“I couldn’t understand why eating normally was so difficult for me”: Lauren’s Green Recovery Story

by Gena on November 16, 2012

mom and misha

Hello friends. This week has been long and exhausting; a lot of academic stress and anxiety coupled with far too little sleep. So it’s with a lot of joy that I’m presenting a narrative that lifted my spirits as I put the week into perspective; I hope it will do the same for you. It comes from CR reader Lauren, who has triumphed over anorexia and found veganism in the process. It seems to have transformed her relationship with food as profoundly as it did mine. I hope you’ll enjoy her thoughts.

Growing up, I was never insecure about how I looked–I played soccer and was one of the better girls on the team.  As I got older I ran cross country for school and guys were astounded that I’d eat a hamburger and then pie (“What?”  they’d say, “Girls don’t eat that!”).  During my senior year in high school, however, my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and given a few months to live.  Unable to handle the fear and stress, I started watching the amount of fat I ate (I grew up in the era of “low fat diets” being good for you), hoping it would give me some sense of control.  I’d restrict how much food I’d ingest during the day, but at night ended up gorging myself on low-fat cookies and snacks. Not surprisingly I didn’t see much change in my weight, so I decided to up my exercise routine.

At this time, my mother decided to go on a macrobiotic diet, and my father and I followed suit.  She did it for the health benefits–I did it to lose those stubborn pounds around my thighs.  As the year progressed, my weight started dropping (eating only rice and veggies while running an hour a day will do that!), and I got compliments from family and friends.  That fueled my drive to continue restricting, until I ended up at a very low weight.  By this time I was in college, and my mother (who was actually in remission), looked healthier than me!  I ended up seeking treatment, gaining weight, then leaving the nutritionist and doctors that had helped me.

From then, I never fully “recovered”–I”d lose weight during those times of great stress or felt out of control (my mother eventually passed away and my weight plummeted, a wedding engagement was called off and I fell back into low weight numbers), and even the positive stresses in my life (getting married, having a child) still led me to lose weight at a rapid pace.  I couldn’t understand why eating normally was so difficult for me–I’d pour over the amount of chicken on my plate (I was not yet vegan), debate whether or not to eat the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, then berate myself for indulging on ribs.  I also started exercising like a maniac, running 10 miles, swimming for an hour and then doing weights.  Everyday.  I felt like I didn’t know who I was anymore, besides “the girl with the eating disorder”.

During this whole time I continued eating fish, chicken, the occasional steak here and there.  I would still binge on Ben and Jerrys at night, and feel grossly bloated after.  In January 2012, my husband decided to become a vegan, and my first thought was, “uh oh.  How will this work with our family meals?  What would I eat when he’s eating salad?”  I wasn’t yet ready to give up animal products, but knew that I wasn’t in a good place health wise either (my weight was still painfully meager).

The turning point came when I saw my daughter one day refuse to eat any of the chicken or rice on her plate.  I realized she was mimicking exactly what I was doing (“Oh no, I”m not hungry, no chicken for me!”).  I didn’t want her to live a life of disordered eating, so I had to be a model for her on how to live healthfully.  That being said, I looked at what I actually was eating and where it came from: cottage cheese, beef jerky, canned tuna.  Foods that I thought were “safe” and “ok” were actually highly processed, and from animals that were treated horribly.  I felt sick to my stomach thinking that I was giving these same types of foods to my daughter, who had no idea what other types of nourishing fruits and vegetables were out in the world!

At that point I started researching veganism more, and found that living this lifestyle was something nourishing to my body as well as my spirit:  I wanted to be WHOLE and healthy, not just at a normal weight but still struggling to be “normal”.  Our family thus emptied out our cupboards of spam, whey protein, all the animal products we could find.  Our fridge was suddenly void of milk and cheese.  My old leather bags were thrown out, as well as our leather shoes.  Emptying the house of animal producs (made from or tested on) felt liberating, freeing.

Eating wise, my outlook on food changed:  food was no longer the enemy, but something made specifically to fuel my body and keep me healthy.  I had had a fear of nuts and avocados (I thought there were too many fat grams in them), but then started eating them with abandon when I realized that I needed those nutrients if I wanted to survive.  We started cooking at home more, and eating home made meals was satisfying and fulfilling.  Our whole family sat at the table, spooning up hummus and quinoa, talking about the days events.  I slowly felt more comfortable experimenting with new recipes, and old eating disordered thoughts that used to scream in my brain started dying down.  Eating vegan forced us to look at what we put into our bodies, and more importantly, showed me that food was meant for nourishment.  I no longer feared what the food would do to my thighs, and consequently, I began eating more freely–snacks with my daugther, the impromptu vegan brownie my husband made–every bit brought me closer and closer to true recovery from anorexia.

