I’m not entirely sure where to start with all of this, and I’ve been really toying with the decision wether or not to actually share the following, but something is guiding me along and letting me know it’s okay - and this needs to be shared, not only for my own sanity & healing, but as an offering to somebody out there who may be suffering in silence.
May the words that follow be a hand to hold, a hug or a warm smile, a nod of reassurance letting you know that everything is going to be okay. It’s okay to not be ‘okay’ sometimes, please do not feel ashamed, and know that there are people out there who want the best for you and want to help.
A little over a year & a half ago, not long after writing my cookbook - I felt really, really lost. I invested literally all of my energy (and stress haha!) into writing the book, and after it came out I felt really unsure of myself - scared of what people would think, stressing over minor details (ie- “had I written the recipe correctly?!”.. “oh god, I wrote that wrong!”) - there was a lot of rumination, a lot of uncertainty in my mind.
Of course, I was incredibly proud and relieved I’d actually managed to pull it off, and am truly grateful for having the experience and the huge amounts of support and love I received from others.
I’m not sure exactly what the tipping point was for me for what’s about to follow, but there were many other things going on at the time that could add to the equation. I’m still to a point trying to understand the ‘why’ exactly - but I’m not going to dwell on it much more, as the saying goes
‘It is, what it is’
Not long after writing the book, I started running again. Fitness has always been a huge part of my life - however I can run (excuse the pun) a thin line when it comes to balance, as exercise was also hugely triggering when I was younger. This time round, I really enjoyed running - However, I didn’t quite understand the mechanics behind training smartly & the theory of slowing increasing your training load. In my eyes, more has always been better!
And, that’s where the slope became slippery.
It was a slow series of events - events & thought patterns that I knew all to well - and in hindsight, you’d think I would know better considering my past with an eating disorder - but when you are in the thick of these kind of thoughts and experiences, it’s hard to see the forest through the trees. The feeling of being leaner & lighter, as it always does - became addicting. The comments from outsiders, “You’re looking lean!” Or “Wow, you look great!” Fuelled my habits and re-affirmed that I was doing the ‘right’ thing. That little empty bottle of self-worth deeply lodged inside me started to fill up slowly from the outside, in.
Surely enough, my body didn’t agree with the training load and I started to get a series of small injuries that hindered my training. Out of sheer panic, a familiar coping mechanism swiftly kicked in - “Sweet - well if I can’t run, I will control and restrict my food intake to stay lean.”
The slope became even steeper.
Influenced by what I was seeing on social media, I tried out a few ‘trends’ to manage my weight (not that I was ever overweight to begin with, but for years I struggled with feeling the need to ‘look’ a certain way) - one being Intermittent Fasting & the other eating Low Carb. Now, in hindsight I have nothing against these methods of eating - as they have a lot of research behind them and benefits for certain people. However, for the reasons I was doing them for? Not healthy at all.
I was completely ignoring my body & it’s signals, as well as totally ignoring the red flags posted on the internet stating you shouldn’t embark with Intermittent Fasting if you have a past history of eating disorders. In my eyes, I was recovered and it didn’t need to apply to me - I adopted the “She’ll be right” attitude.
My body responded quickly, and I kept getting leaner. I felt good - fuelled by the satisfaction of being in control & fast results. All I thought about was food, training and spent most of my time on Instagram looking at fitness accounts - comparing, wishing and wanting their bodies. I was obsessed with trying to hit a certain macronutrient ratio, and became so scared of eating carbs. The lower calorie the snack or meal, the better. The amount of calories I was eating daily was not nearly enough to function. It make me slightly embarrassed to even say all of this, but it was the reality of the situation. It was becoming harder and harder to stay vegan and eat low carb as a majority of plant foods contain carbs.
So, something I never had imagined I would do; I started adding in animal products again - initially for a long time this was just egg whites - lots of egg whites. Low calorie, high in protein - I based a majority of my meals on what I used to eat whilst I was competing in bodybuilding as it was ‘familiar’. I ignored every signal my body was sending me, and convinced myself I needed them for other reasons that trying to stay lean, when the reality was that I simply ate them for the fact that they were ‘low calorie, high protein’.
This went on for months, and the war I had inside my head is something I cannot describe well enough in words.
I became so incredibly unsure and disconnected from myself. I felt like I had to hide from the world, even hide from the people closest to me. I felt I had to hide my meals, and eating became something I was ashamed of and felt I had to do in secret. I felt like a fraud, a liar - an imposter in my own life. I was once a super passionate vegan - I’d written a whole book about vegan food and here I am scoffing down egg whites like nobody’s business, because all I care about it being lean.
