OCD, Ethics, and the Ultimate Paralysis of Fear


2013, eating ice cream in Paris. Rare to take a photo without one of them pulling a goofy face!

This day I’d like to share with you a little something different. It’s not entirely uplifting but maybe, just maybe there’s a little bit of hope at the end for all of us. You may have noticed my brief hiatus from posting on this blog. It was a natural pause for me because it occurred after our family trip to San Francisco until now.  I always find it difficult to get back into the swing of cooking and blogging after eating out and being served for so long and it’s normal for me to end up with a little bit of depression. This depression is somewhat paralyzing and regularly affects me after holidays but this time there was a bit more to it.

At the same time that we (hubby, kid number 1, and I) came back from San Francisco, kid number two returned from her school trip to Europe. She spoke animatedly about everything she saw, did, and felt.  When she finally went to bed I had a moment to reflect on her.  My daughter, the once healthy, brilliant, artistic teenage girl, had lost yet another ten pounds to her already slim 95 lbs. There was no escaping it anymore, no way to turn away and definitely no more taking chances on her promises of eating more.IMG_4251 (2)Let me tell you a bit about my girl:

  • She’s brilliant. A full International Baccalaureate student with a 95% average. She loves theoretical physics and learning about the world around her.
  • She’s artistic. As a young artist using different mediums she’s always been talented but now she excels. She has recently taken part in her first art showing, sold her first 3 pieces, and has been invited to take part in Market Collective here in Calgary as a ‘youth artist’.
  • She’s loving. This year for my 40th birthday she was able to track down (and make) the Chocolate Carrot Cake recipe that I’ve been trying to get for years. She’s taken over making Mother’s Day reservations from her dad (thank goodness!) and already has one made for Mother’s Day 2015.
  • She’s kind.  She regularly volunteers her time at various events within Calgary and at her school to help those less fortunate.
  • She’s athletic. Yes, it’s true she would laugh at this statement but she is athletic by sheer determination, not talent. She has a brown belt in Karate and is a regular runner.

But I’m worried. Her perfectionist and obsessive personality are taking over all of the things that I love about her.  What started out as ‘eating healthier’ and becoming fit in order to try out for a rugby team has taken over her life. Her restrictive eating is so severe that every meal has become a fight. I can’t help but think back to the days of when she was a toddler. She was never easy to feed, but at least if I waited long enough she would be hungry enough to try what was set out in front of her. Then came the time when she was within the ‘age of reason’. Our rule was always: try a bite, then another. In this way we eventually enjoyed normality at the dinner table…until last summer.

It began as a restriction of all refined carbohydrates and sugar. There was no reason to panic, everyone could use less carbs and sugars in their lives, including our family. I can’t imagine it was easy for her to begin this restriction as she was quite the baker, often baking cookies and not sharing them…

Then there was dairy. It became a fight to get her to drink even one glass of milk a day and even more difficult to have cheese on pizza, casseroles, or pasta (and by this time I am talking whole wheat pasta).

Then there was meat. I have often made meatless meals a weekly event and she has been quite appreciative but now any meal with meat in it becomes devastating.  I believe that her use of media; the daily visitation of vegetarian and vegan food blogs, and propaganda filled anti-meat videos has paired with her obsessive disorder has taken over her sense of preservation.  Her desire to obey her brain has overcome the desire to feed her body.

She insists her restrictive eating obsessions and her views on vegan-ism are two separate things. How can I even possibly begin to believe this is true? While it’s no secret that wholesale animal farming can often go hand in hand with inhumane slaughter, I know, as a farmer’s daughter, that the horrors shown on many agenda driven propaganda videos aren’t always the case. Humans evolved partly because they were smart enough to hunt and eat meat along with gathered seeds, roots, and tubers. Historically our varied diet gave us an advantage and once farming evolved we were able to evolve on a much larger scale. Organized societies, religion, discoveries in science, and art are all around today because farming enabled humans. As our populations grew farming became more intense, eventually leading to unethical practices such as caging, stunning, feedlots, and methods that increase production but cause animals to suffer in their short time on this earth.

