Green Recovery: Marissa Eats to Live

by Gena on December 11, 2011

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Hello, all. I’m here tonight with a particularly poignant and thoughtful Green Recovery story from a longtime reader (and friend) named Marissa. Marissa is openly up widely for the first time about her struggle with bulimia and disordered eating/thinking, and she has opened up in a truly inspiring way. Please join me in reading and commenting on her story.

My ED story is a little different than most. I was never clinically diagnosed. I never received professional help, and most people that know me–including my parents–have no idea that I’ve ever had an ED. But that’s one of the reasons I want to share my story, for all the people that don’t share and that hide their ED every way they can. That’s why I’m sharing now.

I was never a particularly popular person in high school; I was smart and artsy, and I hated all the fakery and posturing that seems to characterize high school. I had a small group of friends (mostly girls), and that was fine. Until the middle of junior year. That’s when suddenly, my best friend was beautiful to people who didn’t know her and she started dating this guy that I didn’t like (for good reason it would turn out). On top of that, it was SAT/ACT time, I was student directing a musical, assistant editing a magazine, taking ballet and tap class, starting to drive on my own, and still getting straight As. My parents started getting on my case about college and I was visiting a lot of schools, especially with my mom, straining our already rocky relationship. The summer was no better, as my friend kept seeing the same guy, I was working, college apps didn’t magically disappear, and my mom and I got along no better.

The beginning of my senior year is when my ED started, although it had been building. I had never really worried about my weight or my looks before, but as everyone I knew started to come out of teenage hell and as they all began relationships (and I couldn’t get the guy I liked to notice me), I became self-conscious about it. I’m also a perfectionist (like many ED sufferers), and I began to believe that if I could get my weight down to where I wanted it, then everything else would magically be okay. If I was thin, then it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t understand calculus, or if my college applications were woefully incomplete, or if the play I was directing was bad or…well you get the idea. So I became bulimic—I was never clinically diagnosed, but that’s the word that fits best. I binged, and then I purged. Bulimia.

The only problem was that I didn’t want anyone to know about it. Therefore, I would never throw up when anyone was around. No public bathrooms, no friend’s houses, and not even my own home when either or both of my parents were there. So I only ended up purging about once a month. At the beginning, that was enough, but the craving to purge got worse. Sometimes I’d binge, but I wasn’t able to purge discreetly, so I didn’t, which didn’t help anything. Suffice it to say, I never really lost weight, but I did know I had a problem. The summer after I graduated from high school, I decided to do something about it. In addition to my perfectionism, I have pretty good willpower. I didn’t want my parents to know about my problem, so I told my best friends about it, and they made me promise to stop, and to talk about it with them when I felt like I wanted to purge.

And I stopped. It was like I needed someone to tell me to stop, even though I knew it was wrong, and then I would. But just because I wasn’t bulimic anymore didn’t mean that the underlying reasons for my bulimia weren’t still there. I still didn’t like the way I looked. Going off to college, even to a school where everyone was smart and kind of nerdy, didn’t make me feel any more like I belonged, even though I had more friends. Having an unlimited meal plan was quite possibly the worst thing imaginable. At the time I was a vegetarian (have been since I was 12—unrelated to my ED), and there were actually a decent amount of vegetarian options. And as my parents reminded me, we were paying an exorbitant amount of money for me to have unlimited food. And it was there. And the dessert station was strategically placed so that you walked past it just before you exited. And there were cookies, and I love chocolate.

I’m sure you can see where this is going. I never gorged, but first quarter, I didn’t eat particularly healthily. And while I didn’t gain much weight, I certainly didn’t lose any either. So winter quarter I decided that I was going to lose weight. I went online, found some website that calculated how many calories I needed to eat per day to lose weight, as well as calorie calculating websites. And I started counting. I ran at the gym about 3 days a week or so, but the big thing was the numbers. I started out with a target of eating 1400 calories a day, and I calculated after each meal. I’d write down how many I had left for the day each time. I counted for everything that I put in my mouth, and if I went over 1400, then I subtracted the amount I was over from the next day. If I went over that day too, then I ate even less the day after. When this seemed to have no effect on my weight, I went down to 1200 calories per day. This didn’t seem to work either. When I went home for spring break, I got a physical, and of all things, my cholesterol was high. They wanted me to come back in the next month (which was impossible, as my college is a 15 hour drive from home) to check again, and if it was still high, they’d put me on medication. Cholesterol medication. At nineteen. No way.

So spring quarter stayed at 1200 calories, but less fat. I stopped putting oil on my salads. I stopped eating peanut butter so often (and I love peanut butter) and I stopped eating cheese. It didn’t make a difference to my weight, but I felt like there had to be something wrong with me, some reason why I couldn’t lose weight. All of this came to a head after a friend’s birthday party, when I calculated the number of calories I eaten that night and realized that I’d gone over by 1000 and hadn’t noticed or felt full. I called my parents (who knew about the calorie counting, but not the bulimia) and freaked out, crying. That’s when we all knew that something had to change.