The thought of what people would think of me scared the living daylights out of me, and to an extent this is something I still work on internally.
I had seen what had happened to other individuals who started eating animals products again - the public backlash and vicious comments from passionate vegans - it was something I knew I couldn’t handle.
Day in & day out - I ate the same thing. My ‘safe’ foods list became smaller by the day. However, eating the same thing day in and day out with no variety started to really take a toll on my health. Cue - Digestive Issues.
Bloating, Gas, Constant feeling of ‘fullness’ in the bowel, Chronic Loose Stools, Urgency & Obsession over emptying bowels at certain times of day - just to name a few. It became really traumatic to deal with daily.
It was such a vicious cycle, because the more stressed and upset I felt about the state of my gut, the more I would obsess about it and the more it would feel irritated due to my anxiety, ruminating thoughts and depression. The mind-gut connection couldn’t be more real.
My body started rejecting food - without going into too much detail, anything I ate basically came out whole again. Eating anything (especially vegetables) hurt my insides.
I was at loss of what to do so I began helplessly googling my symptoms (Note; Please refrain from trying to self diagnose yourself if you can) and trying to figure out what was going wrong, switching my way of eating and forming new ‘food rules’ based off little research and knowledge out of sheer desperation only made matters more confusing. I was so detached from my body & my core self, that I would believe anything anybody told me.
Eventually, hormones and insomnia threw another spanner in the works. My menstrual cycles were becoming further & further apart, until disappearing completely for a good 6 months.
My sleep slowly became worse & I entered a period of insomnia (I’ve never had issues with sleep before so this really threw me.. Sleep deprivation is real, people!) - This would turn my brain into a total whirlpool of anxious thoughts: ‘I wasn’t going to be able to get up and train, thus I would feel ‘fat’ & how on earth was a meant to go to work on virtually no sleep??’
I formed an unhealthy reliance on sleeping pills, getting to a stage where I’d take 3-4 and still have no luck falling asleep, I’d just lie there - staring at the wall, stuck in a merry-go round of anxious thoughts.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt so unhappy, confused and at loss before. I felt so incredibly lonely - I became incredibly socially anxious & I removed myself from everyone, and felt like I didn’t know how/what to say to people to make friends.
There came a tipping point though - I was sitting at work one day and after taking a bite of plain oatmeal (luckily, I had reintroduced carbs at this point as the only things that wouldn’t bother my stomach were plain rice, sweet potatoes and oats) and my insides seized up and siered with pain. I think it was my body’s way of literally screaming at me from the inside, to go and get help. Right then & there I booked an appointment with a local naturopath for that afternoon.
After running a few tests, to no surprise my gut micro biome was totally out of whack. I was prescribed with a herbal mixture to help me sleep & some supplements to help my gut, and a few guidelines to follow when it came to what foods to eat to help heal my gut - which entailed lots of warm, nourishing well cooked soups & stews, animal protein from quality sources & grass fed bone broth. I had the best sleep I’d had in ages that night, and my gut settled along with my mind that evening for the first time in what felt like forever - I felt at ease knowing that I had some kind of answer and direction.
The ‘eating meat’ concept still mentally & morally really confused me, but I trusted the process and kept trying to remind myself that my body needed it, as it had been calorie deprived for so long - eating vegetables/beans was out of the question due to the pain it caused me and this was, at the time, the easiest way to get what it needed - energy to heal.
I still felt a lot of shame around eating, which in itself was still causing digestive distress.
In order to truly aid my healing, I had to come to terms with my plate, with eating meat for the time being & release all food rules - I had to learn to respect and enjoy my food.
Thus, for the first time in my life, I started to feel normal around food.
I began removing all ‘labels’ I had stuck in my little sticker book of life - vegan, raw vegan, high carb, low carb - this really allowed me to come back into myself, and just enjoy food without guilt or stress.
The desire to look a certain way and stay lean started to loose it’s power over time. To a degree however, it is still there. I am human. Society puts a lot of pressure on us to look a certain way, and I am not immune to this. I have my good weeks and bad weeks. However, I feel much more at ease when the uncomfortable thoughts arise and am better equipped with tools to calm the rampant voices in my head & remind myself of what truly matters.
I was sick and tired of being in pain & having my whole day dictated around food - wether it be worrying about what I was eating or worrying about if this food was going to stuff up my stomach for the day. It had made me depressed, anxious and I had lost my passion for pretty much everything in life. If you had asked me what I enjoyed doing or what I wanted for my future, I would have struggled to give you an answer. That really upset me, however it has been a motivator in my healing - To actually enjoy life and things other than food, find out what I like doing and who I am. I’m still very much in the process learning this - and feel it is something we continue to do through our lifetimes.
The healing process takes time. The damage I had done to my body from calorie deprivation, overtraining & stress was not going to go away overnight - and to be honest, it felt like things were getting much worse before they got better. I was still bloated a lot of the time, sometimes eating would really hurt my stomach & sometimes I would feel so frustrated with everything because I felt like nobody understood - so I would come home and binge/mindlessly eat until my stomach hurt to fill the emptiness I was feeling. I was ashamed that these old habits had resurfaced - but shame is not something I needed to hold onto - what I’ve slowly learnt is that forgiveness is really the only way out.
Thankfully, Things are much better now than they were 5 months ago. My gut is a lot better, my period is back, my sleep has improved & naturally I’ve gained a bit of healthy weight.
The gaining weight part? The letting go of food rules? The letting go of the desire to control everything?
All of that is hard, It’s never easy - but you always think it’s so much worse than it actually is!
Getting over these ‘fears’ becomes easier with time - you take only the steps you can manage at the time, without judgement. Sometimes it’s no steps at all for a while, and that’s okay.
What are the steps? They vary.
For me - Eating a little bit more, resting a little bit more, eating something on your ‘bad’ food list, eating out etc.
Slowly chip away - these things become less scary with time. And after a while, you realise that they aren’t actually going to turn you into a whale. You feel more alive - more capable, and more ‘human’. More fun to be around, not only for yourself but for others.
After fighting with my body for so long, I’ve finally come to a place where I can hear it’s voice. It’s a very silent whisper, but I’m starting to learn more about what it likes & dislikes - what it needs, and doesn’t need. Trusting, slowly, steadily. Around 2 months ago I started receiving messages that I didn’t feel like meat anymore. I ignored the message for a while, but slowly after each time I ate animal products my stomach would act a bit strange - so I made the decision to remove it for a while and see what would happen.
But things have simply gotten better since then, and I will continue to eat plant based for the foreseeable future. I am starting to feel more connected to myself, my thoughts, my emotions and my purpose. I feel like I’m slowly starting to come full circle with my ‘food journey’ and I am understanding why I have had these experiences - the lessons I learn are truly invaluable, as painful & confusing as they can be to go through at the time.
It brings me back to when I first went vegan - I initially did it for very superficial reasons & I never truly felt very connected to my food. However, from having the whole experience I have detailed above - I feel much more in tune with the healing power of the food we eat, the importance of nutrient density - and I simply want my body to FEEL good. Sure, I loved looking as lean as I did - it was so incredibly satisfying for my ego. However, I’ve never felt worse inside.
I don’t ever want to feel like that again, and I sure as hell don’t want anybody else to feel like that or to suffer in silence.
I was so scared (and still am scared to a point) to share the above - For a while, I felt I should known better having conquered an eating disorder in my teenage years - and it took me a very long time to be honest to myself and my loved ones that I was struggling again.
But I feel it is time, and it matters - you matter. Healing is not linear. I’ve learnt to take it with a grain of salt, another chapter in life that has only made me so much stronger, empathetic and (hopefully) a little wiser. I’m slowly learning that I don’t owe anybody anything - This is one of my big lessons, as I tend to take everything so personally. Learning to not take myself so seriously, and to stay grounded is something I haven’t learnt (*still learning!) on my own, and I owe this to my wonderful partner.
Please do not feel ashamed if you are struggling with anything similar. I wanted to share my experience in as much detail as possible, as I feel a lot of information about Orthorexia/Body Image issues online only scratch the surface - and I wanted to be brutally honest, in a positive sense of course.
If you are struggling or you know somebody who is, Please, please seek help - wether that be writing a letter, talking to a close, trusted friend or loved one, a doctor/naturopath or a psychologist - I chose all of those routes of help, and they all helped tremendously.
Remember, It’s never your fault - you are simply a product of your environment.
What I’ve learnt is a lot of ‘eating disorder’ behaviour is closely linked with our childhood - we pick up on things from such a young age, and in order to cope when you are feeling anxious and out of control in the world, sometimes food is the easiest and safest way to feel better - and there is nothing wrong with wanting to feel better. However, there are more efficient ways to feel better - and this takes time, learning, and a level of maturity. You may not get it the first time - that’s okay too. I know I may still have a lot of road bumps ahead of me, but I know I can handle it, and you should know you can too.
Sending so much love to everyone. Thank you for reading.