Becoming vegan seems to be an ethical choice for many (including my daughter) but meat and animal products will always be served at my table. Animals specifically raised for the food industry would never have existed if it wasn’t for farming practices and they would never survive if suddenly every farmer was to turn them loose. I do believe that we, as consumers, have the responsibility to choose ethically raised proteins. We have the purchasing power to let meat conglomerates know that we won’t stand for inhumane practices. I guess you could say in a way that my daughter, through her illness, has made me aware of these matters.

If my daughter was well and in complete control of her compulsions, I would support her efforts towards a vegan lifestyle. It wouldn’t be easy but with proper menu planning she could get the necessary nutrients, proteins, and carbohydrates needed to live. Right now, we’ve arrived at a stalemate. Fish and shellfish are okay. Chicken is tough, beef is a no-go. I haven’t even tried pork yet. The stress of planning out meals to avoid tears has left me hating something I have once loved so much. Worrying about the damage her current diet and restrictions are doing to her body, her mental state (OCD and anguish over my insistence that she continue eating animals), and that age old question of ‘What to make for dinner’ (where the pressure is now multiplied by a thousand) has left me paralyzed. I am in a constant state of fear that I may lose my daughter and that my obsession with food, as a food blogger, is to blame.

I’m no longer standing by and allowing my daughter to restrict herself to death. Though I know there is a long and difficult path ahead for both of us, my love for her won’t allow me to stand by any longer. Last Friday was a tough, exhausting day of appointments and harsh realities.  I do expect things to get worse before they can get better because the sad reality is that help for this sort of condition only arrives when there is a full on five alarm emergency. Waiting lists and red tape often hinder therapy but my daughter is worth it. And so much more.


  1. kelli

    I just came across this by chance, as I too have a daughter nearly 18 with restrictive eating/ocd coming out of the pandemic and have always been very into “clean” eating……we grow vegetables in the front yard and eat grass fed, etc……..the trying to cook for her has been the hardest thing ever for the last two years or so. I do hope your daughter is better, now seeing that this is an old post. Thanks so much for the courage to tell your story and hopefully you have stopped blaming yourself, I know how hard it is!


    1. Bernice Hill

      Thank you for reading this very old post. I’ve debated deleting it but left it in case anyone can benefit from it. Our daughter has overcome her eating disorder and is doing very well. For that, we are so thankful. She is still vegan but she no longer uses it as an excuse to restrict herself. I have been thinking that the pandemic may have been triggering for many with ED as it is a form of control during a time of uncertainty. We were very lucky to get the right help for our daughter and I hope you have also found a way to help your daughter. We had a program through our local Children’s Hospital if that helps.

  2. janet @ the taste space

    Hi there, I stumbled through this post through FBC and hope your daughter is doing better. Orthorexia can be very hurtful, too, and sometimes veganism can be used as a way to masquerade an eating disorder (and other times it can help recovery). I really liked Gena’s recent post on EDs and fear foods and being vegan. You might find it pertinent with your daughter as well: http://www.choosingraw.com/on-veganism-eating-disorder-recovery-and-no-foods/


    1. dishnthekitchen

      Thank you Janet. Great post and fitting. We are doing better for sure but it’s a long road. Some of the recipes on this site look pretty good too!

  3. B. Lea

    I have been in similar shoes as your daughter. I have both OCD and restrictive eating. I have worked hard on both of these things for most of my life, but often they are intertwined in each other. Sometimes I think, as I get older, that it becomes a game of wack a mole. My OCD or my disordered eating will pop up in a weird manifestation of itself and I have to work hard to identify it and bob it on the head before it develops into something totally out of control. The good news is even though I will never be rid of either of these things, I can see it and I can stop it. Stop it before it takes over my life like it once did and stop it before I do damage to my health. I have worked hard with professionals as well as with my self. The best thing I did was find a therapist who specialized in anxiety and OCD because the food thing, for me, was a symptom of those items. Regardless, dealing with any one of the concerns will always help the others. Long story short: I went through some hard times, but I am better because of it and now I can manage myself very well. I’ll have years of being OK and when a little bit of OCD pops-up, I am able to address it then and keep things in check. I am telling you this to hopefully give you a little reassurance that there is hope. Love can only go so far, but in the end, the unconditional part of it was the thing I needed most. I could relax because I knew I always had my mum in the corner fighting just as hard as me; even on bad days when I couldn’t anymore.

