Disclaimer: Those who have had issues with body dysmorphia or are currently experiencing issues with body dysmorphia should be advised as the following article may contain sensitive topics.
When I first went plant based, it was not because I cared about animals, the environment or because I wanted to stop eating animal products. To be completely honest, I had no idea that plant-based diets were up and coming until I came across a blog post about how high carb – low fat plant-based diets were good for weight loss. This instantly got my attention. I was looking for anything that would help me to continue to lose weight and I had failed so many times in the past so I figured I might as well give this a shot. I started this near the end of eleventh grade knowing that my parents would not be pleased about having to accommodate my eating restrictions as it was more work on their part. I was almost 17 at the time, which meant I was more than capable of cooking for myself. When I told my parents that this was something I wanted to try, their reaction was exactly what I had expected. They told me that I was free to make my own decisions, but if I wasn’t going to eat what they cooked for the family for dinner I would have to cook for myself, which was exactly what I wanted.
Eating plant-based was yet another perfect way to cover my restrictive eating habits. I was in charge of cooking all my own meals, which allowed me to control exactly what I ate and easily track my calories. Because I was not eating animal products, it wasn’t weird if I didn’t eat what was cooked for dinner, as my family did not eat a lot of plant-based meals. There were periods of time where I ate nothing but berries and low-calorie veggies, and I felt extremely proud of myself for doing so. I would get comments from some of my friends at school about how healthy I was eating and how they admired me for having the discipline to change my diet so drastically. It was easy for me to avoid eating when we went for dinners or barbeques at friends’ houses, nor was it weird for me not to eat on days when my friends and I decided to make a run to fast food joints near the high school for lunch. Most of the food I liked to indulge in was not plant-based, so this helped keep me from binging on unhealthy foods after school. No one ever questioned what I was eating, why I politely turned down the offer of a cookie or a bite of pizza, or why I ‘decided to eat before’ going to a restaurant in case it ‘didn’t have any options for me’. For a while, this seemed like the perfect way to keep pushing my unhealthy habits along while allowing for minimal binging and purging. But as I had failed my diets many times before, I failed again.
This time around, my failure was more of a strategic move. That summer, on my seventeenth birthday, I had all four of my wisdom teeth removed about a week before my mom and I hit the road for a small trip. I know that over the two weeks that we would be gone, she would be in a much better position to observe what I was eating. Keeping a 750 a day calorie diet would be hard to do on the trip and spending two weeks traveling with my mom was going to make it even harder. There was no way that I would be able to keep this up without blowing my cover. On top of that, having my wisdom teeth removed was going to limit what foods I could eat for a few days. I had maintained the plant-based diet for about six weeks at this point and my weight had begun to move again in a downwards trend, so I decided that I would give myself a bit of a three-week break. I allowed myself to survive off ice cream and yogurt after my wisdom teeth removal and tried to eat mostly vegetarian with the occasional slip up on my two-week trip. It felt kind of nice to return to somewhat normal eating habits, despite still having the feelings of guilt and hatred towards myself and my body. But then again, I’d had these feelings for so long that at times it didn’t bother me in the slightest to feel that way about myself.
After the trip, I went back to semi-normal eating while attempting to calorie restrict on a plant-based diet. I tried my best to maintain eating habits similar to those I’d had before the trip, but three weeks of slip ups and less restrictive eating made it significantly more difficult. Eventually, September rolled around again, and I found myself back in school with only a slightly smaller number on the scale than in June. I decided to give the plant-based diet another serious try. This time around, I did a lot more research and watched many heartbreaking videos on animal cruelty in the food and farming industry. I’ve always loved animals, but these videos really opened my eyes and made it easy for me to jump back into my plant-based diet without looking back. I started again with my restrictive eating habits, but this time around I noticed a small change in my mindset.
Although a plant-based lifestyle really reinforced the mental line between good foods and bad foods, it had softened the one surrounding calorie intake. I began to realize how much I could eat on a whole food plant-based diet while still maintaining a lower calorie intake. I slowly began to stop counting my calories and allow myself to incorporate more calorie dense foods such as rice or crackers. After about a month, I had almost stopped calorie counting completely. I still continued to check the nutritional labels for serving size and calories per serving before eating something, and I don’t think this is a habit I will ever break, but I felt a sense of relief when I finally reached a point where I stopped mentally trying to add up my daily calories. It didn’t take much longer for the mental line between good foods and bad foods to begin to fade as well. This line is still engraved in my mind, but I was able to incorporate some ‘bad foods’ into my diet without feeling completely overcome by failure and guilt between each bite.
Despite the fact I had started to repair my relationship with food and almost completely stopped calorie counting, binging and purging, I still had a long way to go. I could not manage to shake the feeling of discomfort in my own body. I still felt like everyone’s eyes constantly followed me around, picking apart my body and highlighting the ugly parts. When it came time to begin prom dress shopping, I didn’t want to go. I was scared I wouldn’t be able to find a dress that made me feel pretty and the thought of seeing all those thin girls in beautiful dresses in the mirrors around me made me wish I could cut away the parts of my body I didn’t like. I had shaken my destructive eating habits, but I couldn’t shake the feelings of guilt whenever I ate and the negative feelings towards my body. My body weight continued to fluctuate, graduation came and went, and eventually summer did too. When September rolled around again, I headed away to university with the hope that with a new setting would come a fresh start and a healthier mind set. I had been told before that university is where your personal growth is the highest and I was excited to see what Queen’s had in store for me. I had no idea that as I managed to grow out of old problems, new, tougher ones would arise.