“Do You Want to Give All of This Up?” Lia’s Green Recovery Story

by Gena on September 19, 2012

IMG_0854 (2)When longtime CR reader (and frequent, always insightful commenter) Lia sent me this Green Recovery story a few days ago, she told me it had taken about a month and a half to write. That probably isn’t unusual—after all, these stories are very intimate—but I had it in my mind as I read Lia’s narrative, and I could see how much of herself she’s put into it

I have yet to read a Green Recovery post that didn’t have at least one sentiment I could relate to (usually more). Lia’s post really hit home—the childhood perfectionism, the many years of struggle, the adoption of a vegan diet to manage IBS, the gradual, thoughtful reconciliation of veganism with an ED history, and then the stunning realization that veganism was not something I could do in spite of my ED history: it was, in fact, related to my history in all sorts of profound ways, and a very real part of my healing process.

I hope you’ll take as much away from Lia’s narrative as I have!


It didn’t seem like a strange thing at the age of 9 to sneak down to the basement where our old scale was and weigh myself. I stopped eating dessert, again. Just for a few months, to get myself under control. I was a very skinny girl, and proud of that fact. It all seemed so casual and obvious to me that I would want to be perfect in this realm, with the idea that perfect equaled thin and thin equaled beautiful. I’m a very competitive person who wants to be the best at everything and this just seemed like another challenge to master.

I was also a proud carnivore, as I had labeled myself. All through my youth, into my high school years, and throughout freshman year of college my favorite meal was lobster bisque, a rare piece of Filet Mignon, and finally a decadent chocolate souffle. With tastes like these, and a general love for food, it should have come as no surprise that I gained the weight that I did. I was never chubby, but no longer the underweight lady I constantly wished to be. After years of loving food but always comparing my body, weight, and pant size to others, I realized there was something wrong with me, and whatever it was, it seemed like it was out of my control.

I was lucky, in a way, that I had my moment of realization early on. Junior year of high school, after years of IBS, overeating, negative self-talk, and a nasty controlling nature, I had my epiphany that something in my head was screwed up about food. It took me until I was 21, 5 years later, to finally understand that it was my negativity and self-view that was the foundational issue. Again, very lucky, and blessed to have grown up with a mom who was all about self-analysis and objective opinions about one’s self. At the time though, I blamed my issues on her, of course. I told the counselor that I had finally worked up the courage to see after not eating for a week that my mother was the reason for my obsessions and harsh self-criticisms.

Those 5 years were filled with a destructive freshman year where I gained a lot of weight and realized I couldn’t read my body’s signals, an Orthorexic boyfriend who got me into restricting my foods severely and losing that weight plus some, an experiment with veganism in culinary school (my chef hated me!), and a big move to Switzerland. The veganism was pursued out of curiosity for baking techniques and recipe enhancement. I figured I could add some of the unorthodox methods of making sauces and baking into an omnivorous menu. I had, by this point decided I didn’t like what I was doing with my actions surrounding food, so I was making a conscious effort to better myself. Who knew how hard it would be!? There were moments I felt like I would always obsess and it was something I just had to accept. I would always hate myself because it was the only way I knew how to make myself do better. I was going to be stuck and this was my reality. But then, my IBS went away after 1 week of vegan eating.

Suddenly, I realized that food really does have an affect on how we function. Obvious now, but a new concept at the time. I stuck with veganism and learned as much as I could about how to develop my culinary abilities in that arena. It was a health choice for me initially, and I got a lot of grief about my sudden, drastic, change in diet. Many people accused me of just trying to restrict more, and veganism did seem like that, even to me, at certain times during my recovery from my disordered way of eating and thinking. But, over time, with some back and forth (deciding to see if I was using it as a restrictive method or if I genuinely preferred being vegan), and a lot of self-love, I came to understand that the lifestyle and I were something akin to soul-mates. The more I became compassionate toward myself the more appropriate being Vegan was. And the more I learned about its health benefits and creature, environment, and planet goodness, the more it became one with who I am.

I also rediscovered my yoga practice and began teaching at my school in Switzerland, I had been practicing on and off since I was 12, but sharing it with others felt amazing. Contributing to the calm and wellbeing of other people made me want to help people love themselves more and more. Compassion is such an important part of living a fulfilling life, but is often written off. I had found my path, so to speak, and I was going to pursue it with the focus and passion I naturally exude.

