Today, I want to delve into a more personal story about myself. I want you (my readers) to see how I ended up where I am today, pursuing a career in nutrition and exercise. You see, I wasn’t always as passionate about healthy eating and exercise as I am today, nor have I always had a healthy relationship with food. Like most people in America, I have had my own ups and downs. I am not immune to the pictures of air brushed models or the tempting fast food advertisements that line every highway. I don’t always look forward to working out and I don’t always feel good about what I eat. Sometimes I feel bloated and gross. The point is, I am a normal human being, just like you.
Believe it or not, I have been on both ends of the weight spectrum. I’ve been both overweight and underweight and I know the unique struggles, negative thoughts and emotions that go along with each. Being called “skinny” is just as hurtful as being called “fat” and I would not wish either upon my worst enemy. It wasn’t until these past few years until I could finally say with confidence that I truly have found my “happy weight” and made peace with food. Here is a timeline of sorts, illustrating how I developed my balanced approach to food and exercise that I live by today.
**WARNING: Lots of words and no pictures to follow**
Birth-1st grade: I pretty much ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. Like most young kids, I relied on my hunger-cues to guide me. I ate when I felt hungry and stopped when I felt full. I didn’t worry about my weight or the nutritional value of my meals. My mom was (and still is) health-conscious, so I grew up eating mostly healthy meals with the occasional Kraft mac n’ cheese and fast food dinner thrown in there. No formal exercise was needed, as I ran around outside constantly with the other kids on my block.
2nd-7th grade: This was a turning point for me, as I began turning to food for comfort. I distinctly remember when it first started. I was going to a summer camp and had a difficult time being in a strange, new environment without anyone I knew. I was shy and didn’t make friends easily. One night, my mom was eating a bowl of vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate chips and so I asked for one too. It tasted SO good, and made me forget about my problems for a few moments. Well, after that, each night I would sit down to the same big bowl of ice cream to make me feel better and the downward spiral began. I started going back for second helpings, ate dessert every night, skipped breakfast and snacked mindlessly. Add that to the fact that I was physically inactive and the weight quickly added up. I wasn’t extremely overweight, but I was chunky and didn’t feel good in my own skin.
7th-9th grade: After trying dieting alone, where I was very restrictive with what I ate, I finally got smart and tried a more moderate approach. It all started with adding exercise to my routine. Just as I distinctly remember when my unhealthy lifestyle began, I distinctly remember when my healthy turnaround started as well. We have an old elliptical in our basement and I decided I would get on it for 15 minutes, that was it. Well, I felt so good and strong that I ended up working out for a full 20 minutes which amazed me. That night at dinner I wanted continue with that healthy feeling and I switched to using a smaller plate at dinner, instantly reducing my portions. I also decided not to go back for seconds. I started reading fitness and health magazines and the labels on food. Instead of having ice cream every night, I had it every other night. These small changes resulted in success. I lost weight, but in a healthy manner. I didn’t feel deprived or like I a slave to the scale.
9th-12th grade: These are the years where I went from being healthy to obsessive with foods and exercise. It was not intentional, but I did not have enough knowledge to know when to stop losing and start maintaining. I did not have an eating disorder per se, but I did develop disordered thoughts. I made and followed silly rules that I thought were healthy, but really weren’t. For instance, I told myself I had to wait at least 4 hours between meals before eating again and I couldn’t eat after 7pm because all the magazines said that was “unhealthy”. The lower the calories, the healthier I thought the food was for me. Eating out went from being fun to exhausting because I had to analyze everything on the menu to figure out which entree would be the lowest in calories. I never overate because I was constantly vigilant, making sure that my portions were “perfect”. I became strict with my workout schedule and exercised 7 days a week, even though I spent all day dreading it. I restricted myself to such an extent that food was all I could think about. I became underweight and skeletal looking. During this time I began having digestive issues and I saw a Registered Dietitian. She was able to get me back on track and reminded me that choosing nutrient-rich foods was more important than calories.
Freshman-Sophomore year in college: I was in the dorms my first two years at Purdue, so I was forced to eat almost all of my meals at the dining courts. I did not see what was going into the foods, nor did I always have SUPER healthy options to choose from. It forced me to become more relaxed with my eating. I went back to the basics, making half my plate fruits and vegetable, choosing a lean protein and whole grains whenever possible. I took advantage of the salad bar and grab-n-go fruit. I also took advantage of the dessert bar, but in moderation. I chose small portions of what I was craving and didn’t feel guilty. Yes, I over-indulged on occasion, but I didn’t beat myself up, just remembered how it made me feel and got back on track the next day. At this point, I was still pretty regimented with my exercise schedule and hit up the campus Rec 6-7 days per week. Even though I was constantly walking all across campus, I still felt like I needed a “formal” workout each day.
Junior year-Now: I got an apartment and was thrilled to have my own kitchen. Cooking is a stress reliever for me and I loved chopping, sautéing and baking my stress away. This is good, because during this time in my life I also got busy…busier than I had ever been before. I began eating for fuel and eating what I truly crave. Nutrition takes care of itself. I am still very dedicated to exercising because I know that is also something that helps me release stress in a positive way. However, I am more relaxed and realize that forcing myself to workout is counter productive and that I need to give my body a break. Sometimes it’s better for me to skip a planned workout in order to get other stuff done. Just as I strive to eat intuitively, I have learned to exercise intuitively as well. I allow myself a fun night out where I eat and drink too much because I know it will not ruin my healthy lifestyle. Eating out is one of my favorite things to do and one of my goals in life is to move to a city where there is a variety of unique restaurants for me to explore. I’m comfortable splitting half a bottle of wine or going a few days without exercising now and again because that’s what life is all about.
You really do live only once, so don’t live it constantly on a diet depriving yourself of one of life’s simple pleasures: really.good.FOOD!