Angela LiddonÂ is best known for her amazing vegan recipesâ€“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 oldâ€“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 wayÂ to assert control in my life during a time when my environment was anything but predictable. I wentÂ through some difficult things during my childhood and it was my way of coping. As long as I had myÂ eating disorder, I felt â€śsafeâ€ť no matter what was going on around me. Youâ€™ll often hear people describeÂ feeling â€śnumbâ€ť when they have an eating disorder and thatâ€™s exactly how I felt. Whenever somethingÂ made me upset, I inflicted the feelings inward instead of finding a positive coping mechanism. It was aÂ distraction so I didnâ€™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 foodÂ and weight.” How has this changed for you?
When I was starving myself, I equated being thin with unhappiness (Iâ€™m talking about myself, not inÂ general terms). I never had any energy, was rarely happy, and exercise was mostly for punishmentÂ rather than enjoyment. I didnâ€™t think I could be happy and comfortable with my body; it was either oneÂ 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 beingÂ thin doesnâ€™t equate body-acceptance. As long as I was on that path, I never would haveÂ been good enough, no matter what my weight.
Years later, my entire mindset changed when I started to treat myself better. Iâ€™m happier, full of lifeÂ and energy, and Iâ€™ve also made so much progress with my body image. Iâ€™ve realized itâ€™s not thinnessÂ Iâ€™m after, itâ€™s body-acceptance combined with the ability to appreciate my body where it wants to beÂ naturally without dieting. Itâ€™s also accepting that I will still have bad days! Being in recovery doesnâ€™tÂ mean being perfect. Itâ€™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. Itâ€™s also very hard to loveÂ someone else when you donâ€™t really think you are worthy of being loved yourself. It caused so manyÂ 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 â€śWithout Self-Love, I Have Nothing,â€ť 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 strugglesÂ with disordered eating with anyone, aside from my counselor. It was always such a secretive thing forÂ me and I hid it as much as I could from my family and friends, even though many of them suspected IÂ had an eating disorder.
The blog gave me a wonderful platform to open up about what I had been through and connect withÂ others. I really didnâ€™t think anyone was going to read it or even care about my story, but the response IÂ had was filled with so much love and encouragement. It gave me the courage to keep talking about thisÂ topic, even though it was difficult to open up about. Iâ€™ve received hundreds of emails from readers overÂ the past few years telling me that my story has inspired them to go into recovery. That is just about theÂ best outcome I could have imagined.
So much of what you do revolves around food and fitness. How do you keep it from becoming anÂ unhealthy obsession again?
Before I went down the path of disordered eating and exercise, I always had a huge passion for foodÂ and fitness, only back then it wasnâ€™t â€śfitnessâ€ť or â€śexercise,â€ť but more like â€śfunâ€ť and â€śplay time.â€ť I lovedÂ playing outside so much, I used to cry my eyes out when my mom called me to comeÂ inside at the end of the day. I just always wanted to be moving my bodyâ€“running around with friends,Â building snow forts, and playing with animals. I played all kinds of sports growing up and I was alwaysÂ 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 myselfÂ I have to be x weight or eat x calories, now I do things that bring me pleasure and make me feelÂ good physically and emotionally. I donâ€™t count calories. I donâ€™t weighÂ myself.Â I donâ€™t read beautyÂ magazines.Â 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.Â Enjoying activity is something I never thought that I could bring back in my life, but I was wrong. MyÂ mantra is to do what makes me feel good and do less of what doesnâ€™t make me feel good. Itâ€™s really notÂ that complicated anymore.
By some standards, your vegan diet could be considered fairly â€śstrict.â€ť 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? HowÂ do they survive? How are they healthy? Itâ€™s natural to wonder these things when it seems to go againstÂ the Standard American/Canadian Diet which is based primarily around animal products.Â But to my surprise, I discovered that a vegan lifestyle doesnâ€™t feel restrictive to me at all. I didnâ€™t realizeÂ how many foods are actually vegan naturally, for starters. Being free of animal products opened me up to so many foods that I wouldnâ€™t have tried before and my diet has much more variety now. GoingÂ vegan was also a very gradual shift in my life. I didnâ€™t just one day decide to cut out all animal products,Â but it happened naturally over the course of several months as I discovered how good I felt.
My eatingÂ disorder was very â€śmeâ€ť focused for so many years. Veganism is a way for me to focus on issues thatÂ matter to me externally and to connect to something much bigger than myself. I really did not expectÂ that, but itâ€™s been a welcome surprise.
In terms of making sure it didnâ€™t get too obsessive, I had to decide what was going to work for me. IÂ donâ€™t punish myself if I accidentally have something that isnâ€™t vegan. Iâ€™m human and I refuse to beatÂ myself up over things like that. I do the best I can each day and for me thatâ€™s good enough. I donâ€™t playÂ 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?