“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!
The crunches. 200, 300, 400 crunches every morning. On a cold floor in a dark room. I knew that I wouldn’t stand for even one less rep.
I remember the morning dedication to the elliptical, the calorie number goal I would not stop until I reached. The way my quads burned, and the rest of my body went essentially unused. I remember hunching over, exhausted. Promising myself that if I just torched through a bit more of my body, I wouldn’t have to move for the rest of the day. Unless I ate too much, that was. Then I’d have to go through the whole process again in the afternoon.
I remember food phobias, so many food phobias. Fear of beans, fear of quinoa or avocados or sweets or nuts. Fear of oils. Fear of eating too much, and alternately, fear of not eating enough. I remember being afraid to have too much food with me, so packing very lightly and then I remember the gripping, panicked fear of a creeping hunger with nothing to sate it.
I remember, at some point, my body separating itself from the trauma that was occurring and sealing itself off. Shutting down connection with my physical form and pressing forward with whatever plan I had NO. MATTER. WHAT. I remember the day I started checking out completely whenever I stepped into the gym or the kitchen, and I remember how I was happy to be leaving my body at those times because I didn’t feel safe in it anymore.
Then, I remember that I stopped checking out on purpose, and it became a reflex.
It has been years since I participated in the above mentioned eating disorder behaviors, but disassociation lingered. Sometimes I would overeat (as most people do) and panic, hating the feeling in my stomach so much that I would leave my body completely. Sometimes I would reach to write about the specifics of certain moments and I would excavate my brain for information and find a resounding pile of nothing. Sometimes I gave talks to huge rooms of people about positive body image and self-esteem and how to get more of both. After, my partner would ask me how my talk went, and I will reply with a furtive “…okay, I think?”.
I simply couldn’t remember. Every time things got a little too real, I peaced the fuck out of my body as preservation, even when whatever was going on was, objectively, not that big of a deal. I knew this was leftover from the trauma of my ED, that I didn’t need the tool anymore, but I also didn’t know how to stop doing it.
So I searched. I asked friends who were survivors of trauma how the re-associated with themselves, and I experimented. Here are the tactics I used that actually seemed to work:
1. Try one mindful breath. When I asked people how to re-associate with my body after years of actively checking out of it, almost everyone said mindfulness was the key. I know meditation is great for me, but I consistently set myself up for failure with a 20-minutes-a-day-seven-days-a-week goal. Meditation (and mindfulness) are really challenging for me with such a background of trauma and- just like with lifting!- I needed to work up to the heavy stuff.
By giving myself permission to take one mindful breath, multiple times a day, I set myself up for constant success. My one-mindful-breath-a-day challenge added up quickly, and became the fastest way to check back in with my body. One mindful breath acknowledges that I am indeed *here*, standing in the middle of the world, and taking in air. One mindful breath is a perfect set up for building self-satisfaction and self-esteem, too, because I usually remember to do it at least once a day, and often more.
2. Wake yourself up with something you love. You know what brings me back to my body? Listening to queer fronted punk bands. Knitting tiny stitches to make up whole hats and scarves and sweaters. Writing letters. Singing in my own punk bands. Masturbating. Taking a long shower. Getting a massage. Wrapping myself in a blanket like a burrito.
Incidentally, these are all things that I think of as safe, warm, comfortable, or just plain nice. Different sorts of trauma will cause disassociation around different things, and what you do to feel good and get back to yourself will undoubtedly be different than what I do. That’s okay! You do you, I’ll just be over here with my records and my knitting needles and my vibrator.
3. Go outside in the cold. This works particularly well if you’re in a place that is experiencing the dawn of winter.
So, little known fact, my best friend, Koji, is my first love and also a buddhist monk. Him and his partner, Michaela, own Mid-City Zen of New Orleans, and are wonderful incredible people, that are literally chock full of wisdom and good vibez. Once, in the very early moments of my recovery, I was talking to Koji about my depression and how it made recovering from my eating disorder feel almost impossible. I felt a complex and pervasive sadness no matter what the fuck I did, and it was hard to find the point of getting physically healthy when my brain just didn’t feel well. In response, he suggested I try to get cold.
When one is outside, cold, a host of physical things happen. Our fingers and toes go numb. Our eyes tear. Our skin changes color, A simple warm hand on the back of a neck suddenly feels amazing. Essentially, the physical reminder that one is alive snaps us to, brings us out of our feelings and into our bodies.
I use this tactic constantly, even though it has been nearly TEN YEARS since the conversation (Koji, do you even remember suggesting this?). Point is, it works. There is even an extra bonus in the ecstacy of warming up after the cold.
4. Practice. When the mind disassociates it is protecting us from some shit that is almost certainly completely terrible. I am grateful that I don’t remember all the details of my various traumas. What I *do* recall is just plain sad and I honestly don’t like to focus on it too much. BUT! I am aware that I got very, very good at disassociation with practice, and now I will need to practice staying right here in my body to get good at not doing it.
When I find myself disassociating, I practice trying to stay put instead. I say nice things to myself. I thank my body and I thank my mind for serving me as they have and I challenge myself to stay present, just a little bit longer. I practice being present all throughout the day, so that in moments when I feel triggered I am well versed in the art of sitting with it. I give myself props, daily, for all the times when I stay right there with myself.
I go for progress, not perfection. Because I think it is worthwhile to be awake for my life, and I trust that doing the best I can do is bound to be good enough.
Is November truly about to be upon us?! I almost cannot believe how fast 2015 is going. It’s truly incredible!
How are you holding up, dear readers? The holiday time is decidedly upon us, and with U.S. Thanksgiving about to pop up, I am finding myself extra steeped in gratitude for friends, family, and my relative safety in this tumultuous world we live in . I think it is extremely important to slow down and marinate on the shit you feel good about this time of year, all the while remembering to recall that we are on some seriously stolen land here. To be real, I think Thanksgiving is a bit much with the way it pretends that its about how the pilgrims and Native Americans all sat down smily faced and shared some corn on the cob. Is it possible to hold the tension of gratitude for one’s current situation and acknowledgment of past injustice? I think so. At least I am going to give it a shot.
The below list is a categorized big ole hunk of Internet love. Most of these things were published in the month of October, but a few I was just a bit late to reading. No mind though! Great content is great content, regardless of when it is stumbled upon.
Health and Fitness:
Body image, self-esteem, and eating disorder recovery: