My health and wellness journey has been far from easy. At times it has felt like a roller coaster of emotions and struggles. Yet it was this same journey that brought me to where I am now: the best place I have ever been in my life. I am excited to share my experience with you all in hopes of inspiring you to pursue a healthier, more sustainable, and enjoyable lifestyle.
I became aware of my own health and wellness when I stopped playing sports after graduating from high school. I no longer had the luxury of a structured exercise program that came along with being a high school athlete and had no idea what kind of workouts I should be doing or what diet I should be following. Not knowing any better, I looked to teen magazine advice columns for food and workout tips. What I read began to form the foundation of an unhealthy relationship with my body. The negative self-talk began to grow louder and louder. I started to base my ideal body image on what the girls looked like in magazines. The pictures I saw were of models smiling with glistening abs and outrageously perfected figures. These featured models recommended diets consisting of salads without dressing, juice cleanses totaling less than 500 calories a day, and very few if any carbohydrates. To make matters worse, I was compulsively exercising to make up for the guilt I had when eating. Knowing what I know now, I would never recommend this diet to anyone, let alone an active 18-year-old who worked out twice a day for at least 90 minutes at a time. I was after this perfect body that was NOTHING like my own.
This led me down a path that, if on for too long, would have led to some scary places... and sure enough it did. I developed a severe eating disorder, obsessively restricted my food, worked out like a maniac, and prioritized my diet and exercise plan over friends and family. At one point I weighed 109 lbs at 5’7’’ - extremely underweight to say the least. The photos on the right depict this body that I was in. I appear happy and at peace on the outside, but internally I was driving myself crazy keeping up with this vicious cycle that I was in. When I lost the weight at first, people would say "Wow, you look great!". After I internalized that more and more, and continued down this path, those comments then turned into, "Wow, you're thin... Are you okay?". I wanted so badly to be brutally honest and say "NO. I'm terrible, and I need help," but I was too afraid and embarrassed. My resting heart rate had become dangerously low, I lost my period, my anxiety was through the roof, and my hair was thinning. I was quite literally killing myself trying to reach my own version of distorted perfection by holding myself to unrealistically high standards. During this time I was indeed vegan, but it was not the kind of veganism I would ever recommend to anyone but a rabbit. I was eating a raw vegan diet which is when you exclude anything that has been cooked. I feared all sugars, carbs, and fats, and most of the time I ate alone, not wanting to be judged. You see, what these fitness magazines and models never tell you is that this lifestyle is unsustainable. Your body eventually gives up and overrides your desire to be fit by seeking anything that brings it back to a balanced state of hormones, satiety, and body fat percentage - a concept more commonly known as homeostasis in biology. This is why severe caloric deficits and macro-nutrient restrictive diets do not work. The results for me were no different. Long story short, I was incredibly unhappy and needed to make a major change.
After 2 years of living in this vicious cycle, I moved away to college where I began to gain clarity on my situation. At this point I gave up my unhealthy form of veganism. I had developed a damaging relationship with food in my pursuit of perfection, whatever that means, and I needed to hit the reset button. I began working with a therapist who helped me leave the restricting and bingeing days behind. Through re-focusing my attention I became aware of the things I truly enjoyed and the things I had been doing purely for superficial purposes. I became more confident in myself and made a huge effort to prioritize relationships, hobbies, and school work. I slowly started to incorporate a bevy of foods and macronutrients back into my diet with an intuitive eating approach that prioritized balance. I stopped counting calories and started paying more attention to when I was hungry. It was not easy but I eventually ditched my perception that food was somehow bad or that eating was going to make me gain weight. Through relearning to trust myself I realized how smart and amazing our bodies are for taking care of us.
Nowadays I am proud to say I am a vegan who is not afraid of eating pasta or enjoying ice cream on a daily basis. The most important change of all is that I listen to my body. I exercise with intention, eat with purpose, and enjoy everything in moderation. Since COVID-19 shut down gyms I have taken up running and cycling. The recipes you will find in this book have been key in fueling my new endurance hobbies. With my prior experiences and new understanding of eating to nourish and empower my body, I am able to adopt a vegan lifestyle without compromising my health. I have discovered the numerous benefits of a high carb, low-fat plant-based diet and have experienced first-hand how much it can improve overall health, energy, and mood.
Some words of advice:
If you are hungry, EAT! Fuel your body with the foods it needs to be at its absolute best. For some reason we have this terrible connotation that eating is bad and the longer you can put off the next meal the better you will be. Be kind to yourself and your body. It works really hard for you!
Carbs and fruits are your friend – life is truly much less fun without them. I became a much happier person once I incorporated carbs back into my diet.
Eating a vegan or plant-based diet does not mean you have to eat like a bird. While a majority of the U.S. population has the perception that being vegan equals only eating fruits, vegetables, and seeds, they are wrong. I hope to show you a life-enriching and flat-out fun way to eat vegan.
Everybody has their own truth. As such, I can confidently say veganism is not for everybody. Just because it works for me, does not mean it will work for you. Everyone’s body is different! Give it a shot by starting small. Incorporate one to two plant-based meals into your weekly routine and see how you like it! You may be pleasantly surprised with the results.