Real Talk: Diet Guilt & Rationalizations

Note: This post may trigger individuals with a history of disordered eating. Please stop reading if you feel this content may be harmful to you.

I went back and forth as to whether or not I was going to write a post about this but, to my total surprise and delight, there are quite a few people who have said this blog has helped them in some way. Because of that, I think I owe it to you readers to be honest and upfront about the things I struggle with. Based on most of my posts, it might look like healthy eating and exercise come so easy to me, and I’m guessing that might get discouraging if it doesn’t come so easy to you.

In truth, exercising is easy for me. I legitimately love it and there is literally not a day that goes by that I’m not in the mood for it. The only thing I struggle with in terms of exercise is taking rest days. For that, I hope you can take my experiences as a bit of inspiration and proof that it really can be wonderful!

Eating, on the other hand, is something I’ve struggled with for almost as long as I can remember. I was just 11 years old when I first made myself throw up, and  continued to do so throughout high school and much of college. It’s ebbed and flowed since then, but I felt like I only really got a handle on it after I transformed my diet through the CLEAN Detox program.

Learning to eat “clean” made me feel amazing. I stopped counting calories as much, and stopped being afraid of fat. I cut out processed food and refined sugar, and kicked my bread addiction. Even when I ate my beloved sweets, they tended to be so much healthier than my former go-to staples like Oreos or Twizzlers (I used to be so stoked that they happened to be vegan), that I didn’t feel the same kind of shame after indulging. I felt so incredibly powerful and in control. Rather than controlling my calories, I controlled the types of food I ate, and I got the added benefit of feeling even more self-righteous about it. I was eating a holy food group, pure and untainted by the unclean toxins that infiltrate most Western diets. And because I was eating so well, I almost never had the desire to throw up.

In addition, I got to talk about my diet in a way that felt more feminist. It wasn’t about food that would make you skinny (even though I quietly adored that every time I would cleanse, I’d lose 5 pounds), it was about food that made you feel good. I think I’m really good about being self-reflexive about class issues around this kind of diet, but I am much more silently hypocritical when it comes to body image issues. Because although it is true—-this diet makes you feel so much better than eating processed junk—-I am absolutely still concerned about how I look. In fact, I am sometimes embarrassed to tell people I love working out and have a healthy food blog, because I don’t think I look like I’m fit enough to have those things be my passion.

And one of the biggest problems about eating clean 97% of the time? When you fall of the Clean-wagon, the guilt is almost unbearable. There are things I’ve indulged in post-Clean that, in the past, would not have sent me to the toilet with my finger down my throat, but now that my body is so “pure”, if I indulge—-even if I don’t actually end up vomiting—-I can promise you that I’m wishing I could. Or I instantly start planning my next detox. ‘Just one mini-detox, and I can get rid of this [sugar/bread/alcohol/etc.].’ But is that feeling there because I think I’ll get fat, or because I physically don’t feel well? It’s both, and that’s what makes it so complicated. I love the way I feel when I eat a clean diet. So how could that possibly be a bad thing? Especially because I’m not starving myself of calories!

I’ve already proved in what I’ve written that it’s quite obvious how it can be a bad thing: my obsession with food and body image is nearly the same as it used to be when I had a full blown ED, but now I just dress it up in a package that is more positive and socially-acceptable.

I remember reading a forum on the Clean Community that said people with a history of EDs maybe shouldn’t participate in a detox (and I read something similar in this great article about cleanses). I knew exactly why this would be the case, but I went through with it anyway. And more recently, I discovered the term “orthorexia,” which is the name doctors are starting to give to people who are obsessed with eating healthy. I felt implicated, to say the least.

So when I headed home to Cleveland on Friday for a wedding and a bachelorette party, I made a promise to myself. I was going to show everyone that I wasn’t “orthorexic,” and that I could have fun and not freak out if I ate gluten, or sugar, or alcohol. I wanted to have fun with my friends, and not starve like I did last time I was home for a visit—(I kept ending up in restaurants where I honestly couldn’t find anything clean to eat, so I just didn’t).

