have been a powerful thing. I particularly appreciate your words on walking the line between anorexia and orthorexia, as it’s something I see many people struggle with, yet many people are unwilling to acknowledge the potential damage of orthorexia. Thank you for sharing your story, and your beautiful spirit with us all!
Gena, thank you so much for such a vulnerable, thoughtful, hopeful post. I have not struggled with disordered eating personally but friends have, and this post (as well as many others in the series) have been so helpful to me in understanding them.
The part of your story that was most triggering for me – if I can put it that way – was your reflection on how it all began for you, in late elementary school. As the mother of two very young children, I felt a real sense of panic when I read that part. I hope we are raising them in a warm home where food is a source of joy and a means of connecting deeply with one another, and I am intentional (if not always successful) about not letting the table be a battlefield.
I wonder if you would be willing to share your own thoughts, or what you’ve seen in your research, about what parents can do? Are there any “best practices” in prevention/early intervention (those phrases sound so clinical…) I can read more about? Perhaps this question is too difficult; please forgive me if I”m out of line in asking.
This is such an inspiring and rich post, Gena. I can’t thank you enough for sharing, and it came at a very necessary time for me; so much so that you inspired me to share my own story, which for many years I have tried to gloss over. You raise so many insightful points that never get mentioned, and I hope your post gets read far and wide as I know it will help anyone who reads it. Thanks again and here’s to a lasting recovery!
Gena, you touched on so many things here…the danger of extremism (which is echoed everywhere from nutrition to religion to politics), the true sources of healing (from any emotional ailment!) of openness, self care, and love. And you talked about an issue that is multi-faceted in a way that is clear and straight forward, but without reducing or diminishing its complexity. Brava 🙂 My sister struggled with forms of anorexia and orthorexia for years, and her nutrition education was also her saving grace, though I know for many it can have the opposite effect…thanks for the thoughtful insights and honesty!
thank you for being so candid and honest in your portrayal of your journey. my sister suffered with an ED for many years and when she was in recovery, we promised each other to always be honest, that if the family was concerned about her and we asked her how she was doing she would be honest with us. we didn’t have unrealistic expectations of this process being an isolated one with no relapsing, but rather we expected this to be something we tackled together for many years to come. she’s always impressed me, but i know that she still struggles, and reading your story is a comfort. i introduced her to your blog and i know she’s found it to be a resource as well as a welcomed community. thank you and i’m proud of you.
Oh dear, this made me cry buckets. Thank you for sharing this, Gena, such a beautifully written story!
This is such a beautiful memoir of ED journey– you did it again!! As you know, I can obvies relate on SO many levels which is why I think we have such a strong connection personally and professionally :). I was a faithful reader of yours in the young days of CR– and it’s been such an honor to observe the various stages and climax it has taken on. Crazy how it’s aligned so timely with my own ED recovery, too, and where I stand today. I can’t even express how incredibly grateful I am to have you and this authentic strong community of various stories, backgrounds, voices and takes on this crazy wild and precious life we navigate about. I rekindled my love for plant- powered fuel as a means of stepping into the next chapter of my recovery; letting down the orthodox walls, layer after layers of food dogmas that had been so strongly cemented; and my powerful sense of self discipline that got all the more stronger during my orthorextic stage. Learning to untangle the food dogma chatter and fight for my recovery “head on” has been the biggest challenge for me, being that’s there such a prominent pull towards extremist food philosophies at this time. I’m so grateful for this community, the honesty and openness, the vulnerability, and the chance to find common ground in delighting in vegan nosh and nourishing ourselves in a deeper more connected way. <3
Such a beautiful and powerful story, Gena, and so eloquently shared (as always)! A few things really stood out for me and resonated with me. When I think of my eating disorder I often think of the two-three year period where I was “clinically” ill, but the truth is that I wasn’t completely healthy (in body or mind) for years before that and I think that’s true for many people I’ve met who are also in recovery. It seems to me that more needs to be done during those pre-teen and teen years to help young girls understand what their bodies need and to help them make educated choices about nutrition, while at the same time combatting some of the cultural issues that help promote disordered behaviors. I also really resonated with having less human connection during my disorder (as I too spent a lot of time isolating myself in my dorm room, mostly as a way to avoid the inevitable temptation of eating out with my friends/at parties/etc.) Eating disorders really do take away so much of who we really are, as I know there are so many things I said and did when I was at my worst that are just not *me*. Finally, yoga was something I did for the first 8 months of my recovery (before moving away from my beloved studio), and you stated my own thoughts perfectly. It was a difficult thing to do to try and get in touch with my body, but yoga helped me approach recovery with a gentler attitude and it played a huge roll in helping me maintain recovery as I finished college. Your story is so powerful and I’m certain many people have been touched by it (even before your sharing of the whole story here). I know I have. Thank you for having the courage to recover and to share so much of your hard-earned wisdom here with us. Lots of love! <3
Damn, Gena. I will never be able to thank you enough for all your writings on eating disorders. They so perfectly say many of my thoughts and feelings. Thank you so much.
