“The truth was, I was a food addict. My relationship with food was unhealthy and unsafe, regardless of how it looked on my frame. This was not an issue of size.”
I am super honored to bring you a guest post this morning, from the extremely awesome, Jessica DeMarra of Sprouts and Chocolate. I had the pleasure of meeting Jessica at the very last Vida Vegan Con (single tear) after the talk I gave on body image, self-esteem, veganism, and blogging. When I spoke to Jessica, she told me about her struggles with food, and talked to me about how she’d always wanted to share her story, but wasn’t sure where it would fit in on her recipe blog. I was struck by Jessica’s vulnerability and honesty, and decided right then and there that if I didn’t see something on S+C within six months, I would invite her to share here.
It is such an honor and a gift every time someone talks about eating disorders and recovery without shame. I invite you to grab a cup of coffee or tea, get cozy, and sink into Jessica’s tale. This is a story of working through the mental bullshit that eating disorders bring, finding a glimmer of hope, and going at self-respect like it’s a full time job. Let’s get to it!
Hello! My name is Jessica DeMarra, and I run the plant-based blog, Sprouts and Chocolate.
I had the pleasure of meeting Lacy at Vida Vegan Con, where she did a seminar on positive self-image. After we met, she emailed me about doing a guest post discussing my story and my struggles with food. I replied to her email with excitement and then I realized I would have to be honest about my eating, which was frightening. I have never shared my story in such detail before and I was concerned people would take it the wrong way.
But then I reminded myself: this is my story and some people will relate and others won’t. It is honest, real, and yes, actually happened. No bullshit here.
Before VVC, I had never met Lacy, but her story stirred something inside of me that I had been repressing for years- my own troubles with food. For most of my life, I was compulsively overeating, emotionally dependent on food, and a food addict. After Lacy’s seminar, she welcomed the audience to introduce themselves and I headed for the back of the line, holding in my tears in hopes that no one would see me. I said hello to her, she shook my hand, and then I broke down sobbing; we are not talking about a glistening tear or two slowly rolling down my cheek- it was an open mouthed, gut-wrenching, couldn’t speak, couldn’t breathe, full on weeping. She was kind about it, let me catch my breath, and listened to my story between sobs. I told her that I was a food blogger that was so addicted to food that I barely thought of anything else. I told her that worst of all, people around me didn’t believe me about my anxieties. They had just summed it up to me being self-critical or worse, humble about my size. After pulling myself together, I left the seminar room feeling exhausted, yet energized at the same time.
Finally, someone heard my voice and understood my words.
Previously, when I confided in someone about my struggles with food, they would respond with “You are not fat, Jess,” or an eye roll perhaps, thinking I read one too many Cosmo magazines. Funny thing, I never said I was fat. I always said I was having a hard time with food and anxiety. They were looking at my body instead of hearing my words, like someone’s body is an accurate reflection of their thoughts.
I didn’t tell people that I thought I was fat, because that was not the issue. The truth was, I was a food addict. My relationship with food was unhealthy and unsafe, regardless of how it looked on my frame. This was not an issue of size.
I realized I was addicted to food when I went to college, where I had a fully loaded meal card and the privacy of my own dorm room. After my classes, I would prepare for my nightly ritual of heading down to the local shawarma place, getting a lamb shish kabob plate and a Diet Coke, and popping into the store for two king sized chocolate bars, one for eating on the walk back to my dorm and one for having after dinner. Each night I could feel the excitement of my indulgence- my skin literally buzzed. I could not walk fast enough back to my dorm room to get started. When I arrived to my dorm, I immediately changed into sweats, got my marathon of television ready to go, and ate in bed, consuming everything as fast as I could. I always discarded the evidence of my binge right away. I was never full and never satisfied.
I didn’t do these things because I wanted to- I did them because I needed to. If something disturbed my binge, I would be in an awful mood until I could do it again the next night. I said no to plans and outings to keep this ritual ongoing.
