Green Recovery: Daphne’s Triumph Against “Ana.” Plus, my NYC Dining Bucket List.

by Gena on May 23, 2011

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Happy Monday!

I’m here with the fourth submission in my Green Recovery series, which I invite you all to read about here. Newcomers, this series is intended to shed light on some of the connections between plant based diets and redefining one’s relationship with food after eating disorder recovery. Today, I welcome Daphne Cheng, co-founder of Verite Catering and former CR interviewee. Daphne’s ED and recovery story is particularly harrowing, but her journey into veganism post-recovery has clearly helped her to think differently about the food on her plate. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting this gracious, mature, and intelligent young lady in person many times, so it’s an honor to feature her story today!



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"Pregnant pineapple!"

I joined in with the chorus of laughter, if only to pretend I wasn’t hurt by some innocent teasing. It was innocent, wasn’t it? So why, one year later, in 7th grade, was I still repeating those words to myself, and asking, "Why did she call me a pregnant pineapple? Do I really look pregnant?" My parents certainly seemed to think so, and didn’t mind reiterating the sentiment to me.

I caved. The constant scrutiny of and commentary about my body was too much to handle. I started dieting.

To my delight, the pounds dropped off easily, and I became addicted to losing more. Ana (anorexia) took over my life, though I denied her existence. I ignored schoolwork and friends as I obsessively searched the internet for weight-loss tips. I could never stop thinking about food: how much of it I’d eaten that day, how much more of it I could eat, how to avoid it without raising suspicions…it seemed as though my chatty brain was making up for an empty and idle mouth. The tickle of hunger became my only pleasure. I grinned as that tickle gave way to pain, and felt superior to anyone who succumbed to his or her taste buds. I was good at dieting. Just too good.

Despite my weight loss triumphs (or so I thought of them), the flood of self-criticism continued. Affixed to the mirror (or any reflection), I inspected my body constantly, fuming at the sight of any excess flesh. With time, suicidal thoughts emerged; I would have died to escape my imperfect body.

I developed many destructive habits, but one ultimately saved me. Obsessed with losing weight, I had spent hours upon hours searching the internet, until one search led me to “pro-ana” websites. They were sites created by fellow ED sufferers who sought support and validation for their behavior, but had no desire to recover. Others may have found "thinspiration" at such sites, but I finally woke up to the danger I was putting myself in. The pictures of emaciated girls flaunting their illness were horrifying. Their eyes were devoid of life; their jagged bones stuck out of such odd places, and it looked to me as though it must have been painful for them just to breathe. I dug out recent pictures of myself, and finally saw that I looked just like them. I was nothing but skin and bones.

Even after this revelation, I had trouble convincing myself to gain the weight I so awfully needed. It was a persistent battle between, "You need the nutrients; go ahead and eat some more," and "You’re getting fat! Stop stuffing your miserable face!" Having alienated my friends, I could no longer turn to them for help, so motivation could only come from within.

Fortunately, as I began to recover, the internet presented another gift to me: veganism. I saw shocking footage of animals in slaughterhouses, and could no longer justify eating meat. I developed a new framework, in which consideration for the origins and ethics of my food was more important than its caloric value, and I began to relax my stringent eating habits. I started preparing my own meals, and found it unexpectedly enjoyable. Such intimate contact with food captivated me; squishing a soft, juicy mango with my hands was inexplicably therapeutic. With this new infatuation, I gradually returned to a healthy weight, in spite of much resistance from Ana.

Although it almost took my life, the eating disorder has left me with a certain peace of mind. Where I was once lost and unsure of myself, my experience with an ED helped me to uncover my fervor for gastronomy, nutrition, and conviction about animal welfare. Where I was once insecure and shy, I have gained enough self-respect not to starve myself in order to impress others, and I have become more sociable. Now I focus on maintaining my health, rather than worrying about the number on the scale.