At the wedding I had two vodka sodas, and ate pasta, vegetables that were surely covered in butter, a roll, and some wedding cake (not only not clean, but not even vegan!). The next day, I pushed myself as hard as possible in my workout. At the bachelorette party, I drank two vodka sodas, and a glass of champagne, had a vegan flatbread pizza at the restaurant, then, when we returned to the hotel tipsy and high on fun, I ate a non-vegan power bar, just because it was there. The next day, I just about doubled my usual workout. The guilt I felt the day after each of these events is nearly indescribable.

I go back and forth between hating myself for ruining my clean diet, and hating myself for eating food that will make me fat. I grab the roll on my stomach I’m convinced formed immediately after eating bread, and feel one step farther away from looking like K&K. Alternately, I viscerally feel my energy levels plummet. I’m lethargic, moodier, heavy, bloated….All symptoms that disappear with clean eating.

So, what’s the solution here? Do I stop eating Clean and start feeling physically crappy, just in an effort to prove to myself that I can re-learn to eat things without guilt? Or do I do the opposite: focus on eating Clean nearly 100% of the time, so I can always feel good, and just work on my body-image/guilt issues separately? I know there’s got to be a happy medium, but for any of you that have struggled with eating disorders, you know that “medium” is rarely an option. We’re a bit more inclined to extremes.

I am definitely more drawn to option #2. Eat more Clean, feel better physically, and work through my other fucked up issues without sacrificing the benefits of a diet/lifestyle I truly believe in for health reasons. It’s going to be a challenge, and it’s going to require a lot of work to keep fighting against a mentality that I’ve lived with for 16 years. But I’m writing this to hold myself accountable. And I’m writing this to make a public game plan that begins with taking my yoga practice off the mat. I feel better about my body during yoga than any other time and place. I feel powerful and grateful for what my body does for me. And I also learn another incredibly important lesson in yoga: nothing is permanent. The pain in my leg during an extra-long eagle pose will pass, and so will that awful bloated feeling I get after an evening of eating “unclean.” That impermanence is our only constant reminds me that everything is a process, including my relationship with food and my body.  As Pema Chödrön notes,

“That nothing is static or fixed, that all is fleeting and impermanent, is the first mark of existence. It is the ordinary state of affairs. Everything is in process. Everything—every tree, every blade of grass, all the animals, insects, human beings, buildings, the animate and the inanimate—is always changing, moment to moment.”

And as long as I’m aware of that, I can make an active effort to continually learn and re-learn, explore and experiment with practices that enable my optimum mental, physical, and emotional health. But this is a lot easier said than done.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. If you have a history with an ED, if you’ve struggled with similar issues after becoming a “clean” eater, or whatever other thoughts you might have. If you’re not comfortable sharing in the comments section, feel free to email me at rebelgrrlkitchen@gmail.com.

And here are some other great posts about body image:

(never)home maker: Skinny vs. Healthy

Choosing Raw: Thoughts on “Fitspiration” 

DebbieBootie: Mad at the World, My Fat Size, and sugar

All of this being said, I hope you’ll still join me for all the good and positive parts of my journey with food! Because sharing recipes with you all on the blog is something that definitely encourages me to be the best example I can be!

Okey doke. Back next time with something a bit lighter!

xoxox

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22 thoughts on “Real Talk: Diet Guilt & Rationalizations

  1. Such an honest post and something I know so many of us can relate to. I was just talking to a dear friend about this a few days ago as well.

    How much is enough? When I was at my thinnest or my fittest, it was never enough and I was always striving for me and beating myself up along the way. I recently stopped weighing myself and it’s been the most liberating thing ever. I feel differently then I have in years and I’m excited to eat well and be active and kind to myself.

    You’re doing amazing things by eating the way that you do and finding such joy in exercise. It’s hard once you start doing these things not to be even harder on yourself, but be kind. Trust that you’re doing well. And remember that it is a process and everyone in this amazing community is here to support you. And we’re in the same boat too!

