When I was 17 I went through a really crummy breakup. I was already at an age where I felt insecure about my body and the changes it was going through, and insecure about who I was and who I would be in the future. There was a lot of upheaval in those years, and without getting into too much detail (another post, another day - maybe), I had one parent in and out of serious legal trouble and the other struggling to stay afloat amidst the chaos. It had affected me more than I was willing to admit or recognize, and coupled with the messy breakup, I started to feel out of control. Things were spinning, and the only thing I had some semblance of control over was what I was eating. I have always had a sweet tooth, and I grew up in a meat-and-potatoes, ‘clean your plate before you leave the table!’ kind of family. I never had healthy eating habits, but never really understood that they were bad, because everyone around me ate the same way. I had no idea really that I probably could’ve just changed what I was eating in a much easier, healthier and far less damaging way. Instead, I started a combo of starving myself and then binging to such fullness that I was forced to purge or would force myself to in an effort to clear out my stomach, to essentially prevent from gaining weight and hopefully lose some.
If you are still struggling with an ED, please know this may be triggering for you. I’ve never used this space to open up about this topic, but I have gotten so many questions and so much positive feedback when I’ve mentioned it on instagram. I’m not embarassed about sharing it because I am in such a better place now, and I just hope my experience can maybe help someone connect or get some perspective. Sorry - it’s gonna get really real guys.
The first time I made myself throw up was what I consider the real beginning. I had restricted food a bit before but never in such a conscious way. I was sad and feeling sorry for myself, so I went to the store and grabbed a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and ate the whole thing. Just like that. Oops! I hadn't even meant to, but I was just drowning in my angsty sadness and eating and not even thinking. We’ve all been there, right? I felt really sick. Which made it really, really easy for me to throw up when I went into the bathroom and stuck my fingers down my throat. I’m not proud of admitting how easy it was, but at the time - it felt freeing. It felt like somehow if I could unload the contents of my stomach, I could unload all of my emotions and the weight on my heart. Spoiler alert: it doesn't work like that.
I continued on the cycle of binging and purging and then starving myself for about 2 years. How can you do both, you ask? Well, as most people with disorders eating habits know, it’s a fluctuating thing. Some weeks I threw up every meal - some weeks I barely ate at all, so there was just nothing to throw up. I feel guilty even writing this - knowing how many people in the world don’t get to eat real or healthful meals, and I was buying good food just to waste it. I saw that juxtaposition even then, but as much as I hated what I was doing, I hated myself more. I had low self-esteem and was definitely battling depression. I wasn't working out much and I was the heaviest I had ever been, but I was soft. My muscles were deteriorating in front of me because I barely had any strength - literally. I was barley eating or drinking. After graduating high school I went off to college and the eating disorder absolutely spiraled. I was dating again but still feeling awful about my body and my size, trying to battle the ‘freshman 15’ while simultaneously eating exclusively cafeteria food, drinking to excess on the weekends, and sitting ALL DAY LONG in classes. I remember my anorexia taking the lead here - it was much harder to sneak away and throw up, except on weekends, when we drank to the point of throwing up anyway. I was keeping my calories under 1000 a day - starving limits. I was a big fan of eating a single sleeve of saltines and a cup of frozen raspberries a day - which, obviously, is far too little for any adult. I was sleeping all day through classes by the end of my second semester because I had no energy - I couldn’t even get up out of bed to go to the bathroom with out getting dizzy and feeling like passing out. I was in a bad place, and felt like I had no support system or reason to be in school. I dropped out and moved back home in February, and started to work on trying to feel better about myself.
By April I had saved up enough money to visit a friend for a week in California, and that’s where I met Alex for the first time. That week was freeing for me. I was feeling a bit better and getting a little more control over eating again at this point, and had regained more interest in working out. I still had my ED - I always will. Recovery is a choice you have to make everyday. But I decided that while I was in California for the week, I’d try new foods. I’d try to just enjoy it a bit. And I did! I tried In ’n’ Out for the first time, plus TK Burgers, Panda Express and The Hat. Do you live in Southern California? If so, you’re probably seeing a pattern here - it was all total junk food. But still, I enjoyed it! And that mattered. I visited again in May and had decided to more out permanently in August. I got a job as a live-in nanny in Pasadena and moved out just days before my 19th birthday in September. I was at my heaviest and feeling awful. I was eating a lot more food, and puking a lot less, but the foods I was eating at this point were total crap. Nothing healthful, lots of processed and fast foods. And for awhile after the move, it stayed that way. There were so many new-to-me places and foods to try in California - I went hard. And dating someone like Alex was tricky for me in the beginning; he can eat almost whatever and keeps his great bod. Some people are just lucky! What did help was Alex himself - I opened up to him about my struggles with eating and food, and he was a wonderful listener. He made a sincere effort to start eating better and working out with me, which was really incredibly helpful to me.
