Green Recovery: Andrea Falls in Love With How She Feels on a Plant-Based Diet

by Gena on July 20, 2011

Wonderful responses, folks, to the high-raw, vegan manicotti! Tis the season for zucchini and tomato, so I hope you’ll all give the recipe a try. It’s worth mentioning that it’s a very easy one to make ahead of time: you can make each sauce/spread one by one, and you can assemble the day of. The only sauce that should sit around no longer than 48 hours is the red pepper marinara; the cheesy parsnip spread can stay fresh for 3-4 days in the fridge, and the cashew cream and pesto will last for at least a week.

I mentioned yesterday that my esteemed dinner guest on manicotti night was my friend Andrea, who has become one of my closes and most cherished confidantes here in D.C.. I love the range of our friendship: we can transition from conversations about anthropology and literature to gossiping about clothing and boys in a single sitting. Most of all, we both love to eat, and we love to cook, and we love to talk food.

Andrea and I share another connection, which is our recovery from disordered eating. We didn’t share the exact same patterns, but we do share memories of the pain of self-loathing, and we also share the strength that comes from finding good health and peace of mind after that particular kind of struggle. I asked Andrea to share her story some time ago, and she obliged me with this beautiful essay. I hope you all enjoy it; I think you’ll note some interesting echoes of Laura’s Green Recovery story, which I shared a few weeks ago. Hopefully, there will be plenty for us to talk about after you read.


Any way of eating can be used a tool for strengthening one’s connection with herself and fostering self-love or a as a tool for self-abnegation and violence towards herself.  A plant-based diet has served both of these functions for me.  Exercise has served both of these functions for me.

I began restricting my food intake from a very young age. Like many young girls, I accepted the tiny, mad idea that in order to be deserving of love and connection, I needed to be perfect.  I forgot the fact that we are worthy of love and connection simply by virtue of the fact that we are human.  I had a fairly short period of serious food restriction in my early teen years, which I left behind.  But, I never left behind my need to look perfect.  In the name of perfection, I followed almost every diet on the market, obsessively exercised, felt fat when I didn’t exercise, ate foods that I did not need or want to please dates.  Several stabs at veganism were included in this quest for perfection and outward recognition. Not only was veganism touted by several celebrities I looked up to, it allowed me to reject food at family dinners and chalk it up to morals that I only half-heartedly espoused.  My vegan diets lacked in nutrition and flavor, like all of my other diets.  I took up raw foods, “detoxing” and “cleansing,” which, like all of my other weapons in the war against imperfection, I used as a weapon against myself. None of these things got me what I really wanted: a sense of belonging, safety and unshakeable knowledge that I am loved.

Although, I used plant-based diets and exercise to abuse myself over the years, I also received a lot of valuable information and guidance from them, and this guidance has ultimately lead me to what a really want: peace of mind. The euphoria of a good run has always helped me to solve problems and feel strong.  When I run, I feel my entire body, I am completely present, and my mind shuts up. Yoga, which I originally took up so that I could look like Cristy Turlington, left me peaceful, calm and serene. (I’m not going to lie. It also gave me some killer guns.)  Yoga also lead me to meditation, which allows me to quiet my mind to connect with my Self and my intuition. My mind is like a rambunctious, rottweiler puppy with a bone; I will chew on problems until there’s nothing left but a soggy mess. Meditation is like obedience school for my puppy.

A plant-based diet, high in raw vegetables makes me feel good, allows me to think clearly, and supports my physical health. Where, in the past, I have used food and exercise as tools to punish myself for not being perfect, I use them now to connect with being fully alive and fully present. Maya Angelou has said that her wish for women is that they “know they belong to themselves.” When I know that I belong to myself (sometimes we all forget that we do), I am more loving, more productive and I find what I was looking for through my pursuit of perfection. I feel loved and worthy of love. I feel connected with others. Part of belonging to myself is taking care of myself.  Eating an abundant amount of plant foods, getting out for a run and spending time on my yoga mat are all integral parts of my self-care.  They remind me every day of who I really am.

Even within the context of my history, I simply disagree with those in the recovery community who shun veganism based on its potential for abuse. The excess of animal products consumed in this country is the major factor in the degradation of our natural resources, our burgeoning obesity epidemic and the chronic diseases that are now afflicting children. Eating a diet that does not contribute to those problems lessens a lot of the guilt that I used to have around eating because I can approve and feel good about what I put on my plate.  Also, let’s face it, eating a glut of meat and dairy is just not conducive to feeling good.

