Green Recovery: Casey Lorraine on Finding Freedom Through Wholesome Food

by Gena on April 19, 2011

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Greetings, all!

Three weeks ago, I introduced the idea of a “green recovery series.” What’s that, you ask? Well, its my attempt to highlight stories of the many men and women who have moved beyond disordered eating patterns (at least in part) with the help of a plant-based diet. As most blog readers probably suspect, there’s a very high incidence of ED histories in the plant-based community of eaters—myself included. And I realized not so long ago that there were many others who felt, as I do, that eating a plant based diet helped them to overcome their struggles, and redefine their relationships with food in a positive and productive way.

Some of the traditional attitudes within recovery circles maintain that any sort of strong selectivity about food (such as eliminating animal products from one’s diet) or overt emphasis on food’s significance is inherently at odds with the recovery process. My goal with Green Recovery is not to suggest that veganism is the right choice for all disordered eaters, or that it’s a “cure” for disordered eating, but rather to explore the notion that a world view in which food choices have political, ethical, and personal significance may actually heal, rather than hurt.

Today’s guest poster is my friend Casey. Casey, who is a fellow raw foods coach and lifestyle consultant, was one of the first friends I made virtually through blogging. In fact, she emailed me all the way from Australia to complement me on CR! I was very touched, and we’ve been penpals ever since. I knew a bit about Casey’s fraught history with food before I received her submission, but now that I’ve read it, I feel that I understand her relationship to raw, plant-based diet even more. It’s a rich and thoughtful piece, and I hope you all enjoy it!

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Green Recovery by Casey Lorraine Thomas

I battled with my weight and body image from a young age. As I progressed through my teens, I felt more and more pressure to be thin and look a certain way – specifically blonde, blue eyed and…oh, did I already say thin?

I wasn’t any of these. My weight fluctuated, normally on the chubby side, and being a natural redhead didn’t help either. I am sure you can all relate to this in one way or another. With my struggle to stay at an average weight (a low weight seemed completely unattainable to me) came an unhealthy focus on low calorie and low fat foods early in my teens. I was always either trying to lose weight, or going the opposite way and eating whatever I wanted in large quantities.

Fortunately, I had a foundation and interest in healthy eating. I was completely disinterested in eating any meat products from an early age and became a semi-vegetarian, eating only chicken, eggs, fish and cheese. I didn’t enjoy the taste of meats and hated the thought of eating an animal that had been killed purely to satisfy my appetite. I started reading and researching natural health and nutrition as early as 14 and the overwhelming conclusion I came to was that red meats were not particularly beneficial for health (this is of course arguable and should be a personal decision based on your body). Soon after, I saw a documentary on the hormones in chicken and how they are treated in factory farms and stopped eating chicken.

When a very emotionally challenging and upsetting situation happened in my late teens, I was left feeling shattered, vulnerable, and like my life and everything I understood it to be was flipped over. Everything felt like it was spiraling so out of control around me that I let my eating habits spiral out of control, too, and put on a good amount of weight. The combination of feeling disgusting in my own body and the feeling of life happening to me, without my control, led me to micro-manage the only thing I felt I really did have full control over – my body and what I chose to consume.

This period cemented the unhealthy relationship with food I had begun to develop in earlier years. The result was years of trying various ways to try to stuff my body and emotions into the tight little mold I thought they should be kept in – contained, neat and tidy. I tried restricting my intake to just fruits, vegetables and no-fat diet foods (I shudder at the chemicals in these diet foods now). Then I would binge and binge some more. Occasionally I would unload it all into the toilet, cursing myself for my weakness along the way – not for purging but for not having the “strength” to resist binging in the first place. I also tried overexercising. That didn’t last too long.

After a few years of feeling trapped in this cycle, I started to take even more of an interest in nutrition and took off to travel the world solo and live abroad. This was my first turning point. The more I learned about how to feed the body to experience optimal health, the more I wanted to give my body what it needed to be healthy, not just slim. I gave up the diet foods and switched to a mostly whole foods diet, alongside the large amount of fruits and vegetables I was already eating. My mindset shifted but I was still a way from healing my relationship with food and my body.

My experience shows that it’s not just about changing the types of foods you eat, such as to a vegan or mostly vegan diet, that will help you heal, but about building more respect and love for yourself too. I found that when used in parallel, these two factors can facilitate powerful shifts in disordered eating patterns.

