Food. It’s such an integral part of our life. Without it, we could not survive, but it seems that the excess of food, along with what we are eating, is doing far more harm than good. Obesity is at an all-time high. Many people struggle with eating disorders. And that’s just the beginning.
Growing up, I realize I did not have the best eating habits. I ate a lot of junk food. I’ve always loved sweets, but I also enjoyed chips, pretzels, and anything with cheese. Fast food was a normal part of my life. My Grammy would take my brother and I to Wendy’s. My Nana would take us to McDonald’s. It was just what we did. And for a while, that was fine. I played soccer most of the year, so I spent a lot of time running around. When I got to high school, I played in the fall and the spring. In the winter, I participated in indoor track. So while my eating habits weren’t great (see: I ate whatever I wanted), I was able to maintain a healthy weight because I was engaging in a very active lifestyle.
Fast-forward to sophomore year and I bang up my ankle pretty badly. I stop playing sports. But you know what doesn’t stop? Eating whatever I want. Free tacos from work? Of course. Snack on some fries? Why not. Before this time, I never had to think about what I was eating because I spent 10-12 hours a week participating in sports, along with mandatory physical education classes three days a week. Now, things were different.
My senior year of high school I realized just how much weight I had gained since I stopped playing soccer and I began to feel really bad about myself. So I did what any 18-year-old who doesn’t have a good sense of healthy eating habits would do and I restricted myself to 800 calories a day. In retrospect, I realize that this was incredibly unhealthy both to my body and my mental health. I only ate Special K and Lean Cuisine. For three months. I lost a lot of weight, but I also was hungry all the time. Teachers made comments to me about how quickly I was losing weight. I didn’t eat cake, chips, or even pretzels at any of the birthday parties I attended that spring. By graduation, I had lost 30 pounds, but something in my head clicked that this weight was not sustainable. I hadn’t weighed that much since I was in fourth grade and 4’7″. It wasn’t going to last, and I recognized that. Gaining five pounds would have been fine with me. But my senior year of college, I had put back on the 30 pounds and then some.
My eating habits never leveled out. I still went from eating incredibly restrictive diets to eating anything I wanted. I would start exercising, and then give up when I wasn’t seeing results because as it turned out, I still wasn’t eating in a way that would make losing weight a possibility. My Achilles Heel was cheese–it always had been. And cheese, as it turns out, it very fattening and not something you should eat daily.
But this past fall, I made a very conscious decision to transition to a completely plant-based diet. I knew that veganism had a lot of benefits, like lessening my carbon footprint and reducing animal cruelty in the meat and dairy industry. What I didn’t expect was to lose weight or have my skin clear up. I also wasn’t expecting my eating habits to change as much as they did. While I still have some rough weeks of eating way too much way too often, my habits really have changed. I do a lot of my own cooking, and incorporating a lot of different veggies into my dishes has been crucial. Sure, I love spaghetti every now and then, and sometimes I get a hankering for the American Flatbread Vegan Harvest Pizza, but for the most part I am cooking homemade meals from scratch. I’ve noticed the difference in the way my clothing fits, and my energy levels. While Winter has been playing its games with me and zapping a lot of my energy, I still find I can make it through the day without that 2:30 feeling.
Perhaps the most important change that has come from this change is the fact that I no longer feel guilty after I eat. Guilty about what I ate, or how much I ate, or panicking about if something I ate was incredibly fattening and would have a negative impact on my weight. While I still try to monitor my weight, I weigh myself less frequently, because how my body feels is a much better guage for me, and I would argue that not feeling awful after I finish eating is definitely a great place to be.