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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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!