This article was previously published on June 17, 2016.
Irritable bowel syndrome, yeast infections, hemorrhoids, migraine headaches, fibroids, viral infections, depression, severe PMS and heavy flow, extreme sweating without cause, and the constant chaffing of my legs are just a few of the painful memories I have from being overweight.
I recall lamenting to a woman at a coffee shop about my fibroids and feeling extremely emotionally unstable while on my menstrual cycle. I also shared with her how it seemed every time my cycle came I would also get hemorrhoids and an yeast infection. The multitude of problems all at once was horrible to predict and manage. I was willing to do anything to stop years of emotional and physical torment.
She asked me what I ate on a regular basis. In retrospect, it was the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet) with a high consumption of processed and junk food. In the morning I had coffee and a fast food breakfast sandwich or a muffin. For lunch I loved burritos or fried fish or chicken, and French fries. For dinner I had baked chicken or fish with a heavy cream sauce and a starch. I only drank water when dehydrated.
She also asked about my sleeping habits and my social life. I typically slept 5-7 hours a night and had a very active social life. I dated a lot. I dined out a lot. I went to a nightclub or a bar at least 3 times a week. I was also had self-destructive habits like smoking cigars, having unprotected sex on occasion, and inhaling second hand cigarette and marijuana smoke.
She calmly explained to me how my diet and lifestyle were creating a toxic environment in my body, leading to so many health problems. It was very hard to digest what she was saying because we were of different races and backgrounds. Though I was at that time a practicing psychotherapist with a background in Human Development, I was not open to believing what worked for her and her peers could work for me. But I was at my wit’s end and I began to do my own research.
Her quick analysis of each of my symptoms and their connection with food was overwhelming and eye-opening. To know that California’s Proposition 65 provided a list of chemicals in foods that caused cancer, birth defects and neurological problems was amazing. It is mandatory that fast food franchises display a sign that says that certain foods they have has Acrylmaide and can cause cancer for fetuses, children and adults.
I slowly included her recommendations into my diet. She encouraged me to stop eating animal protein, as well as to follow these guidelines:
· Avoid processed foods: Processed foods are any food that has a label. A label means that more than one ingredient was used to make that food. If you can’t pronounce an ingredient on a label, don’t put that food in your shopping basket.
· Eliminate refined sugar. Refined sugar provides nothing but calories.
· Eat five or six small meals a day. By eating smaller meals throughout the day you can help rev up your metabolism.
· Cook your own meals.
· Combine protein with carbs. This simple act will fuel your body and quash hunger pangs.
For someone who never went grocery shopping, never cooked, and never read labels this was HARD. I started with eating salads that were 50% dark green leafy vegetables with other non-starchy vegetables, dressed with juice from a lemon, lime and/or orange. I ate salads all day for about a week, drinking 64 ounces of water a day. The thought of drinking half of my body weight in ounces of water was very farfetched in the beginning, but I was starting to see I could do it.
To my surprise, I lost 5 pounds that week. I tried losing weight through many programs, including Weight Watchers. I could only lose a certain amount of weight only to later regain it. I realized that Weight Watchers was about calorie counting/point counting and did not teach how one should eat a nutrient dense diet. It also was not designed to take into account my own unique conditions.
I began adding nuts, apples, berries and tofu to my diet. To avoid hormonal effects from tofu, I began buying organic and sprouted tofu and fermented soy products like tempeh. For some time I did eat “clean” chicken, cage free eggs and some fish, but I stopped as I became more conscious about animals and I realized I could provide myself with all the nutrients society says you can only get from animals through plant-based products.
Today a typical day would start with a hemp protein shake (Nurtiv Hemp Protein, organic mixed greens, a small amount of frozen pineapples with water or almond milk) or gluten free waffles with almond butter and an apple. For a snack I would have a handful or two of cashews, walnuts, almonds or pumpkin seeds. For lunch either a curried pea, mung bean and tempeh dish with hemp protein, or a large salad. Another favorite is a tempeh burger on a gluten free bun with sweet potato fries or a small salad. An afternoon snack would be a green superfood drink and/or fruit. Dinner would be something like a vegetable curried gluten-free spaghetti. I also drink at least 100 ounces of water, often infused with ginger and lemon as well as liquid chloryphyll. I often drink a tea made of lemon, ginger, turmeric and cayenne powder. I also eat a lot of raw foods and soups.
Before my lifestyle change, I exercised off and on during my diets, but it did not seem like it helped. This time I first started walking on the treadmill. As I continued to lose weight and gained more energy I moved onto the elliptical machine, the stair master and classes. I got so addicted to exercising that I would work out twice a day and also take challenging classes back to back. I also picked up yoga and hiking, activities I never imagined I would love.
In two months I had lost about 20 pounds and felt myself becoming a new person. People commented about my skin and how my face was so much smaller. I no longer had acne, nor dark circles under my eyes. My digestive system had drastically improved and I’d stopped sweating profusely. As I began to see improvements in my body, I completely stopped drinking alcohol, smoking, and became much more selective with who I dated. I had an epiphany about how badly I had been treating myself and how I absolutely had to be the one to take care of me. I realized that if I did not take care of myself nobody would. I was transforming in ways that became isolating. I no longer hung out with people who I was friends with for a large part of my life. I had to decide how to handle my problems without alcohol and I was now the “odd ball” of my family and with my peers. I also made the very challenging decision of ending my career as a psychotherapist. I realized that I was not the best person I could be for that job. Though to this day I am a mentor to many of the young women I was honored to serve as their therapist, but I realized I had developed a passion in the transformation I was going through and that I wanted to teach people how to finally lose the weight (physically, emotionally and mentally) for good.
In only 3-4 months I lost a significant amount of weight, and I also eliminated the majority of my health problems, including fibroids. My emotions are stable. My digestive system is healthy. I have not had a yeast infection or hemorrhoids and I have not been sick with a cold or a virus in years. I do not have PMS or challenges with my 3-4 day cycle anymore and my legs do not chaff. I have gone from a size 20-22 to a size 8. I have no stretched skin and a small amount of stretch marks. I am still in awe of the person I have become and who I am becoming.
I have been teaching people how to Eat Clean as the Eat Right Get Fit Coach for the past 5 years. I tell each of my clients every day that the hardest part is maintenance. There is still the person who I was the majority of my life inside of me having temper tantrums about why we can’t do what we used to do. I quiet that voice inside of me and remind myself of the pain I endured as that person and I REFUSE to ever go back there again. I tell my clients that being healthy can be very isolating and you have to decide what is more important. Yet the choice is very simple. I choose to live and not die.
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Photo: Alexandra Guerson via Flickr; EnJunaya Canton