On March 3, 2019, we adopted our daughter, Evelyn. I imagined future conversations I would have with her about her changing body, and froze at the thought of trying to teach her about something my body had not done since I was 15-years-old.
For ten years, I desired to heal – I just wanted my body to do what a female body is expected to do, produce estrogen and menstruate, without an herb, shot or pill. Finally, an endocrinologist referred me to a metabolic doctor.
During our first consultation, I was skeptical. My legs were crossed twice and my hands interlaced with white knuckles, which is how I had always sat in chairs. I had to take a blood test and eat a meal with ‘fat, protein and carbs,’ which was a deviation from my usual handful of granola or sliver of toast. Based on my blood results, the doctor said I was severely anorexic and referred me to a residential eating disorder clinic. I did not believe her, it seemed extreme but it was more than an opinion- it was in my blood results. She explained that food restriction, over-exercise (even yoga and walking), and malnourishment can deplete the bones and brain, and based on my history, I had years of caloric depletion.
The healing I needed went far beyond adding a little butter, a bowl of pasta, and a steak to my diet. I knew I did not want to do a residential program because I wanted to soak in every moment with our sweet Evelyn at home, so I opted to do intakes for three different eating disorder clinics, as if I was going to check in. I learned that anorexia does not always correlate to how someone looks on the outside – oh, and men can have it too. After developing a deep understanding of these programs, I knew I needed the support they would offer and built my own team with a therapist, nutritionist, and doctor that I saw weekly. It became clear that anorexia was the right diagnosis for me.
Until that day, I unconsciously used asana, the physical form of yoga, and food as tools to get my body in a place that felt acceptable to me, my family, and the rest of society. I saw myself and believed others saw me as an intense, big boned, worry wart, that ate a lot of pasta. So I thought I could change these perceptions, if I ‘did yoga,’ ‘ate well’ and avoided pasta all together.
When I chose to heal, I (ironically) consciously used yoga philosophy and food to heal my body. I quit exercising completely, my yoga asana went from Downward Dogs and handstands to observing in a seated meditation. I overcame food fears like eating an entire cookie the size of my face without cutting it into eight pieces, going out to lunch alone without ordering a salad, and eating my own meal without splitting or sharing. I nourished my body with 3,000 or more calories a day.
In two months, I gained 30 pounds and was uncomfortable but not miserable. I slowly realized that I was also uncomfortable being the skinny I strived for, but at least it was a familiar discomfort, and it was that familiarity that I was addicted to.
People told me I was glowing and looked younger. My life was flourishing as I started to soften in my tummy and my heart. I learned that cookies and bananas are loaded with sugar and can be equally nutritious. I learned how to unclasp my hands and relax in chairs. With practice, what once seemed indulgent or unusual not only began to become my new normal, these things actually became enjoyable. Things like social experiences that involved eating outside of a schedule, or eating when I wasn’t starving and still not exercising for days.
My humility and emotions were expanding as fast as my butt and thighs and every moment I breathed in trust and breathed out the fact that it is okay to say goodbye to pants I loved and splurged on. I felt confident that I no longer needed them. I knew I didn’t want to be skinny again and I didn’t know how bad I felt until I felt better.
I was sure a bomb of estrogen exploded in my body, even though I had not yet menstruated. My husband, Kevin, confidently told me to be patient and he was right.
Six weeks later, still no period, but I couldn’t shake this feeling that there was something growing in my newfound softness. I took a pregnancy test and after the longest two minutes, which I had sat through over 20 times before only to get the same result, this one was different. The next day, Kevin, Evelyn (six months old) and I heard our little star’s heartbeat. I was seven weeks pregnant.
One year later, with a pregnancy, labor, and delivery behind me, I am laying under our sleeping Eleanor Star, she is eight weeks old.
I still practice yoga everyday, but not always on a yoga mat. I practice with deeper intentions – I do less and feel more. I am living curiously and carefully to develop equanimity around food and movement in a society that admires behaviors that support disordered eating which lead to disordered lives, invisible illness, brokenness, infertility, and isolation.
I am speechless and humbled that these two girls chose me to be their mother. My journey to motherhood (adopting Evelyn and birthing Eleanor) has taught me that when I go all in, like choosing to heal from disordered eating, I need to be ready for a transformation beyond my imagination.
VANESSA PAYNE is a passionate mom, wife, and technology professional. She strives to be in peace as a result of conscious presence and acceptance. Vanessa desires to be a resource for others to tune into, nourish and love their body, mind and spirit. She teaches mindfulness and works in data governance where she strives to help people feel heard, seen, and loved in the workplace.