Recovery Musings: Learning to Fully Embrace Health

by Gena on August 14, 2013

self-love-exercise

First of all: hi from the west coast! It’s gorgeous here, as always, and my mom and I are soaking it all up. I can’t wait to recap our adventures for you. But in the meantime, some musings today. I want to warn my readers that this post may be very triggering to some, and contains a lot of raw emotions/material about my personal recovery process. If you feel vulnerable reading this sort of material, please feel free not to skip past the “jump.”

I was at the grocery store a couple of weeks ago when the cashier–perhaps in response to the hemp milk, the nut butters, and the quinoa–asked if I was vegan. I said I was, and he responded, “Well, I have to say, you don’t look like most of the vegans we get in here.”

“What do they look like?” I responded.

“They’re usually super skinny,” he said. In response to what must have been raised eyebrows, he quickly added “I mean, it’s a good thing. You look healthy. Not, you know, emaciated like some of the ones we see.”

There’s definitely a post in here about how sad I am that vegans have the reputation of being emaciated, and how I wish more people could see the vegan community that I have seen: a group of individuals whose shapes are as diverse as they are. But since I haven’t written anything about body image in a while, I’ll take the confessional route today instead, and talk about how the comment made me feel. It was a mixture of two things: on the one hand, pride that I’d managed to somehow undermine a limited perception of vegans and vegan diet as being restrictive or under-nourishing. Isn’t this what my whole blog career is devoted to? Sharing a positive, healthy approach to veganism? Proving that the diet is abundant?

And then there was the other feeling, the one I’m not proud of. The one that vies directly with my desire to serve as a positive example of veganism and recovery. This was the part of me that winced inwardly at the realization that, to strangers, I’m no longer “super skinny.” I’m no longer a waif. My body is no longer the topic of concerned conversation, of attention. It’s a healthy body, which is precisely what I’ve fought very hard to make it. So why does “healthy” still feel like “unremarkable” sometimes? And why does that remain painful, so far into my recovery?

It’s embarrassing to admit that I should have felt anything other than pride and gratitude that, to the outside world, I appear healthy. And I don’t look back at that time in my life fondly; the moment I remember the obsession and energy involved in maintaining the kind of appearance he was talking about, I recoil and thank my lucky stars that I’ve come so far. But I can’t pretend that I don’t sometimes still long for the way my physical frailty used to make me feel: unique. Special. Noticeable.

A few years ago, I wrote about regaining a sense of distinctiveness post-recovery, and the point of that post was to break down how false the feeling of “specialness” that comes from restriction (and its consequences) is. But what’s crystal clear to me in my life as someone who writes about eating disorders is still sometimes hard to accept as someone who used to have one. Sometimes I feel ashamed that my life is no longer governed by a will of iron–an ability to say “no” to my body’s needs, again and again and again. Sometimes I’m ashamed of being healthy. It feels as if a certain intensity, embodied in that narrow and angular physical shape, has been lost. Once in a while, for a split second, I wonder if I’m diminished without it.

For the most part, this has been a year full of strides forward in the body image realm. At VVC, back in late May, my friend (and body image champion) JL made a remark to me when she saw me arrive for dinner in jeans and a fitted top. “When I first met you,” she said, “you were always wearing billowy dresses; lately you seem to be a lot more comfortable just showing up in your body.” It’s true. I don’t gravitate toward tight clothing, and I remain a big fan of dresses, but I used to hide behind drapery in a way I don’t anymore. It’s a sign that I’ve become far more comfortable with my shape. I’m more confident wearing what I want, not over thinking how things will make me look, and there’s a new kind of sexual confidence, too–a comfort that comes of accepting who I am.

And yet. There is always that little streak of vulnerability, of doubt. Every now and then, someone or something manages to unearth it.

In writing about this, I wonder how many other folks share this inner conflict. The tension feels especially acute to me because I spend so much time trying to advocate recovery on the one hand, and to present a positive vision of veganism on the other. My lingering moments of weakness are directly at odds with both of those missions, and make me particularly frustrated for that reason. But I think anyone who’s endeavored to lead a healthy life after disordered eating might be able to relate to the uneasy discord between a full embrace of good health, and the struggle to let go of the things that used to give one’s life a sense of identity and meaning–no matter how falsely.

health

As always, I treat these moments of struggle as an organic and inevitable part of the recovery process. Recovery is not a black and white before and after; it’s a journey, and the journey involves missteps and stumbles and occasional moments of looking back at the terrain you’ve covered, thoughtfully and with a touch of nostalgia. I never used to think it was possible to feel nostalgia or longing for any period of one’s life except the happy ones, but I realize that this isn’t the case. Even so, I’ve often been surprised this year by how far I’ve come in my relationship with food, my body, and my commitment to health. I’m so much further along than I used to be, and have made progress even through some stressful times that might have ordinarily triggered me. I am profoundly grateful for this, and can only accept and acknowledge the moments of struggle as they go by.

I hope you don’t mind my sharing these moments with all of you. I participate in the “green recovery” dialog on this blog just as actively as readers and contributors do. Writing is the and always has been the way I make sense of the recovery process, hold myself accountable, and come to resolution. I’m lucky that I have this community to share with.

xo

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{ 137 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenny August 14, 2013 at 10:21 am

Beautifully said Gina. Honest, true and heartfelt. Thank you for sharing.

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Gena August 14, 2013 at 7:44 pm

Thank you, Jenny.

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Jennifer August 14, 2013 at 10:30 am

I think this is beautiful and heartfelt as well, but I kind of wish it had some kind of warning at the beginning that what follows could be very triggering.

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Gena August 14, 2013 at 10:43 am

Hey Jennifer:

Thanks for telling me. I should have added that without a reminder. Will do so in just a little bit. I’m tremendously sorry if the post triggered you in any way.

Gena

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Fiona August 14, 2013 at 10:31 am

SO completely relate!! I’m always so impressed by your willingness to be open on here! Thank you for writing this! I love knowing I’m not alone and I think you’ve probably made a lot of people feel that way too. And hopefully you feel better knowing we are out there too, going through and feeling similar things! :)

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Gena August 14, 2013 at 7:45 pm

Fiona, I definitely feel so much comfort and strength from knowing that the experience is shared — even if I wish no one felt these things in the first place. Thanks for your comment and support.

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Kate August 14, 2013 at 10:35 am

Wonderfully written and truly inspirational. I can’t believe the cahsier said that to you, but you handled it very well. I have had an ongoing struggle with body image for quite a long time and this was really empowering to read. Thank you <3

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Gena August 14, 2013 at 7:44 pm

I’m so glad, Kate. Thank you for sharing here.

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Ashley August 14, 2013 at 10:40 am

I admire how well you recognize these feelings and that don’t try to hide them from yourself or brush them to the side. You confront them, reflect, and question, which seems like it helps to move past them more quickly. So much love for you, girl. xo

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Gena August 14, 2013 at 7:44 pm

Aw, Ashley. So much love back. <3

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Abby August 14, 2013 at 10:59 am

I love these posts from you because it shows you’re not perfect and vulnerable to the insecurities that everyone has. To be honest, part of the reason I hesitate to tell people I’m vegan is because I’m still sick and so underweight. I feel like it feeds into that (incorrect and irresponsible) stereotype and that I’m not “representing” the lifestyle well.

We know that there’s no “look” for any lifestyle, but the stereotypes and presumptions exist. Having healthy role models–physically and emotionally–is so important, and I look to you as one in both aspects. I also hope to get there one day myself, not only for my own health, but also to help dissolve some of those misconceptions (just being honest.) It’s not about looks, but health–for me, the animals and the planet.

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Gena August 14, 2013 at 7:44 pm

Abby,

I see you as a role model of veganism already, because for me, the essence of veganism is compassion, and I can think of few people who are more compassionate or caring than you. But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand the sensitivity to stereotypes you describe, however unfortunate they are. In the end, I hope you get there for your health, first and foremost, but will also rejoice for you if you come to feel that you can more fully embrace your life as a role model.

<3

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Sarah August 15, 2013 at 7:46 am

Abby, I have the same struggle as well about the admission to being vegan while I still do not look very healthy. It seems as soon as people find out that I don’t eat animals they automatically assume that this is the reason why I’m sick and what is keeping me from getting better. I hate to mis-represent and reinforce all the negative “sickly vegan” sterotypes that abound so I tend not to share my dietary choices. I wish I could speak-up more about animal issues and the reasons behind my choices which are not ED related, but at the moment few people take me seriously. So I have been trying to use looking “healthy” as an inspiration to be able to start being a better visual role model for the vegan community – even if it comes with all the mixed set of emotions that Gena has so eloquently described. It’s a tough battle inside out brains!!!

