You want all of it, eh?
Well, to start at the very beginning, I grew up unconcerned with the concept of a “healthy diet.” Our nightly, home-cooked, family dinners usually consisted of some type of cheesy, starchy casserole accented with a bowl of steamed/boiled/absolutely bland vegetables that I tried my hardest to keep from eating. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m so grateful to have been brought up in a home that valued home-cooked dinners every night. I know many people did not grow up with this and I love my family for making the effort — especially my mom for cooking — to sit down together every. single. night.) Our cupboards were readily stocked with uber-processed cereals, poptarts, fruit by the foot, gushers (my personal favorite), chocolate-covered granola bars, kool-aid etc. I was not concerned much with my eating habits, and eventually discovered, after my aunt pointed out “you’ve got a bit of a tummy, don’t you?” that I was, indeed, chubby.
|Cousins, Danielle and Hannah – 6th grade|
As I moved on to middle school, my self esteem relied on my reflection. Days I felt skinny, I was happy. Days I felt fat (most days) I was self conscious, unhappy, and extremely insecure. I knew my eating had to do with the reality of my body, but had no valid idea how to get healthier. I began to restrict my eating. I’d sleep in as long as possible to avoid eating breakfast. Days I woke up early enough, I’d eat a small bowl of cereal with milk or a yogurt. For lunch, I’d pack a flour tortilla, an 80-calorie fruit snack, and a crystal light packet. By the end of the day I’d be starving and would gorge myself from our pantry in front of the TV until dinner time. Needless to say, this cycle did nothing to help my self esteem, my appearance, or my energy. I was constantly sick, tired and unhappy but I continued to look for ways to be thinner. Ultimately, food was my enemy. This continued into my freshman year of high school.
Throughout ninth and tenth grade, my obsession with food grew to an unhealthy level. I became so fixated on counting calories, reading nutrition facts and weighing myself that I let my social life slide and pretty soon I found myself friendless. I stayed in, afraid I’d lose control if I was anywhere but my house; School was hard enough. Keeping an online journal was my favorite past time. I’d record my intake and outtake, post “thinspiration” and commiserate with other teenage girls restricting their eating. I became a vegetarian (in hopes that I could further control my eating) and enamored with exercise. I did lose weight, but not much, and it fluctuated greatly. My moods were mostly low and depended on the number I saw every morning, afternoon, and night on the scale.
|Summer of 2008|
Somehow, and I mostly credit God, I woke up and realized how much harm I was causing myself both psychologically and physically. My eating was screwed up, my mind was screwed up, and my body was deteriorating. Obsessing over calories and my weight was incredibly selfish, I realized. I was keeping myself from enjoying my only life. Suddenly, it seemed, I knew I had to change my mindset. Instead of calories, I shifted my focus to nutrition. I found my niche.
Flipping through magazines to find and examine recipes became my favorite past-time. Articles about various exotic foods and nutrients intrigued me to no end. I embraced my vegetarianism with creativity. I began to cook. Most importantly, though, I began to relax and feel more comfortable with myself. Yes, I gained weight. Yes, it bothered me at first, but I soon realized that though I weighed more, I felt better, and I was — and am — happy.
Today, still on my journey, I embrace an approach to food that is wholesome, nourishing, and enjoyable. I’m studying Dietetics and Psychology in the hopes of becoming a Registered Dietitian (R.D.) and eventually working with those in recovery for eating disorders.I consider myself a flexible vegetarian. I’ve always eaten fish and seafood occasionally for animal protein, and recently I’ve been slowly reintroducing chicken to my diet. I still struggle with the idea of eating meat and probably will never go back to being a full-out omnivore. I try to make fruits, vegetables and whole grains the center of my diet with dairy and other animal products side-sitters. Though I do embrace and appreciate their very important nutritious qualities.