Nourishment At The Intersection

Author: Valerie Spain

Life Coach, Writer, Visual Artist, and Long-Time Meditator

My life is affected by many things: motherhood, divorce, living in the United States in a white body, to name just a few. Regarding my health, my energies have focused on managing the intersection of an eating disorder and type 1 diabetes. The thread that binds them all is meditation.

In college and throughout my early twenties, I struggled with disordered eating, eventually developing bulimia. At thirty-three years old, while in recovery from that eating disorder, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. At the time, I was in an abusive marriage with two children under six, and the most miraculous thing that happened in regards to my physical health is, I didn’t relapse and develop diabulimia a serious eating disorder affecting folks with type 1 diabetes.

But why not when all the conditions for relapse were there? 

My bolt of insight

Soon after diagnosis, my doctor handed me a piece of paper titled, The Diabetic Diet. It outlined rigid eating patterns that mimicked the habits of my food addiction, but despite all the red flags waving, I didn’t believe I had a choice, so I followed directions. I ate the suggested amount of food from the suggested food groups and took the suggested amount of insulin. 

But several weeks into that routine, after gobbling down half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to stop plummeting blood sugars—I wasn’t hungry but had to eat—I was hit by a bolt of insight: Diabetes would fit into my life not the other way around. In other words, I would not let type 1 diabetes define how I lived, but first I had to understand what I was dealing with. 

I needed to understand how diabetes affected my body. Could I apply what I already knew from overcoming bulimia to caring for this condition? Yes, I could draw on the healthy eating habits developed in recovery. That pivot was mindfulness in action—a partnership of understanding the situation and learning what was necessary and possible regarding self-care, including looking directly at my fears. And there was plenty of fear in looking directly at my suffering around food.

When that type 1 diagnosis arrived, I had a nascent mindfulness meditation practice, which started in my mid-twenties while living in Key West, Florida. I was still struggling with my eating disorder when I met a woman who introduced me to meditation. The benefits were immediate: more calm, more awareness of life in this moment with less attachment to thoughts of past and future. Meditation opened the door to the pivotal insight above. I needed a partnership with diabetes based on understanding where I had agency. I could flourish with diabetes, not despite it.

Our history with food

How we eat and the rituals that surround eating create a culture of physical and emotional nourishment. We love certain foods we ate as children because they satisfy psychosocial needs and tap directly into original experiences of food as love and care. The love we received in childhood is measured, in part, with ladles and measuring cups. How were we fed literally and figuratively? 

The austere food traditions of my family were deeply influenced by the Great Depression. I grew up hearing stories of hardship and hunger. My maternal grandparents were poor working-class European immigrants, and while my father’s family was slightly better off, he was one of eight siblings. He talked about grabbing his portion as soon as food was on the table. There were no leftovers, and no night trips to the pantry for snacks. 

Women on both sides of the family cooked plain meals using plain ingredients. And though my parents modestly eclipsed their parents’ economic status, they remained frugal and wary. Perhaps it was the dour northern European influence of making do without complaint. Food was utilitarian, and eating together was about having enough to eat. 

It’s not that we didn’t celebrate birthdays, weddings, and the like, but sharing food was not a pleasure of everyday life growing up unless it was the pleasure of feeling that maybe now there might be enough. Yet our hearts yearn to be fed once basic needs are met. What we consume, we digest. It becomes part of us.

What are we truly hungry for? 

The health of the body isn’t just about putting any kind of food in our mouth. If that were true, fast food, chips, and soda would meet our health needs but they don’t. Food without nutritional value, eaten without a feeling of belonging, keeps us literally and figuratively hungry, always consuming, and never satisfied

My introduction and dedication to meditation developed at the same time that I was recovering from an eating disorder, dealing with a diabetes diagnosis, and navigating a very troubled marriage. Meditation wasn’t the only reason I was able to get through those challenges and begin to flourish—friends, therapy, and time in nature were also necessary—but mindfulness helped me identify what I yearned deeply for. It wasn’t another slice of cake. 

And sometimes… it was.

The pleasures of mindful eating

I discovered Megrette Fletcher’s "Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes" many years ago, and for a long time, I honestly could not sit still long enough to eat mindfully. So much anxiety arose every time I tried paying attention to the experience of eating. I had long connected “enjoying” food, or eating what I wanted, with binging, so it followed that I believed pausing to enjoy the flavors, textures, and odors of food would lead me back to binging. 

I carried that belief into many parts of my life. 

If I enjoyed my life, relationships, clothes, etc., and found real pleasure in sensual experiences like eating, I would lose control and be vulnerable. It took a long time to enjoy the sensual pleasure of eating, though I still tend to enjoy it more often in the company of others. Eating alone for pleasure and beauty is still a work in progress. 

But change isn’t immediate. Sometimes we have epiphanies that knock us off our feet, but incremental change is more typical, often invisible unless you’re paying close attention. It helps to have supportive people to reflect the reality of change in your life. Friends or family, coach or therapist—people who will love and support you through the process of eating—and living—mindfully. 


I’ve shared much about food and family and how they affect how we nourish ourselves physically and emotionally. I’m offering some exercises I’ve done that helped me examine my food habits and their origins.

If you want to “get out of your head” and access the right side of your brain, you can dance, sing, draw, or collage your responses.

  • What did certain dishes and foods mean to you growing up? Do you still eat them? Why or why not?
  • Think of a food memory that involves another person, like cooking with a parent, relative, or trusted adult. Be as precise as you can, and pay attention to sensations in the body. What feelings arise, and where in your body are they located?
  • What else were you taking in—what else was happening—during the times you ate with family?

Finally… learn to pause

Pausing is a moment—a nano-moment—of mindfulness. Tara Brach calls it the sacred pause. It’s always available no matter what is going on around you. 

Pause to say grace and give thanks for the food so many human and nonhuman beings labored to bring to your table. 

Pause to breathe and listen. Pause to care for one another. Pause to nourish heart, mind, and body.

Valerie Spain ACC, CPCC (she/hers) is a leadership and life coach, working with leaders and managers, as well as individuals. She is a Mindfulness Mentor and received her coaching certification from the CoActive Training Institute in 2017.

Her passion is helping women navigate toxic workplaces, past and present, with a focus on regaining confidence and learning healing practices to thrive. As someone who has flourished with type 1 diabetes for over thirty years, she also offers emotional wellness coaching for other people living with type 1.

Valerie’s coaching is grounded in awareness-based practices that reference somatics, brain science, nature, mindfulness, the visual arts and writing, and ritual, and draws from a decades-long meditation practice. She believes people are inherently creative, resourceful, and whole. 

Valerie is also a visual artist and author, with two books in a Random House Young Reader series. She publishes a bi-weekly Substack newsletter, Glorious Ordinary.

Find out more on LinkedIn or her website. Email her at


  1. Mayo Clinic. (2024, February 29). Bulimia Nervosa. 
  2. Cleveland Clinic. (2022, March 31). Diabulimia. 
  3. Riva Greenberg developed the Flourishing approach to living with diabetes. So that “…all people who live with diabetes [can] find something positive in the living and use diabetes as a catalyst to create a healthier, happier and more meaningful life.v
  4. Harris, T. Recognizing What You Need: The Art of Flourishing with Diabetes. Beyond Type 1. 
  5. Britannica. Great Depression. ttps:// 
  6. Brach, T. The Sacred Pause.