Caring about where my food comes from has been essential to my recovery. I want to minimize the suffering that my life causes. For me, that patronizing the farmer’s market for most of my food is a part of that consciousness. Every Saturday morning during the summer months, I feel deeply connected to a community of people that really care about food. Although I’m not personally comfortable with labeling my eating as vegan right now for various cultural and family reasons, eating a more plant-based diet has certainly helped me to feel good about food again. My way of eating is definitely still evolving, and I don’t discount the possibility that veganism is in my future. But, for right now, I’m more comfortable with the “plant-based” label.

The essence of my disordered eating was feeling disconnected and wanting approval from the outside.  A plant-based diet and healthy exercise helped me reconnect to myself, forge new connections to a community of conscious eaters wherever I go and approve of myself because I am living in integrity with my values.  Seeing what I eat purely as nourishment was not going to correct my relationship with my food. Falling in love with how I felt as a result of the right diet for me is key in my continued healing.


 

Thank you, Andrea!

So many interesting points to consider here, but let me highlight a few of the ones that struck me:

  1. I love that Andrea is honest about the fact that, at various moments, she abused a plant-based diet as a part of her disordered eating, but that she can also attest to and champion its place in the process of healing. Do any of you share these simultaneous sentiments? Veganism was never a restriction tool for me: it has only ever helped me to fall in love with the food I eat! But I recognize that it can sometimes be deployed unhealthily, just as any other way of eating can, and I think it’s important for us to confront this reality so that we can help each other champion and embrace the lifestyle without fear.
  2. I love that Andrea weaved exercise into this submission! I know that for many of us, exercise is a double edged sword: it carries the potential to make us appreciate our bodies in a profound way, but it can also turn into a chore, an obligation, or—worse—yet another form of self-control. How do you all manage to cast exercise in a healthy role in your lives, without allowing it to consume you?
  3. I love the Maya Angelou quote here—that women should “know they belong to themselves.” Of course, I also wonder why it’s so darn easy for us to forget that. Do you think it’s the fact that our physical bodies are more scrutinized, romanticized, idealized, and criticized than mens’? Is it the fact that we tend to take on more social and familial obligations? What else? How do you stay conscious of the fact that you belong to yourself?

xo

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga July 20, 2011 at 9:21 pm

Andrea thank you for sharing your story so openly and honestly and I am glad you have found peace with your path, your life, your dietary choices and where you’re at with it all.

Knowing I belong to myself. This is HUGE. What a big, bold, important thought and message to remember and ponder. I think this comes with age, with time, with self care, with a yoga practice, with surrounding ourselves with positivity and other strong, centered, and confident women.

Wow..lots to ponder in this post! :)

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Hannah July 20, 2011 at 10:13 pm

What a beautiful post, Andrea! Many of the points she made echoed my feelings and my journey through anorexia/compulsive exercise. Two years ago, I went through a phase of eating high raw/vegan (it was actually after I first discovered your blog, Gena, but I was still in a bad place in my head), and I became anemic and more obsessed with restriction. Now, while living on my own and being responsible for my own food intake, I primarily eat vegan in my dorm kitchen, and when I go out, I do sometimes order dairy (like ice cream), and rarely but sometimes chicken (my mom still gets on my case about protein, which I understand because I am slender and prone to injuries). Part of me is too scared to make the leap and label myself as a vegan, 1) because part of me does not want to “give up” ice cream, etc, because I feel like it would be denial, and 2) I’m not sure if I would adhere to the label truly enough-does that mean I need a new wardrobe with vegan clothing, too? That’s so expensive. I don’t think that, in my state, becoming a full-fledged vegan is appropriate, but maybe in the future. I do, though, feel proud eating a lot of plant-based foods, supporting farmer’s markets, and educating myself about the inhumane treatment of animals (I just finished “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows”–so good!).

I also allowed exercise to consume me, which, consequently, I now suffer five different chronic injuries from. I’ve learned the hard way to take care of my body, and that even doing yoga too much can hurt me. There is a fine line for recovered women to be careful but not too careful, but to not go over the edge-which I see a lot of bloggers doing.

