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Please read this with caution as it may be triggering to some people with the discussion of eating disorders.
This is the story of how I used veganism to mask my eating disorder AND how it helped heal me.
This is probably one of the hardest and most personal things I will ever write up and publish on the blog, but I feel that it is necessary to share with you to understand how I came to be the person that I am today.
This is my story.
Everything that we experience in life contributes to our journey ahead. As cliché as it may sound, everything really does happen for a reason. Growing up, my understanding of this phrase was very shallow and it was not until I had reached adulthood that I found any importance to it; it was not until I battled an eating disorder that I learned that experiences I perceived as negative had actually allowed for many other positives in my future.
A lot of my healing was aided by the constant inspiration I felt after reading the stories of others that have gone through something similar; those that allowed themselves to be vulnerable and share their true selves to the world.
I want to share my story because I hope to also help others that are or have previously struggled with what I struggled with. I want to be able to tell others out there that they are not alone, and that they will get through this, no matter how impossible it may seem. I want to be able to show others that what they are going through does not define them. This is something that we were meant to go through to allow us to grow stronger and to now overcome anything that comes our way because we have been to hell and back. It is something that we have gone through to allow us to embrace that we are beautiful, unique, and special, just the way we are.
I want to start off with the fact that a plant-based diet does not cause disordered eating.
As you will read below, I was already struggling with an eating disorder when I decided to transition to a plant-based diet, and I did it for all of the wrong reasons. I thought that it was my “golden ticket” to get my body skinny, and I used it to restrict further. In the beginning, veganism was my excuse to my family and friends as to why I was absent from their [food] gatherings. Eventually, once I read books, watched documentaries, and spoke with others that had also adopted a plant-based diet, I properly understood and executed a plant-based diet and learned about the ethical treatment of animals, the effect of factory farming on the environment etc., and went vegan for all of the reasons I am vegan today. And most importantly, my understanding helped me HEAL my relationship with food.
September 2011-My first year of college
I kept telling myself that I was excited to move away from home, but in reality, I was SO uncomfortable with the idea of being on my own, having to make new friends, and moving to a completely unfamiliar environment.
The day I got dropped off, I remember just going to the restroom and crying my eyes out, hoping that I was going to be better and more comfortable as time went on. It didn’t hit me until that day that I wasn’t ready for all of this, but I just tried to keep calm and pretend that everything was okay.
I was able to hold myself together for a while, but eventually, it all started to go downhill.
The need for acceptance began to take over my mind. I wanted everyone to like me, I wanted to hang out with certain groups of people, and lastly, I wanted to be able to look in the mirror and love myself. I thought that self-love would only come from friends, makeup, fixed up hair, a skinny body and tons of friends.
My friends and I started to challenge ourselves to get fit and “skinny” while also maintaining a very active social life. At this point, we were going out about 3-4 times a week, socializing and drinking alcohol. I wanted to be able to keep up, so I started to inflict major changes on my diet and lifestyle…and I took it way too far.
I began restricting calories and working out like a mad woman at the gym. I was at the gym every single day and I started to explore things like “The Special K Diet”, the “Atkins Diet” and even an all salad diet. I was trying to lose weight and lose it FAST. I confined myself in this box of restriction and exercise to the point where I started to binge eat. I would restrict ALL day and then binge on nights or weekends. I thought it was okay since I wasn’t eating much throughout the rest of the day and running more than I had ever before, but the pounds started to roll in.
When I came back home for Thanksgiving break, I distinctly remember my cousin saying to me, “Wow, freshman 15 or what?!”. This really stuck with me and had a huge toll on me both mentally and emotionally. I told myself that I would eat whatever I wanted during Thanksgiving break and then when I returned to college, I would restrict until Christmas break to show her that I made a change.
Well, I did that…and it worked. I was able to lose about weight in less than a month, very unhealthily. I went back home for a 4 week Christmas break and started to binge a lot, go out and drink, and pretty much just treat my body like crap again. I took this as a “cheat month” and told myself I would be back on my diet and exercise regime when I returned to school. When I returned to school, I had reached a weight much higher than ever before. I looked in the mirror in disgust and told myself enough was enough, that I had to stop. And no, I did not tell myself to stop treating myself like crap or to not stop worrying about my weight and appearance…I wish that were the case. Instead, I told myself that I had to stop eating.
