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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Vegetarianism: causal vs. association


"And God said: "Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree that has seed-yielding fruit--to you it shall be for food" (Gen. 1:29)



The following is long and most likely over-informative. My apologies.


My choice of following a vegetarian diet, although I do try to incorporate fish (excluding crustaceans) once a week, has been debated amongst my family, friends and ED recovery team.  Many feel my motives for choosing a vegetarian diet were associated with the development of my eating disorder, however, I would argue differently.


Junior year of college was a chance for a new start for me.  I had broken up with a long-term boyfriend the previous spring, spent 10 days in Israel over the summer and rented an apartment with two of my closest friends.  I will be the first to admit that after the relationship ended, I felt lost, empty and undeserving. Although I've always struggled to form a sense of identity, this particular break-up happened with next to none expectation or fair sign of warning.  I had sacrificed a lot for the relationship, convincing myself and family that it did not matter to me that he wasn't Jewish.  Until that point in my life, I was somewhat blinded by the importance of my Jewish identity.  Then in May of 2008, my life took a drastic change-- I was about to embark on a 10 day journey to Israel, on Birthright.  Below is an excerpt from Taglit-Birthright's website explaining the mission of the trip:


"Taglit-Birthright Israel provides the gift of first time, peer group, educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26.Taglit-Birthright Israel's founders created this program to send thousands of young Jewish adults from all over the world to Israel as a gift in order to diminish the growing division between Israel and Jewish communities around the world; to strengthen the sense of solidarity among world Jewry; and to strengthen participants' personal Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish people." (http://www.birthrightisrael.com)

I will never forget the moment I stepped off the plane and took my very first steps in the state of Israel.  I felt a cool wave crash over me, cleansing all fears.  I felt strong, beautiful and present.  I felt home.  

The next ten days were everything I could have hoped for and by the time I left, I had a renewed sense of self and knowledge-- spiritually, educationally, religiously and socially.  However, the plane ride back to the United States was particularly meaningful.  As, I watched the Orthodox men bow their heads, faces buried in their prayer books, I pulled out a pen and paper and began to write.  I wrote vows to myself, promising that I would never forget how comfortable and connected I felt in Israel and committing to further develop my Jewish identity.

The summer after returning from Israel felt endless.  I was still mending a broken heart while catching up with friends, staying active and healthy and reminiscing through Facebook albums filled with captured memories from Birthright.  September quickly approached and it was time for me to begin another year at college, with the loss of my love but a new gained sense of identity. 

I made great efforts to follow through on my vows made on the plane ride back from Israel.  I decided to run for our Hillel Jewish University Center's student board and increase my activism within the Jewish community. I wanted to feel a consistent spiritual connection to Judaism-- maybe then, I'd be happy.  Since my sophomore year of college, I tried to approach the Jewish dietary laws of Kashrut with a personal interpretation, by eliminating shellfish from my diet.  But in the following October, I added another restriction.

My foot was broken and I was on crutches for 8 weeks, and unable to exercise for 12.  I was also living in an apartment, without a meal plan, so I had to learn to prepare all meals for myself.  In efforts to feel healthy without exercise, feel more connected to my Jewish identity and prepare edible and tasteful meals for myself, I decided to eliminate red meat and chicken from my diet (Buying kosher meat is expensive and more difficult to prepare).  Within weeks, I noticed changes in my body.  I felt strong, cleansed, and healthy and did not crave or miss the taste whatsoever.  I also found it to be a spiritual experience, because every time I would decide what to eat and what to refrain from, I was reminded of Kashrut and my experience in Israel, and took pride in my Jewish identity.

Over the next several months I explored a world of unfamiliar foods.  Tofu, quinoa, beans and lentils were among the many, more natural, plant-based sources of nutrients I quickly associated myself with.  I became fascinated as I adopted a love and admiration for food and cooking, as well as some obsessional tendencies.  It was also during this time that I became more socially and environmentally active, engaging in social justice programs and events around campus, as the Social Action chair for the Hillel JUC student board.  Then, I left for one of the most life-altering experiences of my life, an Alternative Spring Break trip to the Jewish Farm School, which I've mentioned many times before (read more here).  The trip only increased my desire to live a vegetarian lifestyle and augment my consciousness of what I ate.

So, here I am, almost two years later, still a vegetarian-in-practice while my motives are questioned.  Was my choice to eliminate shellfish, meat and chicken an enabler of ED?  Perhaps.  Was it because of ED?  Arguably, no.  Though I wouldn't consider myself an ardent animal rights activist, I am informed and aware of the treatment of animals-- from what they are fed to how they are slaughtered.  What's more, I smile every time I dismiss pork and shellfish, as I am reminded of the importance of my Jewish identity.

It should be known that I do not hold any judgement, whatsoever, against those who eat and enjoy meat.  Every single person has the right to their own source of nutrients that fuel their bodies and make them feel good.  What's more, there are many ways to follow any dietary laws of Kashrut, this just happens to be a meaningful path that I have chosen, or perhaps, stumbled upon.

Will I forever be a vegetarian?  I don't know.  It's hard to predict what the future holds, as I am constantly reintroducing foods from a once very restricted diet, causal of ED, and because, afterall, my choice of vegetarianism was not because of ED.  


19 comments:

  1. I feel like there is a lot of controversy about vegetarianism and it's connection to ED. I agree completely w/you....that it is entirely possible to want to be vegetarian and have it have nothing to do with the eating disorder. I was vegetarian for 3 years...and it had NOTHING to do w/weight or my body.

    take care
    xoxo
    -Lisa

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  2. yes, there is perhaps too much controversy and misunderstandings. I do feel there has been an unfortunate association between ED and my vegetarianism; however, I do not believe the two can be causally related due to my genuine and passionate reasons for living a vegetarian lifestyle.

