The other day, I got a comment on one of my vegan cookie recipe posts about whether I am gluten-free or vegan & how exactly I’ve been able to adopt a healthy lifestyle, all while allowing my recovery to coexist with it? How did I come to a place where I didn’t feel like I was jeopardizing recovery while trying to live a healthier lifestyle? TBH, it’s a good question & one that I’ve addressed in the past but that I feel so glad to provide more insight to in today’s post!
First things first, let me just put it out there that I’m not vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free or anything-free, except for the fact that I don’t eat red meat. I don’t really follow any specific diet. I’m not really anything, but rather a little bit of everything. I guess if you had to sum it up, I’m healthy (IMO, anyway! P.S. Everyone’s definition of healthy is different & that’s okay: “Do Your Healthy, Whatever Your Healthy Is” & Always Remember: Your Body Hears Everything Your Mind Says.). I also don’t really believe in completely eliminating a food group, unless of course it’s for medical reasons or simply because you just don’t feel good when you eat certain foods. I’m a firm believer in balance & moderation – WHATEVER IT MEANS TO YOU!
Why don’t I eat red meat? Every time I would eat it in the past, I felt like complete & utter garbage (for lack of a better word). I stopped eating it about 5 years ago & I was not already not somebody who ate it regularly. During summer BBQs, I would have a burger here or there, but every time I caved & had that burger YET AGAIN, I felt horrible. When I stopped eating it, I did not feel that way anymore so I knew that it’s what was causing my stomach upset, bloating & feelings of overall cr*p. I honestly didn’t even really care for the taste. I was never the girl who craved a lamb chops, steak or burgers & it was always chicken, turkey, seafood & fish that tickled my fancy. YA KNOW? All this to say, giving up red meat was not much of a challenge for me & is a decision I’ve stood by since that day, throughout recovery & until today.
So back to the question, why are so many of my recipes vegan or gluten-free or why do they have that type of spin to them? If you’ve been following me for a while now & you’ve come to know the approach that I chose to take when I decided to recover from my eating disorder, you know that I chose to approach it in such a way that I would not only recover from my eating disorder but that I would also adopt a healthier lifestyle overall. TBH, that was something I had wanted & aspired to do for YEARS, but that I just couldn’t bring myself to accomplish. I was one of those “I’ll do it tomorrow” people & I kept procrastinating. Then, I took it to the opposite extreme & I got so sick to the point where my anorexia took over my life. It was at that point that I realized that adopting a healthier lifestyle, learning to develop a healthier relationship with food & understanding the reasons behind which I was putting certain foods into my body were commitments I was going to take on simultaneously with my pursuit towards recovery.
Obviously, I understand the skepticism. When someone with a very severe eating disorder claims they want to recover in healthy way, it could be interpreted in such a way that it’s a cover-up or a way to stall recovery & to continue pursuing the illness. A lot of the time, eating disorders start that way: people decide they are going to make a choice t get healthy (or so they think) & then, they slowly start eliminating, restricting & starving to the point were there is no looking back. They don’t realize it, but the eating disorder happened. BUT, if it’s done correctly & for the right reasons, I do believe that healthy living & eating disorder recovery can coexist.
There are certain things you must keep in mind if you choose to do it that way. First & foremost, you must know & be aware that the weight gain will happen slower. Yes, I could’ve gone & scarfed down Big Macs, chocolate bars, buttery movie theatre popcorn, fries, onion rings & any & all foods devoid of any nutrients, providing empty calories that are the epitome of EATING JUST TO EAT. And yes, I probably would have put the weight on a lot faster. But, I chose not to do that. (I am not here to criticize or judge you if that’s the approach that you choose to take in your recovery – different strokes for different folks! I’m just speaking from my first-hand experience).
One thing that was a turning point for me (& scared the living daylights out of me) in my decision to get better & turn my life around was my BLOOD TEST RESULTS. When I sat down & examined them with my therapist & then did my own research in order to further understand what they meant, I realized how out of whack they were.
Put it this way, my therapist told me I had the immune system of someone suffering from a severe chronic disease & the liver of an alcoholic. All my organs were shutting down, my nutrients, vitamins & minerals were all in low range (potassium, iron, zinc, magnesium, protein) & my white blood cell count had severely diminished because when one starves themselves & loses weight very quickly, the cellular bone marrow (which is what produces WBCs) is replaced by a dysfunctional substance that has trouble producing cells normally. Basically, the body loses its ability to sustain normal one marrow function because it’s not getting any fuel or energy (in the same way that metabolism slows down & the digestive system goes nuts when you have an eating disorder). All this to say, EVERYTHING WAS GOING WRONG & it scared the sh*t out of me.
