Not surprisingly, as soon as someone learns I’m vegan, they ask, “So, what got it all started? Why are you vegan?” Considering these people are most likely strangers or someone I just met, I usually give a quick, one-sentence response. Something like, “I started for health reasons.” Meanwhile, what I really want to say is, “How do you have?”
To put it bluntly, I stumbled upon veganism soon after I somewhat recovered from an eating disorder. First, it was over eating, then it was not eating at all. I feel like to truly understand who I am and how important this lifestyle is to me, it’s important to know the truth about how I got here.
Growing up, my weight was never something I paid much attention to. Throughout high school and the first half of my college years, I was confident in the way I looked, and I thought I had a pretty good grasp on who I was as a person. (At the age of 19…imagine that. No wonder shit hit the fan.) If I’m being honest here, my body image issues and overall insecurities hit me like a brick wall my junior year of college.
The closer I got to graduating, the more I felt like I had to prove I was going to “be somebody” to everyone around me. I always had endless support from my friends and family and I knew they would love me no matter what, so I now realize that the only person I was trying to prove something to was myself.
When I turned 20, I quickly put an overwhelming amount of pressure on myself to be extremely successful. Maybe it was because deep down I was insecure? Who knows, but from then on, I became obsessed with overindulging. In everything.
I couldn’t have just one internship, I had to have six or seven. I couldn’t go out for just a couple drinks, I had to black out and cause a scene. I couldn’t obtain a balanced, healthy diet, I had to drink a shit ton of alcohol and eat allllll of the unhealthy food. And if anyone told me I should act otherwise, they would hear a mouthful. By the first semester of my junior year, I had gained right under 20lbs.
I was (and still am, to an extent) definitely a control freak. I had painted a picture of what I thought was the perfect life in my mind and I was doing everything I could to feel like I was living it, even if it didn’t truly align with my morals. This “perfect life” consisted of being able to party like crazy, eat whatever the hell I wanted, and still be a boss bitch in my career. And it was awesome, until I realized I had been lying to myself the entire time.
Here’s how it all went down: Junior year of college, I overindulged and turned to food and alcohol to feel better. Senior year, when I decided to study and work as an intern in London, reality finally sank in and I realized I needed to make a change. Instead of functionally taking charge of everything around me, I latched on to the one thing I KNEW I could control without failing: food. I restricted myself from eating and became obsessive about everything that went into my body because 1. I had an unsettling realization about GMOs after visiting my first grocery store outside of America and 2. I was lost and didn’t know what I truly believed in.
Aside from a few close friends and family members back home, I hid my disorder well. When I traveled, I would allow myself to indulge and try foods I had never tried before, and then, throughout the week, my goal was to keep myself at under 900 calories a day. To me, this was “recovering” or “making up for” the weekends I now realize were some of the most beautiful moments of my life. But back then, every time I’d allow myself to eat, I’d feel guilt, disappointment, and anger.
The first moment I finally felt relief from my sickness was the moment I decided to try vegetarianism. I tell my mother everything, and I was honest with her about what I was going through while I was overseas. She always knew what to say to make me feel like I was going to be okay, and one day, she assured me that balance was key. “There are so many ways to be healthy,” she said, “you just have to find what works for you and do your research.”
I know this seems so DUH when I put it in print, but when you are eyebrow deep in a sickness like this, it’s hard to see what’s in front of you, even if it’s simple. From then on, I promised myself that every time I’d have a meal, I would feel good about it. How would I do this? With my personality type, it just made the most sense to me to fuel my lifestyle choices with a SHIT ton of research. Making it simple made it seem a lot easier to take on. Example: Greens are good for you, I can’t argue with that. So, I’m going to eat a lot of them. Red meat isn’t good for you, so I won’t eat it. When I broke it down this way, I felt like I was setting myself up for success.
The more research I did, the more I realized how much I loved learning about what makes my body feel good and the nutrients that triggered it. No one likes to feel anger, pain, and hurt after they give the body something it literally needs to survive, right? Structuring my recovery in this way (educating myself), almost made it as if I was treating myself every time I ate. Soon enough, after seeing all of the positive results both my body and mind were showing me and reading every book I could on the topic, veganism just made the most sense to me.
If you’ve ever experienced a sickness like this, you know just as much as I do that some days are better than others. But at the end of the day, here’s the deal: You are not alone. We are all in this together, and we all have moments where we feel like we need a pillar to lean on when we start to tip over. With a lot of time, tears, support, and a shit ton of patience and acceptance with myself, I have built the pillars of my life: my friends, family, exercise, veganism, and love.
Trust the universe and the path it provides, and tell yourself that you can overcome anything. Because you can.
Relate to my story, or feel the need to reach out? Please, please do. This is a safe space.
In good health,