I have finally gained weight, which was and is a tremendous feet.  I am still petite, but I’m only 5 feet 2 inches tall and Japanese, so according to my dietician (who is helpful in making sure I maintain good macro and micronutrient intake), I’m in a healthy zone.  Ironically, the more I weigh, the less I worry about the number or how I look.  I personally don’t care about BMI and weight–I’d rather FEEL GOOD than get hung up on a number.  I love that I can have my daughter feed me roasted edamame and not worry about the additional calories.  I am blessed that our family meal times consist of delicious, nutritious plates of organic food, rather than fast take out.

Roasted edamame, courtesy of The Kitchn

Most importantly, I am enthralled that my daughter also eats a vegan diet with us, and sees through my example that I nourish myself through conscious, ethically based meal decisions, and that I don’t have to harm animals to live a fruitful life.  My biggest desire is to be the best mother I can be, and now that I’m in a much better place–physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally–I finally feel able to say that I have reached that goal.

Blessings,
Lauren


As usual, so many things here resonate. Lauren’s emphasis on the responsibility she felt as a parent to set a good example really touched me. As I have said before on my blog, no one could have a more healthy and appreciative relationship with food and her body than my Mom, so I don’t believe that my problems with food stemmed from anything I saw at home growing up. But so many people with eating disorder histories do feel that their anxieties were compounded by their mothers’ words or actions. Bravo, Lauren, for doing your best to protect both yourself and your daughter from self harm.

I also found myself thinking about Lauren’s line, “I couldn’t understand why eating normally was so difficult for me.” Last week, I and two other students led a campus discussion about eating disorders. One of the other two panelists described her experience with binge eating after a bout with anorexia, and noted how deeply ashamed she was (and sometimes still is) by it.

Of course, as she noted, binge eating is a natural response to chronic restricted food intake. Though it does not always follow anorexia or bulimia, it very often does, and for good reason: when you deprive your body of adequate caloric density, it assumes that it’s starving (and it often literally is). It will greet food as a precious and probably fleeting opportunity for nourishment, which is why so many men and women who binge eat in between bouts of food restriction feel uncontrollable hunger, or find that they dissociate from conscious behavior during their binges. The body, starved for adequate nourishment, is exerting its survival instinct.

All the more reason for us to always nourish ourselves, literally (with healthy, hearty food) and figuratively (with self-care and self-respect). I hope Lauren’s story shows you that it’s always possible to find such care and respect again, even when they’ve temporarily been lost. Congrats, Lauren, on your continued recovery process—and of course, for extending the compassion you now grant yourself to your animal neighbors, too.

xo

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Ashley November 16, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Such a touching story. Thanks for sharing, Lauren! — Gena, hope you can relax a bit this weekend and catch up on sleep!

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Lia November 16, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Thanks for sharing. It is always good to hear about different experiences and perspectives. As a mother who wanted to be a good example for her daughter, I am so touched. I have heard time and time again, that having children changes you. I’m glad she was able to influence you to take care of yourself. Really touching!

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Houston November 16, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Really touching story. I can relate to many things you said.
1) growing up with the low fat craze made me terrified of fats, but becoming Vegan helped me shift my relationship with fats and made me realize that they are healthy and essential in order to feel your best.
2) I too would restrict in times when I was under stress or felt out of control
3) I too was struck with a sense of guilt when I found out that my “safe” foods (the same ones you mentioned) were really not good at all and came from mistreated animals
4) I too was really only able to gain weight once I became a vegan and my relationship with food changed towards one of nourishment and making myself feel as good as possible.
It gives me hope and makes me when I read stories of other people who went through the same things that I did, but are now either recovered or are recovering and learning to lives wholesome happy lives!
I wish you the best of luck in raising your child in a compassionate and healthy environment.

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Abby November 16, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Thank you for sharing your story!
They always say to recover, you have to want something more than your disorder. You wanted a better life for your daughter, and that includes not just how you eat, but how you treat the rest of the planet with a vegan lifestyle. Continued health and happiness!

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Molly November 16, 2012 at 5:38 pm

This story certainly resonates. I do think that my binge eating was propelled by months of starvation, and even though I am now at a healthy weight, there is still a psychological component that sometimes precludes me from eating normal portions. Congratulations, Lauren, on your recovery.

And Gena, today I saw a therapist for the first time in a while. Thank you for the advice; it has certainly inspired me to actively seek help.

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Audrey November 16, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Thank you for sharing your story, Lauren. It is so great to hear that you found food freedom through veganism, and are on the path to recovery. P.S. Your daughter as adorable!