And Gena, I don’t even know how to say this in a non-triggering way so my apologies, but thank you so much for being a healthy vegan role model. As inapropriate as that comment was by that store clerk, in a way I am happy to know what went through his mind. You have obviously changed his veiw at least in some way about vegans!!! So thank you so much for taking the hit for the team – and also processing it here with us. Both aspects of your “encounter” help me in more ways than I can describe. Thanks so much for being so open and sharing so much raw emotion. You are absolutely amazing :)

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Laura C August 14, 2013 at 11:20 am

Hi Gena, You are *much* more special to me in a recovered state. You’ve provided so many of us with a role model for recovery and healthy veganism- a role model who gets the allure of the ED, and can see past it. When I see emaciated people these days I don’t feel envious any more. I feel sad for them, and compassionate for the depth of what I know they are experiencing. You haven’t lost your depth, you’ve just found much more unique and generous ways to display it. And don’t feel bad for your reaction. He just pushed directly on the scar.

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Gena August 14, 2013 at 7:40 pm

Laura, this comment touched me so much. Thanks for recognizing that what I feel is that fear that a certain depth has been lost. No matter how much time goes by, I still sometimes have that creeping fear that a kind of brilliant, intense energy defined my disorder (it sounds insane, but there it is), so if the disorder is gone, it must be, too. I have to remind myself that it’s all been channeled to more productive, interesting, and creative places. I’m as inspired by your recovery as you are by mine, and so grateful for your voice.

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Elizabeth August 14, 2013 at 11:24 am

Gena,
As long as we’re being so honest, I’ll go you a step further and admit not only to experiencing everything you’ve described in the aftermath of that (unfortunate!) encounter, but also, even as I have grown to see beauty in all body types, I retain an aesthetic preference for the very lithe body, a body that I no longer possess. I don’t think it calls my recovery into question – if anything, that I am able to put my physical and mental well-being ahead of my aesthetic preferences is a testament to how far I have come. That said, I cringe when my Brazilian housekeeper comments that I am “engordando”! I kind of, sort of, get it that in her eyes it’s a compliment, but it doesn’t make it easier to hear. I don’t know if it’s avoidable, if there’s a way to spend 12 or more (formative) years in a very skinny body and not have it become constitutive of one’s identity. On the flip side, I do hate it when men in particular are attracted to me because of my thinness. Because even though I’m still quite slender, I feel a kind of solidarity with women of all sizes, and it bothers me to no end when men are too “into” my skinnyness. I guess I just want the right to gain 10 lbs whenever. And not have my housekeeper or my boyfriend say a word.

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Gena August 14, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Your insights into recovery (and the candor with which you speak about it) are always very illuminating to me, and they’ve inspired me considerably as I continue to speak openly about my own process. I absolutely relate to the tension you’re describing (if tension is the right word) between having an aesthetic preference for the kind of shape we no longer possess, and yet feeling a sense of outrage that such an ideal should be imposed upon any woman, or be aligned with a woman’s worth.

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elizabeth August 15, 2013 at 6:37 am

Yes, that’s it, exactly. And perhaps in my case the outrage is magnified, knowing what it cost me to maintain that body type all those years. I have moments of wistful longing for my thinner self, I’d be lying if I pretended otherwise, but I do feel the wistfulness comes partly from knowing I’ve left that self behind. The bedrock of my recovery, as I’ve shared, is a transformed relationship with food, and that relationship is as constitutive of my present identity as my eating disorder was of my former identity. So there really is no going back in my case. I don’t always love my reflection in the mirror, but interestingly, body angst never leads to restriction anymore, not for more than a meal or two anyway, because even if I occasionally desire my former body, I have ZERO desire for my former relationship with food (the fifteen or so foods I allowed myself to eat).

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Anett August 14, 2013 at 11:55 am

Thank you! I needed this post just exactly NOW! So with you! Today was one of those days when these weird self sabotaging feelings came creeping in again. But I was guided to an audio that helped and now I read your post… I am truly grateful for you sharing where you are at! Thank you!

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Gena August 14, 2013 at 7:34 pm

I am so grateful to you for reading! Thank you, Anett.

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Sally August 14, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Gena,

Thanks for admitting this, and for being so open about it. I can totally relate with everything you’ve said. Though I think of myself as totally recovered, I was in a fitting room several months back and the store clerk asked if I would like him to get me some pants in another color. When I said yes, he casually commented with something along the lines of, “Size ##, right?” It was a size over what I “used” to wear, which I’m very proud of, but it still hit that nerve that I thought/hoped was buried deep down there. I’m glad that I’m not the only one. Thank you.

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Gena August 14, 2013 at 7:32 pm

Oh man. Yes, trying on clothes can be a minefield in this department. Thanks, Sally, for sharing. You aren’t the only one, and now you’ve comforted me, too.

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Elizabeth August 15, 2013 at 5:49 am

Warning! Don’t ever go into a ballet shop! I was pretty horrified recently when the sales person guessed my size in a particular leotard and more horrified when she turned out to be correct! But mostly I havevnever been caught up in the size thing – where most women try to buy the smallest size that fits, Inhave always tended to buy the biggest size that is not too big!

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Suzanne @ hello, veggy! August 14, 2013 at 12:13 pm

This post couldn’t have come at a better time for me Gena. I too have struggled with disordered eating, and feel I have made strides in recovery since becoming vegan. After depriving my body for so long, giving it what it finally needs is terrifying. I used to crave the feeling of emptiness; it meant I was in control of something. I still struggle with this. When I weighed myself out of curiosity this week, the number both delighted and scared me. For one, I need to gain a bit of weight, so I was pleased to see an increase. On the other hand, my ED was freaking out; how dare I nourish my body with what it needs?? This inner conflict plagues me from time to time, but I was calmed while reading your post today. Thank you for sharing!

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Gena August 14, 2013 at 7:36 pm

Suzanne,

Big, proud kudos to you for the fact that you are progressing with your recovery. I send you lots of love and strength — I know that watching one’s weight return can bring such a mix of complex emotion. Stay committed to healing, as you clearly are. You have so many readers and friends in this blog world, including me.

G

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Sarah August 15, 2013 at 7:52 am

Suzanne, I feel that same tug of war with the scale. I want the number to go up, it’s what I’m working towards, yet when it happens I can’t help but feel like I’m doing something wrong or that feeling of “how dare I give my body what it needs”. I don’t know why I have such hesitations for feeling like my needs are being met, but it is deinitely one of my biggest triggers and someting I’m trying to explore further. Thansk so much for mentioning it.

PS I’ve recently discovered your blog and I absolutely love it!!! You even made me look up Kingston on the map and consider planning a visit. I’d love to check out The Sleepless Goat. It sounds like a place all the cool kids hang out ;)

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Vegyogini August 14, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Really beautifully said, Gena. I have had similar reactions to that kind of comment from an unknowing stranger or acquaintance. Thank you, as always, for your profound transparency.

xoxo

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Gena August 14, 2013 at 7:32 pm

And thank you, as always, for your support. XO

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Stephanie August 14, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Gena-

Thank you. I am in very very early recovery from an ED. In fact, I dont even really know yet exactly what it is and what it looks like. Other than a constant obsession to be thinner. To get rid of parts of my body that quite literally, are a part of me. I have had two kids and my abdomen is less than perfect, regardless of what diet I go on or how much I exercise. Today as I walked out of the gym, the thoughts entered my mind that I need to accept this. It was vehemently met with, “No way. How can you accept it? Its unacceptable.” I am LOOKING FORWARD to the day I can get a tummy tuck. To the point of being willing to work more hours, stress myself out more, restrict myself on the things I do love…all with the goal of finally getting rid of this part of me I can’t accept. I have restricted my body to the point it is talking back…and what do I do? Get mad it it. Mad that its slowing me down, making me pause, creating confusion about what I should eat/not eat. I was an emaciated vegan…unhealthy…major health issues because I was so restrictive and rigid about what I’d allow myself to eat. Now, I’m just confused. Do I need a label? Or do I let go of the rest of the world’s thoughts on what is right or wrong for my body and attempt to go internally and figure it out for myself?
This part was the “ah-ha” for me: “break down how false the feeling of “specialness” that comes from restriction (and its consequences) is. But what’s crystal clear to me in my life as someone who writes about eating disorders is still sometimes hard to accept as someone who used to have one. Sometimes I feel ashamed that my life is no longer governed by a will of iron–an ability to say “no” to my body’s needs, again and again and again. Sometimes I’m ashamed of being healthy. It feels as if a certain intensity, embodied in that narrow and angular physical shape, has been lost. Once in a while, for a split second, I wonder if I’m diminished without it.”
I feel like my entire identity is crumbling before me. I have had iron-clad will with regards to food since…well it started in 2001 but became increasingly rigid/restricted/obsessive in 2005. Going on 8 years of being in this and BARELY scratching the surface of beginning to recover. And right now it feels yucky. Like I said, an identity crisis. So its during these stages that I am INCREDIBLY grateful for the vulnerability of those who have been through it, weathered it, yet who can be honest about the triggers and the ongoing struggles. It is immensely vulnerable to put yourself out there like that. I just wanted you to know that if for no other reason, you’re article helped me today. Thank you.
Stephanie

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Gena August 14, 2013 at 7:29 pm

Oh wow, Stephanie. Thank you for sharing with me (and with all of us reading).

