**trigger warning – food pictures and descriptions below**
One thing I’ve been trying to do this summer is get back to back to eating in a way that lines up more closely with my ethical system. Obviously, there is the veganism. But, there are other things too – like going to the farmer’s market, eating organic (or, as organic as I can afford), focusing on whole foods (by which I mean unprocessed foods, not the store), aaaaaannnnnd cooking!!! Cooking is still largely overwhelming to me. Something about combining ingredients and trying to count it all creates very high levels of anxiety, confusion, etc. Portioning is also difficult, so I eat more pre-portioned things than I would like, because of the trash associated with it. But, I figure, the first aim is that the food has to get into my body, and for now if that means I have some frozen Amy’s meals or some pre-portioned things, I’m going to let that be okay.
I am, however, making progress now that it’s summer. I have more time to plan food, deal with the anxiety, go to farmer’s markets, etc. One thing I’ve learned is that when I reincoporate something back into my diet – tempeh, most recently – I need to eat it a few days in a row if it’s going to “stick.” Also, as an incentive to cook, I bought myself a new cast-iron skillet. For a while, I wouldn’t let myself cook in cast-iron because it’s the “best/healthiest” way to cook because supposedly you actually get more iron in your diet that way.
With cooking, if I stick to whole, vegan ingredients (and not too many ingredients or it gets overwhelming), I’m actually starting to get some enjoyment out of it again. And I’m actually starting to feel good about what I’m putting in my body. I had forgotten what this felt like.
So, for example, one of my new favs to cook is a vegan tofu scramble:
It includes: lite firm tofu, tomatoes, cilantro, onions, mushrooms, red and yellow peppers, Spike seasoning, Bragg’s essential aminos, garlic, dried basil, Daiya vegan “cheese” sprinkled on top (gotta get that endurance fuel!*)
This is a meal that I have come to feel good about. At some point I need to be able to use regular (not lite) tofu, and oil (not just pan spray), but this is a big step. I hadn’t let myself eat this (too nourishing) in probably a year or so. Maybe a bit more. Now it’s pretty thoroughly reincorporated.
And then there’s traveling when vegan and in recovery. I’m going to D.C. for a few days and I have absolutely no idea what the food situation will be, the availability of vegan food, etc. So, my RD and I did some planning. My packing chaos looks like this:
Let’s just say: 8 soymilks to stand-in for supplements, some granola (new food!), vegan Luna bars, vegan Clif bar & Clif zbars, fruit leather, Annie’s vegan gummy bunnies (new food!), chocolate covered soy nuts (new food! And yes, I’m super annoyed they’re south beach as well), vegan nu go bars (my fav protein bar), vegan wheat crackers, primal strips (vegan jerky), electrolyte water (no dehydration for me!). This is more than I would normally take for four days, but since the availability of vegan food is questionable at best, I am prepared for a worst-case scenario in which I have significant trouble meeting my nutritional needs at meals. Some of these foods are highly processed (the bars, ahem), but overall, they’re foods that I feel good about putting in my body and I feel secure knowing that I have the means to stick to vegan foods so that I don’t have to deal with the anxiety/frustration/disappointment in straying from that.
So, I’ve been thinking about veganism and the role that it plays in my recovery – specifically in regard to choice. First and foremost, let me reiterate: I am an ethical vegan. My veganism extends beyond my food choices – I don’t wear animal products (leather, wool, silk), and all of my personal care products (shampoo, soap, shaving cream, make-up, etc.) are vegan. But, in the eating disorder world, veganism is often equated with restricting (Aimee Liu makes this mistake in Gaining, a book which I otherwise thoroughly LOVE). Yes, being vegan limits your choices. If you’re not vegan, think about your favorite restaurant. Think about what options on the menu would and would not be viable if you’re vegan.
This is what gets a lot of people up in arms. The response often is, “You just want to be vegan so you can restrict!” Of course there are some people who are ill who use veganism/vegetarianism in that way. But, the restriction is not about the vegetarianism. It’s about the eating disorder. And if one is going to actively engage in the eating disorder, one is going to actively engage. Claiming veganism might make it a bit harder to spot to other people, but the restriction is about the eating disorder, not the veganism, and if one is determined, it will happen, vegan or not.
So, let’s think about dopamine now. One of the posts that I linked in my last post – Structured on the ED Bites blog by Carrie Arnold – discusses the fact that people recovering from Anorexia Nervosa often need a meal plan because our brains process dopamine differently, and therefore we have very little gauge of whether we are making “the right” decision. So, without that internal gauge of “Yes, this is good” or “No, this is harmful,” decision making can quickly become overwhelming. So, that’s why many patients may find it helpful to have a meal plan to help them structure and guide the the decision making process. Carrie Arnold also talks about how choices often need to be limited – the example that she uses is that instead of saying “What kind of grain would you like with dinner?,” it might be more helpful for someone recovering from anorexia to be asked “Would you like rice or pasta?” (I think that this must be partially why grocery stores are so daunting for so many of us. SUCH an overabundance of options. – What do I choose? Am I making the right choice? How do I know? Should I get this or this . . . or this . . . or that?!) I’ve seen my RD use this tactic with people when they’re struggling with meeting their meal plan in nutrition group – if they need more, she just comes over to them with a couple of options and says “Choose one” or “Choose two.” Or, she might say, “Would you like nuts or a supplement?” But it’s never, “How do you want to make up for that?” because . . . so many options! How would one know what decision to make?
So, what if the structure of veganism isn’t bad? For me, the fact that being vegan often pares down an overwhelming abundance of choice is really, really helpful. Sometimes when I go to strictly vegan restaurants, I get someone paralyzed by the multitude of choices (What do I get? What if I don’t choose the right thing? What if I think I know what I want, but I don’t? What if I want something else after I’ve already ordered? What if I want two things? How do I pick? Etc., etc.) It’s too much; I can’t gauge if I’m making the right choice. I think that further into recovery, this will improve as I keep having healthy choices externally reinforced by my treatment team. And it’s better than it used to be. But, what if one of the fringe benefits of ethical veganism is helping reduce the anxiety of overwhelming choice? What if veganism *in recovery* actually makes eating more manageable, not more restrictive? What if people with eating disorders are actually capable of having ethical/spiritual/moral beliefs that affect what they good about putting in their bodies, as I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post?
What if the fact that so many people go through at least a “phase” of vegetarianism in recovery is about making overwhelming choices more manageable? What if those of us in recovery need ongoing methods to help structure our decision-making? Is that really so bad?