Wednesday, June 6, 2018

How Veganism Changed My Relationship with Food for the Better

Disclaimer: This is a detailed post of my relationship with food and how that impacted my weight for the last 10+ years. I am not a doctor or dietitian, nor am I making any medical recommendations. I am simply sharing my story to inspire hope and connect with individuals who went through a similar journey.

Let me start by saying that I've always struggled with my weight. Since I was little, I was always one of the biggest girls in my class for both height and weight. I was an athlete, playing whatever sport I could get my hands on that day and using my height and weight to my advantage. Despite playing sports, I consumed more calories than I burned. I just loved food! I lived for Brownie Earthquake sundaes at Dairy Queen and McDonald's hashbrowns. Every year for my check-up, I would inevitably gain weight from all the extra unhealthy food I was eating and be in the upper percentile for children my age.

My family and doctor attributed my weight to having an athletic build (which is true) and thought I would shed off the "baby fat" as I got older. That didn't happen so I ended up going to Weight Watchers when I was in 6th grade. Yes, you read that correctly. I was a little 6th grader sitting in a Weight Watcher meeting every Wednesday after school with my older sister. The program gave me an awareness of the calories in various foods and introduced me to counting calories (they use "points"...same concept) for the first time. Within a few months, I had lost about 10-15 pounds as you can see in the stark contrast in the picture on the right and the one above. I felt great, but the only problem was that I kept losing weight. I became addicted to counting calories. Soon, I also became addicted to working out. I joined a gym and started swimming in the mornings too...all on top of my normal soccer, softball, and swim team practices. I put so much stress on my body that I even stopped getting my period. Mind you, I was still in 6th grade at this point.

I continued on this path for the most part until high school when I finally got tired of counting calories. As soon as I stopped counting calories, I went in the opposite direction which led me to start overeating. This resulted in me gaining all of the weight back plus more. By the end of my Freshman year of high school, I weighed my highest at 152 pounds (I'm 5'5" for reference). Around this time, I also became vegetarian for ethical reasons and was still playing sports.

During my Sophomore year of high school, I lost the weight again by counting calories and working out. I also started taking sports more seriously since I was considering playing sports in college. I needed to be in better shape for recruiters to notice me. I weighed about five pounds more than I did when I went to Weight Watchers the first time.











By my Junior year of high school, I was in a relationship which helped me stay at a pretty steady weight. However, this changed when I was accepted to the United States Naval Academy Summer Seminar the summer following my Junior year. The Seminar was basically a boot camp to weed out the candidates who were planning to apply to the Academy that fall. I trained for weeks leading up to the camp...lifting weights, running, and doing hot yoga every day on top of my usual sports practices. I bulked up and was as strong as I've ever been. I loved keeping up with the boys during the fitness test and throughout the Seminar. Among other factors, I successfully passed the fitness test which opened up new doors for me: I got nominations to the Naval Academy and the Merchant Marine Academy, and was awarded a $180,000 Navy ROTC Scholarship for Villanova University. I was also recruited for D3 Softball and D1 Bowling too.



Senior year of high school rolled around and my boyfriend broke up with me (I thought he was the love of my life lol...I'm glad I can laugh at this now). Later that year, I was also rejected from the Naval Academy. My second best option was to accept the Navy ROTC Scholarship to Villanova University. This is the only reason I ended up at Villanova! After accepting the scholarship, I soon lost hope and no was no longer motivated to do anything physical. By the end of the school year, I quit soccer and softball, stopped all training, and I gained weight again.








Flash forward to two weeks before I was supposed to report to NROTC orientation/boot camp at Villanova University. I was miserable, out of shape, and decided there was no way I could show up for orientation in the physical and negative state that I was in. I gave up my scholarship that day, a guilt-ridden decision that proved to be one of the hardest decisions I've ever made. Although it was the right decision for me at the time, I am still paying for it... literally. A few months later, my father and brother were both diagnosed with cancer within four weeks of one another so I had a huge wake-up call to make my health a priority again. I began working out, introducing distance running into my life, and shed the weight once again.






By Sophomore year of college, I stopped being vegetarian after 4 years and soon gained all of the weight back yet again. Are you seeing the pattern here? I was so tired of gaining and losing the same weight so I went to Weight Watchers for the second time which helped me shed the weight yet again. (Wow, I'm getting tired of writing: I lost the weight again.) While Weight Watchers did help me temporarily, I don't believe the system works because it relies on counting "points" instead of eating intuitively. While attending Weight Watchers, I became more serious about distance running and ended up running my first half marathon in honor of my late brother.








Can you guess the next part of the story? I gained the weight back YET AGAIN during my first semester of Junior year of college in Milan. My clothes hardly fit, I felt more bloated than I ever had, and the thought of exercising and running completely turned me off. I was eating literally whatever I wanted...pasta, pesto, pizza, paninis, and gelato. You name it, I ate it. I came home for Christmas break at the end of the semester and knew I had to do something different to change the on-going relationship I had with food and my body.
After Christmas break, I journeyed back to Milan for the spring semester of my Junior year. Within a few weeks, I was back to being vegetarian and couldn't believe I ever gave it up. Shortly thereafter, I started transitioning to veganism (read my journey in depth here). I focused on eating more fresh fruits and vegetables from the local farmer's market. I also walked a few miles to class and to Mass instead of taking the subway, and walked about 10 miles a day when I was traveling on the weekends. I realized I could be active and healthy without being obsessed with exercising. This realization combined with my new vegan lifestyle allowed me to have positive mindset towards food and exercise and to let go of the excess baggage I was carrying since my high school breakup. I felt better than I had ever felt during this semester!




Now, one year later, I'm here today beyond happy and finally at a healthy weight. I have been vegan for an entire year now (YAY!) which has been the main factor in my stable weight. I now focus on fueling my body with WHOLE fruits and vegetables and WHOLESOME meals. I no longer eat any processed foods and hardly drink alcohol. I also don't count calories anymore. Who wants to do that for the rest of their life? Not me! Instead of counting calories, I am learning to eat intuitively and listen to my body. My binging habits still linger, however they are nowhere near as bad as they used to be! Now if I feel like overeating, I usually indulge in a giant bowl of fruits or vegetables. Lastly, I am working on introducing consistent exercise into my life without being extreme. I haven't stepped foot into a gym in over two years because it's too toxic for me. Instead, I am trying to get back into distance running and yoga. I'm not perfect and it's a work in progress, but veganism has changed my relationship with food and my body for the better and I am so incredibly thankful!

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