During the start of my intentional recovery, I began blogging mostly so my parents would know what I’m up to on my travels. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I found wonderful blogs like Choosing Raw and Oh She Glows that reminded me of the human-ness of people: that we can recover, that we can retrain the way we talk to ourselves, and we can use food as a way of giving love and portraying passion through a healthy and glorious medium. I now teach cooking lessons, both group and private, to people who want to add more whole, plant-based foods into their lives, directing the idea of compassion and love, both for ourselves and all living things, to the kitchen and to the foods we eat. I also assistant manage and teach at a yoga studio, where I host most of my vegan cooking workshops.

To me it is clear that veganism has helped me psychologically and physically through my recovery. And though I still have my moments where my mind wants to go back to a destructive way of thinking, I have so much more joy in my life that the “happy Lia voice” can easily step in and say “do you want to give all of this up?” And the destructive voice slouches away a little bit further than before.

It is somewhat surreal to say these things now, as if from a distance, able to acknowledge and identify what it was that was going on. While you’re in the thick of it, feeling helpless and tiny, you can’t see the forest, just the roots you’re stumbling over.


The line that really stuck with me in Lia’s story was, “do you want to give all of this up?”

I think most people with ED’s go through a phase—and maybe this phase lasts the duration of their disorders—where they try to reconcile their disorder with a normal life. I remember coming up with all sorts of plans about how I could eat just enough to avoid confrontation with concerned family members, mask the limited intake somehow (maybe I could say it was related to my IBS? A food allergy? Stomach flu? I’d think of something…), and then stay whippet thin and food-phobic for life, all the while doing everything I thought I was entitled to: socializing, dating, professional advancement, exercise, fun.

It took me so many years to realize that it doesn’t work this way. To fully embrace life, at least in my experience, you need to leave behind the shackles of your fixation with weighing yourself, constantly denying yourself foods you love, adhering to absurd exercise regimens, avoiding restaurant food, avoiding changes in your routines, and shutting out anyone who expresses concern, or encourages you to loosen up. You can cling to your ED, or you can enjoy a rich, full, and unencumbered life. You can’t do both. You may be able to keep up appearances for a while, and may even fool yourself into thinking you can have it all, but sooner or later, you’ll come crashing up against the fact that eating disorders hold you back from living.

Every time I have had a hard moment in my own recovery—stressful situations that goad to start skipping meals, days in which I struggle to accept my body, tensions and problems that I used to resolve by starving—I ask myself “do you want to give all of this up?” “All of this” is my life, which may sometimes be stressful, but is bursting at the seams with good friends, good food, interesting relationships, travel, spontaneity, and the energy and good health with which to embrace it all. Would I want to give it up, all so that I could shrink back into the person I used to be? (Shrink—what an apt word to associate with EDs.)

Not. For. A. Minute.

Thanks for sharing, Lia. CR folks, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

xo

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Lia September 19, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Thanks again Gena for giving us all a place to feel comfortable being ourselves and helping us move forward!

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Molly September 19, 2012 at 6:10 pm

Gena, your conclusion almost brought be to tears. So beautifully put, and so apt. I’ve made significant progress in the last month, but it has been a bad week. I’ll make sure to carry that refrain with me next time I slip into old habits of self-deprication. xo

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Linda September 19, 2012 at 6:30 pm

Can totally understand this. I am a bartender and I get razzed all the time about how I eat. I tell them this “I am 62 years old and do not take any medication for blood pressure or cholesterol. Do you and how old/young are you?”. That usually shuts them up

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hannah September 19, 2012 at 7:03 pm

I feel I need to comment, both to Lia and Gena, to say thank you for a ray of hope. From a place of darkness where “do I really want to give all of this up” means the safety and the defences my anorexia provides, to know that there could be an opposite way of thinking, that there could be a better life, at least shows a glimmer of light for my future.
with love x

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Lia September 19, 2012 at 7:59 pm

I’m glad that this post could be uplifting to you, and know that you do have the power to change your reality. It goes up and down as I’m sure you’ve experienced, but hope and will can take you to a better place.