There was a time when I glamorized anorexia over compulsively overeating from food addiction. I assumed that it meant that I could at least be skinny even if I was still self- destructive. I even tried on the eating disorder, lasting no more than a day of eating as little as possible. I realize now that that is insensitive to those who are struggling with this disease but feelings about eating disorders are never rational. I was so in my fog that I couldn’t see actual recovery as a way out.
Since not eating at all wasn’t an option for me, I decided to do the next “best” thing and took up diet pills and cigarettes. All my smoker friends were skinny! I did this for a few years and yeah, I, too, was skinny. The unfortunate reality is that people complimented me. It seemed that people found me more attractive. Clothes shopping was easier. This was all the motivation I needed to continue the destructive behavior.
On the surface I seemed happy. Meanwhile, I was suffering insomnia, obsessive eating + exercise, heart palpations, cold sweats, blurred vision, chronic fatigue, and digestive problems from the mixture of nicotine, over the counter diet pills, and a very restrictive diet. I would run my hands over my body, feeling my hipbones protruding out, my flat stomach, and the deep caves I had created around my collarbone. I assumed that, despite all terrible symptoms I had, this is what happiness felt like. That is, until I went to the doctor’s office and he told me my resting heart rate was abnormally high for a person at the age of 20. This was the wake up call that I needed to change.
I had to dig deep and shift my focus from self-destruction masquerading as self care to truly caring about my body and soul. I started adding good things, mostly plants, to my diet- instead of buying a donut at my favourite coffee place, I bought some fruit at the neighbouring grocer stand, I carried a bottle of water with me everywhere I went since I was chronically dehydrated and never realized it. Instead of going out to drink all night only to wake up to a hangover, I stayed in with friends to watch a movie. I started thinking good things about myself instead of thinking that I was an all-consuming piece of garbage. I would tell myself out loud in the mirror everyday what I liked about myself. I stopped taking diet pills, stopped drinking a pot of coffee a day, and stopped pinching my sides while I ate. I still felt that itch, the tingle of pain and pleasure that was giving in to the overconsumption of foods. I had been so extreme and so harmful to myself; I thought I would never feel better. I didn’t even know who I was without these things in my life. I defined myself by my eating habits- they governed my thoughts, my body, my soul, and without them, would I even like who I was? But I realized the truth, which was that I didn’t like myself while restricting my diet, either. There had to be more to life than my rituals around food and body.
This is where I decided to turn my addiction to food into something healthy and positive. I had always been a pretty good cook, and I had a camera so why not start a plant-based recipe blog? Sprouts & Chocolate was born out of my desire to see food differently, to not be emotionally dependent on it. I knew nothing about blogging, how social media, or even the Internet worked but I wanted to take my negative feelings about food and turn them into something with passion and positivity. Working on my food blog has taught me that food can shamelessly pleasure the body and the soul. I could enjoy what I was eating, decadent or not, without the guilt of feeling disobedient. Though I have never discussed my disordered eating on my site, it has transformed the way I see food, turning it from a shameful secret to public sharing. No food is inherently dirty or clean and when I bake up some awesome cookies or a crazy healthy salad, I can now eat it without mentally running through a calorie count.
Before, it was perfection or destruction and nothing in between. Finding balance is a practice, and one that I continue to aim for every day. Some days are awesome and I feel great about myself, my body, and my life. Other days, I look in the mirror and ask myself, “Who the fuck are you?”
My recovery has taught me that I do not have to feel great every single day. Having moments of imperfection is- dare I say- normal! Shitty days happen but it is what you do with yourself on your bad days that is important. Over and underrating were tactics I used to temporarily make myself feel better, but of course the satisfaction never lasted. Now my behaviour has changed to actually take care of myself and my emotions instead of stuffing or starving them. I don’t turn to consuming as much as I can in a short time to feel better- I curl up in bed and read a book, turn off my phone and take a bath, go for a short run or literally just lay on the floor and do nothing. My behaviour now takes care of my body and my soul, because it is kind as opposed to punishing. My weight has stopped effecting my happiness and I give a big ol’ mental “fuck you” to those who question the confidence I have in myself, like how dare I feel good about my body*.