To the point about labels, it sounds to me as though you may need some time, self-care, and healing before you sift through whether the label is helpful to you. And of course, if veganism is right for you in the future, it would hopefully be a kind of veganism that is not intertwined with orthorexia or disordered habits. I sincerely hope that can happen for you, but right now, healing should probably come first.

It takes a really long time to separate one’s identity from the kind of rigidity you describe. I relate intimately, and I can only say that, day by day, I’ve learned to take pride in something new, which is my ability to embrace life. If restraint and control defines my past, then I like to believe–I hope–that inclusiveness, enthusiasm, appetite, and openness will define my future. One step at a time.

<3

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Lauren (@PoweredbyPB) August 14, 2013 at 1:48 pm

This happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I was in work and a rep (who works within the health food industry) on finding out I was vegan, was in shock and said “…but you look so healthy”. It’s frustrating firstly that peoples reactions are that a vegan diet isn’t healthy, but I have to admit in the back of my mind I felt just like you, there was a longing for those darker days when I was underweight. Thanks for sharing this.

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Gena August 14, 2013 at 7:24 pm

Thanks for sharing, too. Yes, this whole experience was both personally trying and also made me full of exasperation that vegans are perceived the way we are. I suppose it’s all the more reason for us to remain strong, healthy, and at ease with our whole, nourished bodies.

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Hannah August 14, 2013 at 2:33 pm

I adore you and I love you and I’m so thankful that you exist in my/the world. xo

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Gena August 14, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Ditto, ditto, ditto. xo

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Houston August 14, 2013 at 2:37 pm

I am so glad you feel comfortable enough to write about feelings like this. I wanted to let you know you have given me a lot of reassurance that other people feel the same way sometimes, and it is normal. When I say that I mean that I too, no matter how recovered I believe I am, occasionally miss the control that comes from that “iron will” I used to have. People who are unaware of my past problems say things that make me long for that control again, but I know that the habits I have now are healthy and contribute to my well being rather than detract from it. I believe that being able to not get triggered from these comments and thoughts means that you are a stronger person that before and shows a different sort of will.

Thank you Gena for being so open!

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Gena August 14, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Thanks for reading, Houston — I’m proud of you for your ongoing recovery, and happy you could relate and share here.

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Melanie August 14, 2013 at 2:37 pm

My dear Gena,

Thank you for sharing so openly about your experience. Of course, I can see so clearly how the energy that once kept you locked in the confined world of disorder is now free to push you toward all kinds of experiences and achievements that truly do bring a mark of distinction.

I certainly have my moments, and sometimes can feel self-consious about not fitting the vegan stereotype that this cashier described. Even when I was restricting intensely, I never got skinny enough for other people to worry about, and I think it set up a particularly relentless cycle in which I would receive praise for looking “So great!” when I had achieved that thinness through anything but healthy means. In fact, I received similar praise after extreme weight loss induced by nearly dying from Colitis.

Even though I sometimes worry that people won’t want to emulate my veganism because they don’t want to have a body that looks like mine, I try to work with that thought by reminding myself that the real gifts of veganism—the peace I feel, the health it brings, and the delicious food—are things anyone could envy and desire to emulate. I am learning to love my body because she is the vehicle through which I have my LIFE, and my life is pretty amazing, so my body (and my vegan diet) must be doing something right.

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Gena August 14, 2013 at 7:21 pm

Melanie,

One of the ways I’ve made peace with my body is definitely by seeing it as the vehicle by which I experience movement, joy, pleasure, pain, sunlight, breeze, seasons, smells, tastes — all the good stuff, the stuff that makes life what it is.

As someone who knows you personally, I find it so painful to imagine that you would ever worry that people would not want to have a body that looks like the beautiful one you possess. But since I also understand how hard it is to see one’s own beauty as readily as our friends see it, I’ll only say that yes, of course–your peace, your healing story, and your wonderful cooking, as well as your strong ethical convictions–would be reason enough for anyone to take interest in your lifestyle, your beauty aside.

<3

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Hannah August 14, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Hello Gena,

This post was really honest and heartfelt. First off, that comment from the cashier was really unnecessary. I’m a cashier at a health food store but I would never think to make a comment like that ! Sometimes, customers mention they are vegan and if it’s a really skinny, fit girl, I feel the jealousy and envy coming up again like in my old ED days – and I still don’t know how to shed that. Anyways, I totally relate to what you have written here. I come up against those thoughts often too and it definitely comes down to that twinge of fear that I’m no longer special anymore. It’s like, I’m just “normal” now. I don’t need to elaborate more because you articulated it better than I ever could. But the nostalgia for even sad moments – I had that today – I went and got a physical at the doctor’s and the whole building has been remodeled since I was abroad. I felt sort of sad that it no longer looked like it did when I would go there every week to get weighed, over five years ago. Strange, huh? I think embracing my sexuality helps however, and feeling like I am showing up in my body, as JL commented – which is a really great thing. I guess this is something we will all have to explore more during recovery – how to acknowledge these moments of vulnerability but not get swept up by them.

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Gena August 14, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Hannah,

Thanks for sharing. I’m so interested in this fear of “normalcy,” or the slight sadness that comes with it, because I know it well myself. I think it took me a long time to admit that I experience it because it sounds so narcissistic (and probably is a bit narcissistic), but then, the urge to define ourselves, to be unique, is very fundamental to human nature, and this is just one way it can emerge. All food for thought. So glad you’re showing up in your body too :-)

(And welcome home, missy.)

xo

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Sarah August 14, 2013 at 4:28 pm

I can relate so strongly to this. Though it gets easier each time, it’s amazing what a flippant comment from a stranger can do. There’s a part of me that wants to shout from the rooftops that body commentary is never okay, but then there’s another part of me that does appreciate the positive comments that I receive. I do think that consistently hearing from those I love that I look great has helped, even if I am highly resistant to accepting such comments gracefully.

There’s another part of me that has a bit of survivors guilt. As time has gone on, my sister and I have connected over our “issues”. Even though we are on the opposite sides of the spectrum in terms of our food issues, we’ve noticed so many common threads. Whilst I still struggle now and again and don’t have a perfect relationship with food, she’s still actively struggling. Given that our issues are rooted in the childhood we shared, there’s a part of me that I just can’t shake that says “she’s still struggling, and until she’s okay, you should be too”. It can be a complete and total mindf@$k because it really isn’t logical, but it certainly is emotionally real.

Anyway, thank you very much for sharing this. I think it’s important to show that you can have two emotionally divergent reactions to seemingly minor comments, no matter how far into recovery, and that’s okay.

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Gena August 14, 2013 at 7:09 pm

Sarah,

Thank you for sharing, too. I can imagine survivor’s guilt with ED issues, for sure, not to mention the tension between what we know to be rational and what we feel so acutely (as you can see, I really struggled with that in this situation). Sending you gratitude and love —

G

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Jill August 14, 2013 at 5:24 pm

I am so glad I read this. I struggle with those feelings more often than I would like to admit. I sometimes feel that there is the me who works in mental health, is recovered and healthy and vibrant and then there is the me who suffers from mental health issues and wants to be losing weight and hide away. I’m thankful for this reminder that those feelings will come up and I can deal with them in a nurturing way; also, knowing that someone else struggles like this relieves that inevitable ED isolation.

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Gena August 14, 2013 at 7:07 pm

Jill,

As someone who is journeying into health care, too, I totally get that sense of conflict. “Hiding away” is such a good way of articulating the desire to be smaller, to stop taking up space, to evaporate — but it’s also a nice way of capturing the fact that these restrictive tendencies keep us tucked away, and eviscerate our whole selves. Thanks for reading.

G

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bethany August 14, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Gena,
What a timely post! Just this week, my coworker’s Mom was visiting from South Africa. When she saw me, she said “oh, it looks like you’ve gained a little weight.” I was stunned and made an embarrassed laugh sound as a response. She followed that up with “I meant that as a compliment, you were too thin before.” But the damage was done. It really really bothers me, and I thought I was doing so well with my disordered food relationship. I finally have started menstruating again and eat healthier than I ever have in my life, but part of me does miss the sense of pride I got from being the “thinnest”/ “smallest” person in the room. Now I’m “normal”. Something that was a part of my identity for so long as changed. I even had a brief moment (okay, more than a few moments…)where I thought about restricting again after she said that to me. I can understand everything you have said and I appreciate your honesty and that you shared your experience!