Even without Alex’s help, being in a new environment and around exciting new things made me want to be happy. I was sick of feeling sick all the time, and sick of constantly worrying about what I’d be eating or wouldn't be eating. Being happier made me want to start enjoying meals with my partner, enjoying food in social settings without having to excuse myself to the bathroom to berate myself for eating too many appetizers. I got curious about food, and about why I was feeling sick all of the time. I had simultaneously screwed with my metabolism and insides so much I had constant stomach aches and heartburn, and I didn't know why. I started cutting out foods I knew I might be struggling with - starting with dairy. I’d always had some lactose intolerance, so it seemed like a natural place to start.
Within 6 months of actively reducing the dairy and occasional other foods intermittently and rarely seriously, Alex and I moved in together. We got a couple of roomates, one of which was a vegetarian. She sparked my interest in removing meat from my diet. If I’m being honest, I was more initially allured into veganism because of the restriction aspect. Like I said, I had always grown up with healthy appreciation for meat - but had also very much ‘met my meat’. I never ate meat from factory farms growing up or helped support animal agriculture on a large scale - we ate a few eggs weekly from family chickens and ate a single deer yearly that my father hunted. This isn't a defense or calling out of anything - you do you. This is just what I lived. I wanted control over my food, but I also wanted to get much healthier. I wanted feel good about food and eating again. So I went vegan! It wasn't easy when I started, and I ate a lot of french fries and apples because I didn't know what else to do. But I taught myself to cook, and started the blog to try and share my experiences with other people. Back then it was exclusively recipes, and some of my very first recipes that I posted are simple smoothies and salad ideas that I learned as I went along. The pictures sucked because I was shooting them on like an iPhone 4, but I was just excited to start to feel like I was getting it.
At this point my ED had diminished a bit. I was in therapy weekly, was eating a lot better and had started working out. I’d started to lose some excess weight and was getting a little stronger. I wasn't super healthy, but I was working on me and it felt really good - probably the best I’d felt in a long time. But I still dealt with serious food guilt; if I ate too much and felt really full I’d think about how easy it’d be to slip to the bathroom and make myself sick or how if I maybe just skipped breakfast all next week I’d look slightly thinner. I talked to my therapist about it, and I talked to Alex about it. And that helped a TON. I will say this loud and proud: it is so incredibly important to take as good care of your mental health as you do your physical health. If you think you need a therapist or psychologist or new doctor or even a really great dog groomer in your life, DO IT. You will never regret asking for help when you need it. It may even take you a few tries to find someone you’re comfortable talking with, but when you find that person, see the value in opening up. It helped me so much to get the weight off my shoulders of what felt like a major secret to me, and also helped me to see how damaging the things I was saying to myself were. When I would eat something even slightly indulgent, I would berate myself. “You’re so fat Amber, no wonder you feel disgusting. Your jeans look so gross - all people are looking at is your muffin top.” I’m not kidding - I thought that telling myself these things was helping me. I don't know how. Well, I sort of do; diet culture tells women that if they are not a thin, perfectly in-shape person that they are less than. This kind of crazy bullshit needs to stop. Diet culture is bullshit - it is a lens at which you look through life that begins to cloud how you see yourself and others in it. It’s all pretend. My therapist started to help me realize that the way in which was speaking to myself actually REALLY mattered, and that is I changed that, I could make real change within myself.
So I started trying to speak to myself more kindly, remind myself that this body has also done a lot of impressive things, and is capable of anything I want from it. I started to see only recently that I don't want to be thin or in-shape, I want to be STRONG. I want to feel safe and proud and capable. And those things only happen when you eat a balanced diet. It took a lot to learn what healthy food was because of the crazy diet culture in our country. It was hard to get straight answers on what I should and shouldn’t be eating, and most of the last 7 years have been a learning curve of trying new things and seeing how my body reacts. If you’re curious what I generally eat in a day, check out this MBG article I wrote recently. I talk about my fave foods and snacks, though I don't mention in the article that I have been recently diagnosed (in the last last two years) with a severe soy allergy. That has definitely changed what I eat as a vegan person, and has eliminated most of the faux meats, cheeses, and processed foods from my diet, which generally contain soy products. It has greatly increased my appetite for more fresh foods, and I’ve been feeling healthier than ever lately. It’s important to get tested for food allergies if you can - I would’ve saved myself years of tummy troubles if I’d looked into it earlier.