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Emily September 19, 2012 at 7:16 pm

So eloquently written. I’ve certainly had points where I have tried to convince myself that I will simply be a “happy anorexic.” What an oxymoron. Like you simply stated, you can have an ED or you can live life to the fullest; you cannot have both.

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Abby September 19, 2012 at 7:34 pm

Again, it hits so close to home, although I admit that I’m still very much the “before.” But the fact remains that you can take all the baby steps you want, and there’s nothing wrong with continuing to slowly make prositive steps, but you really have to take a leap of faith. You have to decide you want something more–something better–than the life you continue to lead.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that something other than the way you’ve routinely become can exist, as you get comfortable with being uncomfortable, almost addicted to an unsatisfactory outcome each day only because it’s predictable. But posts like these are a great reminder that something more can–and does–exist. Thank you both so much!

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Lia September 19, 2012 at 8:13 pm

That is a perfect way to say it, “almost addicted to an unsatisfactory outcome each day only because it’s predictable.” And it’s the familiarity that so often tries to pull you back into it. Cheers to that.

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Karen September 21, 2012 at 7:55 am

Right-on! You have to build a life that you grow to love more than you love the safety of your addictive behaviors – which ultimately only stunt your growth and ability to cope with “real” life.

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elizabeth September 21, 2012 at 10:12 am

Abby, I think there’s an analogy with adopting a raw vegan diet. There are those folks who learn about raw foods and go home, clean out the cupboards, buy a Vitamix, and never look back. SAD to 100% raw vegan over night. But the more common (and sensible, to my mind) approach is gentler. Not to worry about removing things from the diet, rather, to focus on adding in–a green smoothie here, a mega salad there, chia pudding here, raw crackers there. I say this despite being convinced what we don’t eat matters more to our health than what we do eat. With the “adding in” approach, the transition takes longer, but eventually, you’re eating so much healthy food, that you “crowd out” the unhealthy food. You just lose your taste for food that’s not life-force generating.

Some people aren’t able to do the leap of faith with recovery. As much as I admire the people who can go away to treatment and come back fifteen pounds heavier and “recovered” in the space of eight weeks, in my case it took eight years. And then after two years of tenuous recovery, I relapsed before recovering for good post-grad school. I personally wasn’t capable of the leap of faith. My ED was too all-consuming, too constitutive of my identity. I think instead of standing on the edge of some high diving board waiting for the courage, inspiration, whatever, to jump in, baby steps are indeed the way to go. Eventually you’re swimming and having so much fun you don’t want to go back. I don’t want to deter you from taking the leap of faith whenever you’re ready! Just saying that I never got there. I didn’t choose recovery. I chose a bunch of other things and recovery came with the package.

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Kim September 19, 2012 at 7:44 pm

Lia – thank you for sharing this. I can imagine it was difficult, but I really appreciate your struggles and am happy with how things have turned out for you. I find I am in a bit of an inner struggle with old restrictive eating patterns and this makes me want to break free.

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Lia September 19, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Thank you Kim! I really appreciate your comment. I’m glad this pushes you to want more from your current experiences because you deserve more!

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Half-Crazed Runner September 19, 2012 at 8:27 pm

The honesty in this post is so pure. It’s great to see how people have pulled themselves out from the grip of an ED. Congratulations! Keep being the strong women you are!

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Khaled September 20, 2012 at 1:09 am

Wow, this is quite a story to read, Lia, having lived with you through much of that and not really having any idea what you were going through. And where, I wonder, did we as siblings get our obsession/pride with being underweight?

Gena, I just wanted to comment on the idea that asking the question, “Do you want to give all this up?” as a means to motivate one to stay on the right path. To me, this seems like some underlying cause has yet to be dealt with. If that question continues to come up, if there continue to be urges to engage in those behaviors or thought patterns, perhaps it is too soon to let one’s guard down? I only mention it because I went through a period after depression when I was asking that question a lot, and I realized that, while my behaviors and some of my outermost thoughts had changed, the underlying beliefs and perspectives about the world and myself had not. So, my subconscious was still trying to make the best of things, based on these self-destructive truths. Realizing that, I got back to work on myself.

