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How Vegetarianism Became My Mask in Eating Disorder Recovery

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I am a vegetarian, and I am ready to eat meat. I am not an animal activist, though I play the role well — rather, I am in eating disorder recovery. Animal products are my biggest fear foods. I have overcome many others — bread, pasta, soda, sweets — yet this one lingers on.

I have hidden this fear of mine for six years: six years of treatment, relapse and deceit.

But every secret has its expiration date.

Last week, I sat down in with my best friends and attempted to fight my number one trigger: bacon. We had made bets and my dearest friend challenged me to face this fear head on, with three inviting incentives on the line. This comrade was only vaguely aware of my desire to move away from my restrictive diet, so this opportunity became less about meal support and more about bragging rights — about who could break the vegetarian first.

I had been avoided taking this first step against meat for many reasons more than just eating disorder fears. Vegetarianism has become a part of my identity. If I’m not a vegetarian, who am I?

I fought this question for a long time before realizing what I was truly asking myself: If I’m not sick, who am I?

Every time I chose vegetarian options over the traditional ones, I was quietly reaffirming my eating disorder’s presence. Every time I opted for a salad without meat, a veggie burger or shaved ice instead of frozen yogurt, I was telling my eating disorder I would remain quietly faithful. Veganism and vegetarianism became a convenient pledge, one that wouldn’t be questioned by family, friends or even professionals. It was a secret I safely held on to — a loophole in recovery.

My first bite of bacon threatened the bond between me and my eating disorder. That first bite screamed independence and demanded a separation. My eating disorder came alive in that moment and pleaded acknowledgment and recognition. Think of the calories, the fat, the chemicals! If you give in to bacon, you’ll give in to everything. Your arteries will clog, this is the first step towards obesity! I heard these screams, took a deep breath and took bite two.

Bite two proved I wasn’t making a mistake. With bite two, I listened to my healthy self, not my eating disorder’s lies. With bite two, I accepted the loss of a huge piece of my identity.

I am Lindsey, a transitioning meat eater and I am not my eating disorder. I am a writer, an avid reader and an artist — and I am truly ready to be free.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Thinkstock photo via ElenaMedvedeva.

Originally published: July 13, 2017
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