This was so “raw” and beautiful! Thank you for sharing your story and creating this Green Recovery series. I am so happy to be a part of it because I still find it difficult to speak about my eating disorder with others but your blog has given me a healing space to do so. I can relate to much of what you’ve said here – the paradox of being in a state that attracts attention yet not wanting to cause concern, the isolation and tediousness of anorexia, the deception of orthorexia, regret, loving food but still occasionally struggling with body image, veganism and its impact on my recovery, etc. I don’t know how you manage to capture this all so eloquently, but you do, and your words continually give me courage.
Thank you so much for sharing your story Gena! I’ve found Choosing Raw to be such an inspiration as I’ve journeyed through recovery, and one of the biggest parts of that has been your candid acknowledgement of your eating disorder. This story feels to me as a reader the natural outgrowth of that, and you’ve told it so eloquently. The Green Recovery series has been fantastic, and I feel privileged and humbled to be a part of it!
Wow, Gena. I can’t even imagine how many people will be helped, and inspired, by your story. I am so glad things turned out the way they did in the end for you. . . now we all get to benefit from your wisdom! Disordered eating can be such a challenge and difficulty (as I well know, too), and it’s great to have role models like you who lend hope for all of those out there still struggling. xoxo
This is beautiful. Thank you.
Knowing you and your story for some time now, I am honored and grateful that you continue to, with every word, speak to a new and vital facet of our collectives journeys. So much of my own recovery has been recognizing that existing with the problem while being knowledgeable about it or hyper-analytical about ourselves is like breathing with one lung. It’s only with practice, hard work, and awareness of our fears, that we observe the subtle changes of our subconscious self and shift toward finally being able to breath deeper than we ever knew we could. Acceptance of ourselves then becomes neither a reaction to our future self nor a reaction to the near-past self. Acceptance is watching storm clouds pass and breathing into the other parts of ourselves.
What I’m most proud of you for, is not giving up. I’m proud that you never viewed your struggles as inconsistent with your place and path as an advocate and expert in the field of nutrition, food, and health. I’m proud of your leadership and ability to communicate in a way that shifts our conversations surrounding these topics to a place of safety and truth.
You are loved, dear friend. xo
I am new to your site, and I initially wasn’t going to read your story because I have never suffered with anorexia or any form of ED, so I didn’t think it related to me- or perhaps more accurately, I didn’t think I could relate to you and your story of it. However, I have to completely agree with everyone else when they say how wonderfully analytical, intelligent and warm of a post this was. Beautifully honest- not brutally honest- was what I felt the most. This was so maturely written and I found myself not able to stop reading until I had read it all. Most importantly, though, I think after reading your story, I feel like I can relate to, empathize with (just a little bit), and lend support in just a small, and hopefully helpful, way to others that I knew I couldn’t before. I am no expert in any of the things you talked about, but my heart has been even more softened, and I feel more compassion and understanding anytime I hear about it. Thank you for this post,….really. and thank you for your maturity, and for analyzing it before you sat down and wrote it 🙂 Thank you.
thanks, gina, for sharing your green recovery story. i guess i had never realized that you hadn’t already posted it. also, i love your analogy about the appetite for food vs. appetite for life…so very apt and true. <3
Gena, 1. thank you for sharing so comprehensively and honestly and eloquently, this is a great resource for me to read and to give to others to read.
I feel I have more to say than could/should go here but I want to share a few words. I currently empathise GREATLY with your “bend in the road”, that “hang on a minute – this isn’t what I’m recovering in order to eat…”, and I also agree that this stems from a fear of appetite and growth, the fear of the enormity of the world and ourselves, so by narrowing food in an orthorexic way we can still keep our field of vision limited, smaller and “safer”.
