How did I get to this point?
I don’t think there was ever just ONE factor that influenced me to become a plant-based eater.
But instead, many factors influenced me to live the lifestyle I live and love today.
At a young age, I was introduced to many fruits & vegetables, as my grandpa is a potato/strawberry/squash farmer. I am so grateful for my grandparents instilling some of my good eating habits. However, in addition to eating fruits & veggies, I was raised eating like most Americans—grilled cheese sandwiches, mac & cheese, Shepherd’s pie, cheeseburgers, steak & potatoes, American Chop Suey, chicken noodle soup, cookies, ice cream, brownies, malasadas (dough boys), the list goes on…
Due to many of these bad eating habits (& of course, several other factors), I developed a poor relationship with food. Toward the end of my middle school years, my pediatrician told me I had body dysmorphic disorder. I shrugged it off. It wasn’t until high school that I became obsessed with my physical appearance—I thought if I were thinner, I would be a better me. At the end of my sophomore year (2010), I started exercising every morning (in addition to my daily cheerleading practices) & restricting my food intake. By my junior year of high school, I was 92 lbs—my lowest weight. At the time, I didn’t think this was unhealthy because as a 4’11” shorty, this weight was technically considered a “normal weight.” But, of course, it was not normal for me.
I gained a lot of confidence in my physical body at this point, but I was suffering a lot with my physical health. I was constantly having GI issues (chronic constipation). I went to a GI doctor who simply suggested that I needed more fiber to which I denied because I thought I was eating enough fiber. The foods I was eating had fiber, but the problem I didn’t realize at the time was I wasn’t eating enough food overall, so of course I wasn’t getting enough fiber!
During my senior year (2011-2012), I started to gain weight. My body just couldn’t sustain 92 lbs. I stopped exercising outside of cheerleading and I started eating a lot more. I felt out of control—physically & mentally. Not only was I gaining a lot of weight, but I was miserable with myself, which reflected in how I treated those around me. I struggled with muscle strain in my wrists—a problem I never had before. Up to this point, I hadn’t had much of any education on nutrition. In fact, all of the information that led me to lose the weight in the first place, came from the good ol’ internet. My idea of “healthy” consisted of low-calorie/low-sodium foods.
I decided I wanted to go to school for nutrition to sort out the facts on healthy eating. In the Fall of 2012, I began attending the University of Rhode Island.
During my freshman year, I continued to struggle with my mental and physical health. Not only did I go through every fad diet imaginable, I had also gone through every eating disorder imaginable. I had reached 133 lbs…for my height, this is considered “overweight.” I knew something needed to change.
By the end of my freshman year at URI (early 2013), I started piecing together information I learned from school to get me on a healthier path. I started incorporating moderate exercise and I began eating more variety in moderate portions. However, I still didn’t have it all figured out… my GI issues continued, as did the trendy dieting. I decided to eat gluten free thinking this would solve my health problems. I also began drinking Herbalife shakes (God help me).
During my sophomore year of college, I decided to become a double major—adding psychology to my studies so I could one day help people suffering with eating disorders. My relationship with food still wasn’t the best, but was slowly improving and I no longer had unhealthy compensatory eating-disorder behaviors. This year, I established an amazing group of friends who helped me regain my mental health & who I then lived with for the following years of undergrad.
Fast forward to the summer before Senior year of college (2015), I was mentally in an amazing place, my GI issues were pretty much non-existent and I had a healthy relationship with food. It was around this time when I began questioning the way we eat (as a society). From what I had learned about in school over the years, we were supposed to be eating so many servings of veggies & fruits each day based on dietary guidelines. But, my first thought was ‘how are we supposed to eat all of this when we need to eat our protein foods like chicken, beef, fish, eggs, etc.?’ I began doing my own research and started reading a lot about vegetarianism. This is when I became pescatarian—where my plant-based journey truly began.
Over the following few years, I continued with my research and trialing different ways of eating. I found that the more plants/the less animal products, the better my gut health became and the better I felt. I learned a lot about myself and what makes me feel my best. For example, I knew whenever I ate dairy, I felt miserable, so in 2017, after a trip to California where the vegan options are plentiful, I finally decided to take dairy out of my diet and I’ve felt amazing ever since, and don’t miss it at all! I also discovered I’m a volume eater. I feel most satisfied when I eat a lot to feel full, and I’ve discovered the best way to do this is to eat a lot of plants to fill up my belly.
After coming back from California, I passed my board exam. I was finally a registered dietitian! Eager to start my career, I went to my first interview which was for a cardiac rehab position, expecting nothing more than to gain interview experience. I got to the interview and it was for not just any cardiac rehab, but a Dean Ornish Intensive Cardiac Rehab! Talk about the stars aligning… This is the job I am currently at today, and one I love because I am able to spread my passion and knowledge to better the lives of those struggling with their health.
I consider myself still on a plant-based journey (& I forever will be) because I learn more every day in terms of the science behind plant-based nutrition, how it affects the planet, the new foods I can incorporate into my diet, new cooking techniques and new approaches to encourage others to introduce more plants into their diet.
Now, food does not limit me, it fuels me.
The moral of this story is I am just like many people. I struggled a lot with my diet and health before I got to where I am now. So please don’t give up on your mental or physical health. Strive for better and you will receive better health & happiness.