Angelou’s quote is beautiful! I’m going to write that somewhere. It’s easy for us women to get lost in a relationship, because it’s all over the media, or become slaves to having the ideal body, but then we are no longer ourselves. I have a feeling this post will generate some great discussion!

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Lindsay July 21, 2011 at 12:55 pm

HI Hannah –

I just wanted to say congratulations on taking control of your mind and your diet and relaxing into a more healthful way of eating. Food transitions can always be scary – I struggled a lot in college between being vegetarian and not, until one day I finally made the conscious decision to do it – all the while thinking that eventually I would eat meat again. But I never did. Instead of worrying about labels (am I a true vegan?), you should let your body’s needs dictate your path. It took me about a year to truly transition to being a vegan (even though I called myself one the whole time!) and in that year I bought leather goods. Now, I no longer do. I feel fantastic and am so glad I’ve taken all the time I did (about 5 years since giving up meat) to get to this point, experiment, learn and go my own way.

We’re always fluctuating – so dont restrict yourself into thinking you cant be a vegan if you TRULY ENJOY eating that way and aspire to that lifestyle (eventually, when it’s right for you). And dont be afraid to tell your mom there are LOTS of other protein sources better than chicken :) I have two pints of coconut milk ice cream in my freezer right now and I wouldnt have it any other way!

Good lucky on your journey!

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lucy July 21, 2011 at 1:29 am

Thank you for sharing another wonderful story. So much hope for those of us who are still finding our way out of the woods, so thank you Andrea and Gena for sharing :)

I think, for me, the last two points are connected. Having never been into sports when I was young, food was my only control point for my disordered sports. Discovering that I can run and practice yoga and hula hoop and do all sorts of silly, fun things (without worrying whether I’m doing them very well, since I have no expectations of greatness in that area!) has led me to inhabit my body differently. Knowing that my body -does- belong to me has come from moving more and taking pleasure in that.

The question of how Veganism can be a constraint and a freedom is one I’m still working out. I guess trying to be honest about the cuts and allowances is all you can do until you find a natural equilibrium, diet wise.

Sorry for rambling, thanks again so much for sharing!

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Casey July 21, 2011 at 3:27 am

Fantastic post and I can identify with so much!

I find the exercise issue to be essentially interchangeable with whatever form of disordered eating or disordered pattern someone has. They are all just different manifestations of what is an emotional imbalance/disharmony.

Not long after I aged past being a kid who loved sports, I found my relationship with exercise becoming entirely based around how thin or beautiful it could make me. The pleasure, joy and playfulness of it was all gone.

It wasn’t until I completely changed my perspective on it and saw it as the amazing enabler it is to feel my very best and support my body to function optimally for as long as possible, that I saw exercise as my friend that supports and nourishes me, rather than something I use to find some semblance of personal control over my body and my life.

I actually wrote a post about how I came to love exercise in a beautiful, healthy, nourishing way here if anyone would like to read it: http://www.caseylorraine.com/2009/12/work-it-baby-how-i-came-to-love-exercise-and-how-you-can-too/.

Now I do movement that I adore and it’s FUN :)

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Laura Agar Wilson (@keephealthstyle) July 21, 2011 at 4:22 am

Another fantastic green recovery post! I love that both Andrea and Laura last week have used the term ‘plant based’ when describing their diets. As someone whose diet is evolving – I eat vegan 99% of the time but will eat trace diary in chocolate for example – I find that a much more comfortable ‘label’ to adopt when trying to communicate my preferences with others as I don’t feel comfortable using the vegan label (if any label at all!) I can also relate to how yoga has helped Andrea become more mindful, this along side eating a plant based diet has really helped me shift my focus from that of skinny to healthy instead. Thanks to Andrea for sharing her story!

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eliz@thesweetlife July 21, 2011 at 7:20 am

Love the Maya Angelou quote! And also that an ad for the South Beach Diet appears right below it! :-) Beautiful story and beautiful seres.

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Amanda @ AmandaRunsNY July 21, 2011 at 7:33 am

Wow, what a beautiful post. Thanks for sharing Andrea – your story is wonderful and you are a gifted writer too!

In regards to the Maya Angelou quote, I really believe that a huge part of why women forget that we belong to ourselves has to do with the objectification of the female body. We are taught from a young age that how we look is a direct and on occasion only indication of our self-worth. Our bodies don’t feel like they belong to us, because everyone else is looking at them and assessing them. So we try to make ourselves fit a “mold” that will garner the attention, recognition, etc. that we crave and need.

