I'm not really sure to start out this post other than to tell you that we're going to be taking a little trip through history….my history. Specifically, my eating habits and how my diet has changed over the years.
As someone who talks about healthy food all day long, you might think that my diet is “perfect”. Or maybe you think that this feels natural to me since I've always eaten this way. Well, today you're going to see that my eating habits haven't always been healthy. In fact, you could argue that I suffered from distorted eating.
Why get this personal? Honestly, because I think my story is a pretty normal one. And I feel like a lot of you will be able to relate. My goal is to help you see that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that clean eating is something we can all achieve.
So without further ado…let's take a trip down memory lane, shall we?
Oh high school. A time in my life I most certainly never want to return to. It's a time where you are impressionable, where every little thing that is said to or about you can strike you to the core. For me, high school was the time in my life where I started really thinking about my weight.
At first, I wasn't really concerned with how I looked. I mean I cared about how I dressed and everything, but I never felt self-conscious. But once I hit high school and all the skinny girls were the popular girls, I started to become much more aware of my weight. I wasn't heavy by any means – I have a somewhat athletic build – but you wouldn't look at me and call me “skinny”. I have meat on my bones, and at the time, I had a little more meat than was probably healthy.
I started off eating whatever I wanted. I kid you not, whatever I wanted. Ice cream, chips, soda, cheeseburgers, all the processed crap that they serve in cafeterias and vending machines. Then when I was a junior, I decided I needed to go on a diet. I researched what that meant and found out that you can lose weight by counting calories. So I did that.
I started tracking every. single. thing. Every bite of food went into my journal with the calorie count next to it. At this time I also started going to the gym and so I would start recording the calories I burned and subtracting them from the calories I consumed. My intake goal was 1,200 calories from food, but most of the days I was burning at least 450 at the gym, so my net ended up being around 700 – 800 per day.
I had NO IDEA if this was good or bad, but I figured the lower the amount, the better I was doing. I even stopped eating home cooked meals for a while in favor of lean cuisines because then I could count how much I was eating. I realize how insane this sounds even just typing it.
So did I lose weight? Nope, not really. Instead, I just felt kind of gross and I think I ended up giving up after a few months. It wasn't sustainable – I was always pissed off (like more than your average teenager) and it didn't make me feel any better about my body.
When I first went to college I didn't really know what to expect in terms of the food. I kind of thought I would be eating in the dining hall most days, but as it turned out the dorm I got assigned to wasn't close to a dining hall so I actually ended up making most of my food in my room (or ordering out). I had a little electric tea kettle and I was able to make things like mac and cheese, oatmeal, hot cocoa, etc.
I was still very aware of my calories and how much I was consuming, but I had stopped counting. I tried to eat a little as I could and never thought about nutrition. Vegetables? Didn't even consider it. I also started drinking diet soda which I figured was perfect because it was zero calories. Coke Zero was my BFF.
As with most college days, I also partied. Not super hard, but we would binge drink at least two to three times per week. These nights inevitably turned into lots of late night snacks of Dominos Pizza. Cheesy bread and thin crust cheese pizza were regulars on the menu.
Things started to turn around for me when I moved off campus. My house had a full kitchen, plus I had my car, so I was able to start grocery shopping more. Veggies began to make their way into my diet a bit more, but diet sodas and booze were still my beverages of choice. Also bagels and coffee. We ate a lot of bagels (with low-fat cream cheese) and drank a lot of iced coffee (with skim milk and Splenda).
Becoming a “Professional”
My first-year post-college was pretty great. I moved into a small apartment with my girlfriends, things with Matt were getting more serious, we still went out on the weekends, but I had a full-time job at a marketing firm and I felt like I was becoming a real professional. We cooked a lot of dinners at home and I really started to enjoy making things from scratch. We still drank, but not like in college and I started going to the gym more consistently.
And then my world turned upside down…
I realized I was intolerant to gluten and dairy.
This was a MAJOR life change for me. Like major, major. Both gluten and dairy were staples in my diet and I was at a loss at what to eat. Also at this time (just about 5 years ago) there wasn't a ton of selection when it came to a gluten- and dairy-free lifestyle, but there were the basics: pasta, bread, crackers, cookies, pretzels, cereal, etc.
So I did what most people do when they realize they have sensitivities and replaced what I was already eating with the gf alternative. Basically, I was filling my body with processed food thinking that it was “healthy” for me. I didn't pay attention to ingredients or nutritional info (aside from calories) and figured if it was gluten-free then it had to be good for me. Right?
I will say, when I first went gluten-free, I dropped a lot of weight. Well a lot for me. It was probably like 7 – 8 pounds which doesn't seem like a ton but I'm only 5′ 3″ and wasn't overweight, so this was definitely a drop for me. I was feeling good about myself and I never slipped up on my eating.
