My (personal, super vulnerable) Nutrition Story... We all have one, so why not share
I have had a lot of reflection time recently and was encouraged by a mentor to look back at my personal (very personal to me) nutrition story and reflect on how I have got where I am today.
I had to dig deep and really think through so many life events that intertwined my story and led me to where I am today.
And then I was challenged to be vulnerable and share this story with my community. So.... GULP... here is my story... (at least my adulthood story to date :) )
I was a college student who just finished all my undergraduate work. I thought I knew I wanted to be child psychologist but I took my first intro to psychology class and I knew it was not for me! I was lost. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. So…I took 4 intro classes, one of which was “Introduction to Nutrition”. I will never forget the day when we had a guest speaker because she changed my life as I know it. I do not recall exactly what she told our class, but I remember thinking… “nutrition is absolutely amazing! We can just change what we eat and then we don’t need as many medications as we age or maybe not all!” A fire was lit under me like never before!
I immediately declared my major and started learning everything I could about nutrition. I was making over family recipes with “healthier” ingredients (annoying my family I am sure); however, I found myself gaining the college 10 or 20 or who knows how much (imagine me shrugging my shoulders like I don’t remember but you know I know exactly how much I gained, because we are wired to know these things as if our life depends on it).
So here I was… in college, gaining weight. I had never had this problem before. It was ok logically, but internally I was freaking out, I was mortified and wondering how could this happen to me. I pushed down that internal voice and kicked in what I had learned. It was simple right…just change how much I was eating and I would magically lose the weight. That is what all the experts were saying, calories in and calories out made complete scientific sense.
And it worked (that time).
But here is the thing... I look back and I was skimming meals SOOOOO much, I was completely detached from my enjoyment of food, it merely became a job, a task, and something that was not meant for emotion. I am sure I was also missing out on key nutrients, but the only thing that mattered was those pesky calories. I worked in a call center, so on my hour lunch, I would either eat cottage cheese and veggies or oatmeal at lunch and then rollerblade for 40 minutes. I don’t remember all my rules, but I know I had many of them.
Then, like most of us, I gained weight again. This time I was working at popular restaurant (still during college) waiting tables. Sure I was very active, but I would get free meals while working and bottomless amazing scrumptious steak fries. Coming from growing up with food insecurity and being a struggling student who had a house payment, free restaurant food was… let’s just say, very welcomed :).
And then I got engaged to be married (yes still while in college). So once again, I was on the bandwagon of must lose weight (or I am worthless, I won’t be beautiful enough, or whatever fitting phrase). I’ll never forget one night when my aunt, who lovingly made my wedding dress, was having me try on my dress and I was mortified. I knew I needed to lose a bit still, but I had ballooned up like crazy and it was not fitting. She was so nice and told me “don’t worry, you were probably just retaining some water.”
I now realize, she likely “fixed” my dress quietly behind closed doors. I never knew and we got married. It was a magnificent day.
During this time frame, we also bought a house (actually 2 — one before the marriage and one after), my husband worked full-time & changed careers, I worked 2 part-time jobs and went to school full time. I had no idea what I was doing to my body.
I was sleeping 5 hours on a pretty regular basis and can you say stress…um yes! Snacking to stay awake…yes! Did we mindlessly eat meals in front of the TV because it was the only time we stopped moving….yes! So was I gaining at that point? Yup! But honestly, I can’t begin to tell you how much because I was numb to it and avoided it at all costs.
I do remember that I would prep all my salads for one week ahead of time. I had rules about how/when to get enough water and I ate those said salads from a cup while driving my hour commute to school. However, I received one of the best gifts I could’ve ever received my senior year… (and I cannot wait to share it with you).
I had a professor who was absolutely stoic. One day she said… “there is NO GOOD FOOD, OR BAD FOOD, JUST CHOICES.” I was bewildered. How could that be? What about the last 5 years of school — learning medical nutrition therapy for multiple medical conditions, the kreb cycle, about ketosis, and so many other cellular pathways that involved nutrition? What was all this for? If there is no good food or bad food, then why on earth do we need dietitians and what does it matter what we eat?
She graciously explained a little concept around nutrition that really just made it all click together. There is the science of nutrition (which I had been learning) and then there is the art of nutrition, which focuses on behavior, psychology, and trusting one’s own intuition. This was absolutely fascinating and essential to nutrition! Not to mention…it was so freeing!
I knew even more from that point, I was meant to spread this information as far and wide as I could. It is not just about what we eat, but HOW we eat. I took it in like a sponge and started that mantra from then on! No good food, no bad food, just choices. It felt so good, so freeing, and so aligned.
You’d think the story would end there, but nutrition is with us, all around us, no matter where we go or what we do, so there is more :)
A week before my senior finals, I found out I was pregnant with our daughter. Whoosh…we had been trying but didn’t really think it was going to happen right then. This changed everything!