I went online and tried to find the best way to lose weight FAST. After looking on the internet for hours, watching videos, reading articles etc., I eventually came to learn about a vegan diet. I actually came across what I eat in a day type videos from both Fully Raw Kristina and Freelee The Banana Girl. I wasn’t so thrilled about eating fully raw, but the only thing I cared about was whatever got me as skinny as they were.
Embarrassingly enough, I had no idea what veganism was. I thought it was the same as vegetarian and was sort of ehh about it. I was a vegetarian in high school, so I was semi-familiar with it, but vegan was whole new territory. There was actually a ‘vegan’ section in my cafeteria, but never really considered it to be a lifestyle. So, I googled ‘vegan’. The articles and videos that came up all said that contributors to weight gain were animal products: meat, dairy, etc. Could this be it, the diet I was searching for!? What I did not know was that this was the lifestyle that could have cured my unhealthy habits, but what I did with it initially actually did more harm than good.
I didn’t read much more into veganism after that, I just went right into it with what I had learned of it as a diet. Since Lent was right around the corner, it gave me the perfect opportunity to challenge myself to stick to it.
And, well, this is where I get into “how I used veganism to mask my eating disorder”.
I used vegan as an excuse to hide my poor eating habits in social situations. When offered food, or when asked to go eat in the cafeteria, I would simply say that I wouldn’t be able to find any vegan-friendly options (which was a lie, since they had a whole vegan section) or that I couldn’t eat what they were offering that day since it wasn’t vegan. This was the easiest thing for me to do since all of my friends were not vegan or even vegetarian, so they saw it as a normal thing for me to do.
Another way I used it is by manipulating the system. I told myself that I could eat a high raw diet AND restrict all at once to speed up the process of weight loss. I will mention here again that I did not read up on veganism or learn about how amazing the lifestyle really was, and that veganism/vegetarianism does not CAUSE eating disorders, but they certainly can be used to mask an eating disorder. I based what I knew from the minimal information I had been exposed to.
No one knew what was going on behind closed doors. I was eating approximately ½ of the caloric recommendations I needed a day at this point, and on top of that working out, so I ended up at about an eighth of what I should have been fueling my body. I was exercising excessively each and every day, and I would come back into my room so depleted of energy. There were even points where I spent whole weekends in my room in bed, tired, depressed, and feeling so alone. With all of the physical activity that I forced upon myself, I honestly don’t know how I was even functioning at this point. In order to suppress my appetite, I started to drink excessive amounts of water and zero-calorie drinks in order to stay full and avoid eating. I convinced myself that the reason I had to restrict even more was because I was vegan (right, whatttt?). I saw veganism as a challenge that I wanted to take on to show my willpower (but again, it was my excuse to restrict).
I just want to add here that today, after being [mostly] vegan for 3 years, there is absolutely NO ounce of restriction in this lifestyle. There are an infinite number of options that you could eat, and this lifestyle is about ABUNDANCE, not restriction. Veganism is actually a lifestyle that embraces doing without animal products, for the reason that they destroy the environment, our health, and the animal lives. I want to emphasize here that I no longer live with a restrictive spirit, but I live embracing the beauty of life, enjoying foods that nourish my body and mind, and that love me back! I wish I had known this all back then, but just as those who don’t know much about the lifestyle or do not eat this way, it is often assumed that veganism can be restrictive. I just wanted to highlight that point to make it clear.
Back to the story —
I remember exactly what I would eat, unfortunately, since I was eating the same thing every single day. Along with the severe restriction, the repetitive meals were leaving me depleted of nutrients. And, on top of that, whenever I spent the weekend with my family in Elk Grove or went back home to Los Angeles, I would binge and purge. This was causing me to become severely dehydrated and lacking in nutrients. This is when I started to become very physically ill.
Let’s fast forward to May 2012.
My brother was attending college in Berkeley, and he was out of school before I was, so my parents picked me up from Davis and we headed over there to help him pack up his things. When my parents saw me, they screamed in horror of my appearance. I, at this time, was proud of how I looked, and I thought that I worked hard to get where I was. My parents thought otherwise…and I’m glad they did. This is the point where I began to slowly open my eyes to reality. I kind of understood where they were coming from, but I still wasn’t fully accepting of it. I didn’t think I had a problem but rather just the drive to get “fit”. I thought that they did not understand this “lifestyle” I was living.