My years of travel, adventure and living abroad allowed me to get the distance I needed from the situations which were causing me emotional pain. Although you can’t outrun an emotional problem, I was able to gain better perspective and acknowledge and address my real feelings and needs away from the people and circumstances I felt out of control and repressed by (yes, they can be felt at the same time!). In combination with my plant based whole food diet, I experienced a deep healing within myself over the following years. I found out what my body and spirit were crying out for, and I gave it to them – real nourishment, respect and joy.

Since then my path has continued to an almost completely vegan diet and my relationship with my body and with food has blossomed to a whole new level. I now choose to eat food that I adore for its taste, nutrition and ability to make my body run beautifully so that I can focus on the parts of my life that really make me happy and whole – my relationships, my career, my contribution to others and to our world, my hobbies, the daily practices that keep my emotions and mind healthy.

More than that, I choose foods that contribute as minimally as possible to the destruction of our land, that don’t require animals to be killed, and that support the farmers and businesses who invest huge amounts of their time, energy and money doing everything they can to foster and facilitate a more compassionate, kind and sustainable way of eating and living.

If I had seen veganism as just a way to get skinny (which I don’t, although it can certainly be a tool for weight loss) when I was at the worst of my disordered eating habits, it would have just been another way to restrict or monitor my consumption. Instead, what happened is that my love for my body and real food grew (particularly the amazing cuisine I create with vegetables), and I became more educated in nutrition, health, agriculture and animal cruelty. As a result, I found myself very organically and over time choosing the almost vegan way of eating and lifestyle I have today, and that I’ve been relishing for more than five years.

A plant-based lifestyle has served to support me in achieving freedom from disordered eating — an unhealthy obsession with food and being thin. It has given me more healthy appreciation and love for food than I could ever have imagined possible; food is no longer a solution to pain or unmet emotional needs. A vegetable focused, mostly vegan diet also played a huge role in my healing from debilitating eczema and countless other health conditions.

Now I see my food choices as just one more way to show myself that I am worthy of the best quality foods that will give me the healthiest, happiest and longest life possible. Just as importantly to me, I see my journey with disordered eating as a gift, because now I can help my clients to eat in a way which works for them, to love themselves and their body more, and to heal their unsupportive relationship with food and their body, just as I did. I can help others find passion, purpose and nourishment from the areas of life that are often ignored when you have all your mental and emotional energy exhausted by your disordered eating habits–just as I did.

While I would never suggest that veganism or a mostly plant based diet is the solution to recovery from disordered eating, it has been my experience and countless others that coming to care what you put in your body, where your food comes from, and how it affects not only you, but also the world around you, can bring a new appreciation of real food and help you to make healthier choices. This in turn helps you to gain a new perspective on food as nourishment rather than punishment, and to see the larger impact of your food choices. You get out of your own head – somewhere you typically spend a lot of time when you suffer with disordered eating!

In combination with addressing your real emotional needs, uncovering root causes of your disordered eating, allowing full self-expression, and building your acceptance, love and respect for yourself, a powerful opportunity for healing can occur.


Wow. Thank you, Case, for such wise and thoughtful words! I especially like this:

My experience shows that it’s not just about changing the types of foods you eat, such as to a vegan or mostly vegan diet, that will help you heal, but about building more respect and love for yourself too.

And

…coming to care what you put in your body, where your food comes from, and how it affects not only you, but also the world around you, can bring a new appreciation of real food and help you to make healthier choices. This in turn helps you to gain a new perspective on food as nourishment rather than punishment, and to see the larger impact of your food choices. You get out of your own head – somewhere you typically spend a lot of time when you suffer with disordered eating!

Both wonderful points! No eating style (even one that’s as philosophically driven as veganism is) can do all the work of unraveling the legacy of an ED. One must also learn to foster self-love through other passions and projects, and to immerse oneself in the world again. But it’s also true that giving more attention to the politics and consequences of food choices—not to mention the power of food to generate health and well being—can offer freedom from the isolation and self-involvement of an ED. Thank you, Casey, for such an insightful perspective!

I’d love to hear your reactions to Casey’s story. What struck a chord with you? And stay tuned for a recap of breakfast with two of my favorite bloggers tomorrow!

xo

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Hannah April 19, 2011 at 1:43 pm

What an inspiring story. I think it is especially interesting that when you traveled abroad, the year away from home became a turning point in your recovery. I have not been abroad (yet!) but being a college has been a tremendous help. Perhaps experiencing other cultures and the beauty that is diversity on this planet helps us gain perspective, too. Like Gena, I also agree with what you say about the impact of our food choices-what we buy and consume affects not only our bodies, but the lives of farmers and workers around the globe. Not everyone has this privilege to make such choices, so it makes me even more thankful that I have that option, to use my food dollar to make the world a better place, and to feed my body what it needs.

