Friday, February 14, 2014

Reader Advice Day: Eating Disorders, Plant Based Diets and The Confusing College Years

"Hi Wendy,

I just stumbled across your website and felt very relieved to find someone I could relate too. My name’s Anna, I'm 19 and live in the UK. I am training on a musical theatre course with a lot of dance classes and a lot of insecure people with eating disorders. When I was about 10, I suffered from anorexia. I used to leave left over food out to fool my mum into thinking I was eating. It got pretty bad and lasted for about a year, a year about absolute agony and self loathing...self destruction... my mum was the only one who could stop me in the end. So basically, my relationship with food has never really been normal. I feel like recently, since moving away from home, living with 3 other girls and starting this eating is all over the place again. I am a dairy free vegetarian. I am basically obsessed with food and have become extremely anxious about it. I feel like I flip from anorexia or binge eating. It gets to the point where if I’m cooking and one of the girls comes into the kitchen, I will literally have to hide my shaking because I feel so paranoid. It doesn’t help that one of my house mates is bulimic...

So I find myself mega yoyo dieting... After Christmas I obsessively exercised and barely ate anything. Then, as the term progressed, I’ve found myself constantly snacking and obsessing over food. Probably stress related, as I’m going into a very insecure industry. Planning my meals out. Getting up in the middle of the night to secretly eat. I think my major downfall is bread, olive oil and dairy free butter. Also, buying snacks ’on the go’ which are high fat, or eating meals out which is usually veggie burger and chips. What I cook isn’t, on paper, ‘unhealthy’... but it’s the quantity and amount I snack on top of it. Long story short, I’ve put on about 8 pounds in three weeks! I didn't even know this was possible as an almost-vegan but, after looking at your website, I realize this is not uncommon. I guess I was hoping you could give me some advice based on your experience? I’m going to try some of your oil-free recipes for a start. I just want to be in control of it and I don’t feel I am. I want to be able to get full without eating a crap load of food.

I also find myself quite disillusioned with what’s healthy and what isn’t. EG I’ve been eating avocado and walnuts this week which I know is high fat but also really good for an almost vegan diet. Can you enlighten me please?

So, to give you an idea of what I eat... I generally have porriage or Weetabix with honey for breakfast, a bean or quorn salad for lunch and then something like Quinoa with fried veg, stir fry, omelette or quorn bolognase for dinner. I usually have about one meal out a week and buy a couple of snacks, usually crisps or a dairy free chocolate bar. I snack on rice cakes with dairy free butter, 5 portions of fruit a day inc. pineapple chunks, dark chocolate, and soya yogurt with honey.

What I don’t understand is that I would have thought my diet would be more healthy than most because I’m basically vegan and dance two hours a day, go to the gym twice a week. It doesn’t make any sense to me. I just feel really anxious and messed up at the moment, and would really appreciate your help on this. Anything from food to mental health advice is welcome with open arms.

Thank you so much,

"I already feel like a bit of a freak... Even reading my own email back makes me think 'wow, this chick is messed up'. The bottom line is, I don't want food to be such an issue for me anymore. My food anxiety is bad and it has grown worse from living with people with eating disorders. I either under eat and feel worried about myself or over eat and feel a huge amount of guilt. But I'm willing to risk that people might think I'm a bit of a weirdo. Hopefully I can get some good advice and relieve people who are in a similar position."

Hi Anna!

Welcome to Healthy Girl's Kitchen. I'm so glad that you found us. I'm sure that many, if not most, of the community here can totally relate to your story.

The first thing that I want to say is that I am not a doctor, nor am I a nutritionist, so everything that I am going to say is just girlfriend to girlfriend kinda stuff. If you feel like you have a serious eating disorder, please seek professional help. 

But you really sound just like me when I was in college.

The college years, while a whole lotta fun, are also extremely stressful for people who are like me, and I'm guessing you, achievement oriented. So one of the things that I am going to recommend to you is that you begin exploring the idea that you are an emotional eater. You are probably already familiar with that term. There are countless books written on the subject, many of them amazing. It takes a lot of work and persistence to overcome this condition, but at a minimum, you must begin to recognize it, learn as much as you can about it, and work on it.

If you are gaining weight, it simply means that you are eating more calories than your body needs, even with all of that exercise. It's really as simple as that. So the question becomes, how can you stay sane and eat fewer calories while also feeling energized and full?

There are amazing resources in our small but growing community of Vegan and oil-free eaters. Here are a list of resources with links just to get you started. I don't want to overwhelm you at this point because there are so many leaders and websites and groups all promoting basically the same thing. You can see my full list of references here.

A Vegan diet is not by definition a healthy diet. There is very little correlation between Vegan food and nutritious food. It will take you some reading and research time to learn the difference, but it will all become very clear to you once you start learning about it.

The thing about eating an oil-free (and maybe even salt and sugar free) Vegan diet is that it's something that people need to grow into. Be careful to take time to read and learn about it. Don't beat yourself up if you are not perfect at it, but most important of all--stick with it. Recognize the bumps in the road, but never beat yourself up over them. Forgive yourself immediately and then move right on. Your next meal can be an amazing one.

If you choose this path, you will be full, energized, happy and healthy. Happy because the food that you put in your body has superior nutritional value. Happy because you are not a part of the horrific industrial animal food machine. And in the end, it's those things that matter most. 

So many women develop eating disorders in college, or have them when they start college and the whole mess gets kicked into high gear once there. While it seems scary to talk with your roommates about your deepest and innermost thoughts and feelings, I have learned over the years that the best way to attack any problem is just to talk openly about it. It may seem hard at first, but it's so worth it. And your friends will thank you for it. Just remember that this is NOT about them. Talk about your fears and anxieties surrounding food. Make "I" statements, not "you" statements. 

Well HGK friends and family, what do you have to say to Anna? Any words of wisdom? I know that she would really appreciate our help.

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