For all of 2015, my relationship with food and my body was terrible. I’d starve myself, over-work my body, binge and then repeat the cycle. I lost a whopping 25 pounds, from running and consuming a very limited amount of calories. At first, although the method was corrupt, the pounds I was losing needed to be lost. Until I reached the point where I wasn’t losing “bad” fat, but the fat I needed to function properly.
My biggest worry throughout this time was my bingeing problem. I mostly binged on overly-processed, fake, crappy foods. I knew that Oreos and chips were bad, even scary. I also knew bingeing was bad, definitely scary. My behavior of bingeing masked what the real problematic behavior was- starving myself. This fear also masked the real fear- my fear of food.
At one point, I was so afraid of bingeing that I began to pride myself on the days that I’d only consume 900 calories, after burning 300 from running. Little did I actually know that I was bingeing BECAUSE I was hungry. I’d crave processed, fake foods because they were extremely caloric dense, which is what my body wanted. My body needed more.
After completing my first half marathon, I collapsed. I was worn out. More from the last 11 months of living on not much more than yogurt and spinach, than the 13.1 miles I had just ran.
I knew I wasn’t eating enough, I knew I was being too restrictive, I knew that the labels of “good” and “bad” on food were just ridiculous. But I loved being skinny, I loved consuming only “pure” foods. So I began to research “How to eat the most amount of food without gaining weight?”
Ofcourse, there were so many articles on eating 100 calorie packs of cookies, replacing meals with protein bars and eliminating carbs. But I knew I didn’t want to consume processed food-like items either. So I tweaked my searches to “Consuming real food without gaining weight.”
Somehow, I stumbled upon This Girl Audra. She had so many videos on binge eating, starving yourself and dealing with/recovering from a disordered relationship with food and your body. I watched every video on her channel, and it all made sense. She also exposed me to a new-to-me phrase, “plant based eating.”
I did so much research on plant based eating. I felt like I was already halfway there. I didn’t consume processed foods, because they triggered a binge. I didn’t consume much meat or dairy, because they were too sodium and caloric dense. I loved vegetables because they were God made and definitely good for my body.
So, in January of 2016, I just cut out yogurt and eggs and replaced them with potatoes, beans and other real foods. I realized that these real foods brought me ease. I wasn’t afraid of broccoli, or peppers or bananas. This ease also took away the fear of carbs, like bread, rice and pasta. By February, I felt free. I wasn’t afraid to eat. I didn’t feel restricted. I’d eat as many potatoes as my stomach and heart desired. I’d eat a whole can of chickpeas. I’d just eat, and not even think about it. Freedom felt so good. My body was well-fed and well-energized and felt so, so good.
Eating plant-based was definitely the easiest thing I have ever done. I never had to think about it. If I was hungry, I’d eat until I was satisfied. And that was it. I’d eat food that God put on this earth, and not worry about what gross, fake ingredients were in them, because there simply weren’t any in them.
The simplicity of plant based eating brought a much needed break from the anxiety and confusion I had felt for so long while starving myself and being afraid of food. I found joy in creating simple recipes. I was happy and carefree, and it all came from the food freedom I had found.
Throughout the month of July, I found myself bored. I lost my desire to cook, to make eating fun and to even eat, at all. I felt confined by the label of “vegan” or “plant based.” I got tired of hearing “Oh, you can’t have this, theres ____ in it.” I got frustrated. Annoyed even. I began living off of smoothies, because they were the only thing that made me excited. (Because thats healthy, right?)
Then finally, I realized I was feeling emotions I had forgotten existed. Restriction. Hunger. Confusion. Too disciplined. Constantly telling myself, “No, you can’t eat this, it’s bad” brought back so much fear and anxiety.
This realization was bouncing around my brain for days, but I refused to admit that plant-based eating was turning into something bad.
Until one night while getting ready to go to dinner, wiping away tears of fear from knowing I’d be exposed to so many foods I “couldn’t have.” I finally told myself that enough was enough. I started eating plant based to get rid of these scary, dark feelings. But here they were again, brought by the habit that had set me free in the first place.
I went to dinner, I set my conscience aside, I left my list of “good and bad foods” at home. I brought nothing more than my firm belief that God made foods were what I needed to be eating. I ordered grilled, wild-caught salmon, with rice pilaf and broccoli.
With every bite, I felt the walls that were confining me by the “vegan” or “plant based” label being blown away. I, once again, felt at ease. Since that night, I’ve been eating what I crave. I haven’t been telling myself “no.” I also haven’t been anxious, or scared.
My conscience is, of course, a bit confused. Because I know when I choose to eat animal products, behind that decision is a life being taken. But, I think the most important aspect to this choice is awareness. If you’re going to choose to eat animal products, you can’t do it mindlessly. A life is being sacrificed, that is something worth acknowledging.
But, for now I’m doing what puts my mind at ease. I’m taking away the aspects of eating that make it hard, or a chore. I’m doing what makes my body feel right, and taking away things that alter my mental health.
Just like seasons change, as people, we do too. These changes can include our eating habits, what activities make us happy and what makes our bodies feel good. If there’s anything I have learned these past few years, it is to respect my body. Respecting my body helps me to respect my brain, which helps me to respect myself as a whole.
I don’t need a label, I need to be healthy. I need to be my own version of healthy.