    I am sorry that you have to go through this. I can’t begin to imagine how hard this is. It challenges every part of you: as a mother; as a food lover. I appreciate how open you are about talking about it and I hope that we, as your readers, can be a support system of unconditional love for you. My wish is that you also take good care of yourself– first. I know that is easier said then done, but try to make sure that you eat well, and sleep as best as you can, and get the time that you need to care for yourself so you can be in a good place to support your daughter.

    I know I can’t say anything that can fix this for you, and I wish I could. There is hope and you are doing all the right things for your daughter. Please ensure that you do all the right things for you, too.


    1. dishnthekitchen

      Thank you so much B for sharing your story. Taking care of me is usually the last thing on my list…but I am beginning to realize more and more that isn’t a good idea. My girl is doing much better…and I think she’s going to be okay. Will it be a lifelong struggle…probably. I’m hoping that later when she is an adult, she’ll be able to recognize when things are heading in the wrong direction just as you can.

  4. cathyandchucky

    Dear Bernice I feel so dearly for you, your daughter and your whole family as this does affect everybody. Counselling is important . It is strange that often these compulsions affect the very brightest of children. You’d think they’d know better and be able to reason themselves out of it, but in the end they can’t. My sister is a vegan too. She has had to deal with severe anaemia until she learned how to eat and prepare iron rich meals from veg etc. I wish you and your family all the very best as you go through these hard times. I also have a bi polar/schizophrenic elder daughter too but that’s a whole other story. We’re all here for you if you need to vent Bernice xox


    1. dishnthekitchen

      Thank you so much Cathy. That is a whole other story and I know because bipolar disorder runs in my family too. Mental health is so important. Love can only go so far!

  5. Laureen Fox

    Bernice, your story sounded so familiar and then I remembered having read it in a memoir by the brilliant, artistic, beautiful Emily Wierenga http://www.emilywierenga.com/atlas-girl/

    Hug your daughter and hold her tight … even if it seems like the last thing she wants. Grateful to you for sharing. Praying all goes well.


    1. dishnthekitchen

      Thank you Laureen. I will definitely have a look at that link.

  6. chef mimi

    Oh my gosh. This is so scary, but it definitely sounds like you’re doing the right thing. You must advocate for your daughter, because she obviously isn’t. I’ve read that this often happens to extremely bright, perfectionist-type children. We then also expect them to be intelligently rational, but they’re not. Good luck. I wish I had something more profound to say.


    1. dishnthekitchen

      Nope. you hit the nail on the head exactly with what is happening here. A brilliant mind is sometimes a dangerous thing.

  7. itskateandme

    Keep going please!! There isn’t enough help,but there is a fight to Heber so fight for all u can get.this needs support for her but u too. I recognise these behaviou rs. And I’m in tears.once again this witty illness takes over another beautiful talented child.don’t let it go.the sooner a first barrier is broken the better.as waiting leads to not only the illness itsel but it becoming addiction like,engrained.
    U love ur girl that’s plain to see.ur in this together.it will be hard but not impossible.
    Does she see it.is she unhappy or still kidding herself maybe.
    Ur so brave,u sound amazing to have on onesidexx. Dnt you let her illness take u.its got no rights over ur love of food,meal plawnning etc,tell it out loud,scream it and keep food ur love,keep normal.let what makes u happy do so then ull be so much mre able to fight this.
    I give u the biggest of hugs anqd strength.u can do this.believe.
    Hold on.
    If iv want to let anythingvput is like to be a strage old stranger and say I’m here.because if u need me I can be here.ur posts got to me because I can’t stand what this illness takes.the loss is a whole that never closes.
    Ur Brill.ur daughter clearly is too so ull win:D


    1. dishnthekitchen

      thank you so much for your words of encouragement. I will definitely fight for my daughter so is so important to me.

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