I find it hard to tell my “how I went vegan” story because, although veganism stopped some of my anorexic habits (white fish, prawns 0% yoghurt), it is just as easy to not eat as an omnivore and a vegan, and this change in my diet was in no way redemptive. I went vegan to “test myself” to “see if I can do this” and in yet another way demonstrate my “superiority” to others who said they could never go vegan. I stuck with it, learned about and embraced the ethics and now see it as a silver lining to my restriction (and I like to believe I would have found my way here by another route if I had never got ill). Anyway, this is a much more complex and less charismatic story than “I learned about the suffering and couldn’t contribute any more”….
Finally, I’m interested that you found your way out of the orthorexic habits by learning MORE… I feel like I can’t and wouldn’t want to cut an interest in health, wellness and food out of my life, I just need to be more selective, critical and distanced when I do my research.
Much love and thanks again, as ever I look forward to reading through the comments in a few days!
Very interesting story with luckily a beautiful ending. I am sure this time it will last happily ever after. Well done on inspiring other to follow healthy path. Strongest hug.
Beautiful post, and one that will undoubtedly help many people. I’m so glad you found recovery. I knew you when you started this blog and luckily I still know you now – and it makes me happy to see YOU so happy, vibrant and healthy.
So few people are willing to share the truth of how life evolves, with all the crazy twists and little turns and course corrections. Its so wonderful to read a story that resonates and radiates truth. You are an incredible gift to the world of vegan food, to our fellow animals, and all of us lucky enough to read Choosing Raw. Thank you!!
Wow, Gina, thank you so much for taking the time to reflect and write all this out! You are truly a beautiful soul! XOXO
Go! Go! Go!
This is great (and that top photo is all the happy-making).
I, too, have found blogging—vegan blogging—a valuable tool in keeping me honest with myself. While I don’t kid myself about the importance of my blog, I take it seriously for what it is, an amateur place to help normalize vegan food. Publicly promoting my idea of preparing satisfying vegan food means urges to, so to speak, pick at iceberg lettuce with balsamic when shit gets hard sets off a serious gong in my head. Again, isolation and secrecy vs. engaging with the world. I’m a grown woman who could easily dive into all the destructive behaviors I like, but my vegan food blog gives me one formal public practice for which I can always exercise being healthy so I can affect the world. Such as I do, anyway.
Obviously, there’s a lot more to live for, but in the context of Green Recovery, blogging has been a valuable hobby at times, personally.
GENA. This had me crying grateful tears into my overnight oats. You are amazing and inspiring and have been a huge part of a community that had changed my life for the better! Thank you so much for your own green recovery and for the green recovery platform in general. It is an honor to read, every time.
Such a powerful journey, thank you so much for sharing.
I found your blog 5 or so years ago (never commented before but felt a contribution was in order today), when I was delving in veganism and raw foods and came here for inspiration and information often. Eventually I moved away from such restrictive diets for they were sustaining my obsessive behaviour towards food, that I later identified as orthorexia. After enrolling in holistic nutrition studies, today I’m more about being mindful and listening to what my body has to say than with labelling my dietary choices. It’s all about finding balance between sustainable choices, personal needs and learning to compromise in family and social situations (without becoming stressed!).
For me, the most powerful tool (and catalyst) to transformation and awareness has been yoga practice – it has been, among other things, a lesson in kindness. But I should also mention meditation for helping me identify the patterns and teaching me non-reactiveness; and the last (almost!) 9 months of pregnancy who have shed a new light on my view and attitude towards eating in a softer, more forgiving and relaxed way – a powerful opportunity for personal growth and a lesson in letting go of perfectionism.
Thank you for writing this, and for sharing it so bravely. I see a lot of uncannily familiar things in your story–thankfully, in the recovery as well as in what preceded (and necessitated) it. Reading your blog, especially previous green recovery posts, helped me so much; just seeing, as you say, that no one is alone in this and recovery is possible made all the difference in the world.
Beautifully written, Gena. This week I have been thinking a lot about my own recovery, and I have even started writing it down, and it is HARD. Bravo to you for putting your story, with all of its twists and turns, out there. Like you, I also turned to veganism during my recovery.This week I have spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not this was a form of restriction, and it was bothering me, until I just read this post. As you said, “veganism kicked open the door to lasting recovery,” and I could not agree more. Maybe I did become a vegan as a way of restricting my foods, but who cares. I do not restrict my food intake anymore and there is no need to dwell on the past. Following a vegan diet has changed my relationship with food, the animals, and the environment, and I would not want to change that for anything.
Thank you so much for writing this post, Gena — it’s beautifully told and full of such wise and thoughtful insight. When you speak of the blogs that helped shape your relationship with food, and with veganism, please know that when I speak of the same things, Choosing Raw tops my list. xo.
