Did you know that every superhero has an origin story? You know, the story of who they are, where they began, and how they became who they are? As I started writing Love Food, Love Yourself, one of my editors told said to me:
This book is going to totally suck unless you write your origin story.
I replied to her:
My origin story? I’m not a superhero.
She smiled and said to me:
You aren’t? You have to tell people where this book is coming from. You have share why you wrote it, tell them about the journey you’ve been on, and share how you felt there was room for this book to be born.
I didn’t want to write this. While I love me some Brene Brown, my ability to be “vulnerable” has always been limited. I’m a girl who likes to be invisible and let the work stand for itself. I understood what she was asking, I just didn’t want to do it. Writing my origin story required vulnerability.
The woman I wrote this book for needed to be able to connect me, she needed to know that I’d walked in her shoes. So I created my health journey origin story. It ended up going a little something like this:
It All Began When I Fell in Love with a Boy and Moved to Los Angeles
His name was Steven. We met online in 2002; after a few emails, several calls, and one trip to LA, I truly believed that I was head over heels in love with him; he was my soulmate. Or so I thought at the time.
So I packed my bags, and headed West.
Six weeks later, I realized I had made a mistake. A totally epic mistake (the kind of mistake that you can only make when you’re 21). Without going into specifics, Steven, though amazingly sweet, was…not what I wanted in a partner.
So, I left him.
Suddenly, I found myself alone in the city of Los Angeles with no friends and no support. I was terrified.
At that point, I was faced with two choices: stay in California and make a go of it, or head back to the Midwest.
Being stubborn – and lacking life experience – coupled with the thought of another bone-cold Midwest winter while basking in LA’s 60 degree January weather, I decided to stay.
Now, 19 years later, I realize my poorly thought out, impulsive decision was actually the catalyst that started me on my journey towards health.
Becoming Healthy, both Mentally and Physically, Didn’t Happen Overnight
I’d spent most of my life being overweight.
I grew up in two (yes two) physically and verbally abusive households (my parents both divorced and remarried). To cope with the trauma I began eating for comfort around the age of five, and continued to lean on that coping mechanism well into adulthood.
By 27, my small 5’0 frame carried 220+ pounds. I was simply too BIG. Ladies, real quick: Don’t take this statement as a negative. I’m totally anti-diet culture, but I am making the point that my weight was the root cause of health issues that could have led me to a heart attack.
Having become a part of the fabric of California, appearance wasn’t something I could ignore, especially in Los Angeles; a city filled with beautiful people.
And comparing myself to those Hollywood stereotypes took its toll. I knew I had to do something for my own sake. So I decided to see a doctor, and I asked her for a brutally honest opinion concerning my health. Her name Dr. Gowara, and she was one of those direct, no holds bar Suze Orman types, and she did exactly as I asked. She said:
“If you want me to truly be honest with you,
you could die.
The asthma, joint pain, and all your other health issues are just the beginning.
You need to eat better, exercise, and lose weight.
Then you won’t die.”
Her statements didn’t upset me. Although these were overly simplistic answers regarding something so complex, they were exactly what I needed to hear.
Physical Changes: The Process
I was 220 pounds the day I first spoke with Dr. Gowara. And It took three years to lose the weight. I began doing simple things: not eating fast food or processed foods. I stopped drinking soda. I also began walking. In the beginning, it was incredibly difficult, I couldn’t walk six blocks without becoming winded. But, each month it got easier; the cravings for junk subsided and walking longer and longer distances became easier.
At the end of the first year, I’d lost 40 pounds. My knees no longer hurt, and I could walk a few miles without nearly having an asthma attack. At the end of my second year, I’d lost an additional 35 pounds. Then, I plateaued at 145. Which I refused to accept. I still felt fat.
In year three, I increased my exercise regimen, lowered my calorie count, and even went Vegan. Over the next eighteen months, I worked out three hours per day, ate only raw food, juiced half my meals, and integrated supplements. I lost another 33 pounds. After three and a half years, I’d reached 117 pounds and could fit into a size 2. I was thin. But, I wasn’t healthy.
Even though I’d lost over 100 pounds, I still hated my appearance. Not to mention that I had no energy, I was living off caffeine, and I was constantly hungry. It became clear that I had more work to do. Not only was it time to take a look inward, but I realized I needed to understand the foods I ate (meager as the portions had become). Not only did I have to learn what my body needed nutritionally; I also had to work with a therapist, because I needed help working through my childhood trauma.
I Thought I Was Unloveable Because I Was Obese
Much of what I needed to address was related to the abuse I’d experienced as a little girl. Because I was unloved, I learned to believe that I was unlovable. Being obese had reinforced that.
After all, people “don’t love fat girls”. Do they?
Even though I was no longer overweight, like most women, I still saw myself as much bigger than I was, due in part to my benchmarking my appearance against the images of women in the media, which is to say, skinny and white.
My therapist asked me why I was comparing my body to an ideal that most women can never achieve. I began to think really deeply about the question:
“Why was I comparing myself to something I’d never be?”
And a light went on.
Because I thought if I could obtain the skinny white ideal, that it would make me loveable.
Well, I achieved it in my own way. And where did it take me? Straight to therapy.
After counseling, I began to feel more alive and at home in the body I had. I don’t know about you, but I’m not meant to be a skinny girl. I’ve got curves and junk…I believe we use the term slim thick, and there ain’t nothing wrong with that!
Walking away from the images of the skinnies and letting go of the many preconceived notions of what my body “should” look like, also helped me divorce my thinking from the mainstream definitions of health and diet.
Becoming More Intuitive About What I Needed
Learning about my body’s true nutritional needs wasn’t easy. Wading through the web of articles, fad diets, and supposed scientifically-backed research that was available online. But I was determined to learn and understand health and nutrition in a holistic way, one that allowed me to be happy, healthy, and not left feeling as though I were depriving myself. In time, I learned to understand the nutritional value of food. I began eating in a way that suited me.
Moving forward, I focused on strengthening my body instead of allowing a number to dictate whether or not I was healthy. I focused less on cardio and worked on building muscle. I also began eating meat again, and even learned to farm, raise my own meat, and butcher my own animals (a totally awesome experience).
It took me more than a decade to fix my relationship with food. It then took three more years to deepen my understanding of holistic health and learn to balance my autoimmune system.
Throughout my journey, I’ve learned that health and nutrition aren’t one size fits all, especially when it comes to mixed raced women. Each of us has unique nutritional needs; and our lifestyle, values, and personal health (including medical conditions) must be taken into account.
So now, as I turn 40, I’ve decided to create this podcast and a short series of books for multiethnic women over 40 in an effort to help them understand the complex and convoluted world of food, health, and nutrition. Instead of fad diets and deprivation, I’d like to see more of us finally make peace with, and hopefully, fall in love with FOOD.
And maybe, just maybe, we can also fall in love with ourselves as well.