Some of you have been keeping tabs on my life over the last few months via social media mostly. I’ve been a pretty busy girl but oh, so happy.
Let me also start by saying I debated writing this particular blog because it is so personal and tells so much about me. But I think to understand why I’m so happy now you have to understand why I was so unhappy with myself before.
Allow me to explain…
I was a really skinny girl when I was younger. I was second tallest in my class in 8th grade with a bird body and knobby knees. I kept that body for a while even through high school. I remember the typical “Oh, I’m so fat!” conversations among friends at the lunch table where they’d grimace at my size 4 jeans.
But just like having good grades to start out with becomes a burden to bear, so did my weight. I developed an eating disorder known as anorexia in high school. I remember this display in the school hall advertising “Eating Disorder Awareness Month” and how I hated even going near it.
I even remember one day getting so upset because of my own self image and then getting into a silly argument with a friend and running out of the classroom to the bathroom and yelling at myself in the mirror.
Fortunately, I think my mom had an idea or at least a notion of what was going on and always made me eat my meals, much to my dismay.
College was a different story though. In college there were days I survived on granola bars and stovetop stuffing (gross, yes, but I didn’t know how to cook and it filled me enough so that I wouldn’t pass out). There were still days that I would be so weak I would almost pass out in the shower.
There were a lot of good days too where it wasn’t constantly on my mind, don’t get me wrong. But Julie as I loathingly called my eating disorder, would always come back to haunt me and remind me why I wasn’t pretty or skinny enough.
I remember when I was in my sorority, one of my sorority sisters who was outspoken about her eating disorder was going to be speaking at an eating disorder awareness event that was to be mandatory. I freaked out. There was no way I could handle standing around listening to someone talk about that kind of stuff without breaking down. Since I knew the campus leader over Greek life had said anyone could email him anytime we had questions, I emailed him in secret to request this event not to be mandatory because it could make people feel uncomfortable.
Much to my dismay, his “open door” policy wasn’t so open. He told our executive board which was angry that I had emailed him. They made the event mandatory anyway and tried to have everyone who didn’t attend stand up and declare why they refused to go. Talk about accepting. I said nothing.
I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I just want you to understand where I’m coming from. This isn’t easy to tell. If it was, I would have proudly stood up at my sorority meeting. Instead, I hid in fear I’d break down and Julie would get the best of me.
Fast forward a few years later. Slowly I’ve been trying to accept myself and my body image for what it is- normal, healthy, and a little curvy. Deployments, going without someone you love so much for half a year with a Pizza Hut down the street, it’s all torture. It would lead to nights of eating as much pizza as possible and days of hating myself.
Slowly my obsession and fascination with skincare led me to a healthier road.
I attended school to be an esthetician in 2008. The four month, full-time school which allowed me to become a licensed esthetician, or skincare specialist, got me thinking. The director of our school touched briefly on internal health: flax seed, green tea. Just enough to get me doing my own research after graduating.
Because of my skincare obsession, I followed some of Dr. Perricone’s books and in January 2010 I went on a diet inspired by him for a month. For 4 weeks, I ate salmon EVERY day, avoided dairy, and lots of antioxidants like blueberries in my diet. My skin had never been healthier.
As a child I had forgone eating pork for over 10 years because I had always wanted a pet pig. I remember reading an interview by Alicia Silverstone circa Clueless that said that pigs have the intelligence of 3 year old humans. After that I refused pork.
Thinking back on this period in my life and learning what I had from Dr. Perricone, I decided to go pescatarian- basically vegetarian with the exception of fish and seafood.
I was still slowly gaining weight though, especially after deployment, aka the pizza era. I realized I needed to do a little more for myself.
I started running during deployment which really helped to discipline myself, even though I didn’t love it. At least my lab was getting exercise.
January this year is when everything really changed though. January 4th, 2011 I decided to go vegan for a month as a detox diet. Just as I had the year before, I planned on returning to being pescatarian after the month was over.
But something incredible happened. I started to feel good.