As a woman working in finance in nyc, I struggle with being one of the few women in my field, and then further noting that my other female colleagues are almost exclusively young, fit, and attractive. For me, it’s really hard to separate my professional worth from my physical self because of this. Of course, I want to look good for myself, but there is a nagging feeling that my career is only good as long as I stay young (impossible!) and fit.

About the exercise, after running a marathon I really struggled with balancing my love for exercise with the need to meet goal times and conquer new races. I find that I naturally crave physical movement. To other people who find exercise a chore, I suggest that they are doing the wrong workout! I like to grab the iPod and take a run around the park. It’s meditative for me, and I sort of get lost in my thoughts. It’s not the most grueling workout, but it makes me feel better. Conversely, I’d hate to get exercise by playing tennis or taking zumba because for me I feel clumsy and distracted, but I know tons of people who can only exercise that way. So my recommendation is for people to find something they enjoy.

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kate July 21, 2011 at 7:49 am

Thanks for sharing such an inspirational story I am so happy to see Andreas positive changes and her newfound peace in her life with diet & exercise. It is a struggle for so many women and so important to have positive role models

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Marisa July 21, 2011 at 7:54 am

Andrea,thank you for sharing your story. You write beautifully, and I love the line, “My mind is like a rambunctious, rottweiler puppy with a bone; I will chew on problems until there’s nothing left but a soggy mess. Meditation is like obedience school for my puppy.” I just started some gentle yoga classes and feel the same way. I love the way it helps me to feel centered and helps to quiet my mind! Like you, when I first became interested in vegetarian, it was in more of a controlling way and I used it to help me become this “perfect” self that I was striving for. Now, I use it to nourish my body. I’m glad that a plant based diet is also helping you to reconnect with yourself and continue to heal.

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Gena July 21, 2011 at 10:52 am

I adore this comment, Marisa!

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Kaitlyn@TheTieDyeFiles July 21, 2011 at 8:22 am

I get so excited every time I see a “Green Recovery” post here! Andrea, your story is so open, honest, and beautifully written, thank you for sharing it with us. One step at a time these stories are helping me become closer and closer to a healthy relationship with food.

I’ve had a disordered relationship with food for as long as I can remember, and with exercise for quite some time as well. I dabbled in vegetarianism a few times for ethical reasons, and once in veganism. My foray into veganism, like Andrea’s, was partially a way to allow myself a reason to restrict my diet, but it also had roots in my morals. Also like Andrea, my vegan diet has now lead me to a place where I’m at peace with what I’m eating and why, and its impact on the world. I feel good, I feel proud of my choices. I love that she’s “fallen in love with how she feels” because I absolutely relate. Not only does my body feel fantastic, my mind is at ease.

I’m working very hard on not feeling guilty when I don’t exercise, and focusing on how it makes me feel rather than doing it because I feel I have to. I’m working on “knowing I belong to myself”, thanks for the reminder!

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Gena July 21, 2011 at 10:53 am

I’m so happy that this series is inspiring you, Kaitlyn, to heal!

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Rose July 21, 2011 at 9:24 am

first of all, thank you for this, both andrea and gena! and second… what is the full maya angelou quote? i love it and i can’t find it anywhere!

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Andrea Manka July 21, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Rose, I actually heard Ms. Angelou give a talk and she said that line when asked what her wish was for all women. It just stuck with me.

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Johanna July 21, 2011 at 10:55 am

The most important thing for me, both regarding exercise and me belonging to myself, is to do things that is fun. It may sound simple, but it’s so much more complicated. I played handball for a very long time, with my dad as my biggest role model (he played in Swedens natinal team and was by all means awesome) so when it stopped being fun it was very hard for me to stop playing. But now I dance and I love it – it’s kind of funny, because when people wonder if and/or which kind och exercise I do, it feels wrong to say dancing, because it’s so fun I have a hard time actually thinking of it as a workout. I also do some running and there it can be a bit to much about numbers (how many kilometers? how fast?), but I have learned myself to leave the clock at home and just run.