We needed to raise her to have a healthy relationship with food because I had learned about how introduction of solids can really help a child to develop healthy eating patterns. And it was so important to help her have a healthy relationship with food in order to prevent an eating disorder (which was also drilled into me). I was not only worrying about the science and art of how to feed her, but I was also drowning in how to balance my own nutrition needs after gaining over 70 pounds while I was pregnant. I wanted to model healthy eating behaviors and I put up that front. But on the inside, I was feeling like a failure. How could I, as a dietitian, have gained that much weight and why wasn’t it going away? I look back now and can see I had postpartum depression, my hormones were a ramped mess, and ultimately I was just being way too hard on myself. I am just human after all, I am not a nutrition robot.
I think I lost some weight, but then my son was born and I once again gained an excessive amount of weight. At this point, I didn’t care anymore. I figured I would just lose it after he was born. I would handle it in the future and I was so focused on observing and supporting them to be their own intuitive eaters.
Ignoring my weight worked pretty well, but I did have many insecurities because of it and it impacted my relationships. The biggest impact was likely the negative impact on my marriage. I could not see myself for how my husband did, which in itself created conflict and I often distanced myself from him. I also recall a time my mother in law was so sweet as she wanted to take me shopping for new clothes. But I didn’t even know what size I needed and I just remember crying in the fitting room...I didn't want to face this, my anxiety was heavy, and ended up just telling her I didn’t want anything (even though I desperately did need new clothes).
Fast forward a few years. I was diagnosed and treated for depression, my kids were thriving and healthy, my marriage was now in a good place (not because I lost weight), I had amazing friends and was surrounded by family, and I had a job I loved (maybe too much). I felt like this was the time. It was time to start losing some weight (again).
I calculated and tracked calories, I was going to the gym regularly, and guess what…NOTHING! It was not even budging. I did this for 2 months and NOTHING! One day at lunch, I asked a group of dietitians…”alright, here is what I am doing, why am I not seeing results?” The responses varied from maybe you need to work out harder or maybe it was cortisol blocking (the hormone that rises when under stress). But weight loss was really not their specialty, we were all pediatric/maternal wellness dietitians. So I figured, I can do nothing or everything and my weight stays the same, so I think I will do nothing or just little. I felt defeated, confused, and again worthless. But more importantly numb.
I had got really good at putting on the smiling face, just like so many of us. Pretending like it never bothered me and just going with my mantra that I learned in college. But underneath, the idea of stress being what was preventing me getting to my goals had me rattled. I had to face it… I was getting burned out… mentally, physically, and emotionally. I wasn’t taking care of myself. We also had been faced with adversity with close friends, co-workers, and family being diagnosed and passing away from medical conditions. We paused, looked at our life and decided it was time for a change.
My husband suggested we move from Colorado to Florida to change our lifestyle, slow down, and spend more time with our kids. I was ready and we did it! We had the best summer of our lives when we moved and then real life started to settle in again.
I don’t think we knew the impact moving would make on our life. While we did get many things we wanted, it came with a host of unthought of life experiences. I myself started to experience medical issues, the complete opposite of why we made this choice and navigating the medical system in Florida was far different than Colorado. I was having gut inflammation, back inflammation, and skin inflammation. My weight was the least of my worries at this point (but definitely in the back of my mind).
On the bright side, these difficulties I experienced gave me an opportunity to reconnect with why I loved nutrition so much. I was able to navigate my nutrition on a daily basis to reduce inflammation, help me to be able to get out of bed, and I was given the gift of really diving into holistic & functional nutrition.
This saved me. My nutrition knowledge and resourcefulness saved me and I was given a new opportunity to really work on me, on my life.
But… I was not super happy with some of the changes I had to make. This led to me to really look at thoughts/beliefs around food and really reconnect with intuitive eating. I had to rework my relationship with food with where I was at in my life, just like I did back in college. I was focused on anti-inflammatory intuitive nutrition, sleeping, body movement, stress management, and all the things. I felt absolutely amazing, but guess what?
I was still checking my weight and expecting miracles. I finally had it figured out. This was it! And can you guess… yep, the scale was NOT budging. I felt awful. That number was controlling my thoughts, my emotions, my self-worth. I had hit bottom of bottom.
But I had an epiphany…
The number on that scale completely does NOT dictate my health or my self-worth! I had had years of continuing education on intuitive eating, had read the book, lived that mantra for 20 years, observed/supported my own children’s intuition, and now it finally made sense.
So I broke up with my scale! I even threw it away!!!! I now have not checked my weight in over 3-4 years and it is the MOST freeing feeling ever. I am so ecstatic because I know and trust that the actions I am taking to care for my body, intuitively eating, and how I feel after taking actions are truly what makes health.