It was hard at first. I made mistakes- silly ones like not checking what the ingredients in my vitamins. Not knowing all the names for milk protein (who knew non-dairy creamer still has milk in it?!). Not realizing that gelatin is in EVERYthing that tastes good.
And I missed cheese badly. I always loved cheese. It was a weakness. I once said one of the worst things that could happen to me would be to become lactose intolerant. Which I did years later. I loved cheese but it hated me back.
But after about 4 weeks, 7 excess pounds sliding effortlessly right off me, and the refusal of an variety of dairy delights, I realized something really had changed.
I had truly changed.
I stopped missing dairy. Instead, I remembered how I felt after uncontrollably eating multitudes of pizza by myself. Or that time I ate quite easily a whole pound of cheddar at one of the wives’ houses.
I started to put a lot more thought into my food- I had to, because I had to read every label thoroughly. When you start paying attention to labels- the ingredient label, NOT the calories and the fat part- you stumble across a myriad of ingredients that make you question whether something that sounds like it could fuel airplanes should be going in your body.
Even my taste buds felt like they had changed. I started out being a child who hated vegetables and eating in general and would only order the simplest dish on any menu at a restaurant (usually chicken fingers plain until I discovered honey mustard at age 18- then only chicken fingers and honey mustard). Somehow I transformed into someone who isn’t afraid to try new things. And actually likes them!
Who would have thought I’d be eating shredded beets daily or looking forward to maple roasted squash? Who would have thought I’d love olives? Or tempeh? Or sweet potatoes (one of the best foods in the WORLD)?
I gave up caffeine initially too. It never liked my sensitive stomach anyway. I completely ditched sodas (though I do enjoy the occasion delicious natural soda- so much tastier anyway!) and turned instead to drinking loads and loads of water as I never had before. I found out that headaches and dizziness I frequently experienced since as long as I could remember were due to a constant state of dehydration.
Even my skin, which I had problems with since high school despite my meticulous studies and research, was doing MUCH better if I ate lots of veggies and fruits and drank a ton of water. Who’d have thought I should have tried healing it from the inside out?
I was already listening to books on tape on my work commute so I thought I’d give “healthy” books a shot though I dreaded they’d put me to sleep. They had quite the opposite effect. I started with Kathy Freston’s book Veganist (about shifting toward a vegan diet and all its associated health benefits), which, if I had any doubt about going back to my regular diet, that book (and the ten pounds I lost) convinced me.
I continued with Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma (it should be noted, NOT a book about vegetarianism or veganism but about what goes into our food). I felt like my eyes were being opened to this whole world of information I can’t believe I never knew before. I even convinced my husband to watch “Food Inc.” with me, a documentary based on Omnivore’s Dilemma but with other information too. Nick too began to read Omnivore’s Dilemma on his own.
Fast forward a few months. Somehow I got lucky enough to have my favorite health food store on the island open up a location only 5 miles away from my home.
I was hesitant about even considering leaving my job because the pay was so good and I was frankly scared. But the more I stayed, the more I knew it wasn’t a good fit.
The hour commute into town each way was slowly killing me. The job became less and less of a good fit. I knew a job fair was coming up for the new health food store but I was sure I wouldn’t make it. Besides, would I really leave my job?
The day after my birthday, also the day of the job fair, I had a meeting with my boss that left me in tears. It was then I decided that I couldn’t be in an environment where I felt so disliked and useless- and it took me two hours daily of driving only to be miserable. I knew it was too late for the job fair, but desperate and hopeful at the same time, I contacted the employee who ran their social media account for the store (who I communicated with all the time online) to see if there was a chance anything was still open. She hurriedly asked me to submit my resume!
It couldn’t have been more meant to be. Actively using my esthetician background, I got possibly my dream job. I’m the buyer for the store’s cosmetics, body care, and natural living department. I work with people who understand me and who are nice. I’m learning so much every day about how to live healthy and I’m able to pass on my knowledge to people who want to hear it and are thankful to me for sharing it. It’s pretty much a dream come true. And down the road could lead me to a position as a cosmetics or skincare company representative, maybe even a trainer for the products which is probably one of the most fun jobs I can imagine.