I’d been looking into veganism for a while already, but I wasn’t sure that it was something I could feasibly do while I was at college and on the meal plan. One of the vegan blogs that I loved was Susan V’s blog (Fat Free Vegan), and that introduced me to Dr. Fuhrman’s book, Eat to Live. I read it. Basically, it’s all about a healthy eating lifestyle, mostly raw and cooked (non-starchy) vegetables, fruit, and legumes but whole grains, cooked starchy vegetables and nuts in moderation. While the goal of Eat to Live is for a healthier lifestyle, the six-week plan that starts you off is a weight loss plan, although it’s also designed as a transition. The six week plan is vegan, and while you can eat unlimited amounts of vegetables (raw and cooked), fruit, and legumes, you limited your intake of grains to 1 cup per day (and only whole grains, with cooked starchy vegetables in this category), nuts to 28 oz, flax seed to one tablespoon, and avocado to 1/4 of one. No sugar or other sweeteners, no oils, and no salt. The six-week plan also says no dried fruit.

This was like a godsend to me. It was healthy, and proven so, which was something that even throughout all of my messy, disordered eating, I wanted. It didn’t have me wean off things, which doesn’t work for me, it didn’t have exceptions, which I liked, and it motivated me to go vegan, which I loved. When I went home in June after my first year (this past June), I started the six week plan. I also saw a nutritionist, who okayed it, and a few weeks in, I saw my regular doctor. Guess what? After 3 weeks, my cholesterol was way down. No more talk of medication! And I lost weight. I stuck to the plan, and I ran and did ballet, and I lost weight. Not as much as I wanted, but some, which was better than anything I’d previously tried.

Post-six week plan, I stuck with veganism, and I still limit the carbs and the fats. I’ve heard the argument that restriction isn’t good for people with EDs, but for me, the restrictions help remove temptation. My roommate bakes a lot, and I’m not tempted to eat it because I know I can’t. I save my exceptions for when I’m out, maybe once a month, tops. I don’t use oil or salt in my cooking because I’ve learned to live without them (many things seem too salty for me now), and I’ve been keeping my weight pretty stable, and running at least 3 days a week to keep it that way.

Morally, I’ve always wanted to be a vegan, and I think that all my restricted eating finally made me take the leap, and made me eat healthier. I’m not perfect; I’ve stress eaten in ways that I shouldn’t have this year, but I didn’t throw up. I didn’t restrict myself more the next day. I just moved on, because the worst thing is to turn a bad day into a bad week. I hardly think that veganism has solved all of my problems; I still don’t always love my body or myself, and I still feel like I don’t belong sometimes, or that there’s something wrong with me. But I’ve stopped thinking that food–or lack thereof–can fix these problems for me.

I was really nervous about sharing my story, since no one really knows the whole thing, or the extent of the problems that were going on in my head. But I wanted to share because I know there are CR readers out there like me—who get strength from Gena and the bolg, but who aren’t ready for anyone outside the world of cyberspace to know yet because they think it’ll label them, or make people treat them differently. But I’m here to say that if you have good friends, they won’t judge you, and they’ll still love you and treat you the same as always.

And veganism can help. For me, it also sparked me to start getting involved in other things I care about, like climate change activism, and I also went to Brazil with Habitat for Humanity–which would have been a terror for me as recently as a year ago, since it was a group of strangers who would judge me. If you’re a college student, I am too, and it is possible to go vegan in college; it’s been working for me all this year. Some people think it’s weird, but it won’t lose you any friends or romantic prospects (neither my ex or current boyfriend are vegan). And if veganism is something you’ve always wanted to try, do it. You might try all of those other things you’ve always wanted to do, and being open and more content with your life translates into interpersonal relationships (I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my first kiss came at 19—after I became a vegan and stopped restricting my eating).

To finish, I just want to say how great Gena is for starting this series and for discussing such a personal aspect of her life on her blog. She’s inspired me so much, and although we’re not friends, even blogger friends, I don’t think there’s anyone else whose blog I could have written this post for.


Thank you so very much, Marissa, for sharing your story with all of us!

A few thoughts:

First, Marissa mentions several times that she was never clinically diagnosed with her bulimia. I’m glad that her story is being featured, because in the many years I’ve been writing about eating disorders, I have found that there are many more women and men who have had eating disorders than there are women and men who have been diagnosed. I myself managed to escape formal diagnosis during both of my relapses, although my family physician had flagged my first bout of anorexia when I was young. Naturally, many of the more extreme cases of eating disorders are ultimately diagnosed by school health professionals, physicians, psychologists, and nutritionists. But many more cases slip through the proverbial cracks, in part because people with eating disorders are so good at concealing them.

It’s important to recognize the unique urgency of extreme ED cases, but it’s equally important to recognize that many cases that are either subclinical or undiscovered cause as much suffering and pain as the cases that do get diagnosed. If you suspect that you have disordered habits, but you don’t necessarily meet all of the criteria for clinical diagnosis (especially BMI), that does not mean that you shouldn’t seek out help and compassion.