After seven years as a vegan, I can honestly say that I still struggle with body image issues every now and then, but I feel that eating a plant-based diet has played a significant role in preventing a relapse when things are difficult. Knowing that the food I eat is health-supporting keeps irrational fear of food at bay. Plant based diet was an essential part of recovery for me because it enabled me to gradually welcome food back into my life. I felt that I didn’t have to worry about gaining weight too quickly or without care for my body, and I didn’t get scared back into disordered eating habits. Although many assume that becoming vegetarian/vegan is simply a way to cover up suspicious behaviors, I believe that it can be a beneficial road to recovery, though not the only one.


Thank you, Daphne! I want to highlight a few talking points from Daphne’s story.

First, reading this made me so glad that the internet wasn’t around when I first began flirting with disordered habits. I can only imagine how toxic pro-ana sites are for those who are suffering. Then again, I feel confident that certain blogs must also play a really crucial role in empowering girls (and boys, and men, and women) to be candid about their struggles and seek out a supportive community when they are ready to recover. Thoughts? Do you think the internet stands to do more harm or more good here?

Daphne and I had very similar experiences in so far as veganism helped us to channel some of the obsessive energy we had put into fretting about nutrition and calories into studying the origins, production, and ethics of food. I think we both also learned to study nutrition for the sake of health and well being, rather than weight loss (and by that I mean unnecessary weight loss). Some of my readers have expressed a discomfort with allowing any kind of food boundaries to persist after ED recovery—ethical, health oriented, or other—but of course I tend to believe that, for many, the vegan world view can be freeing, and so can an interest in health, so long as it’s genuine. In other words, not all forms of dietary selectivity are inherently at odds with recovery. What do you think?

Finally, I love that Daphne talks about how healing it was to become a cook (and since I’ve tasted her food, I can attest to what a talented cook she is!). I’m sure others have experienced this very phenomenon: I know that learning to cook was possibly the most crucial part of my effort to reframe and redefine my relationship with food. Who else feels this way?


The NYC Dining Bucket List

It’s T minus five days to the big move. Gulp. As I hurry to get my shocking number of belongings into boxes, I remember a friend of mine who, upon taking a job in L.A., declared himself on a mission to check off every favorite restaurant from his NYC “bucket list.” I’m doing the same. In the past two weeks, I’ve furiously scrambled to eat at all of my favorite spots. Here’s where I’ve gone so far:

And here’s where I still need to go:

Do I think I’ll make it to all of these places? Doubtful. But a girl can try. Do I think I’ll blog about every visit? I know I won’t, because I’ve already forgotten my camera on numerous occasions. But I’ll share a bunch of my highlights. Let’s start with this lunch with my dear friend Diana at Bonobos:

The famous Bonobos kale salad, which is super sweet thanks to an agave-lemon dressing. I love it:

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And a big plate of nori roll and salad: that’s walnut pate stuffed into a nori sheet along with carrots, beets, cucumber, sprouts, and zucchini:

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Such quintessential comfort food for me!

I also had a recent lunch at One Lucky Duck with my friend Kathleen, where I devoured a “make my own” salad of avocado, dulse, cucumber, beets, sprouts, raisins, cherry tomatoes, and cilantro:

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And since they’re my favorite, I decided to be greedy and also get an order of the jicama sushi (yes, I have a big of a raw sushi habit):

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And did you really think I’d leave without having a side of the famous OLD guac? Nope:

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Two great lunches at two of my favorite raw, vegan lunch joints. I’ll miss these spots when I’m in DC…but I guess it’s all the more reason to visit Smile

xo

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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Victoria (District Chocoholic) May 23, 2011 at 3:43 pm

And you’ll find new favorite spots in DC :).

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Ragnhild May 23, 2011 at 4:01 pm

I love this green Recovery serie!
I have been a vegan for many years, still I did struggle with my ED. Now, I am really trying to set my self free from all my rules. For me, this doesnt mean stop being a vegan. I LOVE being vegan. And I do believe that by making my gold being as healthy as I can be, as well as doing what I know is the best for every one else living on this earth, will help me. Im working on changing my focus from getting thin/clean/good, to being healthy, strong and kind to the animals and people I share this world with!
Love you Gena, and I loved to read Daphnes story! So inspirational!

