Like many, I've struggled with my weight and body image since I can remember. The question of why or who's to blame is a different topic for a different time, but unfortunately, I know I'm not alone. With hindsight, I also recognize that I've suffered from some food sensitivities since childhood - mainly, dairy.
I took to vegetarianism while I was in college, and gave up milk and most other dairy at that time. So, after almost two years of little to no diary, I was served my regular Grande Vanilla Soy Latte with cow's milk instead of soy, and I broke out in hives. After some research, all of the digestive issues that I had suffered as a kid began to make sense. (I've since given up soy milk as well, but again.. a different day.)
I grew up with what I imagine was a pretty typical 90's mindset: health and fitness were synonymous with exercising off more calories that you consumed; fat = bad, and the food pyramid was king. Needless to say, I was an active kid/teen with a decent metabolism. I ate relatively healthy, or so we of the 90's believed, so I had no problem maintaining a healthy weight for my age and height.
College, of course, was a different story. I drank cheap beer and ate cheap food and easily put on close to 30lbs between my freshman and junior year. The cherry on top was the semester I spent in Australia, where we spent our days at the beach and our nights at the bar. I don't think I touched a vegetable that wasn't slathered in butter the entire four months I was there.
However, my senior year I somehow got roped in to training for a half marathon. My college was hosting its first-ever 5k, 10k, half-marathon trifecta, and I was bound and determined to fun my first race. Unfortunately, running long distances flared up the multiple knee injuries I had incurred as a dancer and soccer player in high school, and I ended up "only" running the 10k.
Still, I was pretty proud of myself and had lost probably 10 pounds that year just by eating slightly better and drinking slightly less. I continued to shed an additional 20-or-so pounds my first year out of college, but my methods then were far less noble.
Sometime between high school and college I had become a smoker, and the dual cigarette-and-coffee appetite suppressants were especially useful as I worked as a camp counselor/youth worker/waitress who could barely afford to pay rent, let alone pay for food! What a laugh! Luckily, when you wait tables you often get free/discounted food so I usually got at least one meal per day.
Working in restaurants did get me interested in cooking, however, so when I had the extra cash, I would scavenge what I could at the grocery store to whip myself up something tasty. Pinterest became my best friend, and when I met the young chap who would eventually become my husband, I was excited that I had a reason to make some pretty fine meals. Cooking for one is just not nearly as fun or satisfying as cooking for two (or ten!).
Turns out I actually enjoyed cooking, and one of our favorite activities together was eating - whether it was some delicious feast I had cooked up, or one of the many over-the-top eats you can find in pretty much any restaurant in Austin, TX. We enjoyed many a meal. It's a kind of funny-because-it's-true joke amongst newbie Austinites that you gain your "freshman 15" the first year that you live there, just because of all of the amazing food to be had.
So I definitely did, and then some, in the four years that I lived there. Not to mention the stress of making major career changes, finishing school, planning a wedding and a big move to a new city. My soon-to-be husband and I were majorly stressed out, weren't getting enough sleep, and certainly weren't eating (or drinking) as healthy as we could have been.
So, fast forward about nine months to January 2016. Finally feeling settled in to our new home and new jobs, I decided my New Year's goal was to run a half-marathon. I started training and luckily, my husband decided to join me. As usual, he kicked my ass in not just the 5k, but the 10k and the half-marathon, and has even decided to run the Houston Marathon this coming January 2017, while I will probably stick to another half.
I had been doing quite a bit of reading and research on the latest in health and fitness news, and was making an effort to cook "clean": whole fruits and vegetables and sustainably sourced meat with minimal processing. However, it just didn't seem to matter much. We were so busy constantly celebrating holidays, visitors, birthdays and anniversaries, that it seemed like every other week we were ditching our healthy diets for pasta and ice cream cake.
The week of my 28th birthday was the final nail in the coffin for me. We had been indulging so regularly that it was no longer just an occasional treat but our regular diet. The day after my birthday I was so sick that I thought that I had food poisoning. Then I thought that I had the flu. That week, I was so sick that I was convinced that I had the Zika virus, because in my mind literally nothing else made sense.
That's when I finally picked up Dallas and Melissa Hartwig's book "It Starts with Food: Discover the Whole 30 and Change Your Life in Unexpected Ways." I had heard of the cult-like following the Whole 30 diet had, but was also already up on the potentially harmful effects of GMO's, processed, sugar-filled foods, and factory farmed meat & eggs, so figured I was pretty solid. I also already "didn't do" much dairy or wheat because it made me feel like crap, but the last few weeks (or, let's be honest, months) had really taken a toll on my gut, and I knew it was time to get real about what I was eating.
Again, my wonderful husband joined me in solidarity (and also, I suspect, because I do the grocery shopping and make the food!) and June 1st started our journey on thirty days of no wheat, dairy, sugar, legumes, seed oil, alcohol or processed foods, and only whole fruits, vegetables, and grass-fed, organic, sustainably farmed meat & eggs.
We're halfway there, and I'm excited to share my experience with you at the end of the month - stay tuned!
**And in the mean time, I HIGHLY suggest reading Dallas & Melissa Hartwig's Book, "It Starts with Food." Even if you aren't planning on participating in the Whole 30 challenge, it has a lot of great, researched, and reliable information about what we eat, why and how.