One of my first clear memories of food is a big plate of warm canned beets. I’d ask my mom or dad to open the can of beets so I could dump them on a plate, press “add 30 seconds” on the microwave, and eat them all up, finding so much enjoyment out of my bright red fingertips. Although freshly roasted farm beets are a regular in my house these days, canned beets don’t appeal much to me anymore. I remember craving their taste, even though I admit they do taste like dirt… I wasn’t searching for the candy drawer or sitting down with the Costco box of Goldfish just yet. I was craving and eating food from the earth.
The simple pleasure of eating a whole can of beets didn’t last too long. I learned to love our babysitter because she took us to McDonalds. I didn’t mind piano lessons so much when my teacher rewarded me with an M&M’s each time I practiced the same line, or when we stopped for an extra-large Blizzard from Dairy Queen on the way home from practice. Although I’m sure it was nobody’s intention, I began to think of food as reward, or something to focus on when I needed to brighten my mood. I found comfort in my family’s Sunday afternoon Spaghetti-O ritual or Thursday night ice cream sundae.
In middle school I began to notice that a lot of my girlfriends were smaller than me, yet they were still always talking about wanting to be even smaller. Although I wasn’t sure why, I figured that if they were supposed to be smaller, I sure better get smaller. I began skipping breakfast and letting myself only have the lunch room’s Fried Chicken Caesar salad for lunch. Dinners didn’t go well for my diet because I was starving and my mom made such delicious meals, so I eventually decided I would allow myself to eat much more as long as it was low-fat. Sometimes I would barely pick at what was made then sneak in a couple slices of toast with Can-You-Believe-It’s-Not-Butter before bed.
In high school I gave into a friend’s request to join the track team. Around the same time she quit was when I began to realize that I had some athletic potential hiding under all my insecurities. I finished the season curious about what that potential entailed, and decided to try out the swim team the following year. Another close friend and I joined the JV team with defensive gusto. Our school produced serious and talented swimmers, most of which had been freestyling since around the same time they were taking their first steps. My friend & I were focused on helping each other finagle our silly caps on straight when nobody was looking, getting through the underwater flips without breaking our heads on the poolside, and of course getting our swimsuits to fit looser. Somehow in that misguided mess of chlorinated social cliques, I started to discover that the workouts felt really good, and that my body becoming stronger felt even better.
The rest of my high school years were a roller coaster ride. I would fluctuate between feeling like I had finally found my niche in athletics and then revert back to feeling less than optimal, delving into eating disorders as a way to manage, yet never bad enough to raise attention. Although I had some impressive experiences in the pool and received the “Most Improved” team award, I never accepted that I was strong, powerful, and capable. By the time I got to college I had notebooks filled with cut outs from ‘Self’ or ‘Women’s Health’ magazine that actually discouraged my forward progress. While I was ironically enough thought of as the health expert in my group of friends, I felt trapped in my constant cycle of self-doubt and self-deprecation. I was struggling with skin issues, weight gain, constant fatigue and sugar cravings, and during my senior year of college I told myself enough was enough. If I was ever going to break the cycle, I would have to do it myself.
I signed up for a triathlon through Team and Training (benefitting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society) and while my far from ideal eating habits didn’t change much at first, the confidence I gained from my amazing teammates changed me immediately. Through their uplifting and positive nature, they taught me that there’s much more to experience with fitness and nutrition than what is on the surface. I was suddenly very aware of my capabilities, both in athletics and life in general, and I felt blessed. I was re centered. I started dating (my now husband) and listened to him every time he told me every awesome thing about myself. For the first time since eating beets in the kitchen, I became excited about food and stopped thinking about it as the enemy or something to be afraid of. I realized that it nourished me and helped me flourish during the training for the triathlon. I started eating more real food and experimented at farmers markets and in my kitchen. I stopped judging my progress based off my clothes sizes and more on how I was feeling.
The following few years after college was a series of small but surmountable changes. My husband and I began trail running and enjoyed exploring the mountains we’re blessed to live near. I ran my first marathon in pouring rain in a little over 4 hours and decided to run another in Maui to beat my time. I delved into as many nutrition books I could get my hands on. I learned about factory farming and gave up meat (I have since then discovered local farms that do it right and welcomed animal products back into my life). I started to refocus on foods from the earth again and my health shifted. While I had more energy and fewer complaints, I still knew that my journey back to health and healing my relationship with food had a ways to go.
I became intimately aware that what I put into my body directly affected everything about how I was feeling, but couldn’t quite connect all the dots. I took a Nutrition course through the local University and was disappointed by the big company feel that kept pointing me in the direction of the USDA’s new My Plate. Why do I feel so crappy if I’m eating so perfectly? I struggled between ignoring my negative health symptoms and wanting to find the route cause. I found and signed up for the Nutritional Therapist Practitioner program through the Nutritional Therapy Association and was astounded by the unconventional yet balanced and scientific approach to rebalancing one’s health holistically. Everything I learned made complete sense to me and for a while I was angry that I was never told any of it by a health professional before now. While respecting the body’s innate wisdom I learned to help steer and refocus the body to do as it naturally knows, but had fallen off track during the stressful lifestyle and the Standard American Diet that are so common today. Things I had been struggling with for years were gone in a matter of weeks and while I’m still pursuing my own optimal health, I feel truly revitalized already. I’ve decided that helping others regain their own health is my true passion.
While my story of how I got to the healthy lifestyle that I’m proud of today might not seem very unique, it is my story. Everyone has their own and however silly or unimportant it may seem to them in the moment, I strongly believe that dissecting it is the only way we can become aware of what has led us to our lifestyle decisions of today, and be ready for the changes we want and deserve.
One of my favorite ways to eat beets is roasted with fresh Chevre goat cheese, roasted walnuts, and caramelized red onions. I also love them roasted in the oven with other root vegetables, coconut oil, and chunks of garlic. On our honeymoon in Greece, we ate them with a side of tzatziki and olives, or blended with thick, full fat Greek yogurt- the perfect pink hue I remember loving seeing on my fingertips. My husband likes his plain and simple on top a fresh garden salad and sweet balsamic. After getting them week after week from the farm I worked at, sometimes I would just quickly drizzle them with good quality olive oil, wrap them up in aluminum foil and throw them in the oven. Any way I cook or eat them re centers me and reminds me of the amazingly nourishing quality that pure, real food has in my life. I hope I can inspire others to strengthen their own relationship with food in their own journey to personal health.