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bitt May 23, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Thanks for saying this Ragnhild! There are so many ways to be a vegan. :-) Love the pic with you and the pup too.

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Gena May 24, 2011 at 11:28 pm

Ragnhild,

I love this comment, too. And know that recovery is a long journey, so it’s wise of you to accept that it happens in steps.

xo

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Megan (The Runner's Kitchen) May 23, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Loved your shout out in Vital Juice today – the coconut chai from Bonobos is a favorite of mine! I like to drink it for dessert after a big salad with their famous raw nut pates :)

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JL goes Vegan May 23, 2011 at 4:03 pm

“I know that learning to cook was possibly the most crucial part of my effort to reframe and redefine my relationship with food. Who else feels this way?”

ME! Though I have not suffered an ED I definitely became a “dieter” in my late 30′s / early 40′s. Battling the new bulge. Once I began eating vegan, and learning how to really cook (or, prep raw foods) I simply fell in love with food. I became less concerned about how much I weighed (trust me, I care how I look, I mean I finally decided those extra pounds looked good — kind of sexy) and more concerned with how I fed my body. My soul. It was liberating!

Thank you, Daphne for sharing your story!

Gena, enjoy eating your way out of NYC ;)

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Gena May 24, 2011 at 11:30 pm

Love the distinction between feeding the body and feeding the soul — for me, veganism does both things :)

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Averie (LoveVeggiesandYoga) May 23, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Wow awesome post..so much to touch on…T – 5 days…whoa, Gena, that’s so huge! I am thrilled for you that you’re taking this leap and I hope the packing is going ok :) Glad you were able to catch up with Diana and hopefully say goodbye to a few more of your beloved eateries before you leave!

Loved Daphne’s story. Of everyone you’ve featured, I think it was my favorite but it’s hard to choose, of course.
“After seven years as a vegan, I can honestly say that I still struggle with body image issues every now and then, but I feel that eating a plant-based diet has played a significant role in preventing a relapse when things are difficult. ”

–That passage really spoke to me and Daphne, Im so happy for you that you’ve come so far with your recovery. And thank you for keeping it real saying you to have a few body image issues every now and then. I think MOST women do, even without and ED past..I dont think every woman wakes up every day of her life and says, omg I am fabulous today. Maybe they do, I dont though :)

Gena to your questions…yes learning to cook is a beautiful thing!

The internet…such a mixed bag but overall knowledge is power and I think the world is better off with the internet than without, but it can be triggering, enabling, and destructive for some people…not even just w/ ED’s but even for someone with say a shopping addiction…have to be aware what their own personal triggers are and avoid as necessary I’d say.

Sorry for the super long comment! :)

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Ricki May 23, 2011 at 4:19 pm

As someone who’s struggled with overweight and bingeing my entire life, I find it so interesting to read about how a vegan diet has helped someone to eat MORE food and resolve an eating disorder from the “other side.” I’ve cooked since I was wee, and have never found that eating a vegan diet helped me lose weight (you can eat too much chocolate, cake, cookies, and other junk that’s vegan, too). But I do think that the psychological and emotional changes that Daphne outlines here are important for any kind of disordered eating. As for the internet, like any other pursuit, it can harm or help, depending on who’s searching and what s/he does with it.

Thanks for the list of restos–will have to check them out next time I’m in NYC! (And your mention of Bonobos made me drool all over again). ;)

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bitt May 23, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Great story, Daphne, thanks for your bravery. And so glad that you were able to pull yourself out of it before Ana took even more from you.

I can relate a bit to what you wrote about reading sites like that. When I was a kid I read some books about anorexia and thought it sounded like something I could do (bad idea). If I hadn’t seen what it was doing to another person I loved I might not have had enough perspective. I also find certain books about mental illness and other disorders to make me want to adapt negative behaviors or get stressed out by them, so I have to be cautious about it. One reason I disliked Black Swan.

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kate May 24, 2011 at 4:56 am

I completely agree with you about Black Swan. While I thought it was brilliantly acted, I found the whole experience of watching the obsession with and pursuit of a very unhealthy view of “perfection” utterly traumatic. It spoke to me on so many levels and brought back memories of the sheer level of anxiety around body image and food that I considered it wholly normal to live with. Interestingly, the friend I saw the film with, who has never suffered from an ED, was left largely unmoved by the extreme level of mental stress portrayed.

To go back to Daphne’s post, I, too, share the experience of having fallen in love with cooking and uncooking since becoming Vegan. The positive idea of food choices as a means of ensuring animal welfare brought me to the kitchen in an entirely different mindset. Not to mention the challenge of showing family and friends that eating a plant based diet opened up a world of delicious and incredibly varied taste opportunities!

As for your bucket list of restaurant choices, Gena, I can only look on from the west coast of Scotland and drool..

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Gena May 24, 2011 at 11:31 pm

I have avoided it mostly out of a strange and unfounded suspicion that it’ll annoy me. But it’s hardly rational.

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Ela May 23, 2011 at 5:25 pm

I definitely agree that (for me too) ‘converting the obsession’ helps with the recovery process. I know so much about food after all those years with an ED–why not put that to use to produce food that produces smiles!

Thanks, Daphne, for your story (and have I missed two?? I remember Freya’s but not two in between??–I’ll have to check back. I love how you honestly you portray the downward spiral and admire the way that you found a reality check and pulled yourself back. Did you do it all by yourself, without going IP or working with a therapist? I’m in admiration, in any case, that you’ve reclaimed your life so triumphantly.

I think that the internet was a refuge for me when I was barely alive, with thinspiration, ‘misery loves company,’ etc. But I also think that it helped me to get better, with researching raw foods and plant based diets. It’s just a tool…

Good luck with your bucket list–sounds like a good project.

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Maryea @ Happy Healthy Mama May 23, 2011 at 5:27 pm

You are beautiful Daphne. Thank you for sharing your story here and congratulations on your courageous recovery. It sounds like you had to go down that road largely alone; there aren’t a lot of people out there who could do that.

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VeggieGirl May 23, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Great bucket list of restaurants; and thank you to Daphne for sharing her story.

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melissa May 23, 2011 at 7:17 pm

gah it’s rapidly approaching! thanks for the list, next time im there i def intend on trying candle79 and one lucky duck. good luck with your move!

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Dori May 23, 2011 at 7:45 pm

Daphne’s story is incredible. I have met her a few times but did not know she struggled in the past. It is amazing to see how vibrant, beautiful and healthy she looks now!

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Jen May 23, 2011 at 8:20 pm

You’re leaving so soon! I hope the move goes as smoothly as possible.

If you’d like a dining partner for Peacefood, I’d be happy to volunteer! :p

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Pure2raw twins May 23, 2011 at 8:48 pm

what a story Daphne. I am so glad to hear you are doing better and honest about still struggling. I think the internet can be good and bad, but over time as the person gets better, surround themselves with positive things the internet can become a friend. Allowing you to reach out and help others, just like you do Gena!

5 days!! good luck with everything, wish we could help

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Gina May 23, 2011 at 8:54 pm

I love Angelica Kitchen! Definitely worth a visit :)

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Casey May 23, 2011 at 8:58 pm

Thank you for sharing your story with us Daphne. I know it’s not easy to speak so openly about something which is so private. I am so glad you have found a path which speaks to you and allows you to live with more meaning and a healthier relationship with food and your body. You go girl! xo

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Katie May 23, 2011 at 11:53 pm

I don’t even know where to begin, but thank you so much for sharing your very personal story. I know that there are a lot of people out there who are going through some similar thoughts and feelings, and knowing they are not alone can only be a positive thing.

Good luck with the move, Gena! I’m right there with you. Packing blows.

