Devon shares her experience recovering from a 20-year battle with anorexia and bulimia, working as a nutrition counsellor and how becoming a vegan helped her find a good balance for intuitive eating.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself!
I’m a passionate woman in my late 20’s who has overcome a lot of battles. I’ve learned to accept my past and have taken a positive spin, using my experiences and education to help others. I love cooking, animals, outdoor activities, and singing. I got married in 2016 to the most wonderful human I’ve ever known, and I probably wouldn’t have met her if it wasn’t for my recovery journey. I value learning, family, creativity, and authenticity.
2. How old were you when you were diagnosed with Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa?
I was first diagnosed when I was 19. Once I started actively participating in my recovery, I learned that my eating disorder behaviours had been around since I was about 5 years old. It took 6-7 years of hard work in recovery to get to where I am now.
3. What happened after you were diagnosed?
I don’t have many memories from around the time of my diagnosis. I had been going through some major traumatic events at the time, and was numb and detached for a few years. I do remember being angry with my doctors, and not believing them. I kept trying to convince everyone that I was fine, or I would lie about my behaviours and physical symptoms to anyone who questioned me.
I held onto this anger for the first few years of my recovery, and was argumentative and non-compliant with my treatment team.
4. What treatment was most successful for your recovery?
Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), which is a behaviour-based therapy with mindfulness as one of its core techniques. I had made progress with other treatment programs, but it was really the year or so of one-on-one DBT treatment with a psychologist that helped lead me through to full recovery. Mindfulness is a skill that I continue to use to this day, and I make a conscious effort to practice mindfulness meditations multiple times each week. These exercises help me to remain present and grounded in my daily life.
I went through many hospital, inpatient, and outpatient treatment programs, and worked with a variety of individual counsellors and dieticians. I gained bits and pieces of knowledge from each program, and finally realised that recovery was going to take a whole lot of dedicated work on my part.
5. What have been some of the biggest lifestyle changes you’ve made since your recovery?
I feel like my biggest accomplishment has been truly understanding the process of intuitive eating. Learning to trust my body, treat it with respect, and attend to its needs has been the biggest change that has led to the most success in my health and wellness.
I eat a vegan diet, which is often frowned upon in the recovery world. I acknowledge that a plant-based diet is not appropriate at many stages of eating disorder recovery, and I take this into account when working with my own clients. However, eating a plant-based diet allowed me to live more authentically, and allowed my beliefs and behaviours to align. Deciding to thrive without animal products opened up the world of intuitive eating to me, and allowed me to finally break free from the last of my eating disorder behaviours. When clients I work with tell me they want to follow a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, I am open to exploring their reasons behind this choice and am supportive and confident that we can meet their nutritional needs in a way that is helpful to their own recovery.
I’ve also reduced my time spent in the gym, and instead enjoy as many outdoor activities as possible. I discovered that I love hiking, kayaking, and yoga.
6. What advice do you have for other women who are facing eating disorders?
Anyone who is struggling deserves help. It doesn’t matter which eating disorder you have been diagnosed with, or if you have even been diagnosed at all. People can experience disordered eating without a diagnosis, and they deserve to learn to love themselves and nurture a healthy relationship with food as well. It doesn’t matter if your eating disorder can be physically seen from the outside; in fact, I was at a “healthy weight” when I was at the most dangerously ill point in my eating disorder. Eating disorders can affect absolutely anyone, and everyone deserves help and attention.
You don’t have to fight your eating disorder alone, but you do have to take an active role in your recovery. Nobody can “fix” you. We all have to participate in our own journey for change.
Lastly, I just want to stress that a full recovery is absolutely possible. When I was working through recovery I didn’t believe it when I heard people say that a full recovery could be a reality for me. It seemed impossible, and I would always feel proud for people who managed to recovery, but was completely sure that it would never happen for me. It did.
7. How do you stay healthy these days?
I try to remain actively engaged in my life. I am an analytical person, and always question my intentions and desires, and strive to live as authentically as possible. Mindfulness helps me to be able to feel out my emotions and not numb them with any unhelpful coping behaviours.
To maintain my physical health, I continue to experiment in the kitchen with all of the beautiful foods that Mother Nature has provided for us. I feed my body what it is asking for; sometimes it’s vegetables, sometimes it’s chocolate. I walk and do yoga most days of the week, and run when I feel like it. I like to hike on the weekends, and play softball.
Lastly, I’ve learned to constantly evaluate relationships in my life. There have been friends from the past that I’ve had to let go as I found them to be detrimental to my mental health. Growing apart from people is normal and isn’t anyone’s fault. I like to ask myself if I add value to somebody’s life, and if they add value to mine. If not, it may be time to move on. I enjoy this freedom and have felt that the relationships I choose to nurture are strong and positive.
8. You now work as a nutrition counsellor. What does your typical day look like?
Lately my days have been filled with powering through my last case studies to complete my diploma and earn my CHNC (Certified Holistic Nutrition Coach) with RNC (Registered Nutrition Counsellor) status. I’m about 3 weeks away from being finished.
When I see clients I often meet them in coffee shops, their own home, at a grocery store, or even at a park for a walk. I don’t believe that health happens when sitting in an office, so I try to get out and integrate recovery into real life! I also spend time speaking to schools, sports teams, and community groups about eating disorders, and offer many resources for anybody to access help.
My days usually include yoga and a walk, some sort of kitchen experiment, tea, and writing. I’m currently working on a new book that should be ready to launch early 2018. I may have client meeting, speaking opportunities, or might laze around the house and draw, sing, or cuddle up with my wife and some Netflix. It’s all about finding a healthy balance between work, rest, and play!
9. Do you think there is anything we can do within the health industry to help women have a healthier relationship with food?
EDUCATE! Many practitioners in the health industry are tragically uneducated in the eating disorder field. Medical professionals need to understand that eating disorders can affect absolutely anyone, regardless of age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, or culture. Eating disorders present themselves in a lot of different ways, and it is impossible to diagnose someone based on weight and physical appearance alone.
I get a bit fired up when I talk about the health industry and creating positive relationships with food, as so many of the things I see are detrimental to most people’s health. Cleanse this, detox that, try this diet or this workout that promises quick results in an unrealistic time period. There seems to be this dogma associated with health that encourages people to look and act a certain way, but health just isn’t like that; it’s not one-size-fits-all. Practitioners, myself included, need to be aware of how we use language and images to create and portray our own idea of health.
A little more about Devon…
Devon is a Health and Nutrition Coach, soon-to-be RNC who specialises in eating disorder recovery and plant-based diets. In addition to working with clients one-on-one, she blogs and writes eBooks, provides educational presentations to high schools and sports groups, and runs support groups. She believes in nurturing a positive relationship with food and our bodies, and moving away from calorie counting and body measurements. Devon is now accepting new clients and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find out more on her website.