  2. Thank you so much for the trigger warning at the beginning! I stopped reading when I saw that sentence. I’m sure your post is excellent, but I am just so thankful for your thoughtful consideration. It’s wonderful that you are willing to have fewer readers in order to honour the people who visit your site. Thanks again!

  3. I can totally relate to this. As I’ve started eating cleaner/more vegan/more raw, and started doing yoga regularly, I’ve noticed that I feel better about my body than I have in years (been dealing with an ED since I was 17, I’m almost 25 now). That being said, I sometimes wonder how much better I’m really feeling. Am I feeling better because eating this way is having an impact on me mentally, or is it physical? Do I just like it because I’ve lost a few pounds and toned areas that haven’t been toned in a long time? I think it’s a bit of both. And while I’m interested in pushing my body to see how fit and strong I can become, I’m scared about how happy I feel to be able to buy a smaller pair of jeans now that I’m eating cleaner.

    Another thing relating to guilt that weighs on my mind is being a feminist with an eating disorder. I know I’m not alone in that, but sometimes I really beat myself up over it. It feels so hypocritical. I’ve recently discovered that my body image issues are a SYMPTOM of my ED, not the cause. Rather, for me, it was a continuation of the self harm I’d been doing since I was 12. But it is still hard to listen to myself when I try to rationalize that dealing with an ED does not make someone a bad feminist.

    • I absolutely struggle with being a feminist with an ED. *Especially* because I honestly don’t project these feelings onto other women. I am so body-positive about everyone but myself, so I preach all these feminist messages, but deep down, really want to be skinny. It is definitely difficult. Thank you for responding and sharing your journey too. I wish you the best in your process!

  4. LOVED this, Raechel. So important. I wrote a post about having an ED and not feeling “feminist” enough, etc, and it felt so good to unleash that out into the world, because I really never talked about it to anyone. It’s funny, because, like you said too, I am such a promoter for body positivity, but not for myself! It’s ridiculous! Something I’m definitely trying to work on.

    Also, I can definitely echo your sentiments on yoga. I feel the same way about my body! It’s the place I feel most at piece with my body image–even if I’m surrounded by super skinny women–I still end up feeling great and appreciative of myself. My friend (and yoga teacher) told me once that what works for her on the days where she isn’t feeling the best about herself is to just work on feeling grateful for what you’re body can do for you–walking, running, breathing, stretching, getting you places, etc (you sound like you’re already doing this–I just think it’s such a novel idea, and I’m trying to incorporate it into my life more).

    I also stopped weighing myself, as I think it can be tricky, because most of us (at least, those of us with a history of an ED) will get “attached” to a number–and that number means nothing. If I was curious how much I was losing/gaining/staying the same, I think I would use a tape measure at this point.

    You are beautiful, super fit, and lovely. I know I could tell you this until the cows come home, and you still might question it (as I am the same way), but seriously, you, Rebel Grrrl, rock my world! :)

    • That is superb advice from your yoga teacher. Seems so easy, but also so easy to forget! I’ve gone back and forth about weighing myself. I mostly avoid it, and tend to only weigh myself during cleanses, but that’s totally messed up in its own way (because I know I can “handle” the lower numbers I get when detoxing).

      Thank you for the confidence-boosters, friend! You’re right that it doesn’t necessarily crush my doubts, but it certainly doesn’t hurt them either, so thank you! You are a beautiful inspiration, and I am excited to talk to you more as I begin my teacher-training journey (starts June 13th!).

  5. SUCH an important conversation to have. Thank you for sharing. Your thoughts on taking yoga off the mat are wonderful too—I definitely have found that kind of approach healing in various kinds of situations: taking time to breathe and appreciate the way the body and mind work together as well as the impermanence of uncomfortable moments. For me, acknowledging and working through transitions between “poses” has been a game-changer.

  6. I love your honesty. And agree with applying yoga to everyday life. I’ve never had to deal with an eating disorder; only an odd contradiction of being both a lover of food (alll kinds of food) and a lover of health. It’s hard not to feel guilt stricken and conflicted at times, even for me. Anyway, I applaud your effort to start a real conversation with this post. :)

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  8. Oh, friend.