Gena, I found your last couple paragraphs to be really interesting, as my own situation is very similar to that of your fellow panelist (anorexia followed by binge eating). I’ve struggled with the binge eating part of this for years now, a result of being anorexic for a year or two in junior high/high school. I’ve tried a lot of different counselors and doctors, but none seem to help. As you noted, the bingeing leads to a lot of self-loathing and lack of confidence and, for me, depression and anxiety. It’s a bit of a vicious circle! The bingeing-as-a-result-of-anorexia isn’t something I hear discussed a lot. Did your fellow panelist have any tips of how to overcome the habit?

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laura November 16, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Amazing story, as are al of the green recovery stories. Thank-you for sharing.
I recently became vegan, and I feel so good about nourishing my body instead of depriving it.

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Michelle November 16, 2012 at 10:36 pm

Thank you Gena for this series and thank you Lauren for sharing your heart.

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Martina November 17, 2012 at 3:02 am

Hi! I am a Swedish 24 years old woman and I found Gena´s page some time ago. It´s so amazing to read all these recovery stories! I have also been suffering from some kind of eating disorder many years ago. Today I still have my severe IBS, ME/CFS and much more problems. I try to heal myself and I am better today, but it is a long way to go. I am vegan and I have tried low fat diets like Mcdougall and 80/10/10 with fruit, but I really don´t like eating low fat. But the problem is – I get constipated when I eat fat (I have a colostomy and it’s really really not fun with a constipation in my colostomy) and my facial skin is not looking good:( When I eat like 10 % fat or less I have bowel moments, but when I eat more I get constipated. I guess I can’t digest it. I wonder if Gena or some of you have any idea about to do? Did you have problems like this that you have defeated now?

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Claire November 17, 2012 at 5:49 am

Thank you for sharing, Lauren. This is a very touching story and your daughter is adorable! The binge eating is familiar to my recovery story, though I had a lot of blood-sugar and candida issues fueling my binges too. Lauren, you must be the best Mother, so thrilled to read of your success xxx

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Miron Alexandru November 17, 2012 at 6:48 pm

I can say i enjoy a beef occasionally. I don’t make a big deal about vegan food because meat has lots of good stuff too.

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Bryant November 18, 2012 at 10:22 am

What a triumph! Thank you for sharing your story Lauren.

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marissa November 18, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Thank you for your thoughtful and moving story. It means a lot to me to hear where others have come from and to hear that recovery is possible. I think we who have struggle (and continue to battle EDs) need to keep that in mind at all times. Veganism and animal rights are wonderful ways to reconnect with the world and teach us how to heal. It’s great that you are teaching your daughter how to be compassionate towards herself and other living beings as well. Best wishes to you and your family, and I hope you have a healthy and joyful future!

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Rachael November 20, 2012 at 11:03 am

Thank you for your bravery.

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Violet Pierce November 21, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Hi,
I’m a seventeen year old diagnosed with anorexia as a 14 year old. After gaining 35 odd pounds since my diagnosis, I am still in a disordered mindset and struggle to regulate the frequency and boost the nutrition in my meals. I can definitely understand the binging-after-anorexia phenomenon, and I wanted to let you know, Gena, that this article resonated more with me than any of your previous Green Recovery posts (of which I am an avid reader).

As a fellow vegan, eating disorder sufferer, and human, I was wondering if any of you had advice for a girl who can’t seem to regulate food intake and find joy in eating again. I eat maybe 200 calories for breakfast, and then around 2200 at dinner. I’m healthy, but this cycle of restricting and binging is truly exhausting. I also eat mostly soy ice cream and vegan dairy substitutes, so my diet is nutritionally lacking as well.

Any advice or support would be welcome. Lauren, your bravery and eloquence is inspiring, and I wish you continued success during your recovery journey.

-Violet

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Jill November 23, 2012 at 10:45 pm

If Lauren is open to chat, I’d love to. Maybe you can pass my email address to her. Thanks.

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Anonymous December 4, 2012 at 1:31 am

Hi Jill, it’s Lauren. Please email me (or anyone else wanting to chat) at laurentakao@gmail.com. :).

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Tanya @ Playful and Hungry November 25, 2012 at 6:49 am

This is so inspiring… thanks for posting this! I’ve been struggling with eating myself and veganism definitelly helped me to recover!

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Christie November 28, 2012 at 6:07 am

Eating mainly raw and vegan has helped me with my eating disorder as well. Now I feel free to eat. I feel healthy and happy. And I just so happened to lose weight.

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channa December 6, 2013 at 11:35 pm

This was a beautiful AND inspiring story! Lauren..thank you so much you give me..a bulimic hope that i too can just have a normal eating habit. You sound like an amazing mother who deserves a wonderful life.

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Gena December 7, 2013 at 9:31 am

I’m glad that Laruen’s story brought you hope, Channa!

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