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Casey April 19, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Hi Hannah, thank you for the lovely feedback. Yes, I definitely felt that seeing a bigger world and giving myself more pleasure in the form of travel and cultural experiences enriched my life and helped me to heal.
Thanks for reading! xo

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Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) April 19, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Casey, thank you for having the courage to share your story because no doubt, you are helping hundreds of others by this post and doing so!

“but about building more respect and love for yourself too. ” –That is the part that struck a chord. That could be applied to most any situation or obstacle in life…having respect and self love is paramount in everything and glad you found this sense of inner peace and self love.

So happy for you with where you’ve come on your journey!

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Remy April 19, 2011 at 2:25 pm

So insightful. It was interesting to read of your shifts in value/belief systems (from societal ideals of blonde hair/blue eyes to veganism to self-healing and self-love).

Veganism or vegetarianism can present a means of nourishing one’s inner self (as you stated ‘body and spirit’), imparting a sense of purpose, meaning and place in the world: self-efficacy – of great importance to those recovering.

It can be difficult for certain clinicians (understandably) to process this: an individual engages in a new belief system which allows them to transcend their disordered eating. A belief system that is in fact expressed through their eating (and lifestyle) choices. It is challenging, on the surface, to perceive the expansiveness and freedom this choice may bring..

I really enjoyed your recount of this – thank you for sharing!

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Casey April 19, 2011 at 8:44 pm

I agree Remy and definitely feel that it would be a big shift in understanding for many clinicians to see this way of healing.
Thanks for your comments!

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Wendy (Healthy Girl's Kitchen) April 19, 2011 at 2:29 pm

I was so excited to see that you posted the first in this series! I feel that this has the potential to bring out a lot of the complexity and beauty of a plant based diet that until know has really gone unspoken. Thank you Lorraine for sharing your story and your thoughts and thank you Gena for instigating this. It’s wonderful.

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Wendy (Healthy Girl's Kitchen) April 19, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Casey! Casey Lorraine . . . sorry for the confusion.

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Lauren April 19, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Great post, Casey! Thank you for sharing your story! :)

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Ela April 19, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Thanks for sharing this–it’s so profound and inspiring.

I especially love that you say that you see the journey as a gift, empowering you to help others come out of the hell of EDs. As someone who almost died of anorexia, I’m struck periodically by the thought that the more I get better, and the more I attain clarity, on the self love piece in particular, the more able I will be to help others–which is such a human desire.

As a fellow world traveler (who is now very much preferring not to travel so much), I relate to the freedom and perspective that travel offers, with your caveat that one can’t outrun a problem

Gena and Casey, it’s endlessly inspiring to me to see both of you helping others, in a way that I hope to someday, so beautifully.
love
Ela

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Casey April 19, 2011 at 8:48 pm

So great to hear you are moving out of your own eating disorder history Ela! That’s awesome and glad the post helped. xo

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Casey April 19, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Thanks Gena for the opportunity to share my story. Thanks everyone for your wonderful and lovely comments. I hope the post helps you to feel less alone or a little inspired in your own journey.
xo

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Katie (quick cook rice) April 19, 2011 at 10:37 pm

Thanks for sharing, Casey.

My favorite line and probably the one I can relate to the most is: “Now I see my food choices as just one more way to show myself that I am worthy of the best quality foods that will give me the healthiest, happiest and longest life possible”

Food is necessary for life, so like any necessity, we can either go through the motions or we can take charge and realize that we do have a choice when it comes to most things, even the everyday actions we need to survive.

It might sound strange to some people, and I know it does because I get strange looks all the time, but veganism definitely brought me a new appreciation for human life AND animal life. Generally, being a vegan has taught me a new way to practice compassion, and the personal benefits, including learning to love myself more, are immense.

Thought-provoking stuff as always.

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Liv April 19, 2011 at 11:11 pm

Inspiring story! It is so true that supplying your body with nourishing foods is an important factor in respecting yourself and believing you are worthy to feel good/awesome.

I love these series!

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Laura April 20, 2011 at 1:16 am

I’m sorry you didn’t like your red hair- I’ve always adored and wanted red hair. You are clearly gorgeous inside and out! I no longer participate in the NR forum these days, but I appreciated your contributions there.

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Casey April 20, 2011 at 3:37 am

Thanks Laura! I love my hair now but as a kid I just saw it as another thing that made me different and not in a good way. Thanks for your comment.