Second: Marissa mentions that Eat to Live was a godsend for her, and that she continues to eat a lower carb and lower fat vegan diet. Historically, I’ve felt very strongly about never vilifying food groups on my blog: mine is not a low fat, low sugar, low salt, or low carb approach. Instead, I believe that these food groups should coexist in healthy and reasonable proportions in anyone’s diet, because they all serve important biological purposes. With that said, I do see clearly that certain approaches—lower fat, anti-candida, low-oil, grain-free—work for certain people, depending on their frames of mind and health needs.

I’m glad that Marissa (who knows my food philosophy very well) was forthright about what works for her. And while I do tend to caution ED survivors against restricting or cutting out food groups, I also realize that there is no single approach to treatment and recovery. If there were, this series would not exist, because I was told by many people that a person with my history should never become vegan. The rest is history.

Finally: I’ve been asked in comments whether I’d please features more stories of binge eating disorder? I’d love to. But so far, I haven’t gotten many of these submissions (aside from Wendy’s fabulous story). So, if you have a story of binge eating recovery to share, please do!

Beyond that, I hope you can all see what a wonderful outlet and forum is. I know from many of your comments that you have green recovery stories of your own to share, so please: share! Remember that I can always keep them anonymous: this is about self-expression and community, not about forcing yourself to be more revealing than you want to be.

Happy Sunday,

xo

 

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{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

Audrey December 11, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Interesting that others asked about binge eating disorder. I’ve dealt with/am dealing with that and I find it’s not discussed as often as the other eating disorders. I have also dealt with anorexia, though, so I can certainly relate to these stories. I think at the core it is all just different manifestations of the same disordered thinking.

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Hannah December 11, 2011 at 9:31 pm

This was a great post, Marissa! Thank you for sharing your story. It’s so sad how many people with EDs go undiagnosed – I’m sure the numbers would be so much higher if we were better able at noticing the signs. Luckily, the DSM-5 is changing its set of criteria for eating disorders so that more people can get insurance for their eating issues. Hopefully with more knowledge and awareness there will be more people getting professional help.

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Marissa December 11, 2011 at 9:57 pm

Thanks so much Hannah!

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Sandra December 11, 2011 at 10:53 pm

Please thank Marissa for her story and give her a ((hug)). I just wanted to add something here – I had my own eating problems for decades but did not realize that they had effected my son to the point that he dropped to 130# at 6′ tall, ran daily and would only eat 1000 calories per day. He’s now in college and we are working on this; luckily he has found a really sweet girlfriend who is supportive of him. For those who think that disordered eating/bulimia is just a female problem, it isn’t. It’s a self esteem problem and we are all vulnerable. If more young people become willing to talk about this and share their stories, I think that it will help many more (like my son) to realize that they are not “weird” and to stop hiding and actually get the help and support that they need. Thank you.

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Gena December 12, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Sandra,

Thank you for this very candid comment! I’m glad that your son is healing, and yes — EDs are most certainly not limited to one gender.

G

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Hannah December 12, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Just thought I’d post this link: http://mengetedstoo.co.uk/ in case anyone is interested

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Susan O. December 11, 2011 at 10:59 pm

Thank you so much Marissa and Gena for posting her story. This was almost identical to my story only I ate one apple (and juices) a day for an ENTIRE YEAR. My Aunt noticed and commented on my weight at the beach one day but my parents never cared and I hid it pretty well. I too became vegetarian at age 12 for animal-loving reasons and was never diagnosed or treated – I stopped myself when I started getting sick all the time and felt weak. I was always an athlete and a runner and hated feeling weak, so I started eating better. I am now almost vegan (can’t give up that dairy cheese, I love it) and still count calories but am not thin, am normal weight. I feel much better. Thanks so much for sharing this, it helps to know there are others who cured themselves and got over the stupid eating habits and got healthy!

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Lou December 11, 2011 at 11:29 pm

Thanks for sharing, Marissa – you are a brave, strong woman and your courage will drive your recovery I am sure of it :)

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tera December 11, 2011 at 11:49 pm

Marissa is so brave for doing this. I started being vegetarian for ethical reasons about 3 years ago. I started having weight problems about 4 years ago. At first, I thought vegetarianism would help me lose a lot of weight and become thin (that was my goal in life- to become thin, smart, and beautiful). Then I became too skinny and afraid to go out in public. When I discovered veganism, however, my life totally changed. I started eating more healthy foods, I gained (healthy) weight, and I haven’t had any urges to go back to ‘SAD’ foods, or become anorexic (as I was basically anorexic when I was younger). I think the whole attitude of veganism- balance and kindness, even to your body- really helped me.

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elizabeth December 12, 2011 at 12:13 am

Melissa, it sounds as if you nipped a serious eating disorder in the bud. Good for you. You were obviously a very self aware teenager.
Gena, maybe one day you can sort out for your readers the relationship between diet and cholesterol. Because I know from my talks with clinicians that for individuals with high cholesterol, a low fat diet is helpful in managing it. Why is then that for individuals with very low cholesterol a high fat diet has no impact on levels. My cholesterol, for example, hovers around 133, and my diet is VERY high in fat.

