Welcome back to Vegans & Body Image, the biweekly series in which vegans share their stories and thoughts on body image in general, and what effect, if any, veganism has on it.
I’m recovering from anorexia and bulimia. I went vegetarian in grade 6 and then vegan once I hit high school. That means I was vegetarian for 4 years and have been vegan for 8 years. Eating animals and animal products had upset me from a young age, and the core of me had always felt resistant to it.
As someone recovering from an eating disorder I’ve had to fight with many doctors and personal supports in my treatment program. I’ve been told time and time again that I am not “sober in my eating practices” unless I am willing to eat whatever is put in front me. This in itself has baffled me because, as a activist, I also take steps toward educating the general public about not eating highly processed “foodlike products” containing GMOs and preservatives. I guess you could call me a naturalist—but this is my belief system, not my disease. It’s taken over two years of fighting to fully come to terms with this.
When I was at my sickest, I had begun exploring raw veganism, and from there, raw fruititarianism. I wasn’t doing this because it was more ethical or environmental; I was doing it to lose weight. The websites and books I turned to promised me I could maintain an extremely low weight and eat whatever I wanted as long as it was raw and I avoided “toxins.” My eating disorder latched onto this and my life spun out of control. I’ve heard that raw foods have helped some people recover from EDs so I don’t want to discount that. This is simply the story of what happened on my journey. I eventually recovered by working with a holistic nutritionist (who was a vegan and a recovered bulimic) and working a 12-step program.
My outlook on wellness has changed drastically before and after my recovery. Prior to my recovery I was basically addicted to weight-loss products of the “natural” variety. I did the Master Cleanse so many times that I have permanently damaged my digestive system. Jogging (which I have loved since I was a kid) became a destructive tool, and I would wrap myself in plastic wrap and jog on the treadmill to “sweat off pounds.” When I began my 12-step program, exercise was also something I had to surrender all control of. I don’t think I would have done it, either, if I had not been in a car accident. It’s a year later and my physiotherapist still calls the shots on what I do. This has been a blessing in disguise because I have learned how to train in a healthy way. Yesterday I completed my first race since recovery and I solely did it for the sake of having fun with my partner. As I reflect back on my thought patterns I know that this is truly what it’s like to be healthy. Health is not a weight; it’s a state of being. For me, that means striving to keep my anxiety low and my mental health in check. My one and a half years of sobriety is coming up and I still work a hard program daily because it’s the only way I have found that I can live my life.
I still have loads of resentment toward the way we view veganism and beauty. Sometimes I feel like a “failed” vegan because I am not thin enough and I have to remind myself that’s my disease and not really me. Recently, a vegan dietitian was in town presenting a lecture on plant-based diets and her slide show was packed full of thin athletes and women laughing while eating salad. I found this extremely triggering and afterwords I wrote her a letter voicing my concerns. Believe it or not, she wrote back and agreed to change the images! My goal is to continue writing letters and working on my blog for recovering vegans where others can write in for advice.
In the eyes of industry, Beauty is just another word for Money, and as long as people are interested in yoga, veganism, gluten-free foods, and the like, we must fight to keep our lifestyles and our values from being exploited. Even the smallest change in attitude can help the people around us and make the world a better place.
Thank you, Jenna!