Whether we see it in a commercial, hear our moms in a dressing room, or read a magazine, the message is everywhere. How can you fix your body? How can you be better, tighter, skinnier, prettier?? Our society constantly tells us that unless we have the perfect body, we should hate ours.
Adopting the vegan lifestyle has been the single best thing I ever did for myself. I freed myself of years of self-loathing, body image dysfunction, and the constant negative voice in my head telling me that I would be more popular and more successful, all if I could just get skinnier. I have finally achieved body peace (though I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a process).
I remember the first time I felt fat. I was in fourth grade and weighed 80 lbs. I was playing with my neighbors, who were younger and taller than I was, and I remembered them saying they weighed 60 lbs. My heart started racing as I realized I was a whopping 20 lbs. heavier than they were. Suddenly, I set into an irrational panic that I was going to break the swing set we were playing on.
When I was in 7th grade, I began Weight Watchers. It was nearing the summer and my mom (a lifetime member) thought it would be a good time for us to get in shape. We did really well one week, each of us losing about 4 lbs., so we decided promptly to treat ourselves to a Krispy Kreme doughnut. I couldn’t know at the time, but that exact mentality became a huge part of my disordered eating, and I think it’s a huge issue in our country.
Unlike my parents, whose parents scrimped and scraped just to put enough food on the table for the family, I grew up in a time when any and all food was everywhere. And because I was chubby, I fell down a rabbit hole of diet food that was supposedly “better” for me. My favorite was a SlimFast fettuccine pasta. Now even at 13, you’d think I’d know enough about food to know that pasta stuffed with milk and cheese was not good for me, but how could that be when the box boasted that it was low in fat and only xyz calories? I couldn’t argue with facts.
And so for most of my adolescent years, I did a dance most girls do. I struggled with eating as much junk food as I wanted and then purging for a week with Diet Coke and Special K snacks. I couldn’t understand how my friends, who were all twigs, constantly dipped candy into ranch dressing and still remained thin. By the time I was a senior in high school, I weighed 138 lbs., which for my 4’8’’ frame put me in the obese category.
The sad thing about the world we live in is that in all this time I was trying to be skinny, I never cared about being healthy. I was unathletic, and therefore loathed exercising because I equated it with running laps. But a major shift happened for me as I was accepted into the university of my dreams - the Webster Conservatory of Theatre Arts, where I would study musical theatre.
I knew what a grueling training process in which I was about to immerse myself. I heard rumors that they made us jump rope every single day. I knew I’d be dancing more than I ever had in my life, and I wanted to thrive. I had worked so hard to get into a BFA program and that was only the beginning of my life as a professional actress. For the first time in my life, I got serious about my health. I cut out soda, red meat, and white bread and I did 30-minute cardio dance/yoga videos every day. I felt good! I knew I had a long way to go, but I was on the road to health. I learned that I could be active without having to play basketball. I learned how much I love to sweat. I learned that I love plyometrics and kickboxing (who knew?!). I learned that I am strong.
And then, the summer before my junior year of college, I read Skinny Bitch. It preached so many of the healthy living techniques I had been working toward (I had gone completely vegetarian about a year before) but it finally made things click. I went vegan cold turkey and I mean, super vegan. I stayed away from all processed foods for about 60 days. I felt better than I had ever felt in my whole life. I finally had the body I wanted. But for me, old habits had a way of dying hard and I initially approached Veganism as any other diet: a weight-loss solution. I hadn’t yet adopted it as a healthy lifestyle choice. It was still just a means to an end.
I glorified myself and my progress. I was obsessed. I posted a giant sign on my door that said “100!” I was convinced I would stay vegan until I reached 100 lbs. Even through my dramatic weight loss, I would look in the mirror and still only see my flaws, my fat. And though I loved my vegan diet, I didn’t think it was good enough. I unsuccessfully tried the master cleanse. I went raw vegan for about 11 days, but no matter what I did I could never dip lower than 103 lbs. I always told myself I loved food far too much to actually commit to have an eating disorder, but clearly my eating, and even more importantly, the way I talked to myself was very disordered.
So I hated my body when I was heavier, and I hated it even more when I was at my “goal” weight. The problem was never my body. It was what I thought about it.
Somewhere along the line, I discovered my love of cooking. It was yet another creative outlet through which I could try new things and take risks. I had been vegan for almost a year at that point and had finally accepted that maybe I would never weigh 100 lbs. Instead of investing loads of energy in trying to fix my body, I decided to accept it. I would continue to fuel my body with healthy vegan foods because I figured out that I loved eating that way. Veganism has allowed me to keep healthy foods at the core of my diet. Five years ago, if I had a choice between a plate of nachos and a plate of veggies, 10 times out of 10 I would choose the nachos. The thing is that now, I would still choose the nachos… but my nachos are filled with real, whole foods, fresh veggies, and tons of fiber. See the thing is, I still love to eat. I still love to indulge. But I no longer rip myself apart or allow myself to feel guilty about my food or my eating.
Today, I couldn’t tell you what a weigh, because I do not own a scale. I know that I am healthy. I am active. I am happy. I fuel my body with the food it needs. I am at peace with my body.