What a wonderful surprise to see your story in this series, Gena. Seeing it all typed out like that was really insightful…I had never realised your story had that many twists and turns. I’ve commented here and there about the parts of your story that are congruent with my own experiences, but today what struck me most were the comments about reclusiveness and recovering to stop other people’s worry. What made EDs so appealing to me, in part, was the desire to be invisible. My loud voice, red hair, quirky sense of style, and active involvement in so many activities always made that difficult. Being a recluse helped me escape that; and when people started noticing the physical symptoms, I quickly restored my weight just to make the comments stop. I didn’t want to be noticed; I didn’t want people to worry about me. I know this isn’t the same for many people who have EDs, but I never relished comments about losing weight. I just wanted to exist without being seen. It’s really sad to think about that, given that human beings are social creatures, but it goes back to your comment a few days ago (maybe in weekend reading?). EDs are largely unglamorous and mostly sad.
Sarah, my situation is like the opposite of yours. Cripplingly shy, I had no idea how to talk to people. After being overweight, I wanted my thinness to speak for me. I thought being thin could be my identity, and no one would ever need anything else from me at a party. I really thought I could go through life being seen and not heard. It took so long for me to realize that I was drowning in numbers and mirrors while everyone else was making a life. I had a perverse idea of glamor, and it was years before anyone around me recognized and attempted to correct it. I wanted to be noticed, but never approached. It worked for a long time.
What a great writer you are! Thanks you for this intelligent, analytical yet warm post 🙂 So glad you healed yourself. I suffered terribly from eds from the age of 14 until 29; anorexia, then orthorexia, then bulimia and sometimes combinations of all of them. I never connected going vegan with it, though, and in the end my love of food and cooking and eating consciously was a great help in my recovery. It’s 19 years since I finally broke free from the mental torture and physical abuse that is eds and I still give thanks every day that I recovered before I died. The legacy was ruined teeth, low bone density (I think I corrected that) and much wasted time and mental energy. For me, it was thinking about others- the planet, animals, other people, my daughter, that really helped pull me away from my obsession. (At one point I couldn’t even take a vitamin pill without having to run up and down the stairs reoeatedly to “burn it off”.) It had started as I trained in classical ballet and took up dance professionally, again when I went to uni., and I remember creating list after list of lowest calorie foods after every audition I didn’t get through, convinced I was not thin enough, when the truth was I was too thin. I remember my skin turning orange because I was obsessed with carrot juice, and constantly shivering because I was keeping myself cold by eating ice to burn extra calories. It was only when I got pregnant and realised I had to eat properly for the sake of another that I began to recover. Instead of being scared of my growing belly, I loved it! I was awed by what my body could do, and when I went right back into shape after Radha was born I realised that my weight would take care of itself while I got on with the important business of living life and loving others! I never looked back after that 🙂 Thanks again for your sensitive and heartfelt writing and I hope it helps many who are suffering 🙂
Thank you so much for sharing your recovery story, Gena. As you know, your experiences, guidance, and honesty helped me on my on road to recovery when you were my health coach. I’ll never be able to say thank you enough for your bravery and for helping others.
Wow, what a journey! Thank you so much for sharing, I can only imagine how hard that was to share but I know it will help a lot of people. I greatly admire you and think it’s such a gift that you are providing by writing here online! Thank You:)
Thanks so much for sharing. I know as women, we sometimes shy away from letting people see our struggles because we want to prove we can do it all…all the time. So refreshing to read your truth about a personal struggle.
You really hit home for me with talking about how your relapses occurred when you were on the verge of maturing in some way and that you feared autonomy-I think that is what eating disorders are REALLY about. Believe int he power and freedom of having the ability to make your own choices and mistakes. Thank you for this essay x
I love you so much. Thanks for writing this. You are my light – and I’ll always be there to feed your flame.
All my love, always, baby.
As a college student who continues to struggle with anorexia and orthorexia, I thank you for this post. It was so beautifully well-written and I connected with you on MANY of your experiences throughout your childhood and early adult years. It brought tears to my eyes not only because I recognised so many similarities but also because you were able to overcome this illness and live life the way you wanted!
There are some days when I feel as though recovery is so far away because of the occasional slip-up/lapse or having a tough time with weight restoration, etc. Reading your post gave me even more courage to stay strong and fighting for my right to happiness and freedom from Ed. I too have been making daily messages on facebook to spread awareness about eating disorders during NEDAwareness. I’m so happy to have stumbled upon this post.
Thank you so very much.