My opinion is that, if the mental foundations are aligned correctly, we automatically gravitate towards healthy behavior. We don’t have to force ourselves into it. Tricks and mind games (like that question) work for a while (I used plenty), and certainly behavior is easier to change and therefore a good place to start, but the best way to fight unhealthy habits is to cultivate a personal mindset that simply doesn’t promote their presence in the first place.

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Gena September 20, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Hey Khaled,

I totally see your point, but I think it may be (in my opinion) a slightly overly optimistic perspective on mental health. I agree entirely that one shouldn’t have to ask the question all the time, or even very often (for the record, I didn’t get the feeling that Lia does, and I certainly don’t), but I do believe that people who have had mental illnesses retain some of the tendencies and have moments of setback, even through and after the healing process.

So, yes, “do I want to give all this up?” shouldn’t be the first thing you have to ask yourself every morning. But your remark “if the mental foundations are aligned correctly, we automatically gravitate towards healthy behavior. We don’t have to force ourselves into it” strikes me as too simple a dichotomy between wellness and sickness, before and after. I believe it’s possible to heal from a mental illness to such a degree that it never comes knocking again, but my impression is that many of the folks who have recovered from depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, and EDs still have bad days every now and then when old habits seem appealing, and on those days, Lia’s question is the right one to ask.

G

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Karen September 21, 2012 at 7:50 am

My own experience corroborates with your hypothesis re. the majority…very well articulated, Gena.

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elizabeth September 21, 2012 at 7:55 am

I think the tipping point in recovery may be when you reach the point when you can answer a resounding no to the question, “do I really want to give all of this up?” Even after many years of recovery I retain some ed-like behaviors, notably, a tendency to undereat when stressed and an extreme pickiness about the presentation/quality/taste of my food. But I can guarantee you that my chances of relapse are ZERO. Because at the end of the day, I don’t have the time or energy for an eating disorder. Are there days I think I might want to lose a few pounds? I’d be lying if I said so, but they are few and far between. I’m not willing to give up all the things in my life I’ve gained through recovery, the least of which is a transformed relationship with food (so much so that food has become an immense source of joy in my life, a means through which I nourish myself not only physically but emotionally and spiritually).

Of course the tradeoffs are very different when the ED is all there is, and that’s why recovery took so long for me. Too few people recognize the ego-syntonic functions of anorexia. I’m always reading accounts, even some Green Recovery stories, of people who feel “shame” over their eating disorders. But mine was a source of pride, to the point that it became constitutive of my identity. So giving it up was no easy feat. It was only as my life got richer, fuller, when the ED began to get in the way, that I could see the ways it was limiting my potential. Nevertheless, I let go of it very, very slowly.

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elizabeth September 21, 2012 at 8:01 am

I didn’t mean to submit my comment as a reply to Khaled! Sorry about that. But in reply, I will say that I echo Gena’s thoughts here. I know early in recovery, after I’d put on a few pounds, when I’d encounter someone thinner, I’d console myself with thoughts like, “when I was her age, I was even thinner,” or, “been there, done that,” etc. I think, especially early on, whatever keeps you on the path. Including reminding yourself of all the good things you’ve gained along with the weight. It’s a lot like counting blessings.

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Khaled September 21, 2012 at 10:18 pm

I realize I oversimplified, and posted that comment a bit hastily, without really thinking through the realities. Gena’s description makes much more sense. I think what I was thinking was that it used to feel like all the good stuff was a burden, or a ball and chain, like I owed it to “all this” to stay healthy, and I didn’t want that to be my reason. But like you said, eventually got to the point where it was pretty much a rhetorical question, not for the obligation, but because I wanted it.

Regardless, I am very proud of my sister, and I’m really happy to know she is thriving.

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Emma September 20, 2012 at 3:40 am

THANK YOU! Lia for sharing your story which I’m sure so many of us can relate to, and Gena for your eloquently expressed thoughts. That question “do you want to give all of this up?” is something I definitely try and keep asking myself when I have those destructive thoughts. It’s so true that you cannot have a full and contented life and an ED together however much we kid ourselves it’s possible- the ED sucks away everything, draining our energy, passions and zest for life. So glad to have got to this stage where I can recognize that and keep myself safe.