So here’s my thought process: I could go & eat a bunch of unhealthy food that won’t help me fix or reverse any of that because it will just make my blood levels worse or make me feel worse. I would’ve gained the weight but I’d still feel horrible & my blood results wouldn’t start looking up, my bradycardia would not go away & my bones wouldn’t get stronger or make my osteopenia go away. Basically, nothing would’ve changed, except physically, I would’ve gained the weight OR I could do it in a healthy way, accept & know that I would gain the weight slower, but also reverse & fix all the health conditions my ED made me develop. I chose option two.
It took a lot of explaining to my therapist & nutritionist for them to understand that I wasn’t telling them this to use it as a trick or cover-up to not recover, to slow the weight gain or to divert recovery & pretend I wanted to be healthy but really continue pursuing my eating disorder. They finally understood my logic behind the approach & together, we made a meal plan that clearly worked! I gained the weight (slower, but healthily & maintained it). AND JUST BTW, it’s not because you eat healthy that you won’t gain weight. you have to eat the right foods & the right quantities (Especially in the beginning!). Read this post to know more about how I gained & maintained my weight: How To Gain & Maintain Weight The Right Way, Ergo The Healthy Way!).
One thing I also want put out there is that this approach might not work for everybody. If you are very deep in your ED & you personally think that adopting a healthier lifestyle, eating healthy & discovering vegan & GF recipes & foods will be a trigger for you or if they won’t be able to coexist healthily with your recovery, then you shouldn’t do it. You have to know you are strong enough to have the two things coexist and not let them be a trigger. In fact, a lot of people in recovery will develop other illnesses, intertwined with their eating disorders, like orthorexia, which is an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating (Sounds like a paradox, but it happens!). You must know that you are strong enough to not let the concept of healthy eating get to your head.
In the process of adopting this healthier lifestyle, I started to experiment with a ton of ingredients that are by nature vegan & gluten-free. I also wanted to find ways to complement for the lack of certain nutrients, such as B12. I started to eat a lot more raw fruits & veggies, I opted for nutritional yeast in place of cheese (& to get in some more B12), tried new flours, such as nut & oat flours, started using oats in place of flour in general, tried plant-based milk & began making my own & overtime, I CAME TO LOVE THESE THINGS. TBH, the first time I had almond milk, I found it tasted like water. BUT, that’s because I was used to drinking 1% milk in my coffee. It’s a process. Overtime, these foods all became MY NORMAL & now I have the reflexes to use them in place of ingredients I may have used in the past. I’m not making these recipes with the goal of using these foods as a way to starve or deprive myself. And it’s not because you eat certain GF or vegan foods or eat healthy in general that you won’t gain weight. This is why I genuinely believe that recovery & healthy eating can coexist, so long as it’s done RIGHT.
I also think that every person who decides to recover should se a nutritionist or dietitian in the beginning in order to establish a meal plan. Although I knew a lot about food, I don’t know how I would’ve constructed a meal plan without the expertise in the field – I needed a meal plan that I knew would lead to effective & permanent weight gain. For those of you who don’t know, my condition reached a option where I was eligible for 1 out of 6 available beds in the inpatient eating disorder facility located at the Douglas Hospital in Montreal. My therapist who saved my life is the one who runs that public program & my nutritionist works closely with him as well. I was fortunate enough that they accepted to see me privately & to work together to provide me with the treatment I needed to recover. I was given an ultimatum & had to show tangible results within a week or two after establishing the meal plan in order to get the green light to pursue recovery at home, all while seeing my therapist, doctor, nutritionist & getting routine blood tests every week.
P.S. I have severe anxiety surrounding hospitals & I couldn’t imagine confinement in a hospital for months after having lived in one for two months with my mother before she passed away. Living in a hospital for me was something I knew would trigger anxiety & negative emotions & I couldn’t fathom the idea of being in an institution with girls who were thinking, doing & engaging in the same rituals that I was. Yes, it works & is effective for some, but I had to be a good judge to know that it wouldn’t work for me & would probably fuel my eating disorder even more.
If I had gone to an inpatient facility, I would’ve been following a meal plan curated by that same nutritionist & ate foods that were laden with butter, margarine & unhealthy oils. And yes, I would’ve put the weight on but I wouldn’t have been able to embark on this journey, to learn so much & to do so much research about the foods I was putting into my body. Right mow, it’s safe to say that most or every food that I put into my body, I know why I’m doing it. I know what benefits those foods are brining to my life. And this goes hand in hand with the saying that YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT.