    I am so happy you wrote about this, as a draft has been lingering on my dashboard for quite some time and hopefully this will be the kick in the butt I need to share my feelings.

    As someone who has struggled with an ED for a long time, the “red flags” come up often, even more so now that I am eating cleaner. Anything in excess is dangerous, even eating as “clean” as we usually do. I recently took a road trip through the southwest and was shocked at how little food I could eat. At first, I (somewhat self-righteously) scoffed at how healthy food was hardly available (which was true), but after returning from the trip, I realized it also had to do with me and my rigid standards as to what is “allowed” in my body.

    I often wonder: would I be so strict with myself in terms of healthy eating if I looked exactly the way I would want to? Honestly, I know that some of the self-limitations are not just from ethical, political or health places, but from fear, lack of self-acceptance and the need to control my body.

    And that’s the thing. For most of us folks with a history of ED, it is never enough. And that “doubling” of your exercise regimen? That hurt my heart to read, since I did the same thing last week after a nice night out with my partner. I pushed myself so much harder the next morning, under the pretense of “all exercise is good exercise!” when in reality I was trying to “make up” for the “bad” eating from the night before.

    I could talk about this forever, but I just wanted to start sharing and to say how proud I am of you to speak your story and your truth. I know that the more folks talk about it, the more we can create a healthy dialogue around how self-care can change our lives.

    On a lighter note, I ate a vegan donut yesterday and pushed through those feelings of guilt, instead reminding myself that life is a GIFT that should be enjoyed! It might sound silly to other people, but I trust that you know how big of a deal that was for me. Just wanted to share a little step forward :)

    • Thank you, friend, for this eloquent and thoughtful response. Everything you just wrote made total sense, especially that “never enough” thing. I remember the last time I went to a therapist to talk about my body stuff, I was twelve pounds heavier than I am now. And I told her I wanted to lose ten pounds, because “then I will be happy, and can stop worrying about my weight, and focus on more important things.” Well, over ten pounds later, I feel almost exactly the same. Ugh, it’s so exhausting.

      That’s a really wonderful and inspiring story about the donut! (Did you know today is national donut day?). It’s really hard as someone who has these really wonderful moments with food–especially sharing meals with friends and cooking for people–to also have that same experience be so stressful. But one donut at a time; little steps; day by day. : )

  9. Thank you X 5000. This resonated with me so much – and there is a huge sense of failure and guilt when you break your clean regime. I know alot of ppl who appear to be in the same situation. Its a shame we all have to suffer in silence.

    Your words speak for those of us who cannot xxx

  10. Raech you’re an inspiration. I will be 100% honest and say that when I read about orthorexia, you came to my mind. In grad school it was vegetarians and vegans; now it’s paleo/crossfit folks. not to say that having food restrictions means you have an ED (because the Standard American Diet is also pretty damn disordered though “normal”), but i see people who can treat it that way… i once met a woman in MN who was vegan/gf/sugar & legume free/raw and only drank reverse osmosis water that she bought from a health store. that’s a case study right there.

    also, sometimes i think we should stop being pissed at ourselves and be pissed at the food industry for making this so confusing. and shady nutritional studies (every time i think i have something figured out, my partner reads the study with his MD/science eye and says “oh that’s a bullshit study, look at how they evaluated the data”). and everything, in general, that contributes to our need and desire to control, control, control. instead, we turn that hatred inward. and no one saying “girl you’re gorgeous” (which i’m sure you’ve heard 100x because it’s a capital-T Truth) is going to help. And then we feel guilty for feeling guilty, because we could do so much MORE with our lives and for the rest of the world if we didn’t spend so much time focused on our own damn bodies…

    thanks for linking to the bootie blog. and thanks for being real.

    • “…we could be doing so much MORE with our lives and for the rest of the world…” Yes, a thousand times. I know you get it. Thanks for responding and for your post which inspired me to be real. <3

  11. Pingback: Coping with a Mandatory Break from Exercise | .the rebel grrl kitchen.

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