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Gena August 14, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Bethany,

Thanks for relating to what I shared. I certainly get the panicked urge to restrict, but I’m happy that you’ve resisted it, and that you found some comfort in this post. I have, too.

<3

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Rose! August 14, 2013 at 7:44 pm

Oh Gena. You have so much wisdom and generosity of spirit that I almost feel silly saying this… but I am so, so proud of you.

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Gena August 20, 2013 at 6:17 am

Aw, Rose. I am proud of you, too.

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Ellie August 14, 2013 at 7:47 pm

Thank you so much for this post, it makes me feel so much less alone. As a fairly young person (18) dealing with disordered eating, I’m always very…conflicted as well when people tell me I look more healthy, whether its a friend or family member, or someone at the gym. I’m preparing to go to college for nutrition and kinesiology because it fascinates me and I’m passionate about it, but I often wonder if I’m *mentally* healthy enough to pursue the major when hearing that I look *physically* “healthy” (a word I equate with “sturdy” or “thick” or “earthly”) sends me into a tailspin of long runs and celery diets. In a way I guess I hope my major will scare me straight or into recovery but I know in all honesty that it doesn’t “work” that way.

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Gena August 20, 2013 at 6:19 am

Ellie,

I hear what you’re saying. A lot of folks with ED histories do end up working in nutrition, of course — you want to give back to those who suffer the way you once did. But there is a lot to be said for giving yourself time and space not to think about nutrition very hard for a while. Maybe you’ll have a little time before you dive into most of the classes for your major. Either way, I wish you luck!

Gena

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Melanie August 14, 2013 at 8:18 pm

Oye. I winced when I read that “super skinny” comment. That would have hurt me as well, even though I should be proud to look healthy. Great post Gena. Thanks for sharing. This really made me think.

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Taylor August 14, 2013 at 8:21 pm

Wow, Gena, thank you so much for this. I have received the same comment before and I had the same inner reaction as you. I am so happy that you share these very personal moments with us and I hope you know how important it is for us to hear that you go through the same things we do. xo Taylor

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Gena August 20, 2013 at 6:19 am

Anytime. So glad it makes you feel comforted, Taylor.

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Lauren G. August 14, 2013 at 8:23 pm

It amazes me that we still live in a world where something like one’s body shape/size is fodder for small talk conversation with a total stranger. Sorry you had to go through that with the cashier, it’s totally uncalled for in any and all circumstances. I long for the day when we as humans are more evolved than that.

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Gena August 20, 2013 at 6:21 am

Lauren,

Yes. It was so well meant, but it really does amaze me that I heard it. Sometimes I think it’s generational or cultural (my older Greek relatives say things like this, but in the culture in which they came of age, it was a different landscape with these things), but this person was quite young. Even so, the upshot is that I made him think differently about vegans. So, all to the good.

G

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Elisabeth August 14, 2013 at 9:07 pm

I can totally relate to everything you so eloquently said here. Earlier this summer I went on a whitewater rafting trip with my father, sister, and her husband. The last time I had seen them was when I went to their wedding about two years ago and when I was still in the throes of my disorder. As soon as my dad and I met up with my sister and her husband, he made a comment about how I wasn’t such a string bean anymore. I immediately felt terrible about myself and felt the old, familiar urge to restrict even though I had just been admiring how far I had come in my recovery since then. I am still pretty slender but have developed more in the (ahem) chest area and have become much more muscled. Therefore, I did see where he was coming from, but the flippant comment still hurt, nonetheless. Also, I want to tell you that I’ve been working on a Green Recovery story, albeit slowly, throughout the summer, and many of the things you said in this post are similar to the ones I am writing. It is good to know that I am not alone. Thank you for sharing, Gena.

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Hanna August 14, 2013 at 9:57 pm

I’ve definitely had a lot of feelings like this lately, and I’m glad that someone can relate. Your encouragement came at the right time. I like the way you put it: feeling nostalgia for a way I used to be really captures some of what I’ve been struggling with lately. However, I’ve come to a point where the only thing that makes sense to do is to move forward, so that’s what’s going to happen. I just have to remind myself that, even though I don’t feel as thin or as pretty as I was when I was restricting, I am a healthier, stronger, better person than I was at that point in my life. Thank you for the much needed encouragement.

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Arielle August 14, 2013 at 10:20 pm

Thanks for sharing!!!! Very inspiring, I really enjoy your blog :)

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Shira August 14, 2013 at 11:20 pm

Gena,
This post is wonderful. Simply put, you speak so eloquently (as always) what so many of us may feel, either now or in the past, about our relationship with our bodies, with ourselves & each other, and with our world around us. At 35, I am only now accepting that my beauty is not defined by a number, and that how i am perceived by others shouldn’t affect my reality. True happiness, peace, and contentment can only ever come from inside.
I had chills reading about your thoughts on extremism, or a lack thereof in your life, somehow making you ‘unspecial’. This is just so honest that I can’t help but applaud you for standing up and giving anyone out there suffering so much light & hope.
Keep up what you do. It’s such a beautiful thing.
Shira
xx

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Dreena Burton August 14, 2013 at 11:42 pm

Just getting a chance to comment. This post is remarkable Gena.

You manage to communicate thoughts we have probably all felt as women – through different stages of our lives – in a way that enlightens without judgment or shame.

When I talk to women, and read a post like this and all the comments that follow, I wonder if any women in our culture are ‘free’ from these thoughts. At some point in our lives, or maybe all through our lives, we work through body or weight or image issues.

With three daughters, I hope they feel differently, but our society can be unfair and unforgiving with women. So, I can only try to prepare them best I can, and surely will make mistakes as well. You have given women a place to connect on these thoughts and emotions, and perhaps continue the conversation in their personal lives or maybe on their blogs.

You are touching many readers with a different sense of raw. This time all in emotions. So honest and real. Appreciate your meaningful work.
xo
D.

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Heather Williams August 15, 2013 at 12:18 am

Gena, I cried when I read this tonight because you wrote exactly what was on my heart, and something even I wrote about today myself. Knowing that someone I look up to struggles with this too was encouraging. I feel responsible at times as a blogger to not feel this way myself, but in all honesty, I think talking about it is the best way to overcome it. I hope one day, I can reach a point where I don’t feel this way, but in the meantime, it’s nice to know I’m not alone:)

Your blog has been an inspiration to me since the first day I found it four years ago, and that won’t ever change:)

Thank you for being you!

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Ali August 15, 2013 at 12:32 am

As always, your posts on this topic cut right to the heart of what so many of us in various stages of recovery are feeling. Thank you Gena. The remarks that have hurt me most tend to be when strangers or restaurant servers comment on my (admittedly huge) appetite. Yes, I do usually eat more than my husband and most other people I know, but the comments still seem really unnecessary to me.

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Lisa August 15, 2013 at 1:16 am

Dear Gena,

Thank you for this post! Thank you for speaking out what a lot of us think and feel but can’t put into words or accept that stuff like that (still) happens.
I am actually not a regular reader of your blog but once in a while i “check it out” or see a post on your fb page that catches my attention.
For many times it has been a topic that was present in my life at that very moment as well (from my matcha obsession to my ED recovery)
I am a raw pastry chef / house dancer and I have struggled with ED since 15 years…until I made the commitment to BE HEALTHY and embrace my love for food & dance every single day!
Its a journey, like you said, and I made such a big step forward the past year i am extremely proud of.
I feel like a beautiful woman now and my dance style improved so much since I am actually feeling “home” in my body
Also working with desserts is a big challange but chocolate and dance can go hand in hand and make me actually feel complete :-)
A few days ago I posted a picture me posing in a short jumpsuit and when I saw it online I was so happy and proud to see me like THAT. A beautiful and strong woman! And then I got a msg….a guy who saw me 2 years ago…and he asked me if i gained weight. first i think my heart stopped beating :-) but in the next moment i looked at the picture again and i said to myself “Yes, i did gain weight and I LOVE it”. he apologized for being so direct but he said i looked good and it suites me and although it took me some time to accept it and not beating myself up for actually being and LOOKING healthy – I really think it was the first time I could smile and hug myself for being this beautiful woman-inside and out!

Thank you, Gena for making me recap this situation and approving this thought to myself once again!
All the best to you!!!

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Christina @ The Beautiful Balance August 15, 2013 at 1:41 am

As a vegan, a lot of pressure is placed on you to be perfect ALL the time. That’s unrealistic and the fact that you admit to your weaknesses is what makes you human. This post is beautifully written and so relatable for many women. I have received that comment as well, that I’m not “that thin” for being a vegan. My response is always, “you’re right, I’m healthy.”

