I remember the day I decided I would stop eating. This particular event will be forever ingrained in my memory. My friend had come over and I was desperately trying to avoid the smoothie glass she was pushing in my face – all I could see were calories going down my throat. 150, 200, maybe even more, I wasn’t sure. And that scared me. How on earth did I get like this?
I have absolutely no idea how my eating disorder started. I have always been petite – I’m 24 and barely 5’0’’. My diet has never been exactly healthy – For a start, I never ate breakfast (this didn’t become part of my routine until after recovery). I’d often make lunch for everyone but myself and then I’d be “full” for the rest of the day.
I am almost embarrassed to be writing this, mainly because I don’t want the people around me seeing me the way I used to see myself. However, I highly doubt it, as I am currently sitting at my desk, having had my second breakfast of the day, and munching on some Oreo’s (yes, they are vegan).
At times I was fine, or I thought I was, but it wasn’t until my adult years that I started to realise how afraid I was of food. Dinner dates scared me – I was ashamed of leaving food on my plate, but restaurant portions were always far too big for me. Over the years, I creatively got myself out of every work lunch or dinner I was ever invited to. I’d applaud myself when I could survive a whole day on just water.
I guess it was a way of gaining control when everything else seemed to be falling apart.
A lost identity
My lack of identity played a big part in my confusion. I remember sitting in my therapist’s office and trying to put together the pieces of how I ended up this way.
For 4 years, people have known me as ‘Mandy’ and it’s the name that I love and use now, but it’s not my birth name. It’s very similar, but even I can’t pronounce my real name properly anymore. I have been thinking and dreaming in English since I can remember. I fully believe I am English by heart, but I can feel my mother tongue fading away and with that, all the things I once connected with my identity are slowly disappearing too. I used to think that everything constant in my life had a negative tone to it, and anorexia was one of those things. So I held onto it when everything around me started to change.
Saved by the vegan bell
The vegan lifestyle was introduced to me by my dear friend. She didn’t rub it in my face nor force me to eat the ‘rabbit food’ (as most people think it is), but to my surprise I found great comfort in it. The more I hung out with her, the more I realised how ‘doable’ it was (and how much I enjoyed quirky little vegan restaurants). It wasn’t because I knew vegan food was low in fat and carbohydrates, quite the opposite actually – I could very easily live off potatoes, avocados and nuts.
I enjoyed it because I was suddenly doing something good.
Did you know, each vegan saves nearly 200 animals per year? That was all information I needed. I slowly soaked in every book on veganism I could find and learned more and more about the hardships animals face. I really don’t want to get into it now, but have a read if you’d like.
One day, after working on a Lush cosmetics VegFest stall with said dear friend, I decided that was it. I was already at rock bottom. I had nothing to lose, so why not?
It was surprisingly easy. When you open your eyes, you start to see things around you differently. Giving up cheese wasn’t difficult – maybe because I was a student and cheese was quite expensive back then. I started ordering weekly veg boxes, I was cooking more and being more adventurous with my food choices. For the first time, I felt like I could be more creative and look past the amount of calories in each dish. It was then that I realised something – the food I was eating wasn’t harming anyone, neither others nor myself.
I wasn’t healed just yet though. Over the years, my mind would continue to spin in the same negative thought patterns that are very difficult to break – one wrong step and I fell off the tracks. It took months of determination and routines, but now, with great relief, I can honestly say that I am healed.
Is ‘vegantastic’ a word? Well if not, I’m making it a word!
Without wishing it to sound like a cliche, eating non-animal products has given me a new lease of life – I have so much energy now. With energy came enthusiasm. With enthusiasm came motivation. And with motivation came being active.
Whilst doing sit ups is still a massive trigger for me, I have managed to switch my brain from the “workout because you ate” function to “eat because you worked out”. As a dancer, I am pleased to see my dancing ability has come on in leaps and bounds.
My body is now stronger and a lot more flexible than it ever was before – I can do about 40 push ups in a row now. My hair has stopped falling out, my eyesight has improved dramatically (to the point where I don’t even need to wear contact lenses anymore) and I am finally experiencing what it’s like to not be cold all the time. I’m in love with my stretch marks, they’re like little lightning bolts, the greatest evidence I have that prove I was able to overcome my fear.
Most importantly for me, I actually enjoy discovering new restaurants and have no fear when it comes to eating with people who have no idea about my past eating habits.
I owe something to this lifestyle. Saving animals saved me. People ask me if I’ll always be vegan and I really want to give them my full and honest answer, but I think from now on, I’ll just say ‘yes’ and refer them to this article. Now if you excuse me, I’m off to stuff myself with some patatas bravas (I am determined to finish the massive plate this time) with my lovely coworkers.