— If you don’t know what my food journey was, you can click here to see everything I’ve shared about it. The summary is, back in 2021 I thought I had an eating disorder, gained 115 lbs recovering from it by going “all in,” and then lost most of the weight.
I started sharing about my experience in a spiritual cult back in August, and a question I received a few times was, “How did your food journey play into this whole thing? Was it related?”
People pointed out, quietly among the sidelines, that they saw many women gain weight in the cult, and lose it when they left.
And my answer was always something along the lines of: I know they’re related somehow… And I am still parsing through everything that happened, how it all fit together.
It’s really hard to look back on something you’ve done, something you were so sure of, and admit – even just to yourself – that maybe you were not correct.
It’s also not a cut and dry answer. It’s not as simple as, yes it was just all the cult.
It’s also not as simple as, it had absolutely nothing to do with the cult.
And so while I knew that the time would come to share more in depth, I also knew that taking time for the tender pieces of myself was important. And I also needed time to see it more clearly. Unraveling from a cult is truly mind-fucking (I love this word, borrowed from authors in the 70s who wrote about the origins of the cult I was in). And by that I mean, every piece of your mind needs to get twisted, flipped inside out, re-examined. It’s been 4 solid months of me examining this topic – plus the year before that that I spent out of the cult but still not really understanding what had happened to me.
In this moment I feel like I have a much clearer understanding, and I’m also ready to close out the chapter of my food journey. It’s funny, I didn’t know if it could ever end, what that would look like – but I now understand that this is the end, and I see where I’m headed next.
Here are some things that are true:
At the time of starting my food journey, I needed to eat more food.
I wasn’t eating enough food, I hadn’t probably for most of my life.
I thought I was orthorexic, and I was, by a doctor’s definition. I was terrified of what I called the “normal” grocery store, so much that I wanted to panic when I walked in, and paranoid of different foods.
I was in a cult.
Somebody in my inbox sent me a beautiful piece she had written about her own experience in a cult; in it she named that being in a cult limits your choices.
On the surface, you could say that the cult leader tried to stop me from gaining so much weight. And this is also true.
But when I look back, what I see is that my food journey was the first time I stood up to the cult leader.
Sometime around March of 2021, the leader of the cult I was in had started working with this raw vegan “mucus-free” lady. She told people that this woman knew the truth, and that this was the right way to eat.
I had already had bouts of orthorexia in my past, and I knew when I saw this mucus woman that she was absolutely insane. I chalked this up to the cult leader “being human,” as I had learned to do whenever she acted poorly.
At the same time, I found the pro-metabolic community. This community (from what I can tell) seems to be comprised of people, some nutritionists, some doctors, some just curious researchers and people healing themselves, who have continued to learn bioenergetic nutrition, which is an understanding of how food interacts with individual bodies based on the research of Dr. Ray Peat, Dr. Broda Barnes, and many others.
I still think that this bioenergetic approach is extremely intriguing and I’ll come back to that later. But at the time, I couldn’t really “follow” it, because I was so used to turning everything into a diet. Foods they said might not be as pro-metabolic, I thought were “bad” foods.
You have to remember that at this time I was already very used to thinking in black and white terms, which cults tend to encourage. Things are either right (in line with the cult) or wrong. I had already learned not to trust myself at all. I was now trusting this thing I called “the feminine,” which kind of functions as a weird God for people in the cult.
When I shared about eating more food, people pointed me to the eating disorder recovery world. This was the world of Tabitha Farrar, Stephanie Buttermore, “The Fuck-It Diet,” people who advocated for this “All In” style of recovery. I saw what I considered to be the top doctors in the country on eating disorders. I had coaching sessions with Tabitha. Everyone told me to just keep eating more food, that all food was good food, basic nutrition science was incorrect, and that there was no amount of weight I could gain that would be bad.
I know this sounds a little crazy, but if you consider that my way of thinking and trust in myself was already compromised, and that there were top doctors in front of me saying “This is all great, I’m so impressed you’ve done this by yourself” I thought I was really on the right track.
The cult leader was heavier herself, and she kept trying to tell me I was “off.” Finally she said to me some variation of, “You don’t seem open here,” and I said, you’re right, I’m not.