Starting Simply Quinoa
After the year with my girlfriends, Matt and I moved in together. We were still living in Vermont, but this was a big step for both of us. We lived in a studio apartment (which was actually bigger than the one we're currently in…) and were both working full-time. I don't know if it was because I was living with a guy or just the fact that I was getting more and more into food, but I started really cooking.
I was scouring the internet for gluten-free recipes and I gravitated more and more towards dishes that focused less on processed food and more on whole grains, lean meats and vegetables. This is when I discovered quinoa.
I was instantly smitten with this little grain-like seed and started making it for almost every meal. I kept looking for recipes online, but I found that nothing really existed. So as a way to keep track of what I liked, I decided to start a blog. Little did I know that little corner of the internet would turn into this. (I still have to pinch myself)
During this first year, there were two real turning points for me: one was that we started to shop at our local natural foods market and two was I did my first round of the Clean Program.
The Clean Program was a 21 day cleanse in which you eliminated all the top-allergens and followed a very strict regime. The process was challenging but I became intensely aware of the food I was putting into my body. I started to feel the power of a real food diet and I have to tell you it felt incredible. It inspired a lot of the beginning recipes on the blog (check out this post…OMG the photo!) and I really fell in love with vegetables.
This year and a half was really what put me on the clean eating path.
Moving to NYC
(years 0 – 1.5)
The first year and a half that we lived in New York was hard. We moved in February and I was working from home, so I had zero community and was like two steps from my kitchen at all times. I also wasn't consistently working out consistently. I was snacking way too much, my portion control was a little out of hand and I lived in my yoga pants. I definitely gained some weight and started to feel pretty unhappy with my body.
Two major things happened during this time that helped me get back on track: 1) we got Trevi and 2) I stopped eating red meat. Trevi meant that I was out and about a lot more, getting multiple walks in per day and the red meat situation was just something that kind of happened. I haven't eaten red meat in years and I can honestly tell you I have never missed it.
(years 1.5 – 2)
This was a big turning point for me. I joined a yoga studio, started exercising regularly, tried to pick up running (tried being the operative word), became much more aware of my portion sizes AND started learning about veganism.
I fell in love with food documentaries. I watched one after another and just soaked up as much information as I possibly could. I absolutely loved learning about vegan and vegetarianism and started following people like Food Matters and Kris Carr religiously. I didn't go 100% plant-based, but veggies definitely became a bigger focus for me, my love for green smoothies totally took off AND I started juicing.
I got back to my normal weight and started to truly embrace a whole food, unprocessed lifestyle.
(years 2 – 3…right now!)
In the last year, I've made some fairly big (but slow) changes in my life. For starters, I've pretty much removed all animal products from my diet. I'm no longer eating meat of any kind, I occasionally have fish (very rarely), don't eat eggs very often and still don't consume dairy. My diet has been focused much more on plants and plant-based forms of protein – like beans, quinoa, nuts, seeds, etc. I've started eating A LOT of kale. And even more quinoa that I already was.
I also started adding strength training and HIIT workouts to my exercise routine. I shared about my current workout schedule in last week's FGF post, but I've seen some great progress with this. I feel strong and fit. And even though I still have some fat on my body, I'm okay with that because I truly feel healthy.
Even though I'm pretty much following a vegan diet, I don't call myself “vegan” because I don't want to be tied down by labels. I want to feel free to eat how I want to eat and fuel my body in a way that feels natural and satisfying. For now, that means plants. Lots and lots of plants. But who knows…that could very well change.
I would like to meet with an integrative doctor to get my blood tested to make sure I'm absorbing all the right vitamins and nutrients. I would also like to get a food allergy test because I still feel like I have some sensitivities that I haven't been able to pinpoint. I get stomach aches from time to time and am still quite gassy.
I can't say if I'll be eating this way forever, but for now, it works. Again, I really love my plants – salads and smoothie bowls are my freaking jam – and I've gotten really into pulses (beans, peas, etc.), so I don't see that changing anytime soon, but that doesn't mean that high-quality animal protein sources are off the table forever.
Whew, that was a long one! If you got all the way here, thanks for sticking with me 🙂 I really do hope that you found today's post not only helpful, but relatable. I want you to know that if you too on this path to finding your health, it's a journey not a sprint. You don't have to make every change at once. You can take baby steps and eventually you will find a diet and lifestyle that makes you feel amazing.
Did you have any takeaways from today's FGF? Do you have a similar story that you want to share? Let's keep the conversation going in the comments so we can all continue to inspire and help each other be the healthiest (and happiest) version of ourselves we can be.
Sending you so much love + light,
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