I am going to put my neck out the line here and run the risk of offending – which is most definitely not my intention. I have, however, noticed the increasing number of people adopting food trends through their recovery. I regularly enjoy a salad, love my veggies and snack on nuts, but I also love ice-cream…not the coconut, dairy free stuff…the real full-fat, jersey cow stuff. I can’t imagine a BBQ without steak, burgers and sausages, and to me spaghetti bolognese is not a spag bol with courgetti – it needs proper spaghetti! I am beginning to wonder whether these lifestyle trends are becoming a justification for restriction.
The number of vegans in Britain has increased by 360% over the past decade, there is a society dedicated to veganism, and it’s now one of the fastest growing ‘lifestyle movements’ in the UK. This phrase is exactly why I have ‘beef’ with it – pardon the pun. It has become so much more than eradicating animal products from your diet. It is a trend that in my anorexic days was something I adhered to without it being labelled ‘veganism’. I basically eradicated dairy because I was scared of fat, I gave up meat because I thought it was bad for me and had more calories than fish. I then took fish out of my diet and ate only vegetables. Then carbs became an issue. I decided that I had a gluten intolerance which conveniently enabled me to skip on the bread, pasta, cakes – you know all the yummy stuff. So basically, you could say I was vegan, gluten and carb free, which to me is incredibly restrictive, unsociable and dull as hell.
In my recovery, I have had to be blatantly honest about why I choose to eat or avoid certain foods. I do not have a gluten intolerance – most of us don’t. There is a small minority who suffer from coeliac disease which means that they genuinely need to avoid gluten products, so I wonder why so many of the population avoid it. On occasion, I will choose to eat a different type of bread, but that choice is now based on taste, and not because my eating disorder wants me to restrict.
Milk is another bug bear of mine. Why has good old fashioned cow’s milk been demonised to the extent that it is now cheaper than water. Soy, rice and nut milks have replaced the fridges of supermarkets for people looking for a dairy free alternative. Again, I understand that some people have genuine medical reasons for needing to omit cow’s milk, but only around 1 in 5 people are lactose intolerant. I fear people are cutting dairy out of their daily diets because they see it as a high-fat ingredient that adds calories to their meals – yet they are seemingly happy to drink a dairy free milk that is far from natural. Many commercial brands contain numerous additives, thickeners and sweeteners. Cow’s milk is naturally an excellent source of calcium. It’s high in vitamin D and potassium and it’s a complete protein source as well.
Carbohydrates is probably the food group that’s had the longest history of negative connotations. From the Atkins to the paleo diet, we are told that carbs are the enemy. I just don’t get it…carbohydrates give us energy to get through the day. There are those who specify that only low GI carbs should be eaten, but that would require you to deny yourself a piece of cake when you are out with a friend or to eat a delicious lasagne (a dish that I have recently fell back in love with). I agree that to live on fry’s biscuits and cake would not be wise, but it’s all about balance. The same goes with sugar…sugar seems to be the latest victim from the wellness clan to be avoided. Sugar is in almost everything we eat and drink; even the natural sources found in many fruits. Whilst it might not be as nutritionally dense as some other food groups, I now enjoy so many more foods because I am freer in my choices. I don’t label any food as good or bad – my recovery is about balance and moderation.
I guess my frustration is that I have seen many Instagram accounts where people are posting pictures of their vegan pizza, vegan ice-cream, gluten free sandwich and I can’t help but feel frustrated and despondent. I know that not everyone will be using it as a smokescreen, but to me recovery is not eating a vegan pizza. A pizza deserves to be enjoyed in its full glory, made from a doughy base and covered in real gooey cheese…yes this can be mighty scary to eat when you are recovering, but to me this is real recovery. I can’t help but think that some people choose a food trend, because it feels safer, and allows a justification for their ‘off-limit’ foods.
When I was in treatment I would not have been allowed to choose vegan, dairy-free, gluten free, sugar free foods unless I had a genuine medical reason – and that’s for good reason. They knew that to regain my trust in my body and to feel comfortable eating all foods, I had to eat ALL foods. As excruciating as it felt at times, I also knew that I did not want to leave treatment thinking that the only way I could maintain my weight and recovery was to eat a certain way. I wanted freedom – real freedom and I also wanted to enjoy food. For so many years, I had denied myself so many yummy foods, that I didn’t see the point in recovering only to adopt another restrictive regime.
With all of this in mind, I do not wish to criticise anyone who chooses to abstain from certain foods. I have friends who are vegetarian or vegan because of personal and genuine reasons, and I totally respect their decision to eat this way. For those in recovery from an eating disorder, there is even a part of me that thinks perhaps it’s better for an individual recovering to adopt a certain ‘diet’ if that means they will eat. For me personally though, it’s not where I am at. I am still learning to listen to my body and to feed it not just what it needs, but also what it wants. In my anorexia, I was ‘all or nothing’ ‘black and white’ – not just in my eating, but in all areas of my life. I spent too many hours in my illness scrutinising every calorie, macro or food group; I do not want to live a life in recovery continuing to obsess over every morsel of food. These days I endeavour to let go more, be more balanced and enjoy everything in moderation. When I question the reasoning behind my own decisions, I often think of my amazing Nanny for motivation who would say…“A little bit of what you fancy does you good.”