NEDA week is such a big deal to me, and I wanted to make as large and helpful of an impact as I could. Last year, I wrote a series of blog posts on my website, and I plan on doing that again — but I wondered: Could I make a financial impact and educate a larger population of people? I pondered all of that for a few weeks and finally, when eating lunch at Original Grain (OG) one day, the idea came to me. OG really represents the way I love to eat: It's wholesome food that feels nourishing. It's fun to eat, it feels good in my body,and I always finish my meals there with good energy and positivity — all goals of eating intuitively.
I knew they had created monthly specials in the past (they have a new smoothie on the menu every month!) and I got to thinking; maybe they would be willing to collaborate with me on a menu item that's representative of my food story. I pitched the idea for a savory-sweet toast with plenty of nourishing foods and comforting flavors, and they said yes immediately. The rest was a total snowball effect, and we dove in to the creation process.
Why have you chosen Ophelia’s Place as the benefiting charity?
I knew I wanted to keep any and all money that we raised local. Ophelia's Place and MaryEllen (the founder of Ophelia's Place) have been such a positive part of my recovery journey, so the choice was really simple. I don't think it was even a choice for me — I just knew I wanted Ophelia's Place to receive this donation.
I remember when, as a teenager struggling with bulimia, I called Ophelia's Place late one night. I was distraught and didn't know where else to turn. MaryEllen personally returned my call the next day, and I have admired her ever since. She remains a positive role model, mentor and friend to me to this day.
How do you want to change the conversations our culture has around food and health?
We have got to stop demonizing certain foods and diets. I'm all for eating more whole foods, eating foods that nurture us and eating more in general — but somewhere along the way, especially on social media, the conversation has shifted to one of restriction and avoidance. A maniacal, fear-based approach to food and diet means the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction.
Many food and wellness "personalities" on social media now tout restrictive diets as cure-alls and ways to feel better, look better and be healthier. While those choices may work well for them, they're not a prescriptive answer for everyone. And in general, I think all things, from diet to community, should be inclusive, rather than exclusive.
How does that unfold in your work as a national food writer?
I am ever-mindful of how I speak to my audience — I address the topics of food, cooking, wellness, health, self-care and self-love from a place of acceptance and non-judgment. The word I'm focusing on this year in my writing is "empowerment," and that means empowerment to trust yourself, empowerment to know that you have the power to heal, but also to love yourself exactly as you are, today.
How does that unfold in your life, in general?
Same as above! This year, I'm working to break through the personal barriers I've put in place over years of habitual story-telling. I am aiming to become a stronger person in every way (but it's really important to me to remind myself that I am enough, and worthy, from where I stand right now).
I used to tell myself that after recovering, I was physically weak and frail. I decided to stop believing that lie, and do work to get physically stronger. Now I'm strength training with weights, and the power and energy I feel from lifting has been amazing!
I used to tell myself that certain foods were off-limits, because they were trigger foods, and I was afraid of the emotions or fear that eating them would bring to the surface. I'm working on introducing more and more of those "scary" foods into my diet, and having fun while doing it. THAT has been the ultimate confidence booster and so, so freeing.
What was one of the first steps you took in your journey toward body acceptance?
No compulsive mirror-checking. While the scale is the nemesis of many, the devil on my back was any reflective surface I passed. Every time I walked past a mirror, glass door, car window, you name it, I would check myself to make sure my body looked a certain way. I'd lift up my shirt and check my stomach for bloat, I'd turn around to make sure my bum looked the way I thought it was "supposed to," I would smile and then frown, making sure I looked "attractive" from all angles. I felt like I had to constantly monitor my outward appearance — because I placed my self-worth on how I looked, I thought everyone I met did, too. It was a total prison.
It's a re-training process, but I continually gently remind myself that I don't need to look in every mirror I pass. "You look great," I remind myself, "but even if you DO have spinach in your teeth, you're still entirely lovable." This letting go has done wonders for my body dysmorphia. It's still something I'm working on, but every day I'm learning to love my body for what it can do, not a skewed and temporary judgment of how I think it looks.
Where do you source your strength from, or how do you take back your power when you’re feeling triggered?
The biggest, most real motivation for me to stay healthy and continue on my recovery journey is to remember all of the people I have helped along the way. I have connected with an incredible community of body positive, wellness-oriented ED warriors on my Instagram account. Hearing their stories of recovery, their small and large wins, their beautiful vulnerability — it brightens me on my dark days (and I do have them, because I am a human being). It just comes back to community and the yogic philosophy of connectivity and oneness. How I treat myself is how I treat others, because we truly are all of the same heart. I owe it to myself to be kind and loving, and I also owe it to every other soul on this earth
What’s one nugget of truth, inspiration, encouragement or empowerment you want to share with others?
There is strength and empowerment in vulnerability. By choosing to be honest and open about my recovery journey, I have gained an enormous support network and furthered acceptance of myself. I have nothing to be ashamed of, past or present, and once I stopped judging myself that's when the magic truly started to work.