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Kari @ bite-sized thoughts August 15, 2013 at 2:57 am

I’m going to add to all the other ‘thank yous’ on this post – I hope they all add up to helping you know that you never need to worry about sharing these kinds of moments! It’s really refreshing to hear that you’re not ‘perfectly’ fine all the time, because that would be unrealistic and frankly odd. I think it’s very normal – and probably quite healthy! – to sometimes have moments where you respond in a way that is at odds to your values or aspirations for health. Realising that and reflecting on it is a great way to move forward. Sharing it with us is a great way to help lots of other people at the same time :)

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Rach August 15, 2013 at 4:49 am

I love your honesty Gena, your always one to put your feelings and thoughts out there and I really respect and appreciate that.

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Karen August 15, 2013 at 7:46 am

Thanks as always for sharing so generously with your readers – many of whom are in various stages of recovery – what “normal” recovery actually looks like, Gena. It’s anything but a linear process.

As far as you’ve come in these past few years, know that these sorts of feelings, and the sort of protective life your ED once afforded you, are quite common. These tendencies can become habitual responses that rear their ugly head for many, many years, esp. for those of us who suffered from an ED for any significant amount of time during our formative years. I am absolutely convinced in the theory of brain wiring default, in which these unhealthful reflexes can kick in automatically, esp. during times we feel particularly vulnerable or out of control, despite our best efforts to rationally convince ourselves that they are destructive and no longer serve a purpose in our currently constructed (full, productive) lives. Certainly the frequency of these eruptions seem to lessen over time, but I can personally vouch that I too can be completely caught off guard by how suddenly and violently these feelings can come on, some 25 years-post “recovery.”

Much love and admiration, my friend.

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Gena August 20, 2013 at 10:32 pm

Karen,

Your insights into the recovery process, and the forgiving, realistic, yet hopeful way you describe it, are continual sources of inspiration for me. It’s easy to have a very bad day or feel that sharp rush of an old emotion and worry that the “progress” you think you’ve made has somehow been an illusion. But of course, one has to have a gentle approach to making progress, too. It’s not linear — how could something this complex be linear — and I’m starting to accept that triggers and habits can emerge. The best I can do is to feel them, acknowledge them, and access a rational framework to put them in perspective without disavowing my emotions. This space — this community — really help me. Thanks for always partaking in these conversations and giving me freedom to admit when something has hurt.

G

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Blaine Arin @ Feel-good Food August 15, 2013 at 8:06 am

“… the part of me that winced inwardly at the realization that, to strangers, I’m no longer “super skinny.” I’m no longer a waif.”

^ I know this girl, she’s me sometimes too. After 7 years of denying my body nourishment it asked for, feeling proud for going to to bed with a growling stomach, I can’t emphasize how much this post resonated. Thank you for being so bare and honest!

I can understand your care to present veganism in a favorable light, but the truth is that vulnerability is far more compelling to human beings and, I believe, is an even stronger way to connect with people on a meaningful level. That dissonance between the part of me that is “recovered” and kind to my body, and the part that screams to restrict when I feel a certain still rears up in my life periodically. Old habits die hard, and I realize they existed because I needed them for some reason. Now, I do my best to gently remind myself that I don’t need those behaviors anymore, because ______ (insert tons of awesome reasons why I root my feelings in my appearance).

I love reading your posts on recovery, eloquent as always. xo

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Blaine Arin @ Feel-good Food August 15, 2013 at 8:08 am

woops, above comment should read “why I do NOT root my feelings in my appearance” ;)

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Ali Seiter @ Farmers Market Vegan August 15, 2013 at 8:28 am

Dearest Gena–

As always, your post hugely resonated with me. As we’ve previously discussed, I’ve been successfully gaining weight this summer after battling some digestive issues that made eating rather uncomfortable. While the weight loss was not tied to my history of disordered eating, and I found that gaining the weight put little to no mental strain on myself, I’ve found myself thinking similarly to the ways you described here in the past couple of days. Though I feel wonderfully energetic, positive, and healthy, I can’t help but think, “Hmm, your thighs are starting to show…” It takes a second thought to realize that yes, they’re larger than before, but that’s what I want because it means that I’m healthy, adequately nourishing my body, and able to feel strong rather than weak and waiflike.

For me, having a history of disordered eating and disordered body image means constantly riding a roller coaster of how you think your body “should” look. When I lost too much weight last fall, I found it difficult to embrace my bony, frail figure (though in this case, it’s probably good that I didn’t embrace it because it inspired me to gain weight and get healthy again). However, now that I’m at the same weight and body size as before the onset of my digestive issues, I find it difficult not to revert back to the mentality of, “but you could look differently…” But I don’t want to look differently. I want to look, and more importantly feel, healthy and strong, which I do at this point. It also makes me a better vegan advocate, since my body reflects the nourishment I’m giving it.

In addition, having a history of disordered eating predisposes one to measure their worth in terms of weight/body size/etc., as you referenced when you noted that being thin contributed to a sense of “uniqueness.” I’ve definitely experienced this, as well, but strive to remember that my other qualities and skills (writing, yoga, cooking, thinking critically, etc.) will enrich and further my success in life immensely more than being skinny.

Thank you for opening up, giving me and the rest of your readers a sentiment with which to identify. I look forward to hearing all about your adventures in San Francisco.

Love,
Ali.

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Elyse August 15, 2013 at 9:39 am

Thank you for sharing. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one that feels this way at times. It’s always good to know I’m not alone. Thank you :)

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Anjali August 15, 2013 at 10:06 am

Gena -
This is an absolutely beautiful post. The depth of your self-reflection, and your ability to articulate those reflections, is awe-inspiring. I can absolutely relate to your experience, and I deeply appreciate your honesty and vulnerability. Thank you!

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Heather August 15, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Hi Gena, Beautiful, beautiful post! I still read, although rarely comment, but this post was just so wonderful. As always, you were able to articulate exactly how I once felt! xo

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Cassandra Gonzalez August 15, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Thank you for this post, Gena! I often feel the same way & I think this is an important experience to share and talk about! Thank you for your continuing honesty & openness!

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Natalie August 15, 2013 at 5:00 pm

hey gena,

i love this piece of writing, and thank you for being willing to share your thoughts, and for willing to be vulnerable. this is real, nuanced, and complex thinking — the kinds of inner struggles and contradictions we wrestle with everyday. i know i do. i love how honest you are, and how through your writing, you can help the rest of us elucidate the thoughts we often find to muddled or entangled to even realize.

thanks! i hope you’re well =)

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elizabeth August 15, 2013 at 8:01 pm

The hardest thing about recovery from anorexia is that anorectics (typically) enjoy their illness. There is not the will to recover that exists with other conditions, physical or mental. There are deep rooted personality factors at play – a tendency toward perfectionism, a desire to be seen as superior to others – that make recovery, in absence of another outlet for self-definition, extraordinarily difficult. One reason I’ve been intrigued by Gena’s Green Recovery series (even though I’m not vegan), is because I think “becoming vegan” offers a way to meet the ego-syntonic needs filled by the eating disorder. It allows the same measure of self-differentiation, etc. Not that becoming a doctor, or a writer, or a mother, or any number of other accomplishments don’t offer the same way out – indeed, most of my friends who have recovered, who didn’t recover in a summer but only after years, have *outgrown* the disorder. When professional commitments, relationships, parenthood, etc., forced a choice. But I have noticed enough similarities between the girls I know who are becoming vegan in high school and those who develop anorexia (acute intelligence, a kind of world-weariness at an early age, etc.) that I’ve started to wonder if veganism, in addition to offering a path out of an eating disorder, might not also serve a prophylactic function. Especially in younger women. In other words, if a teenager predisposed to anorexia were instead to become vegan, would she in the process develop the kind of relationship with food that would prevent the development of an eating disorder? There is a certain incompatibility, evidenced in some of the comments, where choosing one thing (to be vegan) entails relinquishing the other (to be anorexic). People will disagree with me that there is any kind of choice involved, and as someone who defended against gaining weight for almost a decade, I’m sympathetic to how hard, nay, impossible, it is to gain weight. But as someone who recovered, I also know that a moment arrives when it’s a choice. And I think *being vegan* positions one, when the time comes, to make the right choice.

