Today’s post will be full of inspiration, encouragement, and proof that recovery works and is 100% worth it! The following interview is with Alena, one of the authors behind the successful plant-based website Nutriciously.com. Her story illustrates so beautifully how our body, hunger cues and cravings finally balance out once we learn to trust our body signals. How we can still eat healthy, but not feel restricted. She talks about her own experience with eating disorder and gives us a glimpse of her journey of how she was finally able to fully recover!
1. Please introduce yourself, who are you and what do you do?
Hi, my name is Alena, I’m a 26-year-old German girl with a passion for traveling, music, health, and wellbeing. As of now, I’m studying Social Work in a beautiful city after my education in the fields of nutrition and music therapy. I’m a rather introverted person and work from home on a plant-based nutrition website called nutriciously.com together with my partner. Other than that, I love walking through the city or along the nearby river, playing tennis, reading, and watching YouTube.
2. Please tell us a little bit about your journey in regards to eating disorders, how it started and how did you start to recover?
Just like most people, I cannot give an exact day or even year to let you know when my relationship with food changed. I do remember being ashamed of my ‘fat’ body in elementary school, restricting treats and other foods I thought to be fattening. I started throwing up my meals at the age of 10 or so and it just basically went down from that.
Because I saw women around me going on diets and being very cautious about what they were eating, I started to imitate their behavior which drove me more and more crazy. My weight always fluctuated a lot, depending on which phase of disordered eating I was going through – either just heavily restricting my calories, binging and purging, or just plain stuffing my face with ‘forbidden unhealthy food’ all day long.
Along with that came strong self-hatred, suicidal thoughts, depression, and anxiety. I was admitted to the first psych ward when I was 16, the next one when I was 17. When I finally turned 18, I decided to move into my own apartment, where I didn’t have any supervision and could indulge in my unhealthy behavior all night and day. I quit school, isolated myself and didn’t really leave the house for about 2 years – unless I wanted to binge out of course.
The first phase of my quasi-recovery was around when I was 19. I was really scared of hurting my body to a degree that was detrimental, even lethal. So I stopped the purging and binged for half a year straight. Sometimes, I patted myself on my shoulder for being so strong and good – but I still ate out of fear of my own feelings, I ate to numb myself, and always planned to restrict again once I was healthy.
One day I dared to step on the scale after half a year and the number was unbearable, so I immediately started purging and restricting again. It sent me down the rabbit hole for another 5-6 years or so. Even though I was able to socialize better despite my ED, it was still roaring in the back of my head and I used so much of my time and energy to follow an endless amount of rules.
Letting go of ANY AND ALL rules was the key for me.
I decided to start recovery for good when I discovered Elisa’s videos in the spring/summer of 2015. Everything she said made so much sense to me and it felt like all of my knowledge and experience was finally being wrapped up in her words… letting go of ANY AND ALL rules was the key for me.
I had been a vegan for 4 years already, still craving junk food, and trying to eat perfectly clean in order to get a perfect body and great health. But I was lethargic, bloated, and fighting off cravings all day. This was definitely not health.
I think getting rid of all rules and seeing all food as equal was a very brave thing to do, it downright scared me. What happened? In the beginning, I ate mostly what I was used to anyway but added in more treats and food I used to only binge out on. I couldn’t stop myself in the beginning and had to eat a whole box once I ate just one piece.
My meals throughout the day were very mixed. I started out eating bread with chocolate spread, had a salad with a sandwich for lunch, and maybe pasta for dinner. In the beginning, I remember having to eat something sweet after every meal… it was really a crucial learning process for my brain to understand that everything was allowed and available at all times.
After around 3 months or so, my portion sizes decreased again, the bloating and weight gain were still going on, but I dared to tune in and actually listen to what my body wanted. And the unexpected happened: I really did start to crave nutritious food like salad, fruit, whole grains etc.
3. How was your eating in recovery compared to now?
It was pretty crazy and experimental for the most part. I had to check over and over again if I was really still allowed to eat any food I’d like – which resulted in a whole pack of cookies for lunch some days. I think I had to prove myself that I could eat anything and still be worthy and the same person I was before, so I kind of intentionally ate the ‘crappiest’ version of all foods. I used to stick to healthier types of food, like whole grain bread for example. All of a sudden, all I wanted was white toast! Funny enough, I found out that eating this exact food helped my digestion so much.