I returned to Davis for another month, and then returned home late June. When I got home, we had a gathering with my family, and they all freaked when they saw me. This was, I would say, [emotionally] the worst day of my life.
My aunties are blunt and they really do just speak their minds. I do respect that, but to a certain degree. They were all over me saying “Min min (my nickname) what happened to you? You used to be pretty, you look bad now, and you need to eat.” My friends were also shocked with how I looked, where my best friend put me in check and criticized my choices (which I am grateful for). When my grandma saw me, she said to me that I used to be so beautiful and that I was no longer that way.
All of these comments hurt and I was so confused. I worked so hard to attain “beauty”, yet no one was recognizing that effort. Why? Initially, my mind was telling me that I needed to work harder. I isolated myself from my friends and family because I was so afraid of their comments, criticisms, and judgments, and I still continued to live the way I was because I believed it was okay. I cried myself to sleep, I felt depressed, and constantly prayed that I would just be accepted, that my mind would be cleared of all of this stress, and that I would just look how I wanted to be happy. I thought that my looks were the key to my happiness.
I still did not admit that I had an eating disorder and I thought that I would be able to sleep it off one night and all would be better. A few weeks passed and it became even more physically apparent that I was sick. My hair was long and thick before I had left for college, but at this point, it was far from that. I was losing hair periodically up until this point, and my hair thinned out substantially, but in about late July, I started to lose large portions of it, and fast. I was not supplementing correctly (because as I said before, I did not educate myself on veganism) and my restrictive diet just made it all worse. My hair loss was significant because it really prompted my mom to sit down and have a conversation with me. Up to this point, she didn’t really address the situation head on and did not want to admit that anything was wrong. I later found out that my mom had struggled with an eating disorder when she was my age as well, and she just did not want to accept that I was going through the same pain that she did. I know that it may seem ironic, but I totally understand where she was coming from.
After speaking to my mom and eventually my dad, some way or another, they convinced me to get help.
There were a few things that I did at this point that all helped me out tremendously, so I want to talk about each of them below. This recovery stage began in late 2012 and made up a large majority of 2013.
All of the factors below were significant for different reasons.
One– I got a job and focused my time and energy somewhere other than, well, myself. I got a job at a local bakery. Working here was actually one of the best things that I could have done for myself. Not only did I get to connect with beautiful, independent and inspiring women that helped me grow my self-esteem, but I also met an important person in my life, Michelle. Michelle was someone who most supported my choice of veganism, she shared new ideas and information with me about diet and wellness almost daily. She had no clue about my condition, but her positive remarks towards my diet and lifestyle choice helped provide me with the confidence I was lacking. She was a vegetarian herself, so our connection was almost instant. Another thing was that Michelle was always so confident in herself and her lifestyle. I looked up to her (and still do) and hope to instill in my life the sense of positivity and balance she has in hers.
Two- I began to understand that I am not alone. I began attending an eating disorder therapy group at my hospital. I met other women going through what I was going through. Although it was unfortunate that they too were struggling, I was grateful for their introduction into my life. I started to learn about how eating disorders had affected or were currently affecting these women at different stages in their lives, and what they were doing to help fix it. Recovery is hard, but knowing that I was not along was truly empowering.
Three- I educated myself. I began to read books and scientific journals, watch films, documentaries, and videos, and listen to testimonials regarding veganism/plant-based living. I realized just how right it was for me to continue on the path that I was on. Even though I was eating a plant-based diet, I was not vegan, since I did not live a cruelty-free lifestyle, especially with in my wardrobe and job. I was also vegan for all of the wrong reasons. I started to grow a larger interest in not only the effect veganism would have on my body, but it’s effect on animals and our environment. I began to see how veganism could help me with mental, emotional and physical recovery all at once. It would help me replenish my body and bring it back to health. All of this provided me with the push I needed to not only sustain my vegan lifestyle, but to also instill in my mind that I, for once, was making a positive choice for my body. That I was living the way that I was meant to live in order to heal myself. Throughout my recovery, my passion for nutrition grew, and it is what help me in decide to pursue a degree in Nutritional Science.
