I haven’t always been this attentive to my health. I’ve always been active and played tennis and swam in high school but I didn’t have much care for my diet. I wore a size 4 tennis skirt back then so who cared? I always wanted more of a six-pack, but it only occurred to me to do more ab exercises and put in more time in the weight room. I always hated running and never had that much energy due to my ridiculous schedule- I really ran myself ragged: wake up at 4:30 am for either seminary or early swim practice and drag myself through a school day, frequently falling asleep. I was in honors and AP classes and managed to crank out good papers because I am a decent writer. I barely read the books I was supposed to have read, except the scriptures. While I am far from “religious” now, at the time my Mormon faith always came first. I was up and perky for seminary, but literally within the first couple hours of school, I was fading fast. Church, and church friends, including a boy I had a crush on, were the only things I actually put much thought into. I knew there was life after high school and I could not wait to get through those four years and get out.
High School Slump
After practice and before any books even made it out of my backpack, I would drag myself home and fall asleep on the sofa. Though I was far from comfortable, with chlorine-soaked hair and my damp sweats over my swimsuit, I’d be too tired to change or shower, and then I’d wake up incredibly grouchy when my mom called that dinner was ready. I never had time or energy in the morning to prepare anything for breakfast or pack a lunch. Sometimes I’d manage to put a packet of instant sugary oatmeal in my bag and ate it dry later- I can’t believe the things I remember eating. If I could scrounge change from somewhere, I would either buy a pop-tart or a big cookie from the vending machine, or- the big splurge- a blueberry bagel with cream cheese. All absolute junk that no doubt perked me up for about half an hour and then induced an even harder crash. I always seemed to manage to forget something, from homework to gym shorts, from tennis skirt to tennis shoes, something was always missing. My doubles partner basically had to start bringing enough water for both of us in case I forgot mine and surely I see she must have wanted to throttle me with her racquet now that I look back on it.
From Fast Food to Juice Fast
I wonder sometimes how much better I could have been- how much stronger an athlete, and how much more dedicated and prolific a student- had I known what I know now. My experience makes it crystal clear to me that exercise is important, but in no way is it all you need for health! I was pushing my body to it’s physical limit of exhaustion every day, and without putting quality fuel into my body, every day I was giving out before I should have. I had “a lot of heart” according to my tennis coaches and that let me win a lot of matches I basically shouldn’t have, much to the frustration of my opponents. As soon as my friends and I had access to our own cars, we were off to the drive thru after practice, not to mention all summer long. Eating thousands of calories and then pushing that junk through my system and attempting to get energy out of it was a losing battle but I had no concept of how it could be different.
I started to dabble in vegetarianism in college because I was drawn to participate in a local Buddhist retreat at Deer Park Monastery, which is overseen by Thich Naht Hanh, who I had no knowledge of at that time, though he has written dozens of books and is famous in the Buddhist community. When I went to the monastery, my mind and heart changed, but in ways I didn’t even yet comprehend. All the meals made there are prepared by the monks, nuns, and visitors together; they are all free of animal products; each meal is enjoyed slowly and in silence so everyone can focus on the gratitude they have for the food, the sun that created it, the farmers that grew it, and the hands that prepared it. After the meal each person washes and dries his own dish. It was radically simple. So simple that it blew my mind. Eating in silence, chewing each bite, thinking about how no animals were harmed in the making of the meal, waking up at 5am to gentle chanting and bells in the still-dark distance, and ending the day with walking meditation with the monks and nuns by the light of the full moon… it was simply magical.
I’d worked at Barnes and Noble for years, so I had the fortunate opportunity to read any book I wanted to put my hands on, and I did. The first book I found that I wanted to read about veganism wasn’t a cookbook- I wasn’t even sure what the whole thing meant, what it was about. The voices in my head said things like: Why would I want to do that? I feel ok. I love every kind of cheese of ever made. I like fast food- it’s fun. My favorite meal in the world is my mom’s teriyaki chicken with baked potatoes with butter, sour cream and peas. Second favorite is tostadas with ground turkey, sour cream, cheese and all the other fixings- it’s healthy and no part of that needs to change!
Nevertheless I picked up the book Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating and started to flip through it. I saw quickly that it covered all the different reasons one might “go vegan,” including health and weight loss, animal rights, diseases and food borne illnesses, environmental impact, and world food supply. I read the first few pages… then within a few days of my hands being glued to the book, tears were occasionally streaming down my face, and my pencil was marking off sections and quotes. Then I lost my appetite. For weeks. Reading about what happens to animals in detail, reading about how they end up on your plate- it is something no one wants to do. We don’t want to know. We don’t want to think about it- out of sight, out of mind. I don’t kill it, so it doesn’t count. If I don’t eat animals, I won’t get all the nutrients I need. These are the kinds of cursory yet stubborn ideas that end the conversation for most people. I couldn’t just say these things anymore, I started to feel it may not be true.
I spent a good while terrified of the prevalence of diseases associated with meat, especially Mad Cow. I had no idea what to eat at that point, but I spent the next three months as a 100% vegan. Then as the shock of the book began to wear off, and after living on basic salads for months, I started to get hungry for everything I used to eat. Being clueless about how to actually make healthy dishes that tasted good, I figured if I ate some cheese, and then a little fish and turkey, it would be ok- I was working out a lot, so I “needed it.” Then over time I even went back to eating practically anything as long as it wasn’t ground beef.
Several years of flip-flopping and stumbling onto new books got me closer and closer to vegan and had me starting to enjoy a wider variety of dishes. Then I found a couple books on raw food… what an extreme way to eat, right? Never cooking anything? How would you even do that? Well, these books got me to the next level and I was able to be successfully vegan by eating mostly raw food. I felt my hunger and nutritional needs were met when I focused on a variety of simple, fresh fruits and vegetables and less on processed (albeit organic vegan food.) I still eat mostly raw food but don’t obsess to get to 100% like I spent some time trying to do. I usually regret eating cooked or refined food when I feel the mental fog and fatigue that comes over me and go straight back to smoothies and juices to feel better.
Discovering raw food was the best thing that could have happened to me because it helped me examine and come to understand my relationship with food, and it ultimately saved me from a life of stress-eating, food addiction and the emotions that had started to come with the dissatisfaction of being overweight and not reaching my potential.
As you can see, it’s not a cake walk, but in my struggle I have been so inspired to help other people to make this journey! Health doesn’t have to be painful and tasteless! True health brings you absolute joy, more time in your day and more time in your life to enjoy what you love most, and opens your eyes and your heart to a totally new version of yourself. Raw, vegan food gives you incredible energy, beautiful hair and skin, a chance to reach your ideal weight, a means of healing your body from aches, pains, diseases and ailments… it is something that I will be forever grateful I discovered.
So I want to be here for you- to answer your questions, to support you when you feel like being healthy is just too much of a struggle, to provide you with helpful resources that can change your life! Different things resonate with different people at different times. That’s why it’s so wonderful that we have the four of us here who have founded Kale University- we all have our own stories, our own approach to caring for our bodies, so we can relate to your stories in our own unique ways and offer guidance and advice. I have done my best to add books and DVDs to the store that have helped me, and there are a few other people have recommended that I haven’t read yet, because what I like you may not like and vice versa. Reach out to me, I love to help! Shoot me an email with a question or topic and I’d be happy to write a blog post on the subject.
Please, make small steps every day to love yourself, and to be more yourself- the you that you envision, to create the you that you dream of being!