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Gravity Brain


Katie Clancy

How an eating disorder brought me to make peace with my plate

Ar 170509595
Alexi Grojean/Special to DGO
Ar 170509595
Alexi Grojean/Special to DGO

As summer approaches, we high country humans naturally begin to perk up about out health, and those usual concerns about weight and swimsuits are supplemented with conversations about detox, diets, and performance-enhancing drugs.

At least mine are.

I’d like to jump-start those conversations by dedicating several columns to exploring how food and nutrition can make us more optimal human beings. I’m interested to know how we can upgrade our brain matter, reduce inflammation, boost our immune systems, and, of course, finally locate that Holy Grail of nutrition: The perfect breakfast.

But, in the interest of full disclosure, you should know that taking food advice from me is like getting career advice from John Travolta.

My relationship to food, like many of us, I’d assume, is only slightly more complicated than a dysfunctional love affair. Like a love affair at work. With your boss’ boss. Who is married to your accountant. And you’re being audited.

In the past, “food” was my attempt to put order into a world that felt chaotic and out of control. I fell in love with dance very young and learned self-discipline to sculpt my body into what I truly felt was an expression of capital-b Beauty. Somewhere in the middle of puberty I realized that food could control the thing I valued the most: My body.

I developed an eating disorder; I rejected proper nutrition. My nervous system burned out. I broke bones.

Dance is part art, part athletics. Ask any ball player ­– you start with some talent then it becomes work, work, work, reps, reps, reps.

In college at a major dance conservatory in New York City, that meant six to 12 hours a day spent in the studio taking class and rehearsing/training for shows. When I developed a stress fracture during the fall of my senior year, confining me to a cast for six months, I was devastated. Graduation was months away and I was supposed to be in the best shape of my life, preparing for cattle call auditions in hopes of being hired by a major dance company.

I swam and practiced Pilates religiously; I applied the same strictness and ruthless discipline to my diet.

While my college mates were training, I gimped through the East Village and stumbled upon one of America’s first raw food cafés, Jubb’s Lifeforce. A fraudster cloaked in shaman’s clothing, David Jubb’s whole shtick promoted the “frugavore” diet: Flowering fruit only. No beets, watermelon, or nuts; animal protein was a death sentence. He was obsessed with liver flushes and charged $400 per hour coaching his devotees through 14-day fasts.

I bought into the belief in hopes of keeping my body strong and lithe. I even worked in the kitchen for free smoothies and learned some of the science behind raw-food world – and I did benefit from the fresh salads and digestive enzymes. But one night I saw Jubb at a fancy Italian restaurant with his fist in the breadbasket, and my disillusionment brought me back to reality.

My short stint as a raw-food faddist it is just one example of the many ways I have misunderstood my drive to be a high-performance athlete and mistakenly sought something unattainable and “perfect.” It took family, friends and therapy to escape those self-sabotaging techniques.

Today, I am at peace with my plate.

It’s important, however, to name the tricksters that lurk in my psyche, posed to disrupt just about any meal. They say naming your fears gives you power over them, so meet my bitches:

First there’s Judge Judy, who has a keen eye from all the carrot juice she drinks and is secretly judging you based on the size and shape of your body. She watches you from a pedestal and sees you pouring another glass of wine or putting chips into your grocery basket. She attacks your moral soundness when you eat a little too much potato salad at the barbecue.

Then there’s Faddist Fanny who’s SO EXCITED because she just learned something new and groundbreaking about nutrition and wants YOU to know so YOU can change RIGHT NOW! Fanny stands proudly at the party and waits for the host to push a platter of deviled eggs into her face, and, instead of politely saying “no” and then changing the subject, she smiles, laughs a little to herself, and brings all the attention to herself: “No thank you, I am gluten-free, alcohol-free, grain-free, sugar-free, taste-free.”

Finally, Gated-community Gabby doesn’t eat out in public a lot due to her dietary restrictions. She’s highly regimented and strict about her nutrition and has long-forgotten the joy of connecting with others through food.

Look, let’s not downplay the seriousness of eating disorders. They are real, and often times, impossible to talk about. I know that many people suffer a lot more than I ever did from self-induced starvation and/or food-related illnesses. If you are feeling overwhelmed and undersupported, please reach out to Axis Health or Riversage Counseling in Durango.

If, by the end of the day, after we’re done preparing perfect meals and taking supplements and exercising just right, there’s no energy left for anyone else, then what’s the point?

I’m lucky to have a guy whose motto is eat, drink and be merry. He assures me “plump” is a good thing. And after all the years, all the named fears, sometimes I find myself thinking: Easy for you to say, skinny boy.

Katie Clancy is the co-owner of Studio Soma, a therapeutic movement and bodywork sanctuary in Durango. She is also a freelance writer and dances with 20Moons Dance Theatre.​