To eat just to eat, to put on weight, to lose weight, to eat unhealthy fat-free & sugar-free foods that are labelled that way but that aren’t really that? I don’t see the point in it. I was basically at a point where I could’ve had a free for all. A Big Mac here, a McChicken there, a large fry here, a Coke there… I could’ve done that & there’s no denying that, BUT I CHOSE NOT TO.
You have to make this personal choice for yourself & know if you will be able to do that & commit to this healthy lifestyle, that will require more cooking, more home-cooking, more meal-prepping, more of an effort because the recipes you need to put together to follow a meal plan take more time. I developed a passion through doing that that I really think was always there & that I got from my mom (She was the best cook in the world, LITERALLY & I grew up watching her cook).
Having to cook to follow a meal plan was hard but it was a commitment I decided to take on & that I was ready to take on because it’s not as easy as ordering a pizza or going to a McDonald’s drive through (NO HATE FOR MCD’S… but ya know). You really need to make these decisions knowing they are the best ones for you. For me, it was. I’m still doing it, thriving & learning every single day. But there’s also nothing wrong with people who recover in a different way, as long as you do recover. The ultimate goal is to recover & you must find what works for you in getting you to that place, restoring your weight & getting you back to a place where you’re healthy.
What I’m trying to relay is that the way I did it is not THE ONLY WAY. It may not work for you, but the message I want to convey is that IT CAN WORK. It’s not because you make a vegan recipe or start to find interest in ingredients that are gluten-free that you won’t recover or be triggered. You are the best judge of what will trigger you. If eating oat flour as opposed to white refined flour or coconut sugar as opposed to white refined sugar is going to make you thrive & make you adopt a mentality that healthy will make you lose weight & then you will starve & deprive yourself, then don’t do it. You have to do what is in your best interest & in the interest of what is best for you to regain your health.
If adopting a healthier lifestyle isn’t that for you, then maybe it’s not the best way to approach it. You could approach recovery in different way & then come to become healthier when you’re at a point where you feel like your mental stability is able to sustain it & you feel strong enough to to not be triggered. You need to think about this with your treatment team & decide what the best approach is for you. This was the best approach for me & the best decision I ever made in my life. My entire life has changed in the past year. I’ve never felt better, healthier or stronger so I am thankful I made that decision, but it’s not the best one for everyone.
MORAL OF THE STORY: You must be mindful, know & find your balance. I personally think that had I gone vegan or gluten-free completely or anything free, had I begun imposing a specific dietary restriction on myself, I would’ve been triggered & fuelled my negative ED thoughts. I would’ve convinced myself that if I was able to restrict & be a vegan, I could continue with restriction altogether, especially in the beginning when my mental stability was not at all where it is today. I think that the fact that I chose to remain as I was, (not vegan, GF, meat-free or dairy-free) & eat a variety of foods, allowed me to have a meal plan that was varied, that I would not get sick of & have fun with. It helped me develop a healthy relationship with food, get over my fear foods, try new foods that I wouldn’t have tried if I wasn’t open-minded & find my balance, what works for me & learn to know & listen to my body & its hunger cues & understand why I was putting foods into my body. I now eat with balance, in moderation & intuitively. I eat when I’m hungry & stop when I’m not & when I have a craving, I feed it. All this was a by-product of the approach I chose to take for my recovery.
Any diet or theory that encourages a specific way of eating & is founded on a source of deprivation or restriction doesn’t work for me & I don’t really believe in that. I believe in learning to eat intuitively finding a balance, eating everything in moderation & not eliminating entire food groups (unless of course you have medical reasons not to, allergies or bad bodily reactions). BUT TO EACH THEIR OWN!
Adopting a healthier lifestyle was what worked for me, what allowed me to get my life back & to reverse health conditions I developed as a result of my ED & not let them get to a point where they became irreversible. It might or might not work for you. Again, what I’m saying is that the way I did it is not THE ONLY WAY. But, the message I want to convey is that IT CAN WORK. You are the best judge of your triggers & that’s why you are the ONLY one who can decide YOUR approach.”
Here are links to some of the blog posts I’ve written about my approach in recovery:
- Why I Don’t Believe In Diet-Culture a.k.a. Why Less Of Your Body Won’t Create More Happiness.
- Trust Me, Food Fears Do Go Away.
- My Recovery Meal Plan & A Few Tips/Tricks On How To Get It Done, Implement It, Get Healthy & Not Despair When Times Get Hard!
- How To Gain & Maintain Weight The Right Way, Ergo The Healthy Way!
- When A Craving Hits, Listen To Your Body. It’s The Only Way It Can Communicate With You!
- How I Healed My Relationship With Food & In Turn, Learned To Love My Body.