This was the first moment that I had any sort of boundary with her. Up until that point I had acquiesced to what she said, even if I felt humiliated or like her behavior was out of line.
I also personally believe that this was the moment that she changed her tactic with me. Instead of alternating between love-bombing and criticism, she switched to intermittent love-bombing – lots of love and then pulling love away, but no overt shaming. She became like my secret BFF, telling me that I had the same gifts as her and praising me when I stood up for her against all the people who didn’t like her. Narcissists typically use different tactics with different people.
It’s hard to piece all these things together.
It’s because they all connect and they are all true at the same time.
She did try to stop me.
This was when I stood up to her.
The doctors told me I was correct.
My physical health was improving drastically – until it wasn’t.
The month I started losing weight was the same month I left the cult.
I did not try to start losing weight. I lost 20 lbs in two months changing absolutely nothing at all. Even my step count didn’t change. I must have changed something, you’d think, even I think that – I think perhaps I started eating less without realizing it, but it couldn’t have been that much less – maybe my body felt like it could finally let go.
I have since heard from more than a handful of people that they also gained weight in the cult, and then lost it when they left. Some were connected to me and my food journey, and some weren’t at all.
Anecdotes, these are. And they are interesting ones.
I do think that gaining so much weight was a protective response to the situation I was in. I think our bodies always know the truth of what is happening. I think my extreme hunger partially had to do with being underfed and unstable blood sugar and I think it partially had to do with needing to protect myself from what was occurring.
Some things that are also true:
When I was super fat (248 lbs at 5’3″ at my peak), I thought it was the best thing that had ever happened to me, just like I had thought the cult was the best thing that had ever happened to me.
Now when I look back at photos of me from that time, I feel a trauma response in my body – this kind of panic, freeze, shut down, how did that ever happen to me?
I feel that same way when I read things I wrote while I was in the cult.
Sometimes I wonder if I ever had orthorexia.
Sometimes I wonder what orthorexia really is, in a lot of cases.
I certainly learned a lot about myself that benefitted me mentally. I learned what it was like to be really fat. I learned that I could still love myself at that size. I learned a deeper sense of confidence in myself and I became more humbled and connectable with others. I learned to remove the morality from food. I learned that I really did need to eat more.
I’m sure there is orthorexia that exists, but was my aversion to “normal” food orthorexic?
Or was it built from having researched food on the internet since I was 12 years old, learning about factory farms and what our crops are sprayed with and the dyes and preservatives and chemicals in everything we eat? Was it an intelligent response to realizing that we live in a world where a lot of things are slowly poisoning us? Was it a response that made complete sense when I had acne so bad that no one could help me and no one thought acne covering my entire face and back said anything about my internal health? Was it actually.. useful information, if I had had all the pieces of the puzzle?
Living in a state of anxiety and fear is never great. I don’t advocate for that and that is not how I am now.
But I tried what they said to do. I went all in. All the leaders of this eating disorder recovery world (another cult-like group!) said I was doing the right thing. Every symptom I started to have (terrible acid reflux, diarrhea, nausea, bloating, gas, severe edema) they all said was normal and just a sign of how unhealthy my body had actually been prior. Google any of those symptoms along with “eating disorder recovery” and you will find post after post about how it’s totally ok.
Remember that at this time, I am still someone who is very trusting, open-minded, and idealistic. I have learned that my own mind is not to be trusted. Only what I feel is “true” should be trusted. And the cult leader, except in this situation I couldn’t trust her either. Somehow in my mind I had compartmentalized, trust the cult leader and her “sight” on everything, except when it comes to food.
I don’t want to discount some of the beautiful moments that happened from others’ witnessing my journey. I can’t imagine they were all positive (!) but I know it did help some people a lot, made them question their own obsession with being thin, challenged them to eat more, and I am grateful for that. It did a lot for me too. I love rewatching old videos from the beginning of my journey, some moments were super fun.
I told someone this story recently, an older man with white hair and sparkling blue eyes, and when I got to the part of how I ate whatever I wanted, ate McDonald’s twice a day, ate and ate and ate til I gained over 100 lbs, he chuckled. And I thought, that is the appropriate response! It almost seems like a fairy tale when I tell it in that way.
