Unfortunately after I graduated I slipped back to some of my old ways. I was still struggling with gastritis and other digestive issues and doing endless research online to find the “perfect healing diet”. This is where I found veganism, specifically the high-carb low-fat vegan diet. I started following all of these Youtube channels with skinny, shiny women promoting this diet where you can eat as much as you want and as long as it is vegan and low fat you won’t gain weight. I dived straight into this whole-foods based diet. I was convinced I was doing the right thing for myself as well as the planet and the animals. My diet took on this new moral value instead of simply being a way to control my body.
On one hand it was great as after years of calorie counting and restriction I finally let go and allowed myself t eat as much as my body wanted. This meant loads of fruit, potatoes, grains etc. At first I felt amazing with this new found freedom and I genuinely believed I had found the golden ticket. However, in reality my eating disorder had just morphed into something new that I didn’t recognise: orthorexia nervosa. This is an obsession with eating healthy food to the point where it controls your life. I might have been allowing myself to eat more but food was still taking centre stage in my life. I spent so much time reading and watching videos/ documentaries on the vegan diet, talking about veganism, writing about veganism, taking photos of my food for instagram etc..
At the time it was fun and I genuinely enjoyed it. It’s crazy how eating disorders can shift and manipulate you. I know my parents were worried about me at this time thinking that I had switched from one restrictive disorder to another but I couldn’t see it. I was in denial and so defensive if they ever brought it up. I gained this self-righteousness that I was following the way and they just didn’t understand. I tried not to be preachy and annoying but I definitely was! I was always the odd one out at social events and had to bring my own special food. I pretended that it didn’t bother me but of course it did. I started to feel so isolated and dived into the online world and groups of vegans where I could feel like I belong. This only pushed me away from my real life friends and left me feeling insecure and lonely.
Around this time I also got back into exercise as a way to control the stress from my new graduate job. Again I thought that this time was different because I was weight lifting instead of spending hours on cardio machines. But I was still using exercise as a way to manipulate my body, following fitness influencers and trying their workout programs to look like them. I was still choosing to go to the gym instead of socialising and still pushing myself to exercise when my body was crying out for rest. By this time I was struggling with insomnia and feeling exhausted ALL of the time but instead of letting go and allowing my body to heal I continued to exercise on a daily basis using pre-workout and coffee to drag myself through.
So it won’t come as a surprise when I tell you that my periods disappeared again (if you could count the couple of feeble periods I had as them returning). After a year I was back in the doctors office and this time something showed up on an ultra-sound scan that I hadn’t seen before. Small cysts over both of my ovaries. With this and blood test results which showed low estrogen and elevated testosterone, I was diagnosed with PCOS and the doctor told me I might never be able to conceive naturally. This was such a bombshell I literally cried for days afterwards. I was angry at myself thinking that my behaviours had caused this and I was screwed for life.
My doctor recommended that I took birth control pills to regulate my cycle but I knew straight away that this wasn’t something I wanted. It just didn’t seem to make sense to add extra synthetic hormones into my already imbalanced system. Plus I knew that it would be a fake period and was really only masking the problem. Once I’d calmed down I (again) turned to the internet. This time looking for natural ways to heal PCOS. I found an amazing community where omen were healing PCOS naturally via a plant-based diet. As I was vegan already I was like bring it on and jumped straight in to the 8 week program.
This was only fuel for the fire of my eating disorder. Of course in the mindset I was in this was exactly what I wanted to hear and I carried on down my orthorexia path with my food choices getting stricter and stricter over time. I spent months trying to do various detoxes and cleanses – raw food, fruit diets, smoothie cleanses.. Foods that I had previously thought were healthy under the high-carb low-fat diet banner such as bread and pasta now moved into the “unhealthy” category. I became more and more attached to my healthy food choices so that it became part of my identity to be the “health nut”. I rewired my brain to think that ordinary foods were toxic for my body and I became afraid of them.
Am I saying that veganism is unhealthy or “orthorexic”? No!! Am I saying that exercising and wanting to tone up is unhealthy? Again, no!! What I am saying is that the mindset I had at the time was unhealthy. I was over-controlling and the reasons behind my choices were out of fear and anxiety about what would happen if I chose otherwise. Maybe you’re reading this and you think well I do these things and I’m perfectly healthy. Maybe that’s true and if it is then good for you. However, I know that there a a whole bunch of girls out there (guys too but this is aimed at women) who are trapped in this cycle of obsessive thoughts. The easy access to information that the internet brings only makes this worse. You only have to look at the number of “what I ate today” and body transformation videos on Youtube to see this collective pre-occupation with food and fitness.
In Part 3 I will talk about what finally motivated me to recover and what this process has been like for the last 5 years.