The background (why I feel so strongly about a flexible, non-restrictive approach to food and lifestyle)
I wish that I could tell you that my relationship with food and exercise has always been positive, but that, unfortunately, couldn’t be further from the truth. For almost ten years (from ages 11-20), I struggled with an eating disorder that swung between anorexia and orthorexia.
Up until my pre-teens, I didn’t pay much attention to what I put into my body or how much exercise I got in a given day. I had access to plenty of food at home and kept active by playing recreational sports, running around at recess, and walking to and from school. All of that changed when I started in a pre-competitive gymnastics program at age 10. Girls around me seemed to be hyper focused on body image, and as an impressionable girl with perfectionistic tendencies, I really began to notice and scrutinize my body for the first time.
Gradually, I started to eat less and exercise more. At first, I operated under the guise of wanting to “eat healthier,” as I told my family and friends. I became obsessed with looking at recipe books and food magazines, particularly ones which provided nutrition facts along with the recipes. I took a keen interest in cooking, but not for enjoyment so much as being able to control my intake.
By the end of that year, I had dropped some weight, though I still looked healthy. I continued on into an entry level competitive team the next year, while the weight continued to fall off of my already petite frame. I remember feeling cold and tired all of the time, yet never expressed this to anyone around me. At school, I began to withdraw from the friend group I had been with through most of elementary school. Still, I tried my best to put on a happy face. I continued to push myself to achieve good grades and perform well at gymnastics, but I wasn’t doing so well physically or mentally.
Around this time, I decided to pick up distance running. I had always enjoyed tagging along with my parents during their runs, but this time, I believe I had one goal in mind, which was to burn calories. Sadly, the running combined with long hours at the gymnastics gym caused me to lose even more weight, so that by the end of grade six, I was much smaller than I had been at the end of the previous school year.
The sad reality of eating disorders is that the deeper you get into them, the more difficult it is to climb out. It is safe to say that by this point–the summer before grade seven–I was in a dangerous place, yet I couldn’t seem to find a way out. Somehow, I managed to continue a rigorous training schedule until everything came to a tipping point halfway through the year, and I was forced to quit gymnastics because my weight had dropped precipitously. Over the next half year, I got some of the help that I needed and started to regain my health.
I would relapse again in grade nine and grade twelve. I went vegetarian in grade eleven for ethical reasons, but I also used it as an excuse not to eat certain foods I feared. By the end of grade twelve, despite being quite sick with an eating disorder, I stubbornly assured everyone around me that I was absolutely okay, did not need help, and was on the road to recovery. This was not to be. Once I started eating more, I became terrified of losing my thin runner’s physique, so I also started exercising more than ever before. This, of course, meant that any gains from eating more were negated by the caloric burn of my daily running and weight workouts. I continued in this way for my first two years of university, and missed out on a lot of opportunities–social opportunities, relationship opportunities, job opportunities–because I was so incredibly unhealthy and narrowly obsessed with food and exercise.
All of this is so bittersweet as it pertains to my running: I ran my fastest times when I was at my unhealthiest. In 2012, right after graduating from high school, I ran a 10 km race in under 39 minutes. In 2013, right after my first year of university, I ran a half marathon in 1 hour and 26 minutes. And then, in 2014, I ran even faster in a time of 1 hour and 25 minutes. The latter race took place shortly after I had moved to Victoria, British Columbia with my family, in hopes that leaving my childhood hometown might lead me to a healthier mindset.
In a strange way, it did. Partway through that half marathon in 2014, I endured a pelvic stress fracture. (A common injury in women who are not adequately nourished, I have now learned.) I continued running, determined to finish the race that I had trained so hard for. After crossing the finish line, I could hardly walk, let alone swing my leg over my bike to ride home. I couldn’t even celebrate my PB because I was in so much pain.