Life is like that, it is not always so serious.
But the main thing the eating disorder recovery world said it would do – make me healthy again – it did not do at all. It did the opposite of that. I could give you a bell curve and it would look like – the peak of my health was when I had gained about 30 lbs. After that it slowly and then rapidly went downhill.
It will take me many years to recover from gaining so much weight. I’ve lost most of it now (I’m now about 40 lbs up from where I started) but there are repercussions.
Being fat is terrible. I’m sorry to say it so bluntly. I think there are people who are naturally heavier, and perhaps it is not terrible for them, and also we probably have different definitions of fat. I don’t think being 20 lbs up from the weight you think you should be is “fat.” I am talking about really fat, obese. I thought I loved being fat when I was fat. But now that I have lost so much weight, I truly feel emotionally lighter. Everything gets easier. I no longer have to worry that I don’t fit into regular chairs. I don’t get out of breath from doing barely anything. My belly is not in the way of basic daily motions. It’s not a good thing to always have to sit down. “Fat positivity” is crazy. Everyone should love themselves, I loved myself when I was fat. But let’s not pretend that this is somehow healthy, like the eating disorder recovery world does.
I actually think the reason a lot of people have such a hard time recovering from eating disorders is because people with eating disorders are typically really smart, and everyone treats them like a fragile 2-year-old child. What I needed to learn was that I needed to eat more food and that much of my moodiness and physical symptoms were from not eating enough, and not getting enough nutrients. If I could go back in time to myself at the beginning of my food journey I would tell myself to slow down, not do anything drastic, and learn more about biology and nutrition, hire someone in the pro-metabolic space to personally work with, take a couple different people’s courses, learn first. Learn about increasing calories slowly and why this matters. Learn about the WHY and what happens from different ways of eating.
And I would also say, you need to leave this cult immediately, and start taking in many different and conflicting viewpoints. What are you doing, lady?! Stop!
As they say, hindsight is 20/20.
On my best days, I do have a lot of faith that this will ultimately all lead me to the place I want to be: really understanding health inside and out and knowing how to make the choices that make me feel best. I feel like I am well on my way.
For a while I felt like, god, I’ve been researching food my whole entire life, I need to get away from this because it’s taking away from what my true purpose must be. I imagined that if I could just put the topic of food and health away, then I would be somebody else, be interested in something else. This “disorder” that was just “taking away” from my life.
I don’t know, I think now there’s a place where I am surrendering. That maybe this thing that’s constantly there is there for a reason – and not the reason that I thought. Because there is also a passion that I feel – that I have always loved learning about this, I am fascinated by it. And I wonder if all of these things come together somehow, learning about psychology and sex, emotions and grief, spirituality and cult-like beliefs, everything about food… who knows, sometimes I feel like a collector of experiences, wondering how to put them all in one piece.
I’ve been learning science now. How our cells take in energy from food, what is happening in the body, the why behind what I’m doing, really using food as medicine.
I do think that what my food journey gave me is freedom with food. As in, I am no longer anxious or panicked or obsessed with food. I’m not worried about what I look like. There are things I don’t choose to eat. But it feels very neutral to me. It’s not a moral judgement of the food, it’s just like, I don’t want to consume that because I don’t like how I will feel. I feel like I’ve been reconnected back to the instincts of my body that diets and restriction rob us from. No foods feel like I’m being “bad” or “cheating.” It’s difficult to describe how different this is from the way most people relate to food.
I am able to experiment with different ways of eating and test it out on myself, to see how my body responds. This is something I couldn’t do in the past because I was so concerned with what was the “right” and “wrong” way to do things and treating myself as “bad” in some way. Now I see things as either increasing my state of health, or detracting from it, and that is something I can concretely measure by testing lab work and checking for an increase in temperature and pulses (signs of a body producing energy well).
I also feel extremely discerning – never believing what one person says is correct, but making sure to read conflicting viewpoints on each new thing I learn. Changing my mind as I go. I think that will serve me for the rest of my life.
I’m sure I’ll share more details of these experiments and things in the future. But I do think that this concludes my “food journey,” as I lovingly referred to it.
I hope it was beneficial to others who got to learn along the way.