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  3. Good for you for sticking to your principles regarding vegetarianism even as your motives are questioned- you express yourself very clearly and articulately- perhaps if you showed this to your treatment team and friends and family who are concerned they would have a better understanding that vegetarianism and your ED are not causally related?

    Your commitment to recovery is truly inspiring; keep up the good work! <3

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  4. wow, that sounds like it was a wonderful trip!

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  5. This is a beautiful explanation - I loved reading and learning more about the evolution of your identity, and how it has played in with dietary decisions.
    Something that is very frustrating, even years into recovery, is how anything food or health related becomes automatically associated with your past ED. I've stopped telling doctors right off the bat, since it usually stops them from looking into other potential causes of any given malady. Separating from an ED identity is often difficult to do in the eyes of others too, I guess.

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  6. The whole identity crisis after a break up and when youre really heartbroken is something I can relate to. For a while there I was confused as to what was my personality vs. the traits I got with being with me ex for so long.

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  7. when i was in treatment mostly 99% of the people i talked with thought my veganism was NOT linked to my disorder which surprised me given all the doctors i had heard of that were totally against any strict diets. all the ones i saw told me that usually later on if necessary, the patient will broaden their diet a bit and explore other foods, but if they wish to continue eating meat-free later on than thats great too. as long as it always balanced, healthy, and makes you feel great!

    xoxo <3

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  8. This is a really interesting topic, and it's good to hear you writing about it with such open and honest consideration. I also like the fact that you don't condone meat eaters like myself, where others might.

    Sometimes it can be so difficult to disentangle vegetarianism/veganism from ED, and I guess no matter how much other people try to judge, you are the only one who truly knows, deep down, your own motives.

    Sarah x

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  9. Okay Becca, wow I like how much thought you put into your actions.
    Whatever reason you have for wanting to be vegetarian- and it seems to be healthful and religious, not silly at all- you've thought it out.
    So good for you!

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  10. rebecca,
    This post makes me think of the fasting done on Yom Kippur. The ill do not have to take part in the fast because their health is more important than anything…
    Please do not jeopardize your health to keep to the rules of being Kosher…as you are well aware, your health always comes first!

    If you feel your vegetarianism is not hindering your health, then you should continue. Only YOU know deep down why you are holding on to this way of life.

    I hope my connection makes sense…. Having a hard time conveying my thoughts these day--

    On another note, I went on birthright a few years ago and it made me crave a larger Jewish identity as well. Not necessary to be more "religious" but become part of a community where I felt where I belonged...the verdict is still out on whether I feel accepted. Sending you the best in all.

    Xx
    Jillian

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  11. I love this scripture Rebecca. The trip sounds fabulous. Hugs girlie! Enjoy your weekend!

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  12. Discerning whether the way you eat is a result of ED or a result of true personal preference is never easy and almost always frowned upon by others. I'm so glad that you know that your vegetarianism is a result of your beliefs and NOT a result of ED. You're obviously well researchd on the lifestyle and I for one, 100% support your decision to remain vegetarian.. and not just because I'm one too. ;)

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  13. Wow! My doll, do you realize how amazing you were to yourself when you wrote out those vows to yourself? You were #1 to yourself and this should always be the case! I loved ever minute of reading this post, and know deep down that you are here to help women either through your beautiful writing but for sure through your experiences, your firm beliefs and your passion!

    You rock sista friend and I love that you are going with the flow on your vegetarian diet! I feel it is so strange that "health" care profs tell you that you need to eat meat always to get healthy. Ugh, meat is the worst thing for your bod to digest! Why put extra strain on your bod when you don't need to?

    Love ya!
    xxoo

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  14. I'm one of those people who get cautious when people with a history (or struggling) with an ED starts a restrictive diet of any kind. I understand your ED team and your loved ones' concerns. But your diet, your body, your decision...it's between you and God. So long as your conscience is clear and you're still feeding yourself and enjoying the health of your body, I don't think it's a problem.

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  15. only you know what your motives for choices are. It is hard to have to defend yourself all the time about a choice. Sometimes I feel like opening up about my past makes people question my actions more than I need to myself. it all comes from a place of concern, but certainly can be hard. I hope you are having a good day! xo

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  16. This was a very well written explanation for your dietary choices. It is clear that you have deep ties to your heritage that are manifested through the way you eat. To me, it shows mindfulness rather than restrictiveness as long as you continue to receive the nutrients you need through other foods. :-)

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  17. I agree with you. I believe that god had intentions for every living thing on this earth and when he made humans he made them as herbivores. Our bodies weren't made to eat and digest animal protein. Thank you for posting this.

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  18. I loved reading your experience. I think each person has to choose what leaves them feeling the best. Sure, it could have played a role in the eating disorder for a time, but overall if you feel best eating that way then it's not a disorder. It's simply taking care of yourself.

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  19. Thank you for this post - it helps me to reflect as well on my decision to become vegan. It's hard not to second guess yourself if you've dealt with disordered eating, and especially if people around you are skeptical. Genuinely concerned and wanting what's best for you, but skeptial. And I absolutely agree with the comment above this that if you feel best eating that way then it's not a disorder - and I know that, for me, even in the disorder I knew it wasn't what was best for me. I will be bookmarking this post for sure!

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