I am a food addict. These words are easy to type, but difficult to read. In my nearly thirty-two years on earth, I have struggled for more than half of them to learn the proper way to view food. As a young girl, I was considered “chunky.” I was very active however and despite being overweight as a child I spent my time playing with neighborhood children, hiking, rollerblading, and riding my bicycle. As I grew into my teenage years, I found myself craving foods and while giving into those cravings I quickly developed a dependency that would prove disastrous for my long-term health. In a world that has for years revolved around convenience foods, refined to the point of little or no nutritional value, I found myself completely attached to what I consider to be one of the most harmful substances on earth: sugar.
My struggle with food addiction goes beyond sugar, as I also found difficulty in adhering to proper portion control. I was fortunate that I grew up eating a wide range of fruits and vegetables, and that my mother taught me how to read food labels and look for foods high in fiber and low in number of ingredients: whole foods. However, my addiction to unhealthy food selections consistently trumped the healthy choices, and over time I continued to gain weight. I tried many diets and exercise regimens, but would deprive myself to the point of failure and then would eat exponentially more in order to make up for the days or weeks of deprivation from my favorite foods. In my teenage years, I suffered with irregular menstruation, and after seeing an endocrinologist, was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). I was prescribed thyroid medication and birth control pills to help regulate my cycles, which I continued to take on a daily basis since my diagnosis. Last year I weighed in at the heaviest I had ever been: 367 pounds. I was shocked to see the number on my scale. I didn’t even realize the scale would read that high. I was devastated.
My weight caused more than just emotional distress. I had been experiencing swelling in my feet, and particularly in my left lower leg. As a nurse, I knew from my training and experience that this was the beginning of lymphedema. I could tell by the shiny look of my skin and the fact that I could not prevent the swelling unless I wore support stockings every day. I was also finding it difficult to be active, and lacked flexibility to tie my shoes without sitting down first. I was thirty. How did I let myself get so out of control? How could I possibly fix my situation?
I knew that my journey of change needed to start with my addiction to sugar. I had given up this beast before. I once went a total of three weeks without sugar, and managed for a couple of months afterward to eat sugar only a few times per month. I found that after deprivation, however, the sweet taste of my addiction only made me crave it more. Eventually I went back to my unhappy place: eating sugar daily, and in large amounts. I would crave it throughout the day, and would sneak chocolate candy, cookies, and cake. I would stop on my way home from work to get my afternoon fix, because the hour-long drive home without something to satisfy my craving was at times more than I could handle. I would bake sweets at home and would eat disgusting serving sizes, throwing the rest away so that I could avoid the temptation. The temptation however would come back stronger the next day; it was a truly vicious cycle. On June 22, 2015 I ate my last bite of sugar in the form of a sweet dessert. No more chocolates, candies, cookies, cakes. No more ice cream, sodas, juices, or sweetened drinks. No artificial sweeteners, maple syrup, or agave to make “sugar-free” treats. I knew that if I wanted to make this change, it would have to be all, or nothing. I chose all.
The first few weeks were the hardest. I met my cravings with whole fruits which were surprisingly satisfying. I was blessed to have the support of friends and family during the process. My husband kept his promise to not bring home sugary treats so that I could avoid temptation as much as possible. I decided to bring out the stationary bike in my basement, which up to that point had been collecting dust, and started incorporating exercise into my life. Although I began with only 20-minute sessions, I turned on Netflix and pedaled away. It was during this time that I watched some of the most influential documentaries which helped to steer my journey toward a healthier path: Forks Over Knives and PlantPure Nation. At the time, I was not mentally prepared to transition to exclusively plant-based nutrition. In the weeks and months that followed, however, I began to follow whole food, plant-based practices. I found it fairly easy to leave dairy and eggs out of my diet, especially since I had stopped eating sugar and the baked goods that often contained those products. I finally completed my transition and for the last three months I have been following an exclusively whole food, plant-based nutrition plan.
Since my journey began last June, I have experienced significant changes. To date I have lost 118 pounds, and have dropped from a 26/28W dress size to size 16. At 249 pounds, I am officially at the lowest weight I have been since I was a young teenager! I joined a local fitness center, and I exercise at least four to five times per week, typically for more than one hour each session. I have discovered a love for running, and have completed two 5k races, as well as two 10k runs. I have more energy now than I ever thought possible. I am more focused in my career and also in my home life, and overall have a greater sense of happiness and satisfaction in the person that I have become.
My overall health has greatly improved. I no longer have swelling in my feet or legs. Recently I made the decision to stop taking birth control pills to regulate my menstrual cycles, and have discovered that my body is now able to regulate them on its own. Although my journey to improved health is not yet complete, I am eager to continue my lifelong goal to seek nutrition that provides for all of my body’s needs, and regular fitness that both challenges and satisfies my mind, body, and spirit. I also hope to expand my nursing career to include using my story as a testimony that the reversal of poor nutrition is possible. I was naïve to not realize how important nutrition is to our health. I dream that one day I might help others to make positive changes in their health and nutrition, and to re-focus my practice of treating existing diseases to preventing them from progressing or even occurring altogether.