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Making Peace With The Food On My Plate: Healing Anorexia
By Gena Hamshaw

Personally speaking, I haven’t always loved food, and food hasn’t always loved me. I was hit with anorexia early in my teens, and I struggled for thirteen years after to regain balance and health.

In my early twenties, I put my weapons down and committed to making peace with the food on my plate. In working toward a lasting recovery, I became attuned to the suffering of animals within our food system and started to explore a vegan diet. Veganism allowed me to see that the act of eating could be more than a source of personal anguish or an outlet for self-control.

Eating can be a powerful means of doing good in the world–good for the body, good for the planet, and good for our animal neighbors.

Becoming vegan was also my introduction to the joys of cooking, which I began to explore in my tiny, postage-stamp-sized New York City kitchen. Cooking didn’t come easily to me at first. I didn’t grow up in the kitchen, and my eating disorder had broken my connection with food. In many ways, cooking was everything I feared: it was unpredictable and messy, pitted with trial and error. It demanded humor and patience, and it left me little room for rigidity.

Over time, though, and in spite of my initial misgivings, I came to embrace the cooking process. In learning to celebrate its imperfections, I began to forgive my own. My mind began to find quiet in the rhythms of chopping, stirring, and experimenting. The rituals of touching and selecting ingredients began taking over where resistance once lived, and perfectionism slipped away. I was scared at first – the identity I’d constructed in honor of restriction was shifting dramatically – but I kept going

As anyone who has healed from an eating disorder can attest, it is anything but a linear process. My early years as a vegan were still marked by food fears and alarmism – the tendency we sometimes call orthorexia – and I hadn’t yet learned how to embrace food as a form of pleasure, rather than a nutritional prescription. In its early days, this blog was focused on raw foods and detoxification, an emphasis that I’ve left behind as I grow into a more soulful, grounding experience with food.

Nowadays, I eat to live and I live to eat. I celebrate the nourishing properties of my meals, but I also create recipes with a sense of fun, an awareness that not every ingredient needs to serve a nutritional purpose.

The Full Helping was born in and out of a desire to celebrate food and its many gifts. It began as an online recipe box, but it has become so much more. Nowadays, this blog serves as a chronicle of my evolution with food, as well as a celebration of the meals that have helped me to heal.

This blog is also a community. I welcome readers to share their own observations and stories surrounding food. My Green Recovery Series and other food/healing posts highlight the ways in which food and self-acceptance can intersect. My weekend reading posts highlight articles that touch on health, wellness, and animal rights. It’s my goal to provide a safe space for informed and respectful discussion, and I work to keep the blog free of nutrition dogma or alarmism.

It’s my hope that this online space will give you permission to celebrate your appetites, one recipe at a time. To a life in full.

Hot Topics in Eating Disorder Treatment

On Friday, I was honored to be a part of a conversation titled “Hot Topics in Eating Disorder Treatment,” hosted by Castlewood Treatment Centers and Balanced Eating Disorder Treatment Center here in New York City. The workshop’s moderators were Tammy Beasley and Melainie Rogers, both registered dietitians who specialize in Eating Disorder(ED) treatment.

One of the topics under discussion was whether or not vegans can and should be treated in high-level, in-patient care. Tammy and Melainie invited me to share about my own recovery and relationship to veganism; I also shared a sample, 4,000 kcal outpatient meal plan.

For years, it has been the policy of many ED treatment centers not to accommodate vegan diets (vegetarianism is usually OK). This leaves vegan patients in the position of making potentially painful dietary choices or trying to “go it alone” with their care. I have the sense that many treatment providers are starting to question whether this stance is tenable, given a rapidly expanding vegan population in the US. Yet there’s very little research available to inform how vegans would be treated at higher levels of care, and many ED dietitians lack familiarity with plant-based diets and the foods that are available within them.

I was candid about the fact that I’ve never experienced in-patient care myself and that my ED preceded my veganism; in other words, I don’t have much perspective on re-feeding as a vegan eater. But I do feel that veganism has been an integral part of my healing process. I had regained physical vitality by the time I transitioned from being vegetarian to vegan, but I hadn’t yet made peace with food. Veganism animated my choices with a sense of purpose, compassion, and connection to life, and it turned out to be the cornerstone that I needed.

Veganism wasn’t a cure: it was part of a much bigger process of healing and self-examination that was only possible with extensive therapy and support. And I understand that the lifestyle that has been so healing for me can be a trigger or a hindrance to other people with restrictive histories. Melainie noted that vegetarian diets often serve as “smoke and mirrors” for the disease, and of course it’s important to acknowledge this, creating the necessary vigilance around it.

But I know that my experience with veganism isn’t singular, either, and my intention in sharing at the workshop was to acknowledge my own story and others. For those who are already firmly rooted in a vegan lifestyle when the ED develops, I believe that dedicated, well-researched vegan treatment options would serve as a compassionate expansion of the healing space. If I’ve learned anything about ED recovery, it’s that the process looks very different for each person; all the more reason for us to pave all of the pathways with informed guidance and support.

To continue reading about other hot topics discussed at this workshop click here

My Books:

Power Plates is officially available for pre-order! Focused on the art of crafting complete, balanced meals that deliver sustained energy and nourishment, this book features 100 compelling and delicious recipes that just happen to be vegan. Every recipe contains the key macronutrients of healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and proteins, which together make for a sustaining meal–things like Smoky Red Lentil Stew with Chard, and Falafel Bowls with Freekah and Cauliflower. Additional tips and tricks for taking food on the go, and for cooking ahead on the weekend for quick weekday lunches and dinners, round out the collection.

I’m also the author of Food52 Vegan (Ten Speed Press, 2015) and Choosing Raw (Da Capo Lifelong, 2014). In these two books, you’ll find a wide array of simple, appealing vegan recipes to satisfy any and all tastes.

Gena Hamshaw Bio:

I’m Gena, voice of The Full Helping, certified nutritionist, cookbook author, and passionate vegan food educator. This space is where I share nourishing plant-based recipes, stories of self-care and self-discovery, and resources to help you explore an informed and compassionate relationship with food.

Back to May 2018 Issue.

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COMMENT (1) | animal consiousness, food, health
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Comments

One Response to “Making Peace With The Food On My Plate: Healing Anorexia”

  1. Tracey West
    June 20th, 2018 @ 1:46 am

    As a healed bulimic and vegan, I’ve found this particularly interesting to read.

    Thank you for penning the article Gena and well done on finding your feet again.

    Life is full of challenges, you’ve done a great job so far.

    #respect

    Tracey x

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