Friday, January 25, 2013
Peanut Butter. Lots of it.
Let's set something straight: Veganism is not an eating disorder. Choosing to restrict certain classes of foods (meat, dairy, eggs, carbohydrates, fats..) is typical of an eating disorder, and some people do choose to identify themselves as vegan or vegetarian in order to hide their true problem. But veganism, in and of itself, is a moral and ethical lifestyle choice. Like keeping kosher or halal, it requires following dietary guidelines. These guidelines are relatively simple: Do not consume anything that caused/causes harm to another living being. Eat foods that come from the earth. Get nutrients from plant-based sources. On a healthy vegan diet, it is very easy to meet all of your nutritional needs (and more), enjoy treats like pancakes and coconut milk ice cream, dine at restaurants, and maintain a healthy weight. Far from the wan, ashen stereotype of tofu, rice and steamed broccoli-fed vegan, most vegans are vibrant, of average weight (some even fall above average) and in great health.
I am not an average vegan. I hope from my previous posts you understand that. I am a vegan WITH an eating disorder. Not someone with an eating disorder masked as veganism. I truly believe in the underlying tenants of veganism, and will stop at nothing to make sure animals gain the rights they deserve. Veganism is more than food to me. It is my life. I don't buy products tested on animals, wear wool, leather, silk, buy beeswax candles.. you get the point. Even our dogs are vegan.
But in order to get treatment for my eating disorder-the best treatment possible-I cannot eat a vegan diet. This reality kept me from seeking treatment for weeks, even months. I teetered on the edge of illness as I debated whether or not to go into a hospital where the best they could do was provide vegetarian food. Vegetarian? That meant I'd be eating dairy. And eggs. And who knows how 'purely' vegetarian it would be. What about the medications? I'm sure there would be gelatin on the capsules. And mixed cooking surfaces. And the source of the dairy? Certainly not the least harmful (if such a thing truly exists).
And then I realized, with the help of others close to me, that I cannot succeed as an activist if I continue to fall deeper into my eating disorder. Yes, eating as a vegetarian would be incredibly trying, emotionally and physically, but I had no other real choices to restore weight and get the care I need. There were a few programs offering vegan food, but they weren't well known and were not covered by insurance. And so I took the plunge.
I went first to one inpatient center where what was served barely qualified as healthy, nourishing food. I ate more yogurt than one human being should possibly ingest. And lots of chickpeas, iceberg salad, saltines, and peanut butter. I still managed to retain a mostly vegan diet. I didn't eat much 'real' food, however, and felt like I was stuck in an eating disordered pattern of picking items and cobbling them into a meal. There was never an entree option that felt even close to edible. I was not challenged, and felt even further from recovery.
I am now at an incredible treatment center, and while I cannot be vegan here either, I feel compassion from my team. I am given ample amounts of digestive aids (learning to love Lactaid), am eating tons of peanut butter, nuts, creatively cooked tofu, lentils, and other great proteins. Yes, there is dairy in my meal plan. Most days, it is very difficult to put my morals aside and eat the food. I feel like a traitor as I take the first bite, but my peers and my team support me and my veganism, and remind me of the good I can do once I am strong and healthy enough to return home to my activism. We constantly discuss my goals and values regarding veganism and animal rights, and I have options (again, peanut butter and jelly, veggie burgers, tofu with rice or couscous) when I need them. But I'm challenged, too, which is critical to the healing process. I am learning to eat foods I've been afraid of for so long, and I'm living through it. There are plenty of foods on the menu that are vegan by design, and that's wonderful. I feel like I am re-learning how to eat. I am gaining a new acceptance of my body's needs, and a whole new appreciation for peanut butter and its many uses.
That is not to say that this is easy. Every meal is a battle, still. There are some days where I just sit and cry before I take my first bite. How can I not? I know the truth behind my morning yogurt, the quiche I had at lunch, the cheese in my stuffed squash. I know. I know too much. I feel the food in my stomach, and while I should be proud of myself for eating a scary food, the fear and guilt is amplified by the pain I know the animals experienced. It is so hard to reconcile these feelings. I'm pleased to be moving ahead in my recovery, but conflicted because I know I had to use animals in the process. It is not my choice, and if I could have gone to a center where veganism was an option, I would have. But this is my best hope at recovery. I am feeling closer to..me..than ever before. I know when I leave, I will return to my vegan lifestyle. And I share my pride in my veganism and animal rights with others here. They are genuinely curious, and I've had wonderful conversations. I cannot wait to be healthy, strong, and energized for more protests, more volunteering, and more work in the realm of animal rights (but more on that when the news is official :) )
Thanks for reading. Comments are welcome, as always.