Four- I connected with the online vegan community. I got involved with social media and created an Instagram account. Now that I was vegan, and since I always got comments and questions from curious family members and friends, I decided to create an account that would show what I ate on a vegan diet. This also helped keep me accountable. I was still eating less than I should, so it kind of brought that fact into view (for myself). After my Instagram took off, I was motivated to also create a blog to encourage others both interested in health or struggling with an eating disorder to change their lifestyles and hopefully consider living this way, too.
Five- I opened up to my close friends and family about the situation and began to be social again. This was extremely difficult, but this is also why I now have so much courage to tell my story. Back then, I thought that I would be judged, laughed at, or even ridiculed about my condition. But in the end, opening up to my loved ones brought me the support I needed to help pick myself back up again and it also helped me gain back the belief that I was strong, beautiful, and bigger than what I was going through. They were the cushion that I needed when trying to hold myself up and get everything back together. Being social again helped me keep my mind off of myself, and feel alive again. I became so much more comfotable in my own skin.
Six- I was no longer following a diet, but rather, living an improved lifestyle. No longer was I compelled to count calories, no longer was I worried about whether or not a food would make me gain weight. I began to embrace the vegan lifestyle. Although it took a long while to gain this comfort in eating again, I soon felt freedom in the fact that I was able to eat what I desired and enjoy foods I used to restrict from my plate. When I was at my worst, I never ate any fruit, and I ate mostly processed, low-calorie, fat-free junk. Going from that into eating a whole food plant-based diet, boy did I experience a change. My taste buds were thanking me for the goodness that they had missed, my energy levels sky rocketed, my skin and natural ‘glow’ reappeared, and my body felt like it was thanking me for granting it what it needed to, well, survive. I began to embrace nutrients, rather than caloric values, and I felt better than ever before.
Seven- I decided that I would not return to UC Davis, and complete my schooling in Los Angeles. It was tough for me to leave UC Davis, as it was a great accomplishment to have been accepted into their Animal Biology program, en route to becoming a veterinarian, but I knew that I could not be on my own at this point in time. It’s funny how these things happen. Because I had moved home from Davis, I took an interest in nutrition, cooking, and photography. Low and behold, Sweet Simple Vegan was born, and I learned of my now passion. If I stayed in Davis, I really do believe I would not be on the same path that I am on today. Everything happens for a reason <3
There could be an infinite number of reasons or things that had an affect on my recovery, and there are things that I may have believed that I could have done better, or situations that I could have wished away, but every single moment up to where I am today was worth it. Everything that I went through has made me the woman that I am today and I am beyond grateful for my experience.
My recovery was definitely not as easy of a process, even if it may appear to be from what I am saying above. Healing took time. Somehow, someway, I am growing to have peace with food, and I truly believe that veganism helped heal my eating disorder.
I really do have to say that my choice of living a vegan lifestyle is what I believe to have had the largest impact on my healing. I no longer looked at food with fear, but with a desire nourish my body and to help me take the steps I needed towards health. Food was no longer my enemy, it was my friend.
Once I was vegan for all of the right reasons, and once I started to read more on health in general, I realized that health is not solely determined by the food we eat. Health is all encompassing of my body and mind. My newfound self-love brought me into a mode of health I had never attained before. Being at peace with myself mentally and physically allowed me to live life in a way where I accepted who I was. I began to finally respect my body and appreciate who I was. I was able to set myself onto the path I was meant to follow and to finally learn how to enjoy life. I shifted my perspectives, and eventually, I grew to realize a new passion.
I am now set on a path to help others, not only those who are struggling with what I was, but also those who need guidance in attaining optimal health. I created my blog not knowing how much of an impact it would have on myself and others, and the feelings of gratitude I feel when I inflict a positive change is indescribable. I am also taking it one step further and studying to earn a degree in nutritional science. I want to help inflict a change in this world on a whole different level, one person at a time.
Although my struggles and negative thoughts sometimes reappear in my mind, I accept them because I am human, but I do not let them run my life or define me. I am proud of the fact that I am able to recognize these thoughts AND now understand that I must overcome them. I am now aware of all that used to bring me down. I use this awareness to recognize my strength and grow each day as a survivor. I did not let this take my life, but I allowed it to help me become who I am today and grow stronger than I ever was before.
Thank you for reading this. I hope that this could be of aid to some of you, or help you better understand who I am, and why I do what I do.