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IngaG December 12, 2011 at 6:21 am

I love the idea of a post about cholesterol and diet! I am coming from the other side of the pool though :) High cholesterol seems to run in my family, and even though I am now eating a mostly plant-based diet and watching my omega3/6 balance, my LDL is still slightly above normal (although my ratios are great, my HDL is high, and triglycerides are low). I am wondering if people like me need to watch coconut milk and oil, as they likely remain the highest source of saturated fat in my diet right now and are a huge part of many delicious vegan/vegetarian recipes.

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Wendy (Healthy Girl's Kitchen) December 12, 2011 at 7:19 am

IngaG-Would it be strange for me to recommend that you take a look at a book called Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn (former Chief of surgery at The Cleveland Clinic). I cut out oils (yes coconut and olive oil-which the Esselstyns call “the triumph of marketing over science”) and my high cholesterol went way down. It’s easy to do also. I don’t miss it one iota.

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Gena December 12, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Inga,

Watching coconut oil may be helpful for you, though I would say it’s worth experimenting with unsaturated oils as a replacement before giving up oil altogether. See what happens when you make such a “swap.” Also keep in mind that, while the effects of genetics can be substantially mitigated through lifestyle, they do play a role as well!

G

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IngaG December 13, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Just wanted to thank both of you for responding. I will keep thinking about it. There is a number of things I could still modify…

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Gena December 12, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Elizabeth,

This is a really excellent question, and a source of mystery, I believe, even for doctors who are trying to get their patients’ low cholesterols up. I’ll certainly think on it, and perhaps enlist Dr. Seale to chime in, too. I know that genetics play a big role here, but that’s probably not the whole story.

G

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Ali December 12, 2011 at 1:42 am

Thank you so much for your bravery Marissa. You have no idea how many lives you may touch by sharing your story. I believe that it is through bringing our pain into the light that we begin to heal, as well has help others to heal. Thank you again.

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Ela December 12, 2011 at 2:20 am

Brave post! Thank you and big kudos for sharing it so openly and thoroughly.

I especially related to you saying that even though you knew something was bad for you, you needed to have that reflected by people who cared about you. Totally, totally relate to that! And incidentally, it’s awesome that you told your friends and that they gave you that kind of support. And speaking of undiagnosed cases, yes, absolutely: I think I may have suffered as much or more during relapses at relatively normal weights and ‘under the radar’ as I did at more extreme lows.

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Marissa December 13, 2011 at 3:05 am

Ela,

I’m so glad you could relate so well to my story! It’s one of the big reasons I wanted to share it; so many people only see eating disorders at their extremes, and there’s so much middle ground.

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Sarah December 12, 2011 at 2:21 am

Gena and Marissa, thanks for sharing this. I think it was really important to share about never being diagnosed with an ED. So often the thought patterns that some struggle with are worse than the clinical/physical manifestations of their ED. Does that make sense? At some point when my disorder first began I felt that it was a way to express what I was struggling with inside to others. I remember the harrowing thoughts that in my mind were not mirrored by how low my weight was (that was 10 years ago but I still remember it well).

Marissa, well done for finding what works for you and for your strength in sharing your story with us xxx Lots of love xxx

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Marissa December 13, 2011 at 3:05 am

Thanks so much Sarah!

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Cassandra @ She Don't Eat No Meat December 12, 2011 at 4:16 am

I too was never diagnosed and thus for a long time thought that that meant I didn’t have a problem on any level. Thank you for sharing this story and showing that ED affects people on a wide range of levels and still can have a huge impact on their lives even if it isn’t as visible as more extreme cases.

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IngaG December 12, 2011 at 6:12 am

Congratulations on recovery and finding your way!

I was surprised to hear that a diagnosis matters so much to people. I learned about EDs on my own from educational materials in college in the UK, as I developed bulimia at 16. Towards the end of that year, I spent all of my allowance and earnings on buying food, bingeing, and then purging up to 2-3 times a day, to the point of sitting next to the toilet in tears. It never occurred to me to seek diagnosis. I never thought it would matter one bit. When years later I did seek professional help for other issues, I told them matter of factly I had bulimia and nobody questioned it. I guess, because of my experience I just assumed most people don’t get an official diagnosis, unless they get into official treatment programs or a hospital…

Today, at almost 29, while my relationship with food and my body is much healthier, I still sometimes struggle with bingeing and even get to an occasional purge. I am okay with it. I have a lot of struggles with returning to school and some things in my personal life, and I am learning new copying techniques. But if I still revert to some of the old ones, that’s fine. I don’t view it as still having an ED, although clearly I am not free of it either. Whether this is denial or just learning to be less of a perfectionist, I don’t know.

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Wendy (Healthy Girl's Kitchen) December 12, 2011 at 7:12 am

Oh my gosh. Thank you Marissa for sharing your story. I am so thrilled for you that you have found the Eat to Live way of perceiving food at this time of your life. It took me almost 20 more years of absolute hell before I was turned on to it. I hope that some of the other women in your life who are going through similar things as you are perceptive and ask you about E2L. It is so powerful for those in the grips of binge eating . . .

