My Weight Loss Story and Journey to Healthy Eating

I didn’t always eat the way I do now. When I was 17, you’d be more likely to catch me eating McDonald’s than whole foods. I’ve always loved to eat (my grandmother will tell you I was the only grandchild that cleared her plate at every meal) and as a teenager, I ate everything in sight.

I’m naturally slim, but my eating habits caught up with me around age 16. I didn’t understand my new adult body, and I started putting on weight as my appetite increased and my activity level dropped. At the height of my weight problem, I was eating two crispy chicken sandwiches every day for lunch (public school lunches … ugh), usually accompanied by tater tots and followed by Peanut M&Ms. Between meals, I snacked on peanut butter sandwiches made with refined white bread. I’m embarrassed to say I often ate two of them at a time.

I turned to food for comfort. High school was not the easiest time in my life. I know it’s hard for most teenagers, but I didn’t deal with my emotions very well at the time. Like most kids, I fought with my parents and had self-esteem issues. Unlike most kids, I was also dealing with anxiety that had been circling me like a cloud since childhood, when I lost my biological mom.

Looking back on high school, I see now that I had a pretty low opinion of myself. Interestingly, I didn’t act on it like some teenagers do, by dating lots of people or getting into drinking and drugs. Instead, I hid from my peers by making only a few close friends (some of whom I allowed to treat me pretty badly), not investing in the social fabric of my class, reading lots of books, and eating lots of food.

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During my junior year of high school, I was 5’7″ and nearly 170 pounds. I know it could’ve been worse, but it still sucked. I was a young girl, and I wanted to feel pretty. I wanted boys to be interested in me. I lacked self-confidence, and I was tired all the time … I knew I didn’t want to start college feeling this way.

Taking AP Biology had a huge impact on me. As I sat in class learning about how my body was supposed to work, I became stunned at its complexity and processes. I wanted to treat this amazing body kindly. I wanted to honor and respect the complex processes it performed on a daily basis. I knew that my binge-eating and unhealthy food choices were hampering my body’s ability to function optimally.

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So on January 1 of my senior year, I decided to go on a diet. My parents had tried Atkins before and had the book at home, so I went with that. By the time prom rolled around, I had lost 20 pounds. By August, I was down to 130 – a much more appropriate weight for my body type.

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I knew the ins and outs of low-carb eating because of my parents, but I made some exceptions to the rules of Atkins. I was convinced (rightfully so) that fruit was good for me, and that it’d be impossible to eat low-carb for any sustainable period of time if I gave up fruit. So I allowed myself to enjoy fruit as often as I wanted. Maybe it was because of my young age, but it never seemed to hamper my progress at all.

After I’d dropped the first 20 pounds, I started giving myself a treat every Monday. I really love bagels, so I let myself have a whole-wheat bagel for breakfast on Monday mornings. It was the only bread/starch that I allowed myself to have.

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Dropping that weight made a huge difference in my self-confidence, but it also made me a little obsessive. In college, I continued a fairly strict low-carb way of eating. My ex and I even had a running joke about my reluctance to eat raisins – RAISINS – because I was afraid they’d make me fat. When you lose a bunch of weight, the idea that you might gain it all back is terrifying. Every two weeks I became convinced that I was gaining weight again.

As a college girl, my lifestyle presented me with a lot of temptations. I always found low-carb alternatives to everything my friends ate and drank. When we went out for ice cream, I got the “no sugar added” option and topped it with fruit. At house parties, I drank Mike’s Hard Light (ewww) or rum with diet coke. I often bought sugar-free candies and desserts to prevent me from eating the regular versions.

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Probably drinking vodka and Diet 7up.

People often gave me the side-eye for these food choices. I was pretty and really skinny – why on earth was I worrying about my weight? People didn’t know that I’d spent ages 16-18, what was supposed to be a great time for a young girl, feeling awful about myself. I never wanted to feel that way again.

Unfortunately, most of the substitutions I was making were highly processed and full of artificial sugars and ingredients. It wouldn’t be until my 20s that I started getting into holistic eating. I did, however, discover a really helpful eating hack that I continue using today: my meat-or-carb rule. More on that later.

Around age 22 or so, I saw the documentary “Food Inc.” and began getting into environmentalism and natural living. It was then that I began getting rid of sugar-free processed foods. I began eating healthy carbs, more vegetarian meals, and less dairy … and I didn’t put the weight back on. Slowly, I was starting to develop a more healthy attitude toward diet and nutrition, and learning that eating whole, healthy foods wouldn’t make me chubby.

At 24, I got my first writing job. Most of my projects focused on health and nutrition. I began devouring information about food and its impacts on health. I reviewed studies and wrote articles about macronutrients, probioitics, antioxidants, inflammation, the low-fat vs. low-carb debate, the agriculture lobby and food system politics. Health and nutrition research became my favorite hobby. Now, healthy living was fun! More and more, I realized that health and wellness was my real passion, and that helping others feel their best was part of my purpose in life.

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If the glasses are any indication, I was probably a vegetarian here.

My compassion for animals and my exposure to vegan and vegetarian food bloggers got me interested in eating meat-free. At 25, I decided to go vegetarian. I ate veg for exactly one year (January 1-January 1; clearly I’m good at New Year’s resolutions). I loved what I learned about vegetarian living, but at the end of the day, I decided it wasn’t for me. I learned that making healthy vegetarian meals takes a lot of time – time I didn’t have. I usually ended up eating bread or pasta at every meal, and it made me bloated and fatigued. Plus, I couldn’t ignore the fact that the most reliable scientific literature points to a diet low in carbohydrates as the healthiest lifestyle for humans.

This pretty much brings us to where I’m at now. I try to keep my consumption of both meat and refined carbs quite low. I base my diet around vegetables, fruits, a few whole grains, and healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, eggs, coconut oil, fish and pasture-raised meats. I find that this keeps me feeling balanced, prevents me from overeating, and ensures that I don’t get bored with my food choices, which can lead to binging.

I can’t even tell you how healthy eating has changed my life. In addition to simply knowing a great deal about my body and my food options, I’ve gained mental clarity, energy, a body that’s fit and strong, and the enthusiasm to live life fully. When I see people who are tired and groggy all the time, I wish so badly that I could help them. It takes a while to feel the effects of great health – I’d say at least six months – but the energy and mental health benefits are so worth it.

I certainly don’t eat healthy all the time. I’m no longer dieting in any real way, I just try to make the healthiest choices in a given situation. I still love peanut butter – I just buy the natural version and put it on a banana instead of two slices of bread. I eat stove-popped popcorn in coconut oil almost every other day. I love pizza – I just make it vegetarian and ask for light cheese. Once you’ve gotten to a place where you feel well, making the right choices is incredibly inherent. It would never even cross my mind to buy anything pre-made or highly processed, so there’s nothing to resist. And that, to me, is freedom in food.

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