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Amanda @SpiritualSweat August 15, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Hey Gena, Thank you so much for writing this post. I read your blog often, but I’ve never told you in the comments how much I appreciate it. Thank you for your delicious recipes and your green recovery series. They are really making a difference.
Love,
Amanda

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Karen August 15, 2013 at 9:15 pm

I have never responded to a post before, but this time I feel compelled to do so. You have totally captured the feelings I have never admitted to. At 46, I have struggled with an ED on and off for 33 years. I most recently relapsed a year and a half ago, but managed to pull myself out of my self destructive behaviors after stumbling upon your blog. I believe I am on the right path and totally embrace the vegan lifestyle. I have never felt so passionate about anything before. Unfortunately, I continue to battle with the feelings you described in your post. Being unhealthily thin made me feel special and gave me an identity. I am terrified of gaining weight and routinely do “body checks”, even though I know I am eating healthily. I am still afraid of clothing that fits. Your post really made me reflect upon my journey toward health and evaluate where I am and where I want to go. I am a work in progress, but becoming vegan has given me a new identity in which I can be proud. Thank you!

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kimmythevegan August 15, 2013 at 10:56 pm

I am so grateful you shared this with us, I know you had struggles in the past but I didn’t know you still had any internal conflicts going on.
It makes me feel more human knowing others go through the same emotions I do. I struggled for so many years with disordered eating and a skewed body image. After going vegan, things just fell into place for me. I was happy & healthy and found myself at a normal weight and stayed about the same weight for a consistent 3+ years… and then life through me a curveball and I found myself moving to a new country over a year ago and have been on the emotional eating wagon. I have gained so much weight and have been back and forth with being happy & healthy and became very frustrated. I am trying so very hard to get back to where I was, but it’s difficult. It’s good to see others are doing so well with things even though it is hard at times. You are beautiful, inside & out <3

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T August 16, 2013 at 4:52 am

Re weakness & vulnerability, I recommend reading Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly. Or check out her TED talk at least, if you haven’t already. Take care!

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Laura August 16, 2013 at 4:54 am

HI Gena,

This is a great post. Thanks so much for sharing. I actually waited to reply until I could gather my thoughts…but then I don’t think I actually “gathered” them! As someone who shares some of your struggles (and has some different ones), I can so relate with this post. I am much older than you, and I know I will always struggle with certain feelings, instincts, etc. I will always have to be vigilant. There will be good days and maybe good months and years, but the food issue will always be my achilles heel.

The main thing that keeps coming to me is that we should be very careful about any kind of comments about others’ bodies. Sometimes when I’m skinnier I’m actually healthier. Sometimes not. And either way, when someone comments on my body it will likely stir up a torrent of emotion, even if the commenter is not trying to be pointy or do any kind of harm.

And on the other hand, we have to live in the world, right? And so it is wonderful that in that moment you stepped back, and wrote this post to share the journey with some who could use the information or inspiration, and process the feelings yourself. Keep it al up and thanks for sharing your journey. It makes me feel a lot less alone!

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Skye August 16, 2013 at 10:59 am

Thank you for being so open and honest with your personal experiences with recovery and thoughts about recovery as an ongoing process. I love your green recovery series and I love your positive attitude toward food and health.

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Gena August 17, 2013 at 9:55 am

Thanks, Skye, for always reading and supporting.

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Kate August 16, 2013 at 11:42 am

Gena, I cannot thank you enough for sharing so thoughtfully about this struggle, one that I can identify with wholeheartedly, and especially currently. Your blog continues to be such an inspiration. You continue to put our (our readers) healing and awareness before your own vulnerability as you share and guide and identify. I might have come for the banana soft serve, but I return to your blog each day because of poignant and important posts like these.

Thank you!
Kate

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Gena August 17, 2013 at 9:55 am

I am so sorry to hear of the current struggle, dear Kate, but am happy that this post is giving you a sense of comfort. Stay strong. We’re all here to support you.

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janet @ the taste space August 16, 2013 at 12:39 pm

*HUG* I admire your courage to share your feelings so openly, Gena.

I know you know it, but it is also a great way to look at things from the reverse side, too. When you become a health professional, you will realize the power of your own words. Something seemingly so trivial can mean much more than you intended.

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Gena August 17, 2013 at 9:48 am

Janet, thank you for bringing that up. It’s definitely an important lesson in the power of language and it’s impact on people — especially people who are feeling vulnerable. I saw some of that last year as a volunteer, watching how carefully the physicians chose their words.

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Allie August 16, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Gina thank you so much for sharing this. I’ve personally struggled with the same issues and find it so comforting & inspiring that you moved towards putting words to it. Thank you for giving voice to the challenges of so many out there. You’re not alone. We’re not alone

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Gena August 17, 2013 at 9:48 am

No, we’re not. Thanks Allie.

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the delicate place (@misathemeb) August 16, 2013 at 1:36 pm

i have seen two kinds of vegans in pittsburgh, the gray skinned emaciated looking ones and then the overweight ones who rely on vegan convenience food. you are neither and if anyone has proven that vegans can have glowing skin, shiny hair and look slim and strong it is YOU my dear! i will honestly say that i didn’t think ‘your kind’ of vegan existed. i’m only going on a small microsample in my city but you have shown how whole foods can be nourishing and that you can have a full and varied diet all while abstaining from animal products.

while i’m not a vegan, you’ve inspired me to include more whole, plant based products into my omni diet while reducing my overall intake of animal products. i’ve been completely dairy free for 2 yrs now and usually stick to fish/eggs. you have nothing to be ashamed of! you are gorgeous!

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Gena August 17, 2013 at 9:53 am

Interesting feedback, Melissa, about Pittsburgh. But anyway, I’m really touched that you would consider me to be a good example of a strong, healthy vegan body. I’ve loved watching you add more vegan recipes to your routine through our years as blogging friends, and am inspired by your journey, as you are by mine. xx

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bitt August 25, 2013 at 5:06 pm

I too found your comment offensive. I could easily say that about all Americans–would it be true? If you go to a vegan conference you will see people of all shapes and sizes. Your comment is just as insensitive and triggering as the cashier to Gena.

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Marissa August 20, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Melissa, I find your comments about Pittsburgh vegans bothersome. I wonder how small your microsample of Pgh vegans is. It has *been* time to move beyond stereotypes of the sickly vegan or the “overweight” (a fluid definition if there ever was one) convenience food vegan. I’m actually quite shocked that you feel the way you do because I know more Pgh vegans who are outside of those boxes than inside them, and I was born and raised here, in and around the vegan/veg communities since the early 2000′s. And, unfortunately for your judging criteria, some of those who placed little value on self-care (including nutritionally) have looked like the picture of perfect health.

On a personal level, I am offended, and I wonder why you would choose the language you did on a post like this. At various times of my illness (of which a vegan diet has been one of my most valuable healing tools), I may have fit into either of your categories, and my body has been the main thing that has been constantly commented on and judged throughout my healing. I often worry about what kind of representation I am for veganism because I may not fit people’s definition of (your words) fit, glowing, slim, and strong. For example, if you met me and found out I was vegan, would you judge me by my appearance without knowing that I am dealing with chronic illness? Would I be another Pittsburgh vegan that is sickly or doesn’t weigh the right number?

Please be more thoughtful and sensitive of what you say especially when you say it in a space like this. And if you don’t know what you’re talking about, it’s best to not say anything at all.

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Sara @ sarasmiles August 16, 2013 at 1:44 pm

I hope you know you are definitely not alone in feeling the way you do. But let me just say, what a strong person you are!

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Gena August 17, 2013 at 9:47 am

And to you, Sara!

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Emma August 16, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Thanks so much for this post Gena (and sorry I’m late to comment, I’ve been away and am just catching up with my reader). Your post last year on losing one’s distinctiveness in recovery is probably my favourite of yours to date. I love your honesty and this post also resonates so strongly. Not having extreme thinness to make me “special” anymore is still something I struggle with and finding my identity without anorexia is an ongoing process. Big hugs.

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Gena August 17, 2013 at 9:47 am

Thanks so much, Emma. I’m so proud of how far you have come in the time since you’ve been writing your blog. Much love to you <3

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sPeeDeeBee August 16, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Amber, I’ve only read for your blog for a few months, but I’m already terribly sorry to see you go (regardless of how anyone else decides to label you). The politics of food blogging has blown my mind and too often ruined my appetite, as I’m now sure you can understand. How very sad.

I only hope that time away can build your confidence to the point that writing for yourself (and perhaps some of your followers) will serve as reward in and of itself. The attacks come from those unable to even love themselves. How very sad, again. Love yourself and share what’s left whenever you can–you’re an amazing chef. I use your dessert book like a bible! ;)

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Gena August 17, 2013 at 9:46 am

I think this comment was intended for Amber Shea of Almost Vegan! ;-)

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hannah August 16, 2013 at 7:11 pm

My dear Gena – I must say one of my biggest gulits about NOT recovering is that I perpetuate the vegan stereotype of anorexic, frail, pale and undernourished. Like Abby, i hesitate to even tell people I am vegan. I think you must hold on to that PRIDE you can have that you represent a healthy, happy vegan, the sort of person whose lifestyle others envy and WANT to emulate, not who turns people off and makes them think only of denial. I’m SOOOO glad the cashier said this, I’m soooo glad that you were there to correct his impression of what a vegan looks like (and by inference what a vegan diet is like) and who knows, later down the line, what might happen on his journey (if we are all indeed pre-gans and post-vegans).
I’m sorry it caused you pain and triggered some icky feelings you perhaps thought were long gone, but please be proud of that moment of good you did for the animals.
Sending love h x

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Gena August 17, 2013 at 9:46 am

Thanks Hannah. Everything you say is true — it’s just hard when your desire to perpetuate a positive image vies with personal pain/sensitivity. Many thanks for reminding me of the good for animals.

