No One Plans to Develop an Eating Disorder
from Breaking Vegan by Jordan Younger
Right after the initial plant-based cleanse and my decision to start eating vegan, I took a road trip from Sacramento to LA with my best friend Jillian to start our last semester of college. When we stopped to get gas on our way out of town, Jill looked me up and down and said, “Holy shit, Jo! I have never seen you this tiny!” Of course I played it off like I barely knew what she was talking about (“Who, me?!”), but inside I was glowing because I knew that my outer frame reflected the mind-body connection I was developing with my plant-based diet.
The drive is six hours long, so midway through we stopped to get something to eat. Jillian got orange chicken and vegetable fried rice from a Chinese takeout place—yes, I’m that creepy friend who remembers people’s orders verbatim years later—while I cracked open my leftover butternut squash soup from the cleanse and ate a few big spoonfuls until I felt satisfied. I remember the look on her face that very clearly read, “That’s all you’re going to eat?” and then her many attempts to get me to try a bite of her deep-fried chicken. It was a no-go.
We chatted the drive away about life, the wild New Year’s Eve we’d just had in San Francisco, and how panicked I was to run into my now ex-boyfriend once the semester started back up. We were planning to go to a pajama-themed party that evening and decided that when we got back into town, we would go shopping for cute matching pajamas. (Jillian ended up swapping her pajamas with my friend Sarah at the party.) I wanted to have some kind of plant-based snack beforehand because the soup barely sustained me for more than an hour, but I didn’t have any snacks with me and it made more sense to drive straight to the mall. I told myself it was fine—I could embrace the empty feeling, as I’d done many times before.
But as we shopped, I felt myself getting hungrier and hungrier, to the point where I felt like I could faint at any moment. By the time we picked out the perfect heart-printed boxers and matching white tees and were standing in line to buy them, I told Jillian if we didn’t get dinner immediately, I thought I might pass out. We had only one small issue: Neither of us knew of any restaurants where I could order clean vegan food and she could order something non-vegan, or what I started learning from there on out to refer to as “regular” food.
We researched up a storm on our phones and learned that one of our favorite pizza places in Venice Beach also had a farm-fresh seasonal veggie plate. Score! Now the concern was getting there before my stomach chomped away at itself. Jillian kept offering that we go into a Starbucks and grab a snack for me or at least a protein bar, but I was so determined to stick to my cleanse (even though it was over), I wasn’t going to stop until we found plain steamed vegetables and/or a piece of fruit.
We went back to the car to drive to the restaurant, and by the grace of God, we made it there before my stomach ate itself and my mind along with it. I knew the service at this particular restaurant was usually quick, so I figured things would be fine once we walked in. But, of course, there was a long line, and my hope dwindled yet again. I actually remember thinking that if I could just get to the front of the line, place my order, and get a glass of water, then I could suck on the lemons from the condiments bar until the food came. (Crazy-town, right?)
Alas, there were no lemons to be had, and the fifteen-minute wait was one of the most uncomfortable and agonizing experiences I can recall in my life. What I was experiencing wasn’t just run-of-the-mill hunger; this was two months’ worth of extreme deprivation and a week spent on purely fruits and veggies with no grains, fats, or sugar whatsoever. My body was running on zero.
Jillian’s food came first, and despite the misery of my hunger, I refused to take even the tiniest bite of her pizza to hold myself over. It wasn’t even an option in my mind because I was so afraid it would derail all the hard work I had put in to cleanse my system and feel good. When my veggie plate finally came to the table, however, I went to town on the broccoli, brussels sprouts, and leafy greens. I ignored the beans, raisins, and pesto on the plate even though they looked delicious and satisfying because I was trying hard to hold on to the “cleanse” guidelines (fruits, veggies, and nuts only). It was a wonder I had any self-control left because I had reached a level of hunger I didn’t know was possible—but I was still learning, I told myself. It was my first week on a plant-based diet, and there was no way I was going to give up that light and energized feeling it gave me.
From that night on, I learned to be ultra-prepared when it came to packing snacks in between my tiny meals, and I also learned that overeating, even of plant-based foods, always led to feelings of guilt and self-loathing. To me, this was another step toward controlling the exact amount of food I put into my body and another brick in the wall when it came to mentally correlating my food intake and my happiness level…
To say I was obsessed would be an understatement. And now I see why. The strict diet helped me feel extraordinary when I was very fearful of being ordinary. I was twenty-two and at a huge turning point. A very important and serious relationship in my life had just ended, I was about to graduate college and enter the world as a post-grad, and I was on the verge of moving across the country and living away from California for the first time…
I wanted very much to excel at what I loved and to find great success in doing it, but I was extremely fearful that my MFA endeavors would lead me to nothing more than a desk job that I wasn’t passionate about. I knew I had it in me to write the fiction I had been jotting down and dreaming up in my head for years, but I had no idea whether I could carry it out as a career or whether anyone would care. Veganism was something I could hold on to—something so clear in its principles, there was no way I could fail.
Plus, it was just out-of-the-ordinary enough that it gave me an identity when I was so desperately searching for one to latch on to. Even deeper, it was the one way I could maintain the “happy” stomach state I experienced from eating next to nothing… except with veganism, I could actually eat fruits and veggies and drink fresh juices while maintaining the “benefits” of more or less starving myself…
No one plans to develop an eating disorder. No one plans to become an addict. No one wants to feel the pain and difficulty of going through something hard in order to come out on the other side, but sometimes things just happen, and we have to roll with it. Veganism gave me something to hang on to during a time when I needed unyielding reassurance. Eventually I would find my way toward a more balanced life, but I still had a ways to go before getting there. And before it got better, it got a whole lot worse.
(Photo: Jordan Younger)
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