And Gena-I was really struck by your comments about diagnosis of eating disorders. I was never diagnosed and really didn’t even consider my eating disorder very serious because I wasn’t anorexic and never purged. I just binge ate whenever I was stressed out, which was often as I am a bit of an overachieving perfectionist (I can laugh about it, which is probably a good thing). You have given me a lot to think about today and I thank you for that, and this wonderful series. I look forward to the next installment.

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Annie December 12, 2011 at 8:29 am

Thank you so much, Marissa and Gena, for sharing this story. I would like to point out that it actually sounds like Marissa suffers from anorexia, and not bulimia. Anorexia tends to have a lot to do with control and mastery over one’s body/circumstances. Bulimia, on the other hand, is more about loss of control (not being able to stop eating). This can lead the individual to purge (through vomiting, laxatives, or other means) to make up for their overeating in the first place (vs. strategic purging, which is what the story seems to describe). My main concern in pointing this out is that, while changing your diet may be effective for some, my guess is that it would be primarily effective with people who suffer from anorexia, and not those who suffer from bulimia.

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Marissa December 13, 2011 at 3:17 am

Annie,

One of the reasons I emphasized my lack of diagnosis is because I don’t think all eating disorders–mine in particular–can fit into the neat boxes of either being anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating. There are lots of variations, and disordered eating can manifest itself in many ways. I would say though, that I was bulimic in high school (characterized by the bingeing and purging), but that I was closer to anorexia in college, although I’d be hesitant to label it as such, since I never really lost any weight.

I also think, and this is simply from personal experience, that it’s difficult to characterize any eating disorder as always about control or lacking control. I binged simply in order to purge, simple as that. If I didn’t eat enough, it was harder for me to throw up, so I purposefully binged. However, I agree with you that bulimia does not work that way for everyone, and I want to emphasize that changing my die, especially in such a radical way, was what worked for me personally, and it may not work for everyone.

Thanks so much for your thought-provoking comment!

Marissa

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Rachel December 14, 2011 at 2:10 am

I just wanted to add a couple things here too in response to both Annie and Marissa’s comments! I hope this doesn’t come across as me trying to be a “know it all,” just hoping to share some of the stuff I’ve learned…and that it isn’t too confusing! :) I have been in eating disorder treatment for the past 2 years, and before entering treatment my eating disorder basically cycled between bulimia and anorexia.

-Re. control: I still have a difficult time with this concept, but therapists in my program emphasize that although people may feel “in control” with restriction in particular, they are actually completely out-of-control. The eating disorder is controlling them, and they are not in control of any aspect of their lives (school, job, relationships, emotionally, moving forward in life) when they spend every second obsessing about food.

-Additionally, restricting is typically a part of bulimia as well, even if it isn’t as obvious because weight loss isn’t generally as evident…this restriction can include anything from trying to limit calories, trying to lose weight, over-exercising, to the actual purging itself. I have heard so so so many times from providers that “under-eating/restricting leads to binging,” so frequently the first step in treatment for bulimia is to get on an established meal plan (and therefore change diets). The overall goal being that the patients can’t fully dissect the emotional issues behind bulimia until they address the body’s natural response (binging) to restriction.

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McKella December 12, 2011 at 10:26 am

My eating disorder was never diagnosed either, and I never received professional help specifically for eating issues, though I did for depression and anxiety. I’m glad to here from someone else who was never diagnosed either. Sometimes it makes me feel “left out” of the recovered ED circle because I feel like I never “officially” had an ED, even though I consumed about 700 calories a day for several months while exercising, and ate compulsively for years afterward. I think a lot of recovered disordered eaters who weren’t diagnosed feel the same way and may struggle even more with recovery because their situation isn’t well-defined and they tend to go unnoticed.

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Heather @ For the Love of Kale December 12, 2011 at 10:40 am

Marissa! Many, many, many kudos to you for sharing your story for the first time on a blog where thousands of people come to read every day. You’re so strong for this. This was my favorite line: “I didn’t restrict myself more the next day. I just moved on, because the worst thing is to turn a bad day into a bad week.” That is the essence of recovery – you are living it, sister!!! :-)

It is interesting that you found recovery in the Eat to Live lifestyle because it is a weight loss-centered program. For some ED sufferers, leaning towards a low-carb, low-fat dietary lifestyle would be considered “safe” and connected with classic ED behaviors (i.e. fear of gaining weight from carbs and fat).I’m interested to know how you managed to free those thoughts from your mind while following the Eat to Live plan. (Note: I’m not trying to judge you in any way – I’m so happy for you and your recovery – just genuinely interested).

Stay lovely,
Heather

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Marissa December 13, 2011 at 3:29 am

Heather,

One of the most interesting and frustrating things about my disordered eating was that I never actually lost any weight–in fact, it’s possible that I gained weight instead. Therefore, following Eat to Live gave me a healthy, balanced plan that allowed me to maintain a healthy weight. It also allowed me to stop feeling guilty about the occasional dessert, because I know that I’m eating healthily the rest of the time and taking care of myself. I feel healthier and more energetic since I started Eat to Live over a year ago, and I’ve gotten so used to it that I can’t imagine going back.

My “level” of Eat to Live has also changed over time; at the beginning I avoided oil, sugar, and salt like the plague, even at restaurants, so that I would get used to the plan and eating foods without those items. Now, however, my rule is that I don’t cook with oils, sugar, or salt unless it’s a special occasion, but when I eat out, I ignore the “rules”. I never think about it as avoiding gaining weight, I just think of it as being the way that I’m healthy.

Thank you so much for your encouraging comment–I’m so glad you were inspired by it!

Marissa

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Heather @ For the Love of Kale December 13, 2011 at 7:29 am

Thanks for your response, Marissa! Thorough and well-received, my love. :-)

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Anonymous December 19, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Heather, there are many conventional ideas about what is “normal” and “healthy.” Without ever adding one drop of oil to your food, you are getting a reasonable amount of fat. The most important thing is getting a sufficient quantity of fruits, vegetables, and beans. I used to weigh over 180 lbs on a vegetarian diet with no refined grains, and at 5′ 1″ that was clearly too much. I like Dr. Fuhrman’s ideas, but the book that helped me the most was Caldwell Esselstyn’s Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. The EASY and DELICIOUS recipes in the second half of the book made me WANT to eat this way. I also recommend another blog, Happy Healthy Long Life. Google rather that, or Healthy Librarian. Wishing all who read this, vibrant good health, appreciation for all the good you have, and joy.

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Sandy December 12, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Thank you so much for sharing your story Marissa. Thank you for being strong and brave and a wonderful example to us all.

<3

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Marissa December 13, 2011 at 3:30 am

Thanks so much roomie! Love you too!

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bitt December 12, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Thanks for sharing your story, Marissa. Young women and girls feel so vulnerable at that age about their body. So glad Dr. Fuhrman’s book was helpful to you. Some people might have been told to stay away from veganism during that time of recovery but it sounds like it helped you refocus your energy to eating healthy not to restrict calories. It also was important for me to see that you were vegetarian before you had an eating disorder. Therefore you may have had (you didn’t say specifically) an ethical reason for not eating meat and the veganism switch didn’t seem to evolve out of restriction.

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Gena December 12, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Thanks for noticing that, Bitt — I too thought it was interesting that Marissa’s ethical gravitation toward vegetarianism was not a product of her ED experience.

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Marissa December 13, 2011 at 3:37 am

I definitely have ethical reasons for not eating meat, and always have. When I tell people I’m a vegan, some assume that I did it to lose weight or that it makes me thin (these people don’t know about my ED history), and I’m always quick to tell them that I’m a vegan for ethical reasons, the health benefits are an added bonus, and that veganism is not a weight loss strategy. When people who know my ED history seem skeptical of my veganism, I try to remind them that vegan does not equal thin; after all, French fries are vegan!

In addition, I don’t see veganism as restricting; I probably eat a wider variety of foods since becoming a vegan than I did when I ate meat or when I was a vegetarian!

Thank you for your lovely comment!

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megan December 12, 2011 at 2:44 pm

i haven’t been able to read this yet, but wanted to post that i think the opening image should be changed. like many images that are linked to e.d. recovery, in its depiction of an absence/emptiness it seems to be aestheticizing the disorder (see heroine chic) and is itself triggering. if nothing else it would be better after the jump.

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Gena December 12, 2011 at 2:46 pm

I think you make a really good point, Megan. I’m going to change the image to the one I have in the text.

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megan December 14, 2011 at 11:03 am

I just got around to reading the article and really liked it. It is amazing how we all experience these things differently but the patterns are still there. Also thanks for changing the image. As to own stories I have found http://stopchasingskinny.com/ to be really helpful and particularly identified with the article “If You Want to Quit Barfing” by Jennifer Molica

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Anonymous December 12, 2011 at 5:24 pm

Wow, Marissa’s story was truly inspiring! I too became a vegan when I started college and found out that it was difficult at first. I soon began being very particular in what I ate. I read many different views of what were the right foods to eat and I tried different diets that worked best for me. One of the diets that stuck out to me was low carb (no grains at night), high protein, fruits and vegetables, no salt. This particular diet stuck out to me because it seemed to be working for fitness models and I compared my body to them (which I shouldnt have). I noticed myself slipping into revolving my life around food, and became unhappy when i ate something that wasnt “pure”. I told myself I needed to seek for help and started attending therapy. I found issues that had to do with my past rather than food itself. I started to get better but then I started to get worse a few months later. I began to binge when I ate grains at night because I believed they were harming my body or if I ate too much. I only did this for a month or two, and Im proud to say that I no longer rely my day around food or on bingeing. I had to find a happy place in my life, and that helped greatly with my thinking on food.

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Laura-Jane the Rawtarian December 12, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Thank you for sharing your empowering story, Marissa. I am glad you’ve found some peace with vegan foods.

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Jami December 12, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Thank you for telling us about your experience, Marissa. I can really relate to your struggle, particularly the part where entering college coincided with an increase in unhealthy behaviors. It can be especially difficult if you have a complicated relationship with parents and haven’t yet made new friends, etc. I think it can be very lonely and terrifying age for young women. I wonder what we can do to make that transition easier? Also, I went to a women’s college and I wonder if young men have a similar or different experience with regard to diet and body image.

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Marissa December 13, 2011 at 3:47 am

The problems that I saw with the college dining system at my school was that I had unlimited food (I could walk into any of 3 dining halls between 7am and 8pm every day of the week and eat as much as I wanted), and that healthy eating is not emphasized. I met with multiple people on the dining staff during my sophomore year when they were trying to accommodate my Eat to Live diet with the meal plan, and that was the first time I learned that I could ask the cooks to water-sauté vegetables for me, it was impossible for them to get canned beans without salt, and that having plain sweet potatoes at the vegetarian station was something I had to ask them to have.

The worst part is that because I attend a private university where the administration emphasizes the dining halls as places of community, they were actually extremely attentive to my situation. Many of my friends attend large state colleges where the dining options are even less plentiful. I don’t know if I could have survived in one of those schools!

I guess I’m not sure what exactly the transition should look like, but I think healthier eating options and a wide variety of foods for people of all special dietary needs is a must. There’s a reason why college students get a bad reputation as unhealthy eaters, and campus dining halls are a huge part of that.

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Kaitlyn@TheTieDyeFiles December 13, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Another inspiring post. Thanks Marissa for sharing so openly. I think it’s so important to remember that most EDs don’t get diagnosed, particularly those which are certainly disordered habits but don’t meet clinical diagnosis criteria. While my BMI never fell to clinical levels, I suffered in silence for several years through countless binge and restrict cycles. It wreaked havoc on my mental well-being and surely my physical well-being. I love Marissa’s assertion that a plant-based diet corrected her high cholesterol because I think veganism has enhanced my health as well. And I also completely agree with the point that her restrictive tendencies allowed her actions and morals to come into better alignment. I feel the same way, though now I understand fully that veganism does not mean restriction by any means!

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Erin December 13, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Fist of all, I think it’s a brave thing to share such a personal story with the world, and I applaud Melissa for that. However, elements of this story disturbed me…I fail to see how a restrictive low-fat, low-carb diet is ultimately healthy for someone who has struggled with ED. Melissa talks a lot about her strategies for trying to lost weight..its seems like this vegan, no-fat low-carb diet finally did the trick for her…and I don’t really see how this equate to a solution to her ED issues. Perhaps I’m missing something here, but the conclusion of ‘I restrict and have lost weight, therefore I’m happy and cured’ seems to be missing the point and ultimately unhealthy. Perhaps Melissa can sustain this salt and oil-free existence forever, but the need to restrict in this manner generally comes from an unhealthy place, and I worry that if faced with a food situation that is beyond her control, those more severe ED and self-worth issues will come to light.

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Marissa December 13, 2011 at 11:48 pm

Erin,

Perhaps this didn’t come through as well as I would have liked in my post, but I found that starting Eat to Live made me generally healthier (particularly with regards to my cholesterol levels) and more energetic, and that it stopped me from thinking about how much I was eating and more about what I was eating, particularly whether or not I was happy with what it was I was eating. As I mentioned in a reply to someone else’s comment, I’m at the point in Eat to Live where I’m more flexible with “the rules”; I don’t use oil or salt when I cook, but when I eat out, I do, and I’ll eat dessert when I’m out if I feel like it, despite the sugar. Again, this is what makes me feel healthy and I’ve found that I actually enjoy it, and therefore enjoy eating. And even though I don’t use oil, I’m a big proponent of other fats like nuts, avocados, and flax and chia seeds (and other seeds).

I’m also the sort of person who doesn’t do well with a ton of restrictions, but I find that I flounder without any at all (I’m the sort of person who likes schedules and plans), so I’ve actually gotten much more creative in both my eating and cooking since both becoming a vegan and starting Eat to Live, and I’ve found a lot of new foods (chia seeds being a prime example) that I would have never thought to try that I now love. I’ve also done a good deal of traveling since I started this, most notably on a Habitat for Humanity trip to rural Brazil, and though I was able to stay vegan, I knew going in that I wouldn’t be following Eat to Live, and that was OK. It didn’t make me stress out beforehand or try to eat differently before or after to make up for it. So I think that I have found a healthy way of eating that works for me.

Thank you so much for your comment and your concern!

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Raw Antonia December 14, 2011 at 10:55 am

Great post, I’ve only just read this and found it very inspiring. I like to sometimes read posts on raw blogs that talk about real issues that real people get confronted with and not just “rawism is so wonderful, raw food is all pink bunnies and butterflies”. Everyone is vulnerable to depression and eating disorders, and sometimes, even if you have every reason to be happy, some things just don’t add up. It’s hard to find balance even when on a raw food diet, and many of us may become discouraged and think that they’re doing something wrong when all they see is people talking about how perfect their lives are since they’ve gone raw.
I’m sorry for this rather bitter-sounding post, i really do enjoy this blog and the amazing work the writer does to share her raw food experience with us!
Stay strong and Happy Holidays!