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Christine (The Raw Project) May 24, 2011 at 12:08 am

Great story, thank you so much for sharing. It took me back to my own ED days and why I enjoy my new relationship with food.

Gena, good luck and how exciting!

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Katelyn @ Chef Katelyn May 24, 2011 at 6:13 am

Beautiful story, Daphne. I never knew that there were pro-anorexia websites! That is such an odd concept to me. Your story is too like many of ours. I hope that you succeed in your road to health Daphne!

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Kaitlyn May 24, 2011 at 6:43 am

What an incredible, well-written story! I really like all of your Green Recovery series. I’ve definitely suffered from disordered eating and food is still something that is a struggle for me to treat as nourishment rather than punishment. I’ve been vegan before and gone back to omnivore for all the wrong reasons and I’m currently transitioning back to vegan because it truly fits my ideals. This series is such an inspiration ad I’m hoping, along with being morally sound, veganism helps me finally kick my disordered eating habits!

Thanks!

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Lana May 24, 2011 at 9:29 am

thank you so much for sharing this (:
It seems to me that turning to a vegan diet can be so helpful because of the fact that it is life affirming (for me, the exact opposite of my ED, which was a path that could only ultimately lead to death)…we respect the lives of animals and we respect our own right to be nourished, our own right to live.
Also, I can completely get how healing from an eating disorder sparked Daphne’s passion for cooking, leading her to become a chef. As I have recovered, I have discovered a love for creating and sharing food that I probably would not have found had it not been for my ED.
Thanks again for this to both of you, this series is so interesting and inspiring x

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Gena May 24, 2011 at 11:34 pm

Thanks for reading and commenting!

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Whitney May 24, 2011 at 9:55 am

Thank you for sharing your story, Daphne. I’m so thankful you reacted the way you did to the pro-ana sites insetad of letting them further fuel your mission – how very brave of you to turn away and see the truth!

Gena’s question about the harmful/helpful balance of the internet is an interesting one, and one that we’ll likely never be able to quantify to find the answer. Destructive sites like the one Daphne ran across will continue running, endangering those in recovery and those still entrenched in ED alike. This makes it all the more important to for positive influences to occupy the same space – the internet – and to speak up, to scream the message that there is a better way, that there is help, that life is about so much more than what you look like and that when you honor the light inside you and in others, you become your most beautiful self regardless of your physical form.

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Diana (Soap & Chocolate) May 24, 2011 at 10:39 am

Oh gosh, I remember first hearing about pro-ana websites when I was in college and I had a roommate who would look at them. I knew it was a slippery slope she was on, but I couldn’t help being curious. Luckily I didn’t succumb and to this day have not looked those sites up for myself. I can only imagine the havoc they would wreak on my brain, let alone someone in the throes of an ED.

I really like your resto bucket list–I may need to steal it and chip away at it myself. It makes me feel silly for my plans to return to Bonobos again this Thursday, but then again time/$/location are factors in this case. I’m curious what you thought of Gusto–my office is so nearby and I’ve been meaning to try it for years now but have wondered if it was worthwhile. Do tell. :)

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LauraJayne May 24, 2011 at 12:21 pm

I feel very strong that vegetarianism was what helped to re-discover a healthy relationship with food. While I still struggle (and perhaps will always struggle), learning about food, where it came from, and WHY I was eating it helped me to become more mindful about food and my body – the key to a healthier relationship with food for me!

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SquatLikeALady May 24, 2011 at 12:39 pm

I love the recovery series. :)

When I was anorexic, I heard about pro-ana websites (I’m not even sure how — maybe in a newspaper article? a magazine? It was arguing that they should be illegal) but was honestly too exhausted and empty to find one and look at it. Plus, I didn’t want to arouse my parents’ suspicions. I think they can be quite harmful — seeing other anorexic patients who are as emaciated as Daphne describes could certainly be triggering in the “They’re still okay, I will be too” sense. I think that while blogs can be a tremendous source of good, most are not using that ability. A lot of food bloggers *don’t* eat a lot of calories or sufficient calories — and they are serving as role models for thousands of impressionable girls.