*Lacy said those exact words in her seminar and I will never forget them.
I may be at my heaviest, but I also at my happiest and that is worth something.
If you are feeling down about yourself, have anxiety around food, and don’t know where to start or how to start, reach out! Meeting Lacy for those 10 minutes at the end of a seminar has been the most soul stirring, cathartic, and healing moments in my disordered eating journey to recovery. It took just one person to listen to what I was saying and respond thoughtfully with no judgments for me to feel understood and worthy of my feelings.
Are you crying?! I am totally fucking crying. Jessica, you are amazing and brave and I am SO honored to host you!
For more from Jessica, visit her in the following places:
Have an amazing weekend!
Some time ago, I wrote about my time as an ex-vegan.
For those who missed it, I will give you the recap: in a nutshell, I was having a lot of stomach issues, and all vegan protein sources seemed to exacerbate the problem. After months of persistent gas, bloating, diarrhea, and general bullshit feelings coming from my intestines, I slowly started to cut out various ingredients from my diet with the goal of feeling well. Gluten was first, then grains, then beans. I tried to lower my nut and seed intake and- what do you know?- I was fucking starving. With each ingredient cut, my stomach would briefly feel better, then eventually end up right where I had begin.
I needed help, and I needed it badly. I went to a general practitioner, an acupuncturist, a naturopath, and a gastroenterologist. No one had any real information or solutions for me, aside from an IBS diagnosis, which is honestly not super helpful. In an effort to stop the triggering action of subtracting more and more and more foods, I decided I needed to start to add. After some research I determined that my addition to my diet would be pasture raised eggs.
I ate eggs for nine months, and indeed, my stomach did get better during that time. Recently, I heard through the grapevine that my admission of that fact has lead some to believe that I (or they) think that eggs cured my IBS.
Aint that some shit.
I have been vegan-again for about two years now. In my time as a re-vegan, I have enjoyed pretty excellent stomach health, at least for me. Sure, I fart now and again with too many raw vegetables or a dash of extra beans. But most of the time, when my stomach is upset I know exactly why and its manageable. It isn’t something that takes over my days. That’s pretty much all I could have hoped for, and while I do believe that my time eating eggs was helpful for that, I don’t believe that this animal product was a panacea for me or that another animal product will be a panacea for somebody else.
Let me break it down:
It is my belief that my stomach was inflamed from the amount of fiber that I was eating. To an extent, eliminating gluten and grains and beans made sense given that theory, but things would often get back to a place of discomfort after each elimination because when I got rid of one fibrous thing in my diet, I eventually replaced it with another. When I added eggs instead of subtracting another vegan food, I was replacing things that were full of fiber (grains and beans) with an item that was essentially fiberless (eggs.) Once my stomach was not in a state of pure chaos, I could eliminate eggs again and add grains and beans (of the sprouted variety) back in. My stomach strengthened with less stress on it. Of course, I only realized this retrospectively. Too much fiber is a really simple problem, but not one that most Americans have. None of my practitioners mentioned it to me as an option.
(Please understand that this whole fiber thing is a theory, one that I cultivated because something was definitely wrong, but no one could really tell me what. I think it’s important to note that situational evidence isn’t, like, science. But it does have merit, at least for me personally.)
There are so many ideas about animal products as saving graces, and it bugs me to think that my egg story could be a part of that dialogue. I think it’s important to say that had I known that fiber was what was irritating my stomach, I think I could have replaced tempeh and brown rice and raw kale with tofu and white rice and avocado and had the same result without compromising my ethics and values. I am glad my stomach feels better, but I don’t believe animal products are what fixed it. At this point, I wish I had done it another way.
There is no reason to believe that eggs did something for me that another fiber-less food couldn’t have.
And furthermore, if we want to get specific…
I don’t believe that bone broth is the only way to fix inflammation, strengthen your immune system, or soothe digestion. Turmeric, ginger, probiotics, & Oregon grape extract are all awesome ways to help yourself if you have the desire to stay vegan.