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Haley December 19, 2011 at 11:18 am

I really don’t agree with this story. I feel like this girl has made veganism into her new ED. I used to use my veganism to keep myself in check. I used the rules to skip meals, avoid people and public places, and slowly destroy myself. At first being a vegan was about the health, but the more restricted I became the better I felt. Soon I was cycling for 3 hours, running a half marathon, and eating 1000 calories. After a few months I fell apart and started binge eating and then working out to get rid of it all. I relapsed on my bipolar and started cycling again. I was after 6 months of this cycle that I went to the Dr. and found out that I had a hiatal hernia, a destroyed small intestine from pyloric valve that was stuck open for at least a month, pancreas problems, and hypothryroidism.
Now I am on a temporary low-sugar, mostly grain-free diet in an attempt to give my pancreas a break for a while. I am also eating again. Does the anxiety of eating still get to me, yes. But going back to a vegan diet would not be helpful in the least. It just decreases the anxiety until you develop a tolerance. Then you need more, much more.
Shame on you for using a vegan diet (which is impossible to maintain without supplements and processed foods) as a way to get healthy again.

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Bookworm December 19, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Haley, not everyone is the same. Also, it is erroneous to say that one needs to eat processed foods and lots of supplements on a vegan diet. I eat vegetables, beans, and fruit mostly, and the only supplements I take are B12 and D. I am 67, have been doing this for a few years, and am healthier than I have ever been. The wonderful, simple, and delicious recipes in Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease helped this former steak and pizza lover on her way. I feel wonderful now. Good luck to you on your path, but don’t assume that others are wrong! ;)

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Gena December 19, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Shame on you, Haley, for receiving marissa’s story in such an accusatory manner. Bodies are different, psyches are different, and it seems to me that marissa is quite connected to her own best interests. I’m deeply sorry to hear that veganism became your own means of perpetuating an eating disorder, but you might be wary–we ALL might be wary–of ascribing our own motives to other people.

As for processed foods and supplements: well, a B-12 supplement is essential, yes. But this blog, and countless others, disprove that notion about processed foods efficiently–and beautifully.

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Sarah December 19, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Thank you to Marissa for sharing your story! Gena, I have been following your blog for awhile now and find it truly inspiring. I have struggled with binge eating for years (and periods of severe restriction) and the “restrictions” of a high-raw, vegan diet have given me a freedom that I had previously given up on. Many people label the lifestyle as an extension of disordered eating, and it certainly can be. But those who make this criticism do not consider what it is like to be curled up on the floor, shaking because the need to eat is so severe that you can’t move. Let them feel the agony of being immobilized after a binge (without having actually tasted what was consumed). It is not always about emotions and self control; there is a physiological aspect, too, and I have definitely suffered some very unpleasant withdrawals from food. For some of us, the “restrictions” of a vegan diet allow us to function on a daily basis. If that makes me a disordered eater, then I’ll take it. Being able to get out of bed in the morning, pay attention during lectures, compose music, and be a loving sister/wife/friend/daughter are all things that I prioritize above eating “normally.”

On a lighter note, I really appreciate everything you’ve done with your blog, Gena! I used to be staunchly opposed to reaching out and owning my struggles with food, but have seen that it can be incredibly healing in a safe environment. Thank you for giving me hope, even during times of relapse!

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Gena December 19, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Oh, Sarah. What a comment! This warmed my heart. I appreciate it SO very much, and I thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. I hope this will always be a safe space for you.

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A April 24, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Echoing Sarah’s sentiments, I also come to this blog — particularly the Green Recovery series — when I feel the need for healthy dialogue in a safe environment. I’ve struggled with disordered eating for at least a decade now, ranging from restriction to over-eating, though I feel more recovered now than I ever have been. I actually revisited this post after having a tough week or so. Reading the discussion helps me to feel less isolated, and Gena, I appreciate how mindful you are of welcoming everyone’s experience.

I finally felt compelled to write something because this comment thread contains a lot of discussion of ETL. I identify with the many who have found success with adopting that approach — I feel best when I eat a high volume of low-calorie foods, and generally limit snacking along with calorie dense foods. However, I sometimes find the tone in his books and on his website to be off-putting, as abstract as that may be. I suppose the talk of complete abstinence, along with the prescriptive nature of the advice, is too similar to the ED voice inside my head that always dictated what I “should” do (versus what I “wanted”). The conflict between these two is what resulted in the restriction and binges. (However, to be fair, I know I am not the target audience of Dr. Furhman’s advice. He has an impressive record of helping people reverse disease and lose tremendous amounts of weight. What I perceive as sometimes too ascetic has been life saving to others.)

A significant part of my recovery has come from reconciling the “should” vs. “want” — not to say those two are in complete harmony yet. (They may never be, and I’m getting used to that.) But it’s gotten to the point where my goals are more in tune with my needs, and the times when I do indulge are more mindful and deliberate. My recovery is still in process, but my “bad” days are limited and I don’t let them cast a shadow on everything else.

There’s plenty more I could say, and I realize I’ve hardly touched upon veganism explicitly in this comment, but I just wanted to finally post some of my thoughts. Again, I am deeply appreciative of this blog, Gena, and the great community and discussion it provides.

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