All of a sudden, all I wanted was white toast! Funny enough, I found out that eating this exact food helped my digestion so much.
I also ate larger quantities during recovery, so anything above 2500 calories usually. I really was a bottomless pit but I was prepared for it by Elisa’s videos and wasn’t too scared. Since I had been binging for many years, my stomach was used to huge amounts of food… but it never actually felt like a binge, it never felt like losing control and being sick.
Today, I eat kind of like I always dreamed I could. I don’t have a purity mindset or want to make everything perfect! I do have quite a bit of education in the field of nutrition, so I know which foods are health-promoting and I don’t fool myself by thinking ‘all this junk won’t be harmful to me’.
Whenever I feel hungry, I ask myself what type of food I want. Should it be hot or cold, crunchy or soft, sweet or salty, etc. Of course, I already have my favorites but I always try new combinations.
I allow myself to eat anything I like – just like I allow myself to read or watch anything I like. The only condition is that the food has to make my body feel good. During recovery, I found out that my body craves starches with every meal and cannot handle fatty foods for example. So I follow these signs.
4. Tell us about your website. How you manage to promote healthy eating without it being restrictive. How did you find balance?
Okay, so around the end of my recovery, I decided to finally start a website with my boyfriend. We had been talking about this for almost a year already. He studied IT and had the know-how, I had the knowledge on food. In the beginning, it was a little weird because I was researching for my articles on healthy plant-based eating while nibbling on cookies and chocolate (literally).
But something fantastic happened: I could separate myself from this. I knew I was walking my own path and that I was free to eat anything I liked. The more I read about the benefits of whole plant-based food, the more I got excited about it and wanted to eat salads and stir fries again!
Whereas before I thought I could only be a good person if I ate healthy foods 100% of the time, I now thought: “hey, I want to feel good and be healthy, so I want to eat these great foods!” It came from a place of self-love and respect. It was very non-restrictive since I kept on eating a cookie after every dinner.
Again, the more I got in tune with my body and also learned about my self-worth that had nothing to do with my appearance, the more I was free to really choose which foods I honestly wanted to eat. And I chose to feel good, light, and happy.
5. What is your message to people who want to recover, be healthy but not feel restricted or stuck with rules at the same time?
Make your own rules!! But first, get rid of any rules you’ve collected over the past months or years. Nutrition advice is always contradictive and your body knows best – but if you only listen to mind chatter and ignore your physical signs, you cannot win.
Make your own rules!! But first, get rid of any rules you’ve collected over the past months or years.
Don’t restrict any of the food you crave – even if you are an ethical vegan and really want some cheese for example. You cannot recover if you keep restricting food you really want, I’m sorry to tell you that. Once you have proven to yourself that you can eat anything you like, you are in a position to be actually able to choose what you WANT… and not be driven by perfectionism and obsession.
Because let’s be honest: willpower only gets you so far. We all end up binging on ‘forbidden’ food, so how about there isn’t anything forbidden?
Eating healthy comes naturally if you give your body the chance to let you know what makes you feel good. I know it seems so frightening because you have only ever known your cravings for chocolate and pizza – but not for salads or smoothies, so you think it doesn’t exist. View food as equal and you’ll see how well it works.
Forget about getting your veggies in as long as you’re in recovery and once you feel totally cool about food, you can simply choose healthy foods over junk foods without it driving you crazy. And the occasional cookie won’t hurt your health, I promise.
Since I learned through my disordered eating and recovery how counterproductive and downright detrimental it is to restrict food groups or food items, we follow a slightly different philosophy with our website nutriciously.com. It’s not that we recommend eating only raw foods or only very healthy foods – we are aware of the balance everyone needs and we encourage people to always listen to their cravings while still shifting towards a plant-based diet. We don’t have a strict program, rather nutritional guidelines that everyone is free to follow or get as close to as they like. It’s so crucial to not just go with your mind and suddenly cut out all of your favorite foods, but to make gradual shifts and try to take your whole being with you on this journey, so nothing feels left out.
Thank you, Alena, for this inspiring interview!
Find out more about Alena: www.nutriciously.com