Marissa Miller is a married 28-year old journalist and author from Montreal, Canada. She has suffered from an eating disorder and has been fully vegan for around four months, but has tried it at brief periods in her life before. This time however, she is sure that it will stick.
Marissa says she has had disordered eating habits and body image struggles ever since she can remember, “I used to go to the kiddie pool during daycare in a bathing suit and worry about my thighs touching.”
Like many, Marissa’s issues got worse during her teenage years and she went through phases of being very preoccupied with her weight and others where she was more relaxed around food.
She recently attended outpatient treatment at two different centres, where they advised her that veganism was likely to hinder her recovery and could be used to veil continued disordered eating habits. Marissa says, “It’s difficult to separate my eating disorder from my political views, but I can confidently say it’s not my eating disorder that wanted to go vegan, but me.”
This is an issue that her family and friends have also raised, but have quickly learnt that this is not something they can talk her out of. Like many other vegans, Marissa does not restrict what the people around her eat or wear, and asks that they extend the same respect to her.
When asked why veganism and not just vegetarianism, Marissa spoke about the horrific treatment of animals in the dairy and egg industries and likened livestock to domestic pets. “Animals are not ours to abuse, kill, wear or eat. I’ve had four cats over the last few years and they’ve all been an extension of me. I’m not saying this in like, an unhinged spinster way, but my cats all have unique, nuanced personalities in a way that is no different from a pig or a cow.”
Marissa now sees eating as an act of kindness and compassion that extends beyond mealtimes. By focusing less on how to make herself better, she has more scope to think of how she can help animals, the planet and the people she loves. She doesn’t track anything, as this is likely to lead to a relapse.
Marissa ended treatment officially in January, but says she is nowhere near recovered. The severity of her eating disorder has varied, but she now feels confident in her ability to recognise the signs of a relapse and pull herself out of it, should that happen.
Like many other sufferers, Marissa says “I don’t imagine my disordered tendencies or thoughts ever going away. I can control my behaviours and actions, and while I’m able to challenge thoughts, I’m not able to make them disappear.”
She tries not to follow vegan and recovery accounts on social media, instead preferring to get her information from M.D.’s and peer-reviewed research. This is due to the unreliable nature of influencer accounts as Marissa knows that her brain is easily susceptible to so-called ‘healthy diets’ and will lead her back down a disordered eating path.
Speaking of people who call veganism restrictive, she says it is a valid point but it’s harmful to rob eating disorder sufferers of their agency, and an important aspect of recovery is letting the sufferer make their own food choices, even if this means they make mistakes.
“It is my choice to go vegan, to make a meaningful decision about my body and my planet, and that is a form of empowerment I never had in the throes of my eating disorder and completely suffocated by the rigid rules it created for me like it was another living thing outside of me” she says.
Veganism has shifted Marissa’s relationship with food, as she now feels everything that goes into her body is meant to be there and suffers much less guilt and compensatory behaviours as a result. It has meant she can sense hunger cues again and therefore eats larger meals more frequently.
Whereas before Marissa says she felt like a helpless zombie due to continual starvation and meal skipping, she can now eat as much as she likes and continue with her day without problems.
Marissa ensures her vegan diet doesn’t let her slip back into her eating disorder by forcing herself to eat whatever she is craving. There are many vegans who follow hardcore raw diets, but she says that sometimes you just need vegan ice-cream to stay sane.
The way she sees it, in the same way that a salad won’t reverse heart disease caused by years of unhealthy eating, a single treat once in a while isn’t going to ruin her life. She says she’ll never be able to see food solely as fuel as it lights up pleasure sensors in the brain. To some extent, food is a drug to which we are all addicted and she believes we need to lean into it or else will find different, more harmful outlets for our cravings.
When asked about ‘fear foods’ – a common term within the eating disorder community for foods that trigger disordered thoughts immediately – Marissa says she fears foods for a different reason now.
“I fear animal products not because they’re calorific or fattening or anything like that, but because they’re a result of immense suffering. I can think of a couple of vegan foods that still make me anxious, like any type of white and refined carbs,” she says.
Eating disorders often teach sufferers to remove the pleasure associated with food, and Marissa says that this sometimes causes confusion in regards to foods that taste good, as she has spent years teaching her body to only eat foods that taste “like cardboard.”
Marissa says that a vegan diet has changed the way she tastes food, and has made her much more adventurous with her diet, “When I eat a plain carrot, I taste it in a whole new way. It tastes sweet and earthy and comforting, instead of being some form of punishment.” She cooks regularly and never uses recipes, but enjoys experimenting with spices and herbs. Like any other self-respecting vegan, nutritional yeast goes on everything!
Her favourite foods include massive smoothie bowls filled with leafy greens, frozen fruits and vanilla almond milk, topped with oranges, seeds and granola.
Buddha bowls are a staple dinner made up of grains, sweet potato, avocado and tofu. “And literally fuck anyone who tells you tofu causes cancer,” she says, “Animal products are higher in oestrogen than soy because they’re pregnant all the time. And vegan mayo is life-changing.”
Marissa welcomes contact from people with questions about veganism and recommends documentaries like Forks over Knives, Game Changers, What the Health and anything featuring Gary Yourofsky, an animal rights activist.
She cautions new vegans to beware of dodgy science and to do their research properly, sticking to peer-reviewed works by scientists such as Dr. Michael Greger, Dr. Neal Barnard and Dr. Dean Ornish.
Marissa urges eating disorder sufferers to not turn vegan solely for weight loss, “There’s something incredibly liberating about making a meaningful decision not for the scale, but for the wellbeing of animals, your long-term health, and the planet.”
Marissa talks at length about the roots of her eating disorder in her book Pretty Weird, releasing in 2021 from Skyhorse Publishing.