Recovery from an eating disorder can be many things: scary, stressful, empowering. For the Ferguson family, this tumultuous time was also a catalyst, instigating a ripple effect of health and healing. This daughter, mother, and grandmother team joined forces, adopted a vegan lifestyle, and are now bringing their inspiring philosophy to the public with their new plant-based café.
The day that changed everything
The memory of the day Alysa Ferguson’s teenage daughter, Daylana, approached her about her disordered eating is still vivid and painful. It was the August before she entered grade 9, and Daylana didn’t like the way eating was taking over her everyday life.
Realizing the severity of the situation, Alysa acted fast, seeking counselling. The counsellor then referred them to a pediatrician. When the medical test results came back and revealed that Daylana was at high risk of a severe cardiac incident, she was pulled out of school and taken to a hospital for specialized treatment.
The path to wellness
Reflecting on this intensive treatment, Daylana admits it was extremely challenging to be so closely monitored. Even bathroom visits and time spent walking were restricted. Still, “it was like a weight of responsibility was lifted.”
After being discharged, Daylana began to examine her life, her values, and her goals. She didn’t want to give up on her original objective of wellness and knew there had to be a better way to get there. She asked herself, “What do I believe in? How can I feel good about what I’m doing?” The answer she came to was to adopt a plant-based lifestyle.
Afraid this would lead to more restrictive eating and an unhealthy fixation on food, Alysa was against the idea at first. But she made a deal with Daylana: “Show me how you’ll do this in a healthy way.”
And that’s what Daylana did. The next day, she presented her mother with a full report detailing exactly how she would adopt a vegan diet in a healthy way—including recipes, grocery lists, and costs. Surprised and impressed, Alysa decided to dive right in alongside Daylana.
A new passion, and a new project
The mother-daughter duo sought the advice and help of professionals every step of the way, speaking with a naturopath and sports nutritionist to ensure they were obtaining all the important nutrients.
Soon, Alysa’s mother, Eileen (“Nona”) joined in. Due to her own health challenges, Eileen wanted to nourish her body with healthy, whole foods, and make wellness a priority. The duo became a trio.
“It’s food that brought us together,” Alysa explains. But now their ways of thinking about food are completely different. “Rather than thinking about a meal as meat, starch, and vegetables, we consider the meal as a whole.” Their new diet is globally inspired and full of new traditions. For example, each Christmas, they cook food from a different culture.
Daylana still fights against the stigma of the word “anorexia.” “It’s not who I am,” she explains. “Labels such as ‘anorexic’ tend to put people in a box. I don’t want people to treat me any differently or walk on eggshells around me.”
She certainly has a lot to be proud of. This year, Daylana graduated from high school, with plans to become a sports nutritionist. She’s done work experience with Erin Ireland, connected with influencers via social media, continued her athletics, and worked alongside her mother to help bring their vision of opening a restaurant to life.
When she speaks, Daylana sounds like someone much older and wiser. “I realize that if I hadn’t been vulnerable, I would have missed out on so many amazing people and experiences that have come into my life.”
Down 2 Earth Plant Parlour will be opening soon in Langley, BC. The plant-based café will serve the community delicious foods and a whole lot of heart.
3 tips for promoting a healthy lifestyle—and mindset
It’s important to promote healthy living to our children, without a focus on weight.
1. Beware of weight-related comments
Daylana recalls several instances in her childhood when people mentioned her weight. Alysa adds, “We may not realize it at the time and think that kids don’t ‘hear’ everything, but they do, and it sticks with them for a long time.”
2. Promote appreciation for food
Teach kids where food comes from, for example, by building a little garden together. “Starting at a young age, children can watch something grow, see progress, and in turn feel good about what they’ve done,” Alysa says.
3. Cook together
“The more time we can spend in the kitchen together as a family, the better,” says Alysa. It’s also an “opportunity to connect with children and check in on how things are going in their world.”
Concerned someone has an eating disorder?
If you think that you or someone you know may have an eating disorder, it’s important to reach out and seek help. Contact your doctor or a qualified therapist, or reach out to a specialized organization such as the National Eating Disorder Information Centre.
As Alysa says, “No one is alone in this. Although not many people talk about the issue of disordered eating, it’s very common—honestly, probably too common.”
Alysa offers the following suggestions for reaching out to someone who may be suffering from an eating disorder.
Make yourself as approachable as possible
Daylana says, “From a young age, my mom has always had that approachable feel, and I always knew that I could tell her anything without being judged.” Says Alysa, “I’ve always been very honest with Daylana about everything. We strived to have open, honest conversations.”
Suggest options to open up conversation
Alysa found conversations in the car with Daylana worked well. “These conversations are unique because you don’t have to make eye contact. It’s a safe time for them to open up and share what they may not in a face-to-face conversation.”
If you’re unsure if someone has an eating disorder, going out for a bite to eat may offer confirmation. Take note: are they eating? Are they really present in the moment/conversation or do they seem distracted by the thought of food?
Vegan kids, vegan families
Research shows that a vegan diet can be a healthy option for all stages of life, if done correctly. Is your child expressing an interest in eating only plant-based foods? Here are Alysa’s top tips:
- Rather than shutting the child down right away, take the time to do some research—both pros and cons—and even take the time to do that research together, as a family.
- If this may be a lifestyle that interests you, transition slowly and then eventually try a few weeks/months of following a plant-based diet to assess how you feel.
- Build a healthy pantry: take time on the weekends to make some quick and easy sauces, dips, and other staples that can provide ease during the week ahead to avoid grabbing less healthy options.
If you decide to follow a vegan diet, check regularly with a health professional to make sure you and your children aren’t missing out on any of these important nutrients:
- vitamin D
- vitamin B12
Shift the focus from body weight
Alysa and Daylana urge people to reconsider the way we speak to one another and shift the focus away from the topic of body weight.
“There is no ‘right’ way to approach this, as different things trigger different people,” cautions Alysa. But she feels that people need to be aware of how they greet one another.
Warns Daylana, “Comments such as ‘You look so healthy’ when a person has lost weight can be harmful.”
“Acknowledging one’s inner achievements/beauty is far more rewarding than commenting on their external appearance,” Alysa adds.
Alysa suggests asking open-ended questions, such as “You’re looking so happy these days! Tell me what’s making you so happy in your world?” rather than “You’ve lost weight—you’re looking good!”
Leah Payne is a writer, editor, blogger, and mom who regularly contributes to alive. leahstellapayne.com; instagram.com/leahstellapayne; cedarhillcreative.ca