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Ricki August 17, 2013 at 12:43 am

Such a beautiful post, Gena. As always, you’ve taken what is shared in our experiences as women and articulated it so eloquently–thank you. I’ve felt many of those same feelings, too, though coming from a very different place (or maybe not so different?). Right there with you on the journey, and also cheering you on. xoxo

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Gena August 17, 2013 at 9:52 am

Thanks, Ricki. I so appreciate your perspective. And I bet the place you are coming from is not very different at all. What’s most poignant in these scenarios is the set of feelings that are evoked, not the circumstantial particulars. <3

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Mandy August 17, 2013 at 9:06 am

Imjust want to say thanks for writing this post. I am also in recovery for an eating disorder, which I gave up about 10 years ago. But even so, every once in awhile that little voice in my head whispers to me…. And I remember feeling the thrill of victory every time someone would tell me that I was too skinny. And the thought of looking “healthy” or being an “average” weight somehow felt like it wasn’t good enough, al least not for the impossible standard I set for myself. But you have to give yourself some credit…the comment didn’t send you back…it just made you think…and that’s ok. Your blog and your vegan is hope for other women out there struggling with body image. So, thanks for your blog…and keep up the good fight because you’re awesome!!!

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Gena August 17, 2013 at 9:51 am

As are you, Mandy! Stay strong in your recovery. You’re not alone.

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Rachael August 18, 2013 at 3:10 am

More than once in a while when I’m facing a tough day and don’t want to take care of my body I say to myself “What would Gena do?”. This post reaffirmed my trust in you as one I look to for inspiration. Thank you.

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Gena August 20, 2013 at 6:16 am

Well, Rachael, I will try to live up to that, though I am as inspired by every single person who comments as you may be by me. So it’s a give and take. Glad the post resonated.

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Beth August 18, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Gena,

Just after reading this post, almost the exact same thing happened to me. I was doing some gift shopping and bought a vegetarian/vegan cookbook for someone. This led the clerk to tell me during check-out that he “used to be vegetarian”, and I told him that I was vegan. “You are a healthy vegan, then” he said, “most vegans I know are tiny, emaciated”. Having been a vegan for almost 3 years, it was the first time this had happened to me. And I was lucky enough to have read your post beforehand. Although I am coming from a different history as you, I think many women can relate to feeling like they need to conform to some standard that they SHOULD be tiny and emaciated. And although I’m sure this clerk meant it in a good way — and I had just read and been inspired by your post — I couldn’t help but feel not exactly pleased with his comment. What is he REALLY trying to say about me?, I thought to myself momentarily.

But the more I think about it, in a way I think we can use our “healthy” bodies in a way that is beneficial for promoting veganism and helping the animals. Like many people, I, too, initially thought that going vegan would leave me anemic and protein deficient before I learned the ins-and-outs of vegan nutrition. Since many have that misconception, how cool is it that we can be living examples of how healthy and balanced a vegan diet can be (and look)? Obviously, others still view veganism as this unsustainable starvation diet, when literally the opposite is true. We can be fully nourished and healthy eating this way, and I’m sure these (at first unwelcome) remarks speak to that in some way.

Thanks for sharing your story and being an inspiration for many in the community.

Beth

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Gena August 20, 2013 at 6:14 am

I totally agree on all counts, Beth. And I’m fundamentally so pleased that so many vegans who have commented on this post do seem to be thriving and healthy — that’s a vote of confidence for veganism! This was one of those instances (and I think you can relate) where emotions vied with reason.

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Hailey August 18, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Thank you, Gena. I was just told by a family friend, whom I hadn’t seen in awhile, that I look “more substantial”, and, as much as I hate to admit it, those words felt like a knife stabbing me in the side. It’s so wonderful to know that I’m not alone and that in time, hopefully that feeling will become less prominent. I completely look up to you and your recovering body image– definitely something to aspire to.

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Gena August 20, 2013 at 6:13 am

Oh gosh, “more substantial.” People’s words! Anyway, Hailey, stay strong, and yes — that feeling does start to pass, as one’s attachment to being “unsubstantial” (if we were to use the same language) diminishes. You aren’t alone.

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Josh August 18, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Thank you so much for your honesty and openness about your internal experience! It is refreshing to hear such an honest account of life in recovery. Also such a powerful example that while our thoughts may not always be as pure and healthy as we’d like, our behavior and actions do not need to reflect those unhealthy thoughts. Our thoughts and beliefs are really not much more than words in our mind. The fact that you honored your emotional experience and accepted what you were feeling is beautiful and will only, in my opinion, strengthen your recovery.

I have suffered from an eating disorder for 12-13 years (I’m 24) and am currently in residential treatment for the 10th time. I have not been able to “get it” for one reason or another. I’ve kinda lost hope at this point and feel like I’ve tried everything. I was wondering if there was any way I could e-mail you and potentially get your thoughts on a few things? Would love to talk with you and see if you could bestow some of your wisdom on me heh. I can only imagine how busy you must be and will totally understand if you don’t have the time!

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Josh August 18, 2013 at 4:42 pm

Just also want to mention that there are SO many men, including myself, who can relate to this and who have and continue to suffer with eating disorders. It isn’t just a women’s issue. Having been in treatment several times with many people, my experience is that there are very few differences in men and women suffering from anorexia and bulimia.

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Gena August 20, 2013 at 6:11 am

Josh,

Thank you so much for your candid response to the post and for sharing your experience here. I also appreciate the reminder that ED’s affect men and women similarly. I get less male commenters on Green Recovery posts than women, but that’s shifting, and I think it’s so important for the dialog to open up.

I’m also so sorry to hear that the road into recovery has been so winding for you. Of course you can reach out over email (gena@choosingraw.com). I’m not a treatment professional in any way, but would be happy to answer your questions as best I can.

Gena

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Sarah August 19, 2013 at 12:08 pm

What I find so fascinating is that while I was experiencing and overcoming my eating disorder, I felt like the only person in the world facing that problem; that I was the only one struggling emotionally and physically. What you have just described is something that I deal with myself even twelve years out, and I am amazed and grateful to see that I am not alone in this. I love my ‘healthiness’ and my physical strength, but I do sometimes have this odd sense of vulnerability as well.

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Gena August 20, 2013 at 6:08 am

You are certainly not alone. I’m glad that the post comforts you, Sarah.

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Catherine August 19, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Thank you for your honesty. While I have never struggled with EDs, I can see how this type of a comment would be very triggering, even with the remarkable progress and recovery that you’ve made. It’s interesting to hear the feelings of a loss of “specialness” or uniqueness that go along with recovery. I felt I must pipe in to echo a few other commenters to let you know that your work as a compassionate, pro-animal, master recipe creator, inspiration to countless readers, healthy blogging community leader, nutrition-loving, strong voice for the recovering, and magnificently eloquent, hard-working aspiring doctor – is WAY more uni

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Catherine August 19, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Whoops! Hit “submit” too soon.

… all those qualities are way more unique and special, in my humble opinion. I think that is partly because you are giving back immeasurably to others in the latter, while during the height of your ED, it was neither helpful not positive for anyone.

Thank you for taking the time to write about this. I would almost love to print out this blog and the comments and show it to the store clerk. Not in a malicious way; just to make people understand the power of their words. That’s another thing I’ve learned from you – I have moved away from commenting on others’ appearances too much, and try to focus on complimenting their qualities as humans instead. Thanks for all you do!

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Gena August 20, 2013 at 6:07 am

Thanks for this lovely comment, Catherine. It means a lot to me that you would remind me of ways in which I’m giving back. The idea of directing my energy outward has been a hugely important part of my recovery. And I’m also glad that these posts plant a seed of thought about commentary. We certainly can’t get to the point where we feel crippled and not able to speak freely, but there’s just so little need for people to speak as freely about other people’s bodies as they think they can and should.