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megan @ the oatmeal diaries April 20, 2011 at 6:53 am

I love this series! Keep them coming!! I loved this: “Now I see my food choices as just one more way to show myself that I am worthy of the best quality foods that will give me the healthiest, happiest and longest life possible.” So amazing :)

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Rachel April 20, 2011 at 7:53 am

just want to chime in and say that, since i was younger, i’ve always wanted to be a natural redhead! my hair is dark blonde/light brown and i still think red hair is gorgeous…and i’m so jealous of yours hahah :)

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Casey April 20, 2011 at 8:19 pm

Aw thanks Rachel hehehe. I love the uniqueness of it now but hated it as a kid! :)

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Rachel April 20, 2011 at 8:27 am

I agree about traveling abroad. When I first traveled abroad, I spent a significant amount of time in Asia. While it’s not always the case, I find that most countries that have stronger ties than the U.S. typically does to their native culture and therefore cultural food traditions that affect their current everyday food habits, there also tends to be less question as to what you will eat. Also, most traditional cultural diets have been developed by those peoples for years and years resulting in healthy diets that keep their people free of common “Western” disease and sickness. I don’t know how Australia would be different in Casey’s case, but I would assume it is somewhat divers as the U.S. Regardless, being immersed in other cultures is something that has been able to help me greatly by seeing the differences among cultural traditions yet the health benefits and healthy lifestyles that these people groups enjoy!

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tweal April 20, 2011 at 9:25 am

I love the idea for this series, and I enjoyed reading Casey’s story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

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Angela (Oh She Glows) April 20, 2011 at 10:01 am

Beautiful story! I can relate to this a lot. Not eating animals gave me a greater purpose in my own life, and like you said, ‘get out of my own head’. That couldn’t be more true for me.

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Casey April 20, 2011 at 8:24 pm

Thanks Angela! I love your blog! :)

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LauraJayne April 20, 2011 at 11:19 am

This story is totally inspiring and relatable. I found a vegetarian diet to be the key to developing a healthy relationship with me for me. I lost weight using the usual calorie-counting and exercise methods, but definitely restricted too much, and lost too much weight. It wasn’t until I started my vegetarian diet that I really felt like I was in tune with my body and what I was putting into it. A vegetarian diet helped me to love my body again.

This post is especially timely for me today. As I was driving to the gym, after my “veggie” breakfast sandwich, I realized that I didn’t think eggs were making my body feel good. I felt heavy and a little sick to my stomach; I wondered if this meant that it was time to consider a vegan diet (or at least consider eliminating eggs). A vegetarian diet has helped me to be more in tune with how food affects me – and I want to keep making progress as a result of that awareness!

Great post – thank you!

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Casey April 20, 2011 at 8:25 pm

I’m so glad you learned to love your body again Laura! Thanks for commenting

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Karen April 20, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Casey!

You write exceptionally well, and do an especially terrific job of articulating key insights many of us have gained independently, and have built upon as a group in our previous discussions as it pertains to the synergy between physical and spiritual nourishment, and how making conscious food choices can be a positive force in healing from disordered eating.

I am certain you have made and will make outstanding contributions in your role as a nutritional coach – your passion and caring personality just leap off the computer screen. All the very best to you!

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Casey April 20, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Karen you made me all warm and fuzzy reading this, thank you!!! That means an awful lot to me and I sop appreciate your taking the time to comment and leave your thoughts.

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Elizabeth April 20, 2011 at 1:30 pm

What an inspiring story. Thank you, Casey.
In telling my own recovery story, I’ve always emphasized my transformed relationship with food, and I still think that’s what defines “recovery.” But you are right, of course, that a transformed relationship with ourselves, and our bodies, is integral to the process. I guess in telling the food story, I’ve neglected the underlying story of learning to love myself, even like myself.
By the way, I love your red hair! It’s rare and becoming rarer (the allele for red hair us recessive), so lucky you.

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Casey April 20, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Hi Elizabeth,
I think the choice to feed yourself great quality foods that are healthy and nourishing is a way of telling yourself that you have enough love and respect for yourself. So you are already on your way.
I also think it’s vital to have things in your life every day that bring your a huge amount of pleasure, that truly make YOU happy. Not things that you think should make you happy but don’t.
I wish you all the healing and love on your journey to love yourself again.
Casey

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Lindsay April 20, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Hey ladies! Thank you SO much for this post.
I have a very similar story to Casey, although I had several years of recovery under my belt before I turned to a vegan diet. But for me, I am glad it worked out that way. I think my personality would have been the type to replace my ED with my new-found veganism without working on the mental healing, which I think we can agree is the most important part. Giving up my ED was a rough and rocky road for me, but I am so appreciative of the healing and the lessons I learned along the way.
Following a vegan diet has been one of those “Ah ha!” moments for me. I have a relationship with food now that is just like Casey described. I look at every bit of food that I ingest as nourishment and energy for my body. I can’t believe I used to put so much junk into my body over the years–sodas, lots of sugar, fatty foods, processed foods–they were really weighing down on me. My wholesome vegan diet has been a breath of fresh air and I will never look back.

