Angela Liddon is best known for her amazing vegan recipes–she’s made a name for herself as the woman behind Oh She Glows, a popular food blog that chronicles her life, good eating, photography, and more. You’d never guess by her vivacious blog posts and clear enjoyment of food and sports that she struggled with an eating disorder and compulsive exercising for over ten years. But Liddon’s problems with body image and disordered eating started when she was just eleven years old–and it might also surprise you to know that all her writing about food, sports and body image on her blog has been a tool along her path to recovery.
To find out how she’s moved beyond the difficulties of her eating disorder to feel (and look) her best, we asked her for more details about how her relationship with food and her body have changed. Check out her inspirational answers below (and if you’re struggling with disordered eating or body image issues yourself, please check out Blisstree’s Eating Disorder Awareness Resource Page):
What triggered your obsession with food and weight?
Eating disorders are very complex, so that’s difficult to say with certainty. My best guess is that it was a way to assert control in my life during a time when my environment was anything but predictable. I went through some difficult things during my childhood and it was my way of coping. As long as I had my eating disorder, I felt “safe” no matter what was going on around me. You’ll often hear people describe feeling “numb” when they have an eating disorder and that’s exactly how I felt. Whenever something made me upset, I inflicted the feelings inward instead of finding a positive coping mechanism. It was a distraction so I didn’t have to deal with the actual problems.
On your blog, you say “I never thought it was possible to be happy and achieve a balance with food and weight.” How has this changed for you?
When I was starving myself, I equated being thin with unhappiness (I’m talking about myself, not in general terms). I never had any energy, was rarely happy, and exercise was mostly for punishment rather than enjoyment. I didn’t think I could be happy and comfortable with my body; it was either one or the other. The irony of it all is that even when I was at my thinnest, I was probably the most unhappy with my body. I learned that being thin doesn’t equate body-acceptance. As long as I was on that path, I never would have been good enough, no matter what my weight.
Years later, my entire mindset changed when I started to treat myself better. I’m happier, full of life and energy, and I’ve also made so much progress with my body image. I’ve realized it’s not thinness I’m after, it’s body-acceptance combined with the ability to appreciate my body where it wants to be naturally without dieting. It’s also accepting that I will still have bad days! Being in recovery doesn’t mean being perfect. It’s an ever-evolving journey.
What was the wake-up call that finally made you determined to recover?
One day it hit me that my eating disorder was ruining all of my relationships. The constant secrecy, mood swings, and self-hatred made it impossible for me to let others in. It’s also very hard to love someone else when you don’t really think you are worthy of being loved yourself. It caused so many fights in my relationship with [now-husband] Eric to the point where we ended things for a while. (You can read more about this topic in “Without Self-Love, I Have Nothing,” on Oh She Glows.)
How did starting Oh She Glows help your recovery?
It was the first time that I had EVER spoken about my struggles with disordered eating with anyone, aside from my counselor. It was always such a secretive thing for me and I hid it as much as I could from my family and friends, even though many of them suspected I had an eating disorder.
The blog gave me a wonderful platform to open up about what I had been through and connect with others. I really didn’t think anyone was going to read it or even care about my story, but the response I had was filled with so much love and encouragement. It gave me the courage to keep talking about this topic, even though it was difficult to open up about. I’ve received hundreds of emails from readers over the past few years telling me that my story has inspired them to go into recovery. That is just about the best outcome I could have imagined.
So much of what you do revolves around food and fitness. How do you keep it from becoming an unhealthy obsession again?
Before I went down the path of disordered eating and exercise, I always had a huge passion for food and fitness, only back then it wasn’t “fitness” or “exercise,” but more like “fun” and “play time.” I loved playing outside so much, I used to cry my eyes out when my mom called me to come inside at the end of the day. I just always wanted to be moving my body–running around with friends, building snow forts, and playing with animals. I played all kinds of sports growing up and I was always very athletic. I approached food with the same enthusiasm and appetite!
My goal with recovery was to get back to that fun place with food and fitness. Instead of telling myself I have to be x weight or eat x calories, now I do things that bring me pleasure and make me feel good physically and emotionally. I don’t count calories. I don’t weigh myself. I don’t read beauty magazines. I eat food that makes me feel good. I participate in fitness activities that inspire me, such as running and yoga. I have found passion in many types of activity, but I guess the biggest one would be racing. Enjoying activity is something I never thought that I could bring back in my life, but I was wrong. My mantra is to do what makes me feel good and do less of what doesn’t make me feel good. It’s really not that complicated anymore.
By some standards, your vegan diet could be considered fairly “strict.” How did you figure out what made you feel good without becoming restrictive?
I actually used to be one of those people who thought veganism was so strict. What do they eat? How do they survive? How are they healthy? It’s natural to wonder these things when it seems to go against the Standard American/Canadian Diet which is based primarily around animal products. But to my surprise, I discovered that a vegan lifestyle doesn’t feel restrictive to me at all. I didn’t realize how many foods are actually vegan naturally, for starters. Being free of animal products opened me up to so many foods that I wouldn’t have tried before and my diet has much more variety now. Going vegan was also a very gradual shift in my life. I didn’t just one day decide to cut out all animal products, but it happened naturally over the course of several months as I discovered how good I felt.
My eating disorder was very “me” focused for so many years. Veganism is a way for me to focus on issues that matter to me externally and to connect to something much bigger than myself. I really did not expect that, but it’s been a welcome surprise.
In terms of making sure it didn’t get too obsessive, I had to decide what was going to work for me. I don’t punish myself if I accidentally have something that isn’t vegan. I’m human and I refuse to beat myself up over things like that. I do the best I can each day and for me that’s good enough. I don’t play the ‘she/he’s a better vegan than me’ game.
In the end, we all need to figure out what works for us personally. I would never assume that the way I live my life is the solution for everyone.
Do you ever struggle with relapses? If so, how do you keep them in check?