Growing up, I never had to worry about what I ate. I was the skinny one, “skinny-mini,” skin-and-bones, “you need to eat more.” I didn’t like meat and I pretty much ate potatoes, pizza, fries and the like. I didn’t like too many veggies – except corn and tomatoes in the summer! I didn’t eat much fruit either. I was a picky eater.
Overall, I thought we were pretty healthy – or, more accurately, I didn’t think about it at all! None of us had any major health issues and, by all appearances, my parents were healthy too. Then, my dad had a heart attack at 36 years old. At the time, I was in eighth grade and I was scared! I wasn’t sure how our life would change and, really, it didn’t change all that much. At first, there were some major changes to our diet with the typically recommended no salt, low-fat, fake butter diet. It was also pretty flavorless. We didn’t stick with it for long and little by little, our eating habits went back to the way they were before.
All throughout my teens and early adulthood, I could eat whatever I wanted. Even after I had my first baby, I lost the weight quickly and was back in my pre-pregnancy clothes before I had to go back to work when my son was six weeks old. Snacks and soda were a regular part of my diet. I had a total of six children over ten years. After my third was born, I had more trouble losing the weight. I started exercising a bit, but soon was pregnant with my fourth. When he was still an infant, I started to incorporate more exercise and lost a little weight, but I never addressed my diet. I didn’t think it mattered much – calories in, calories out just like I always heard, right? Then, I got pregnant again – it was twins this time.
This pregnancy was hard on my body. The twins had to be delivered at 32 weeks due to twin-to-twin transfusion. Thankfully, they were healthy, but my blood pressure sky-rocketed after their c-section delivery. I have had high blood pressure my whole life, and was able to avoid medication up to this point. There was no avoiding it any longer.
I was busy after the twins were born, and lost the “baby weight” very quickly, but it wasn’t long before I started gaining weight. This time, there was no reason for it – no more pregnancies for me! I ignored it for a while as my kids took center stage for my attention.
Tragedy struck eight months later when I got a call one night that my dad suddenly died. It was kind of like being struck by lightning – everything stopped. He had a heart attack and dropped dead right in my parent’s living room. He was 56 and the sole source of income for my parents. From that point, I included my mom in my day-to-day care responsibilities. We were always close and I spoke with her daily, but now I also checked in on her and helped her.
About two and a half years later, my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My sister and I took turns taking her to the doctor and for treatments. We tried our best to keep her eating, although it was very painful for her. About seven months later, she went on hospice care. The treatments hadn’t helped and she was tired of fighting. She died a couple of weeks later.
Once arrangements were done and the work of clearing out and selling her house were complete, I crashed. My health was suffering and I felt alone in the world. Yes, I had my husband and kids, I had my sister and my friends, but I was alone. I went through a period of feeling hopeless and helpless. I didn’t care about what I ate and exercise didn’t even cross my mind. I was going through the motions of life and taking care of my family, but there was no drive or passion, no fun or enjoyment. Sure, on the surface, everyone thought I was fine. But I was far from it. That summer, I knew I had to make a change. I needed to find myself all over again.
Nutrition was always something I was interested in, but I had never considered pursuing it as a career. I knew I couldn’t afford the time to go back to school to earn a degree. In my search, I found the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Because it was an online program, I thought I would be able to fit it into my life and talked it over with my husband. I enrolled that fall. During the program, I tried a lot of different dietary lifestyles, based on what I was learning. Once I started eating a vegetarian diet, I lost 50 pounds. Yoga and Pilates complemented that and I felt pretty good!
After completing IIN, I continued my education with the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. This program was a little more intense and I learned about mind-body connection and how our history, beliefs, customs, and more affect our dietary and lifestyle habits.
At this point, I was regularly coaching clients and was enjoying helping others find their best lifestyle. About a year later, I started to gain weight. Not only did I gain back all that I lost, I gained more! I hadn’t changed anything about my diet, physical activity or lifestyle. I sought the help of my doctor and even went further to seek the help of an integrative medical doctor. After a lot of blood drawn, there was quite a bit to be noted, including hormonal issues, low vitamin levels and high blood sugar. I started some supplements, but didn’t have any immediate results. I visited another doctor who did an EKG, which gave an odd reading, which resulted in my visiting the cardiologist.
At this point, I was advised not to participate in any high-impact activity. I am at a high risk for a cardiac event, due to the family history. Not much else was discussed. We only very briefly talked about my diet, and no changes were suggested.
As I continued to read and do research for my coaching, I came across Dr. Michael Gregor of nutritionfacts.org. I watched his presentation called “Food is Medicine” and came away knowing I had to try a vegan diet. I always thought this an extreme lifestyle, but his evidence convinced me. After just a couple of weeks, I felt great! I lost eight pounds and had more energy than ever. I wasn’t hungry, I didn’t crave any foods. I don’t miss cheese or eggs like I thought I would.
As I’ve gone through this journey, I realized I wasn’t serving my clients to the fullest. I was focused on weight loss and healthy lifestyle. The truth is, I now know that there are a few niches that I belong to that are largely ignored!
I now work with people who are picky eaters who are concerned about their health and want to try to explore some new foods.
I also work with people who have been diagnosed or are at a high risk for diabetes or heart health issues.
I work with people who would like to transition to a vegetarian or vegan diet, but aren’t sure where to start.
And finally, I work with people who struggle with body image.
As always, I hold for you a non-judgmental, open and honest space to explore your goals, needs, fears and hopes.