To have fun exercising and to allow myself to enjoy the kind of food that I like, no matter what other people are eating. Sounds so easy. Some days it is easy, some days not… but I’m working on stickning to it every day. :)

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Andrea Manka July 21, 2011 at 12:04 pm

I’m so touched by all of the kind comments. It always feels really vulnerable to share such intense things, so I’m really glad my story resonates with people. Thank you, Gena, for allowing me to share.

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JL goes Vegan July 21, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Andrea, there are so many lessons in your post! The one resonating with me right now is this: you can take that which was once a negative and turn it into a positive — meaning you may have used veganism as a method of restriction but have found veganism now to be a source of nourishment. Too often we are quick to turn away from what hurt us (for others, it may be exercise) when, in fact, what we’re all most likely seeking is balance. That’s the true art, to find the right balance for YOU. Congratulations on your health and outlook on life.

As always, a thank you to Gena, too for offering this compelling series!

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Karen July 21, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Thank you so much for sharing your ED journey with us, Andrea.

I appreciate that you emphasize that mindfulness practices have been integral to your recovery. To that end, I love the observation by Maya Angelou. It reminds me of a long-time favorite mantra of mine, derived from the title of a classic meditation guide book by Jon Kabat-Zinn: “Whereever you go, there you are.” To me, the sentiment is similar; it always centers me. I also love how you describe your monkey mind…I can relate all too well! I passionately believe there’s a huge spiritual componenet to EDs, and thus making these connections is very often key to recovery, as your success story illustrates, as does my own.

All the best to you, Andrea, and Namaste.

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Anne-Marie July 21, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Hi there!

Gena: Thank you so much for your diligence in writing. I look forward to your blog every morning!

Andrea: Thank you for sharing your story. What resonated with me most was how you feel comfortable “labeling” your diet as plant-based. I do the same thing! I eat a high raw, vegan diet and I realize I hesitate to tell anyone this just because it begs too many questions. Lately I have just been telling people that I have been trying to eat more fruits and vegetables. That seems to be pretty well accepted.

Thanks again to the both of you!

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Katelyn @ Chef Katelyn July 21, 2011 at 2:21 pm

I was the same way. Veganism at first was a beautiful thing, and then I abused it, and finally recovered through it. Same with exercise. Beautiful post!!

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Christine (The Raw Project) July 21, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Wonderful green recover post, thank you for sharing Andrea! I adore and agree with your views on veganism and new outlook on diet and exercise.

For women today, knowing we belong to ourselves is an easy thing to forget with so many family, work, and social pressures and obligations.

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veronica July 21, 2011 at 3:42 pm

This post really spoke to me because I used veganism as an excuse as well for my eating disorder. It only lasted a couple months or so, but because I’m still in recovery, when I made the conscious decision to become a vegetarian recently for the RIGHT reasons, my family saw it as a red flag for relapse. Luckily, I think I finally have them convinced. And also, yoga has been my saving grace as well. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story, Andrea.

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Meg | One Love Meg July 21, 2011 at 6:09 pm

I am doing a raw challenge and I feel GREAT!! I have so much energy, I am motivated. It’s great. I am glad that you are having the same wonderful side effects. Now, the hard part- staying updated on raw recipes so that we don’t get bored. Thank you for sharing your story.

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Ali (urbanfruitbat) July 21, 2011 at 11:44 pm

I feel the key to not letting exercise consume you so to speak, is to choose an activity you actually enjoy. That way you are not doing it out of obligation, but out of actual enjoyment (which is something that we tend to deny ourselves often when we are sick with an ED). And also to do it with other people of you can! Taking on a plant based diet reflects belonging to me. I am nourishing my body in a way that feels real to me. It is all about authenticity, finding out what feels good to you. Stop rejecting how you feel, and what matters to you!

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Wendy July 22, 2011 at 5:33 am

Thank you Andrea. This is a brave and beautiful post.

I have never, not once, thought that I belong to myself. I think that is going to be a keeper!!!!

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Sarah July 24, 2011 at 1:30 am

I am absolutely with Andrea. Veganism was a tool for managing my weight which later was a trigger for me. Y’know, I’ve never abused exercise. I know that’s strange for a ED vet but I guess I’m just too lazy! I LOVE the Angelou quote- so good and so right. Often I belong to everyone else other than myself. I put too much value on what others think and say about me and allow them to influence my actions. It’s frustrating but I’m trying to let go of this (not so easy at this point in my life with my nursing course and constantly being watched and assessed). It’s a journey though :)

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