The New York Times article “When Chocolate and Chakras Collide” triggered a cascade of associations for me around yoga, food and eating disorders. I am a proponent of any diet that makes you feel well in both body and mind, and that one person’s food can literally be another person’s poison. I truly appreciate the dilemma that many folks face when they decide to commit fully to the precepts and teachings of yoga, but I also think there is another side to the story – that of “rules and restrictions.”
A young anorexic
At the tender age of 13 I became a strict vegetarian, denouncing my mother’s New Orleans culinary gifts of fried chicken, chicken fried steak, jambalaya and pork fat french fries. You see, at age 11 I started practicing Yoga. Mom brought home the Jane Fonda Workout and the Raquel Welch Yoga videos, which became my daily obsession and ritual. Along with my new found love of movement and my body, I began to create a lot of new rules around food. I lost all of my baby fat … and then some.
By age 12, I had gone from 95 pounds to an anorexic 65 pounds. I was so proud of myself. Food became intolerable, and I kicked my mother’s cooking to the curb. I insisted on controlling every drop of oil that went into my body, no mayonnaise, no lard, no butter, etc. My love of yoga supported my new diet. My yogic beliefs included a strict interpretation of “ahimsa” or non-violence, which translated into to eating light on the food chain as a vegan. It also helped me to maintain my weight loss.
Phase 2: Bulimia
Fast forward to college … I met many other women who had similar concerns about their food. We were dancers and budding yoginis (go figure) and our obsessions supported each others’ bizarre habits. One of my new favorite tricks was to purge, just like my hero Jane Fonda. When one of my best friends ended up in the hospital, emaciated and on a death-watch, I finally woke up to my eating disorder and my pain.
My journey back to nourishing myself was a roller coaster of unraveling beliefs, admissions of trauma and internal growth. I began to study massage and thankfully comforted myself with an even deeper practice of yoga and meditation, and developed what is now my Core Integration program. Well into my recovery, at age 23, I moved to Santa Monica, our nations’ Yoga capital. For the next few years, I was still a strict vegan, but I had indeed kicked my bulimia and anorexia. Though no longer “acting out” my disease, I still struggled to like myself.
Somewhere around 30, I had a revelation. I was so sick of building rules around food! There were so many NOs in my life: no meat, no butter, no mayonnaise, no eggs. I had skewed a great dislike of myself into my need to punish myself and control food. It amounted to a lot of negativity that scared my family, friends and boyfriends. I finally made a connection: all of the NOs were keeping me in a perpetual state of closure, denial, restriction and fear. What if I just started saying YES to everything (well, almost everything) including the foods I had demonized?
And that was it! I turned the ahimsa around and stopped assaulting myself with my own propaganda. I started to taste everything with the taste buds of an optimist, and my heart finally opened. In fact, I met my husband who is so loving, supportive and not a vegetarian!
What do you choose?
Look at yourself and your rules around eating. Are they destabilizing you or empowering you? What if you said YES where you’ve been saying NO? There are many reasons to be a vegan, and just as many arguments to be an omnivore … And many will say it depends on your body or blood type.
With great respect for all your conscious choices, I look forward to your response, and of course, totally respect your decision!
If you are a loved one have an eating disorder, please seek out help, these diseases can be fatal, you are not alone, and you can heal!