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Les August 19, 2013 at 8:23 pm

I try to be a healthy vegan example. People at work see me eating kale and nuts all the time and they know I’m vegan, and also that I have muscle. I bilke quite a lot, and also run. On the street a few years ago a random man told me I looked ‘like a mountain climber’. I’ve always been proud of the fact that with lots of work I have overcome a tendancy to overeat and have become quite fit. I’m proud of the fact that I’m NOT super-skinny and my feeling is ususlly – ‘I challenge any super-skinny girl out there to feel superior to me.’ I have no history of actual disordered eating but I am sensitized to it because a very good friend of mine has had trouble with it. But, of COURSE, despite everything, I still feel a constant nag in my mind that I’m too bulky, maybe, that I lack grace. That if I could sharpen the contours, I narrow my step, or something, i could think ‘better’. I’ve gone as far as i can with my diet short of deprivation. It’s already ‘strict’ but I am very resistant to the idea of constant vigilant maintenance. Too exhausting.

What causes this? Is it within me or is it the fact that so many women (and some men) DO go all-out with this maintenance? At my health food store job it seems like one in ten people is extremely vigilant. It’s actually almost common. They can’t ALL be special, eh?

We do seem to all feel it. I have healthy vegan friends who think they’re ‘fat’ when they’re NOT. What have all these skinny people succeeded in doing, exactly? And why do they make some of us healthy folks feel so bad about ourselves? Logically I know they shouldn’t, and yet they do. So ususlly I go back and forth like this…

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Gena August 20, 2013 at 6:02 am

Les,

You’ve picked up on something really true, which is that obsessiveness about thinness is not the exception: it’s the norm. And I agree that it can make people who are simply interested in being healthy feel as though perhaps they too should be striving toward some unreachable ideal. Clearly I don’t have the answers, but I so appreciate hearing your perspective!

G

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Sophie August 20, 2013 at 9:30 am

I love you even more for this post Gena. I can 100% understand exactly how you feel. I sometimes feel that my eating disorder showed a true will power to the outside world and by becoming healthy I have ‘let go’. Obviously I realise the absurdity of this feeling, as the disorder was a mental illness not a case of being a ‘good’ and strong willed person. It’s very refreshing to know that these mental certain mental slip ups occur with others too and even more satisfying to know that we push them away and progress forward!

Love your blog as always!

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Emily NA August 20, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Not a vegan, but I adore raw food and vegetables and fruits. I’m crazy for a pile of ripe berries for breakfast! Your blog has always been a mainstay of my reading and has opened my eyes to so much! I’ve shared kale with the ladies in my life and turned my aunt and cousin on to kale chips for snacking, so thanks!

Disordered eating will effect you for a long while, if not forever, even if it’s just an occasional twinge. You have handled it so well and I hope to have that strength. Coming from a mother with an eating disorder (anorexia without having a low BMI and being obese, otherwise known as EDNOS) and having disordered eating habits myself, I can draw strength from your knowledge of food and dealing with similar issues to myself.

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IndyK August 20, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Gena-

Thank you for your honesty and bravery, and for giving a voice to the issue otherwise known as “that of which one must not speak”. I feel all the same emotions: mostly confidence in my healther body, but fear that I no longer am that person who is so thin, so disciplined, so remarkable. I still have that voice in my head reprimanding me: “Who do you think you are? You cannot eat that.” And yes, it still feels like I am doing something “right” when I am hungry, and perhaps a bit “wrong” when I am full. It will take a lifetime worth of reprogramming to undue the damage of my younger years. We all know that recovery is not linear. You possess the gift of being able to find words for your feelings, and enormous strength in the willingness to share. Congratulations on your continued success through this journey, and thanks for allowing us to be a part of it. Please remember that you are not alone.

K

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Gena August 20, 2013 at 10:28 pm

IndyK,

You have almost supernaturally echoed my feelings. Thanks so much for sharing with me and with us. I deeply appreciate your words, and feel less alone because of them.

G

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Maria R August 21, 2013 at 7:03 am

Beautiful and heartfelt Gena, thank you so much for sharing. In my opinion vulnerability is the best form of strength.

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Lauren @ The Homeostatic Mindset August 21, 2013 at 4:03 pm

I LOVE your recovery-centric posts!! I don’t think there is anything I can add which hasn’t already been said. I’m so thankful you wrote this. It echoed everything I think, and put together some buzzing which occurs in the back of my mind that I can never fully articulate. I’m still baffled by the audacity of people. I would NEVER comment on someone’s shape or weight… My uncle just a few weeks ago said to me, “Are you gaining weight? You’re looking thicker.” He knows of my intense battle with AN, but saw it as a positive thing, like he was congratulating me, and happy about how well I was doing. 9 times out of 10, I think education is key. People usually mean well, yet are unaware of how detrimental a single sentence can be. I’m glad you’re in a place in your recovery now where triggers are fleeting, and you’re able to see them for what they really are. <3 (P.S. I miss you!! Is that weird? Haha. Hope you're doing well!!)

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Cinthia August 22, 2013 at 3:50 am

Great post, Gena. Love your honesty, and your ability and willingness to unzip your defenses and become vulnerable. What a gift.
It makes my heart weep, but in the best of ways; my sister died of eating disorder complications twelve years ago, and every success I read about is a small redemption. P.S. Love your recipes, even though I’m not much of a cook.

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Gena August 22, 2013 at 11:14 am

Oh, wow, Cinthia. Thank you for sharing with all of us. I am so, so sorry for your loss, but it means a lot to me that reading about others journeys gives you a sense of healing, or closure, or redemption, or whatever word does justice to the enormity of what you must feel. I’m really honored that you are reading. x

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bitt August 25, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Gena. I find myself sometimes judging others based on their grocery choices and really I am striving towards being nonjudgemental. Discussing it and helping it come out of our subconscious helps us move past it. Glad you are feeling more confident and healthy.

Would love like a little definition of what “triggering” really means. I am still not up on all the ED lingo.

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melomeals August 26, 2013 at 6:27 pm

Gena, I think that this only makes you human… we all struggle.. and I’m glad you feel safe enough to share your struggles with us…

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Sarah Kit Farrell August 27, 2013 at 9:21 am

In one week, I’ll be celebrating 5 years of recovery, and I’ve begun my own blog, inspired in no small part by your generous and illuminating writings. I’ve always appreciated your personal disclosures, and this post exemplifies why. Five years later, and nine years after I went into treatment, I still struggle with that diminished inner voice, the wound that still aches even though I’ve bandaged it with layers upon layers of recovery. Maybe it will always be there, saying, “You’ve lost something that was really special, that set you apart, that made you better.” But I know that it will continue to fade, that it will become increasingly overpowered by new, healthier, more joyful voices. In the meantime, it’s just wonderful to know that I’m not alone. Thank you so much for sharing this beautifully articulate post.

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Dianna Fancy September 1, 2013 at 11:33 pm

Gina,

You’re post was very insightful. Though I will never know what it is like to struggle with the sort of ED you have struggled with, I can empathize as I have struggled with over eating my entire life. I grew up in a family who thought that meat was the most important part of every meal, and never knew when to tell my brother and I we’d had enough. While this might not have been a problem for my bro (super high metabolism), the result for me was serious weight gain. From the time I was an early teenager I felt the call to become and vegetarian (didn’t know what veganism was at the time), but couldn’t take that step because my family thought it was crazy and just a way for me to alienate myself from them more. So the weight kept going one and by the time I was out of college I weighed more than I have my entire life (big digits here). When I finally moved out after college, I ended up with a roommate who ate terribly unhealthy foods, but always managed to maintain a beautiful physique, which depressed me further. I took a year to force myself into “standing up for my rights” to eat healthy food and not be ashamed. I recently began my life as a vegan, and I have never felt happier. It is still difficult to stand in line at the grocery store, though, because as I watch the cashier ringing up my produce and coconut water….I get nervous. It’s never about how much money I will spend that day, but the fear that the first thing out of his/her mouth will be “So you going on a diet?” I can remember the first time I bought coconut milk yogurt and the clerk asked what it was, and why I wanted it. When I told her I was a vegan she looked at me like I was lying and said, “But I thought vegans were all skinny.” I have never felt that kind of shame before. It’s like living in a constant state of fear that you are being judged because of your size. Even though I chose this lifestyle as a means of helping to lose some of my weight, it was a choice ultimately to respect my body, and be healthy for me. So, though I can never know what you have felt, I do know what it’s like to be the fat girl so afraid of eating a carrot just because I was afraid someone who say, “Good she needs it.” I admire you for your decision to get healthy and overcome your odds, as I am attempting to do the same.

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Gena September 2, 2013 at 6:41 am

I am so tremendously sorry to hear that you’ve been through that kind of thoughtless treatment, Dianna. I hope we can both do our part to break down some of the misconceptions and prejudices that people bring to veganism. Thanks for reading.

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Elizabeth September 11, 2013 at 10:50 am

beautifully, beautifully written. Thanks for being such a recovery inspiration to your community

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Herschel Hueston September 17, 2013 at 7:36 pm

Yes. It should perform. If it doesn’t send us an email.

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