The next several months were so challenging. My body had sent a clear message that I needed to start treating it better, but I was so used to abusing it, I didn’t know where to begin. I wasn’t able to run due to the extreme pain of the stress fracture, so I was forced to take up other hobbies. I got a new job at a local food and goods store, met a bunch of new people, and gradually started to view food in a whole new light. It took many months, but I gradually loosened my grip on food and exercise. I enrolled in a holistic nutrition certificate program at Pacific Rim College, where I met so many wonderful people and was encouraged to see food as medicine rather than something to fear. As my life became more full, I no longer felt the need to spend hours a day running or working out. I still enjoyed fitness, but it no longer occupied my thoughts as it had for so many years.
It has taken a lot of work and consistent effort, but I am happy to say that I have been in a much more peaceful place since 2015. Since committing to recovery, I have been able to run several more long distance races, including a marathon in 2018. I am grateful that my body is now strong enough to run long distances without succumbing to stress fractures. While I’m not as speedy as I was from 2012-2014, and I might not have a typical distance runner’s build, running continues to have a special place in my heart. While I don’t feel amazing about myself every day, I (usually) accept myself, which is all any of us can really ask for!
my current food philosophy (and why labels and diet talk don’t have a place on my blog)
In the years between 2015 and 2020, I have deepened my knowledge of intuitive eating and a non-diet approach to food and nutrition. I certainly feel that this philosophy is in line with my attitude towards food nowadays–as long as we are also keeping in mind ethics and the environment, since those are also two very important aspects of the food system that the non-diet framework tends to ignore.
Intuitive eating, made famous by the book of the same name, encourages us to be in tune with our bodies, to learn to recognize hunger and fullness cues, and to eat in such a way that honours and respects our individual needs. I do believe that intuitive eating is one of the best frameworks to use when coming out of an eating disorder or chronic dieting. I am now at a point in my own journey where I don’t even have to think about intuitive eating, and I think that is a sign of its effectiveness. Most of the time, I eat when I feel hungry and stop when I am full, but I will never allow a lack of hunger to stop me from enjoying something delicious with people I love.
I firmly believe that dieting–in any situation where this is some component of restriction–does more harm than good. Unless there is a critical medical reason for a person to be on a particular diet, I do not believe in jumping on the diet bandwagon du jour. All of the recipes here are vegan and vegetarian, yes, but within that, I want you to give yourself permission to enjoy everything that you eat to the fullest. I will never promote a recipe as “low fat,” “skinny,” “400 calories,” etc. I am a firm believer in nourishment over deprivation. I have found that allowing myself to enjoy a wide range of foods every day–including lots of nuts, seeds, oils, quality plant-based protein, wholesome carbs, and even sweets–makes me feel healthiest and most balanced.
no nutrition facts? what gives?
I know that many readers like having nutritional information with a recipe. While I have included it in a few of my past recipes by reader request, my current policy is not to offer this information. If you have a health condition that requires you to track your nutrient intake, you can enter the ingredients from my recipes into the analyzer on Very Well Fit. 🙂
the bottom line
At the end of the day, my food philosophy comes down to this: Eating should be a pleasurable experience. Food is meant to be enjoyed, not feared. Do not stress if you fall off of the healthy food wagon for a day, a week, or a month at a time. It’s always going to be there. If you’re out having a good time, give yourself permission to enjoy that pizza, and beer to the fullest. Life is too short to sacrifice fun for a diet! Trust me. For the most part, ensure that your diet is made up of plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, and proteins, and always make room for dessert. 🙂
my current fitness philosophy
I love fitness. I live for pushing my body to its limits. My daily workouts are something that I have always looked forward to. However, like my food philosophy, I now have a fairly relaxed attitude towards physical activity. I do it because I love it and because it makes me a better person. Food tastes better to me after a hard workout, and because I have a lot of energy, I am easier to be around when I’m physically tired. Beyond that, however, I view fitness as a fun pastime, not as punishment for something I ate or a competition!
Thank you for taking the time to read about my food and fitness philosophy. I hope you’ve gotten to know me a bit better and understand why I care so deeply about making recipes that are truly nourishing to the body and soul!