A few weeks ago, I got an email from a young man named Houston. In it, he said,
I love your blog and ever since I read the first green recovery story I have wanted to write my own. My Veganism is still evolving and I am still recovering from my disordered eating, but I feel that reading your blog has given me a new perspective on life and has played an integral part in healing my relationship with food and myself. You don’t have to use it, but I wanted to get my story out there since I know that there are other males who have struggled with disordered thinking and could find some hope that life is about more than athletic performance.
I quickly sat down to read Houston’s story of recovery-in-progress, and it brought tears to my eyes. I was touched not only by the maturity with which he’s embracing recovery, but also with his candor and hope. I hope you’ll all take the time to read his story, and join me in commending him on his courage.
Hello, my name is Houston and I am a recovering anorexic/compulsive exerciser. Before my disordered eating habits formed I was a normal, active kid. I played sports and enjoyed food like any other kid. I ate anything and everything. Meal times, snack time, and food in general was something I looked forward to and enjoyed immensely.
My relationship with food started to change when I got into high school. When I was 16, my dad had a health scare and we all began to eat a healthier diet with more whole grains and less processed foods. At first this was great because I started to feel better and I had more energy to play sports. My interest in nutrition grew and I began to do research about different diets and learned about calories. For some reason I decided that I needed to lose some weight to become a better athlete.
I was not a large kid. In fact, I was one of the slimmer and more athletically built kids, but the idea that losing weight would make me a better athlete seemed reasonable to me, and since I am such a goal oriented person I set off to lose some “extra” weight. I started to weigh myself every day and cut out candy and seconds at the dinner table. It wasn’t long before I began to lose weight. It dropped off very quickly and I was ecstatic. I restricted my diet even more by cutting out all extra fats and sugars that I deemed excessive. My diet was quickly becoming an eating disorder, but I did not see this at the time.
I began to withdraw from my family and friends and was pushing everyone in my life that loved and cared about me away. I shunned my friends at school, I shut myself in my room at home, and food was now an enemy and a source of daily stress. I began counting calories and meticulously controlling every tiny bit of food that would go in my body. The extra energy that I felt when I started to eat healthier had left me and I was now constantly fatigued. I could no longer run when I was at soccer practice and even walking around school was an arduous task. Everyday life became hard and I just withdrew into myself even further.
At this point my parents began to worry because they would see me on the soccer field walking and wonder to themselves, “What is wrong with him? He isn’t running.” They took me to the doctor and he told me that I needed to put some weight on. I said okay, but those were just hollow words that didn’t mean anything. I continued to meticulous control my food and remain at this low weight for the rest of high school. During the end of my senior year (distraught and disgusted with soccer) I began to ride my bike again (I used to ride all the time with my father, but then stopped with it became “uncool”). This started out as a good thing for me because I began to eat more and started to feel a bit happier with myself, but pretty soon it just became another outlet for my disorder.
I began to ride more and more. I would eat what seemed like a lot of food to my parents, but in reality I was not eating near enough for the amount of riding that I was doing. My weight began to drop again. Now, instead of restricting my intake I was purging my body by excessive exercise. This process lasted until just a few months ago.
Then, something inside of me changed. One summer afternoon, I looked around me and saw all the people at my university laughing and smiling and enjoying the sunshine with their friends. Then I looked at myself, all alone with no one to talk to, and realized that this was no way to live. Life should be enjoyed and spent having fun with friends and family rather than worrying about what my next meal was going to be and whether or not it would be “healthy” or not. This was my epiphany moment the thing that facilitated the change I am currently going through.
About this time I began doing some research into Veganism and I found this website. I was intrigued by the idea that food was not fuel (which is how I thought about food since I was still exercising excessively), but rather nutrition and a way to nourish your body. I embraced this idea and went Vegan overnight.
I have been Vegan for over 4 months now and my relationship with food is healing. Food is no longer bland, tasteless substances entering my body just to fuel my compulsive exercising. I now enjoy my meals and make them taste delicious using pant-based ingredients. I no longer look at riding my bike as a way to purge my body of calories. Instead, I experience the joy that I used to get, before my disorder, by feeling the sun on my skin and the wind rush through my hair. The fatigue and niggling injuries that have plagued me for the past four years improved soon after I went Vegan. My depression lifted and I began to break down the walls that kept people at such a distance from me.
I feel that going Vegan has given me a new outlook on life and is healing my body and mind from the inside out. Food is no longer the evil that it was during my disordered eating days. Now it is nourishment for my body and energy to experience life and live it to the fullest. Before I was an emotionless shell void of the most basic and fundamental emotions. Now I am finding happiness each-and-everyday. Whether that is from something as simple as watching the sunrise or eating a really good apple; something always happens that makes me smile. I am still in the process of recovering, but with everyday life becomes a little brighter.
Thank you, Houston, for sharing.
I (and I’m sure many of you) could relate to so much of Houston’s story: the effort to eat healthy that turned into a full blown obsession with rooting out all sugar, fat, and calories; the exercise compulsion; the moment when you walk around observing people who aren’t shut up at home, thinking about exercise and food, and think: when did I lose touch with all of this?
I was also really interested to have the perspective of a young man on disordered eating. We all know that eating disorders affect both men and women—an estimated 10-15% of people with EDs are men, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry—but it often seems to me that women are slightly more comfortable discussing their struggles. Houston’s story is our first Green Recovery story from the male perspective, but I’m certainly hoping it won’t be our last. If you are a man and would like to submit a Green Recovery post, please do, and remember that I can always keep your name anonymous if you’d like.
On that note, I want to hear from you guys! And I wish you all a great day.
Soccer ball image courtesy of MaxiNews, UK.