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Jan September 20, 2012 at 10:29 am

I appreciate these honest stories of strength, and self-analysis. Being 55, I have grown up with food issues, and never realized it could be a problem. Or was it my way of controlling the outcome to be the person I had envisioned? Or did I know the SAD wasn’t the road for me?!
I have recently read some Louise L. Hay and found it very inspirational in dealing with the self-talking, which I never realized could do so much damage. And just to change our whole way of thinking. Because we’ve done something “always” doesn’t mean it’s right. Self love is so hard to learn and without parents who gave compliments of any kind, it’s taking some time. Still a work in progress…like all of us. Continual growth for all of us is all we can wish for.

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Gena September 20, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Thank you for the insight, Jan.

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Kristin September 20, 2012 at 11:27 am

Gosh does this hit home. I’m still pretty early in my ED recovery but that question is one I ask myself constantly. Do I want to give up everything I worked so hard to rebuild? Do I want to give up living and functioning? I had a rapid decline in health to the point where I could barely walk (joint issues, bulging disc in back) or really even do anything (severe fatigue). I still deal with some physical side effects of the disorder but I look at them as one more stepping stone in recovery. It doesn’t happen all at once or overnight. But I was miserable at my lowest weight. I have to consciously remind myself of that. Looking the way I did didn’t bring me any joy. Having more weight on affords me the means to do things I love: run, work out, play with my nieces, go to school, walk the cities. There are bad days that come along with the good and I slip but ultimately the thought of going back to being lifeless is so unappealing. Going vegan after my ED recovery began has been a big help as well. I feel better knowing I put on weight by eating good, healthy, real food. And what’s more rewarding is knowing that this lifestyle gives back in ways we may not be able to see with the naked eye. It’s a huge help on this recovery road.

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Gena September 20, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Keep on fighting, Kristin. We’re cheering you on!

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Lisa @ The Raw Serenity September 20, 2012 at 4:59 pm

This is so raw and pure.
Thank you for sharing this with us.
I can completely relate to you in so many ways.
I am constantly fighting with my ED thoughts that tell me I can have it all while still bent skinny. I know that I can’t because my whole life revolves around meals and anxiety.
It is not worth it at all.
Thanks for giving so many people courage to keep fighting Lia and Gena x

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Lou September 20, 2012 at 11:18 pm

The message that really speaks to me in this piece is that veganism installs a sense of compassion in us (sometimes it takes a while to realise this!) – compassion towards animals, the environment and, in turn, ourselves, our health and well being.

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Lia September 23, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Absolutely! It’s amazing what food and the idea behind food can do for our outlook and emotional view of things.

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Lauren @ The Homeostatic Mindset September 23, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Oh my goodness, that line so resonated with me too… My question was always, “How can I maintain my disorder without it affecting me psychologically?” It was a quest, and one which would never be accomplished- it was NOT possible. Although I’m not vegan, these green recovery posts always give me a boost. They remind me to push forward in my own recovery, the struggles of weight gain, and all of the ups and downs. It’s all worth it. Thanks for having this series- it’s cathartic for both the author and reader. <3

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Lia September 23, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Keep pushing because you’re right, it really is all worth it. So worth it. Freeing. With intention comes reality.

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Erin September 25, 2012 at 12:10 pm

Thank you for sharing your story. While mine is quite different, I am so inspired to make the change to become that better person inside and out. I feel like I did “give it all up” after losing the weight I (thought) I battled (I was never over weight, but there was alwasy more to loose). I started eating healthy and exercising to the point that I was in the best shape of my life at age 40, even competing in triathlons. But then I let my mind get the best of me, and slowly went back down my old road and have gained my weight back and am struggling to get back into my exercise regime. This truely relates to where I feel I am now: “almost addicted to an unsatisfactory outcome each day only because it’s predictable.” I now battle with IBS, have become lactose intolerant and can only eat certain grains.

I am going to post this where I can see and read it daily:
“While you’re in the thick of it, feeling helpless and tiny, you can’t see the forest, just the roots you’re stumbling over.”

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Katie of Vegan Noms October 13, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Thank you, thank you, thank you for showing us your courage by sharing your story, Lia. :) What an honest and insightful look at an incredible journey! You have the support of so many fellow survivors, especially here on Choosing Raw. <3 Much love.

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