Love this new series and if you are looking for more stories I’d love to share mine.

Thanks again,
Lindsay

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Freya April 20, 2011 at 2:58 pm

‘I ingest as nourishment and energy for my body. I can’t believe I used to put so much junk into my body over the years–sodas, lots of sugar, fatty foods, processed foods–they were really weighing down on me. My wholesome vegan diet has been a breath of fresh air and I will never look back.’
I love that! So true.

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Freya April 20, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Totally inspiring! I resonate with the fact that food has allowed her to nourish her body, not punish it. When you have an eating disorder, food IS punishment – you either restrict to punish yourself, and when you do eat, the food punishes you, leaving you with guilt and disgust.
I’ve found that veganism has been a useful tool in discovering about food as a positive nourishing thing, something to be enjoyed, and it’s fantastic! And of course, I loved this bit:
”…to see the larger impact of your food choices. You get out of your own head – somewhere you typically spend a lot of time when you suffer with disordered eating!”
Well said!

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Casey April 20, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Thank you Freya! Loved your post too. This series is so wonderful.

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bitt April 20, 2011 at 9:41 pm

thank you for sharing your story. I mostly hear stories in raw forums of how raw foods helped people who struggled with overeating, so it’s good to hear another perspective.

casey and gena I’d love to hear your reaction to this post I saw today by Kevin Gianni on disordered eating

http://renegadehealth.com/blog/2011/04/20/which-disordered-health-food-eater-are-you/

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Courtney Pool April 20, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Gena- I wonder what your thoughts on this post by Kevin Gianni might be. If you’re not aware, Kevin is a very popular voice on vegan/raw food/natural health. Post is entitled “Which Disordered Health Food Eater Are You?” http://bit.ly/dQDZGx

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Jess May 4, 2011 at 7:25 pm

What a fantastic article, thanks for sharing.

I’m so happy to hear so many people healing disordered eying through a plant based diet, I have had the opposite experience you talked about and thought I’d share.

I have had an eating disorder since I was 19, I’m now 24. It started as bulimia, then exercise abuse and then moved into another form of control and restriction for me – a vegan diet at age 22. At first i thought it was my solution, but the elimination of foods suited my disordered thinking. Im the first to admit it has spiralled out of control, I’m now dealing with obsessive compulsive disorder and occasional purging after emotional eating binges.

I guess what I wanted to say is that the real healing from ED has to come from the emotional work. Simply changing to a plant based diet is an attractive option for lots of succeeded who think it will make them thin, but this isn’t healing anything – only masking.

I’ve met lots if beautiful vegans totally at peace with themselves, but equal amounts who are dogmatic, judgmental and suffering from self esteem problems – most with ED backgrounds who still ‘control’ their food.

Im still trying to find my solution, my focus is on trying not to restrict myself and seeing a beautiful psychotherapist who specialists in mindfulness. It’s a hard road, but a necessary one, no matter your choice of diet.

Interestingly I’ve gained 10kg, messed up my hormones and developed acne since going vegan, so it may not be for everyone.

Great post though. Much love xx

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Katie April 16, 2012 at 3:49 pm

I have been reading this series now for a few days. With each new story I break down alittle more. I just finished your story and I crying my eyes out at Starbucks.

I have spent the last 20 years of my life tormented by food. I started to starve myself in the 5th grade. I wanted to be loved and valued and I tried to get with by being thin. I hated myself and punished myself by with holding food. I then became pregnet at 19 and my eating habits changed, for 9 months I was eating for two and making up for 10 years of starvation. I gained 80 lbs, once the baby was born reality hit, I was my worst “fat” nighmare. I than gave up and just ate to prove i was worthless and ugly. I made myself stay fat to reflect how I felt on the inside!

I have never seen food as a reward but rather a punishment. I have ffinally be released from hell and for the first time I can begin to recover. Thank you for sharing with us your story. I no longer feel alone.

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Gena April 17, 2012 at 6:32 am

Katie,

What a moving comment. I am so glad that these posts are helping you to find wellness and come to terms with the disorder. Please email me if you ever need to vent a little.

G

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