Another thing that was instrumental for me in working towards recovery (besides Alex - he’s been an incredible, uplifting partner on this journey!) was discovering how much marijuana helped me me increase my appetite. I prefer to vape now because it’s much better for the lungs, but whether you ingest it, smoke it, or vape it, its acts as a wonderful way to increase your appetite. It also calmed me way down, so I was able to start enjoying how food tasted and felt in my mouth again. I started appreciating food for what is was - nourishment - and also for how it made me feel. I started to reconnect and really hear when I was hungry before eating. We have a couple great posts on vegan Medical Marijuana Edibles here and here, if you’re interested. Before you get started though, know what you’re doing. THC + CBD are slightly different strains of marijuana. CBD is more about pain relief and THC is more about getting high and getting the munchies. Both are great! And we use both. But you probably want THC if you’re looking for increased appetite. Within THC there are two types essentially: sativa and indica. Sativa is my daytime preference, makes you snacky but keeps you active. Indica is my nighttime go-to because it gives you more of a ‘body high’ and helps you sleep. Also increases your appetite, probably more-so than a sativa strain would. Whatever you do, please do it safely and legally!
So do I still get food guilt? Hell to the yes! I think I always will. My relationship with food is an ever-evolving one, constantly striving for more balance and positive and more of what makes me feel good. While I am in a pretty great place of balance right now with eating and exercise and mental health, there are totally breaks. That’s where self-care and really tuning in and listening to your body become so important. The little negative, nagging voice in the back of my head will always be there; it’s more about realizing it’s there, accepting what it is, and just moving past it. My ED carries a lot of baggage and pain with it, and those memories are not something I want to live anymore. When I find myself most triggered is usually when I am most stressed and emotionally compromised. I’ll accidentally skip a meal, or purposely skip it in favor of ‘eating more later’. This is not okay, and it’s a cycle I’ll probably have to work my whole life to break. But I choose to be healthy and to eat - because as much sadness as food used to carry for me, it also carries an incredible amount of joy. I have so many great memories of cooking with my parents and grandparents when I was little, and of towering birthday cakes, and plates full of tacos, and bowls of mashed potatoes and gravy at Thanksgiving, of my wedding cake; these are special, happy, social food memories. And I prefer these. I think, again, recovery is a lifelong process. It’s waking up each day and deciding you need and want to do something different, something better for yourself.
And for veganism, it was definitely an aid in rehabilitating my relationship with food. It helped me strip down to the bare essentials - which is to say, eating more healthful fruits, veggies, and grains and cutting out meats, eggs, and dairy products. That said, I have been a vegan for 7 years now, and the older I get, the less I like labels. More coming on this later, but that is essentially why we’re changing the name around here. I’m done with labels, and I’m done judging people. I’m at a spot in my life where I feel like you gotta do what is best for you. If that means eating vegan, great! Please do! If that means just eating vegan one day a week, thats also awesome! I’m all about bettering ourselves and the planet, and the way to encourage people to do that is with inclusion and encouragement. I still eat a plant-based diet, but I’m done with labels. I finally feel at a point where I can admit to you guys that on our honeymoon in Paris last month, I tried some goats cheese one day. It was pretty good, and it was something I hadn’t tasted in years. I ended up feeling pretty icky afterward, so I don't think I’ll be doing that again. (Lactose is not my friend.) The lesson here is really more about being open to trying things. Don't be too restrictive on yourself if that’s a trigger for you - because it absolutely was for me. For years I’ve gone hungry in situations over eating something that wasn’t 100% vegan, and I’m done starving myself to stick to a diet that only I am enforcing on myself. As much as going vegan has helped me as a tool in recognizing and overcoming my disordered eating, I’m at a fork in the road, because it’s also a very restrictive mindset for someone in recovery. For my own ED recovery, I’m taking the high road: eating a plant-based ‘vegan’ diet because it’s good for me and the environment, but not being so incredibly hard on myself if theres a situation in which I end up eating something not so plant-based. And I hope you do what’s best for you, too. Because eating disorders and depression are scary things, but you are capable and strong fucking babe. Don't ever forget it.
If you need help right now, please call the National Eating Disorder Hotline or let someone you trust know you need some help. Find a therapist, talk it out. Do what you need to do to get better - you deserve it.