I get to eat healthy every day in an environment where people consider my needs. I had started bringing my own lunch for myself to work meetings where food was provided at my previous job because my dietary concerns were continually dismissed.
Being around health and learning more only makes me happier. I have never had such a positive body image. I no longer obsess over labels nutritional facts- besides, you can usually tell by the packaging if it’s even worth making it to the ingredient label. Julie, for the first time in my life, no longer haunts me. I have even found my activity of choice, yoga, which helps me feel strong, lean, and whole. It clears my mind and betters me in so many ways. I still run now and then but I still know I don’t love it. Hey, at least the beagle doesn’t love it either. :)
If you follow me on social media, there’s a good chance you roll your eyes every time I post an article on a study about health or nutrition. I promise I don’t do it to annoy you. Like someone who has lost over 100 pounds of body weight on shows like the “Biggest Loser,” I feel like I have completely changed my life. Eating healthy and staying truly hydrated has even changed the way my brain works- it literally doesn’t think the same way, especially with my mood rollercoasters that used to trigger Julie.
Surely you can understand this was a pretty personal subject for me to talk about. I’m hoping it just helps you understand where I’m coming from and where I am now. And that’s it’s not a phase. It’s hard to be so excited about living healthy and feeling so much better about myself and not want to share information with others. Besides, you never know what you might trigger in someone just by recommending a great article or book on the topic. Maybe someone else is at the end of their rope of an eating disorder or weight issue. Maybe you just want to gain a healthier body image/body weight and are frustrated where to begin. I don’t know and I never will.
But I’m happy. Really, really happy with who I am and what I look like for the first time in my whole life and it’s due to taking a chance and making healthy decisions for once. I laugh when people say “vegan diet.” I don’t believe in diets. I hate the word “diet” because it indicates obsession over food and looking for the wrong things in foods- not to mention a temporary quick fix which is typically unhealthy (Master Cleanse, anyone?).
Avoiding carbs? Please! I can eat spaghetti every night of the week and not stress about gaining weight now just by ensuring my labels read 100% whole wheat or using brown rice pasta instead of the “whole wheat” claiming pasta I used before which only contained 51% of the real whole wheat stuff.
Low fat? Pfft. Ever heard of healthy fats and omega fatty acids? There’s a whole world of information and misinformation out there.
What it comes down to is this: Make healthy choices. Do your research. Maybe a vegan lifestyle isn’t right for everyone but it doesn’t mean you should meander blindly through life without giving a second thought to what you’re putting into your body. “We are what we eat” is pretty accurate. Food and water are our sustenance, our lifeblood. What we put into (and on) our bodies should be so much more of a decision and so much more thought should go into it than typically does. “Vegan” food or “healthy” food is just real food, typically without the processing. I challenge you to watch “Food Inc.” (available free and streaming on Netflix) and not come out of it questioning what you have grown up learning about the old Food Pyramid. If you really want an eye opening experience, pick up Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma or In Defense of Food (I recommend both, in that order- next on my list is Food Rules by Mr. Pollan). You will certainly never look at corn the same way again. And if you think I’m eating weird food with strange names, I’d be happy to share my recipe for vegan whole wheat blueberry-raspberry pancakes with walnuts and macadamia nuts. Or the string beans and asparagus cooked in a bit of coconut oil with garlic, ginger, and crushed red pepper. Or vegan lilikoi (passion fruit) cupcakes with coconut glaze.
If you made it this far, thanks for hearing my story. Maybe it will have an effect. Maybe it won’t. At least I came clean (pun intended) and hopefully it helps you understand my giddiness to tell you all about this amazing lifestyle change I’ve undergone. Oh, and thanks to my friends who have made sure they’ve had veggies and fruits at events - and even made vegan cupcakes! You guys are awesome. :)
To my mom, thanks for making me eat and for always supporting me (and even trying and loving the Amy's Roasted Veggie Vegan pizza!) and to my husband, I cannot thank you enough for supporting me in everything, and even participating in my journey and being open to learning too. You are the best husband a girl could ask for.