Health is a funny thing. It means a lot of different things to a lot of different people and it is always changing for me personally. What does “health” mean to you? For some it means disease free. For others it means exercising regularly.
When I was younger health was determined solely by the number on the scale or the number on my clothing. I was never happy with the numbers I saw, regardless of how much they decreased. I wasn’t eating much and I wasn’t happy.
Later on in my life health had transformed to mean eating foods that I thought were healthy and exercising for hours a day. I stressed myself out so much about food. It was to the point where I would break into tears while out to dinner with family if there was cheese and croutons on my salad. I would never miss a day of exercise because the guilt wouldn’t let me sleep. I was miserable.
I couldn’t maintain that lifestyle while juggling work, nursing school and other responsibilities. So I decided to give up completely and had the mindset that if I can’t do things right, I might as well not do them at all. I gained about twenty pounds that year. My clothes didn’t fit anymore and I had zero energy. I told myself that I was getting older and this is just how it is – that I would have to choose between a healthy body or a successful life. I thought that I couldn’t have both.
A few months after graduating nursing school, I became pregnant. I was sick right from the get-go and if I wasn’t eating, I was vomiting. So I justified eating junk food constantly. And I told myself because I felt dizzy and tired, I couldn’t exercise. At that point I didn’t have a job – that’s a story for another time – and my self-esteem was pretty pathetic. I was gaining weight rapidly, but told myself it was okay because I was pregnant.
I was about ten weeks along when I lost the pregnancy and fell into a depression. I continued to eat due to stress, sadness, and hatred toward myself. I obviously continued to gain weight. It got to the point where I was up another thirty pounds over the one year after losing the pregnancy.
Within about two years I had gained fifty pounds. I was terrified to see anyone that might recognize me because I knew I had let myself go. I would try these all-or-nothing diets to try to lose weight, but I always would end up gaining any weight back that I lost. Binge-eating became a part of the crazy dieting experience. No-carb would make me crave bread. Low-sugar would make me crave sweets. Diet foods would make me bloat or crave bad foods even more. All I wanted was to lose weight.
Fast forward to about four months ago. I had joint pain, fatigue, back pain, painful periods, depression, increase in anxiety, dizziness, increase in hunger… I went to my doctor and he ordered blood work. I was convinced that something was wrong with my thyroid or that my hormone levels were out of whack. When the results came in and everything was within normal limits, I was devastated. This meant that it was my habits that were causing me distress, not that my body had a disease. My doctor sat me down and told me that I needed to start eating healthier and exercising. He, very politely, told me that there was no excuse for me to not exercise and that I needed to start taking control of my body. I went home feeling ashamed.
I started doing a lot of research about lifestyle changes. I was educating myself about other cultures and I was learning a lot about the meat industry and effects of meat on the human body in particular. My husband and I decided that we wanted to try being ovo-lacto vegetarians for two months and see how we felt. That lasted about three and a half months until I decided that I wanted to cut out eggs too. At this point I had lost about twenty-five pounds. The only dairy I was eating was cheese and one night, after eating ice cream for the first time in awhile, I had severe abdominal pain that lasted for hours. I became terrified to eat dairy products, so I decided to cut them out too. I wondered – “When people ask me what my diet is, what label do I give it?” Because at this point a lot of people were asking me about vegetarianism and what I “can’t eat.” The differences between my vegetarianism without dairy and vegan were minuscule. I decided that I would just go vegan. I planned to try it for two months and see how I feel. A week into being a vegan I realized that I was just eating a bunch of junk vegan foods that would satiate my cravings instead of changing my taste buds and my brain’s idea of food. So I did more research and we decided to eat a whole food plant-based diet. (Don’t worry, I will explain what that means in my next post). I have now lost thirty-five pounds total and have the more energy than I have had in the past two to three years. I have started implementing exercise into my routine without the guilt of missing a day. I am eating intuitively and allowing myself to eat until I am full. No more counting calories or prohibiting carbohydrates.
I am hoping that this new meaning of health will allow me to live my best and longest life. I hope that as I share my journey and the things that have helped me along the way, you too can get a new lease on life.