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Elizabeth May 24, 2011 at 1:29 pm

I don’t know where I’d have gone with the pro-ana sites. My gut feeling is that I wouldn’t have been sucked in. While I definitely had friends with eating disorders, and while more than a few of my behaviors were “learned,” I do know that whenever I’d read a book or an article about anorexia, my reaction would be a mix of fascination and horror. I think I was always “on edge” – i wanted to be thin – hauntingly, attention-getting thin – but I didn’t want to be skeletal. And I didn’t want to die. So, behaviors that fascinated me (cutting things into tiny pieces, counting, not mixing foods, etc.) I copied; behaviors that freaked me out, I avoided, assiduously. And I never had any tolerance for wannabes, so their presence on a forum would have been enough to keep me away. However, I did have an obsession with cookbooks during those years – I spent HOURS pouring over recipes. So while I think I’d have managed to avoid the pro-ana sites, I know that I would have been all over the food blogs, and who knows if that would have been a good thing or a bad thing? Hopefully I’d have found blogs like Choosing Raw! Congrats on your recovery, Daphne.

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Elizabeth May 24, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Have to admit that I LOVED Black Swan. Maybe I feel “safe” enough in my recovery, who knows.

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Gena May 24, 2011 at 1:59 pm

I wish I had read cookbooks! I really did somehow become disgusted by food, all food, and found it sickening to look at or read about. My lord, how the times have changed :)

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Ali May 24, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Great inspiring story and I also love all the pro-veganism as a healthy part of recovery comments. I have been told by way too many people that ANY restriction is bad, but have since realized that compromising my ethics is wreaking even more havoc in my brain!
I am really glad the internet was not such a big and pervasive factor until I was recovered enought to know not to look at harmful sites. I think it is a mixed blessing. This site seems like a very, very safe place, which makes me happy, but there are so many out there that I have to discipline myself to clikc away from quickly!
As for your other question, Gena, I think cooking is one of the MOST helpful things in recovery. After all, an eating disorter is not like alcoholism, where we can choose to avoid alcohol entirely. We have to find ways to have a healthy relationship with food, and cooking is a great way.

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McKella May 24, 2011 at 5:45 pm

I found that setting limits after ED with a mindset of deprivation is unhelpful, but learning to eat a certain way for health or ethics is extremely empowering, because you’re not just stuffing your face; your creating something, whether it’s a healthier body or planet. It takes a long time for that mindset to develop and I think to key is to give it all the time it needs. No rush.

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Sam May 27, 2011 at 11:35 am

I definitely feel that having a positive focus on food was beneficial in my recovery. Focusing on healthy, delicious cooking put me in control of my diet in a way that has nothing to do with weight loss and everything to do with enjoying meals!

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Ana October 19, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Thanks for sharing your story and congratulations on your recovery!
I have also had issues with eating disorders and solved them by changing the way I viewed eating and beauty by relating them first and foremost to health. Since then I have gone through periods of watching my weight but whenever the thought turned obsesive I would go back to my health mantra, which was not measured by a scale but rather by a balanced amount of nutrients and a variety of foods …
I would also just like to note that Ana is an actual name, (it happens to be mine), the disorder is called anorexia.

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Alex @ Raw Recovery November 8, 2011 at 11:20 am

Thank you Daphne for the inspiring story without being triggering. I often have issues reading about the struggles of others because I hear hints of competitiveness about how much weight was lost (specific numbers and such) and I thank you for not including that in your story. I am currently struggling with Anorexia and have been in treatment for it several times, not realizing that it is my underlying Borderline Personality Disorder that is perpetuating the ED. I am a vegetarian bordering on veganism because I’m lactose intolerant, and I think it is inspiring (like Gena said) to channel those obsessive thoughts about food into positive ones and take pride in preparing meals and knowing that they are good for us, our environment, and animals. Thank you for a great post and for sharing it Gena and Daphne.

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