I don’t believe a steady diet of chicken is the way to weight loss. Try big salads, gorgeous smoothies, stevia-sweetened chia puddings, and low-oil tofu and veggie stir fries for nutritious and humane leaning out processes.
I don’t believe ghee is is a perfect food for energy and satiation or as a condiment in your coffee. My opinion is that actual FOOD is best for breakfast, that coconut milk gives wonderful fat and that greens provide excellent energy. Chlorella! Spirulina! Nuts! Avocado! The world is yours.
What I am trying to say is this:
I wish that I had connected the dots between stomach trouble and fiber sooner, and in a different way. To me, adding eggs to my diet was helpful, and also a mistake- because ultimately I believe that even consuming the most humane eggs possible sets itself as an example; a statement that I think eating eggs is okay. For me, I don’t believe that statement to be true. This is for ME, in My body, and My life.
If you are vegan and you no longer want to eat a diet free of animal products, I believe it is completely okay to say that is the case. But if you are vegan and are deeply struggling to maintain your diet while you feel your health is failing, that is entirely another.
I want to offer myself as a resource to those on the cusp of leaving a vegan diet if they want to stay (because ultimately, the choice is absolutely theirs and has nothing to do with me or my opinion). I don’t offer myself because I hate ex-vegans, or even because I hate myself for my time identifying as one. I want to offer myself as a resource, because I believe knowing a person who had struggled with my issues and solved them on a vegan diet would have been extraordinarily helpful to me. I wouldn’t have to look at that nine month period of my life with eggs and feel a little disappointed.
Animal products are not the magic bullet. I consider my time away from veganism to be a supreme bummer. If you want to stick around, I will help you. And if you don’t, I support you in finding your health how you need to. Your life, your rules, right? I am just one vegan with some interesting experiences.
This is not a judgement, or a winning or losing game.
This is you finding out the best way to live the richest and most compassionate life possible, and me doing the same.
We’ve got this.
At any given time you can find me with either a backpack full of food, or a backpack full of empty tupperware. That’s just a fact.
Because I prefer to eat food that I make for both health and financial reasons, food prep is a big part of my life. When busy clients come to me wanting to overhaul their diets I suggest either A) getting a weekly food prep day or a daily food prep hour worked into their schedule or B) paying me to do weekly food prep for them, because that is my JAM.
I food prep in a couple of different ways:
If I have a Sunday free and I’m inspired, I make a large batch of beans and brown rice or quinoa and a few different recipes to go with them. Some favorites include kale salads, enchiladas, soups, curries, and stir-fries. Having these meal-ready dudes in my fridge makes my life SO MUCH easier, especially in terms of dinner. (My general routine is to work during the day, work out in the late afternoon/early evening, and have dinner. Do you think I want to make something elaborate after a long day and a tough workout? No, no I do not.)
Although I love having beautiful and elaborate meals waiting for me, these days 9 times out of 10, I work 7 days a week (*winces*). I don’t have the fortitude to make fancy shit when I am super busy, but I do still prioritize my health (and ultimately my happiness, because I just feel more stoked when I eat well). What I’m saying is this: sometimes my prep just looks like using a rice cooker and crockpot and chopping a bunch of things for super-quick availability. And sometimes I do it each morning because I don’t want to give up longer amounts of time on one given day. A full day of Sunday cooking is not for everyone, and it’s not even for me sometimes. Meet yourself where you’re at.
My rubric for food when I am stressed and busy is oatmeal and a smoothie for breakfast/snacks, a giant salad with protein, fat, and good whole grain carbohydrates for lunch, and a soup or steamed veggie/rice/grilled tempeh like thing for dinner. It’s boring-ish to some, but eating the same kind of stuff pretty often doesn’t really upset me, and I am grateful for the simplicity of it.
On days when I eat like this I have about 30-40 minutes of food prep for the whole day, because as I mentioned I pre-chop veggies, cook large batches of brown rice, quinoa and beans and marinate tofu or tempeh in advance. A typical prep for this is: