Why I Left the CIA and Became a Plant-Based Food Blogger

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Why I Left the CIA and Became a Plant-Based Food Blogger

In January 2015—right after my boyfriend of four years proposed to me—I had a bit of a personal crisis. I wanted to be healthier. Correction: I wanted to be thinner.

It may sound like a simple desire to bring to fruition, but it felt as though my body was working against me. Unless I was exercising vigorously four to five times a week and munching on nothing but carrots, my body stayed the same size.

Around this same time I was in my second year of working at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as an analyst. I was halfway through a training program that teaches new analysts how to write, brief, and think critically. Many of my colleagues were excited to learn how to hone their craft and become the best analysts they could be. I, however, was less than enthused. As time wore on, my lack of interest began to affect my work and I got mediocre scores on my assessments.

As I dealt with the many facets of my personal crossroads I turned to the one thing that consistently brought me joy—food. I would write down recipe ideas and grocery lists on scrap pieces of paper in meetings. Evenings and weekends would be spent experimenting with new ingredients, visiting local farmers’ markets, reading food blogs, or watching The Food Network.

My love for cooking and food turned into my escape. I would prepare rich, decadent meals in an effort to soothe my body with comfort food and to express the creative energy I felt was stifled during my workday.

I did not realize how far I had slipped until I took a trip to Jamaica in April, 2015. Throughout the entire trip I felt bloated and out of shape. I vowed to myself that I would make concentrated efforts to change my lifestyle upon my return to the United States.

Slowly, I began experimenting with food as a way to help me become healthier, not just as a means of escapism. Exercising was never difficult for me but it felt like there was a force working against me, thwarting my efforts. As I resumed a regular exercise routine I started seriously thinking about dietary changes. For about a year, I experimented with vegetarianism, pescetarianism, and even veganism. These trials were stimulating but not quite effective. After periods of virtual starvation I would relapse back into unhealthy eating patterns.

Most of these thoughts were put on hold when my husband and I got married in August, 2016. In the months leading up to the wedding we decided that I would leave the CIA and move to North Carolina with him. Interestingly enough, this decision did not frighten me. I approached our wedding day like a student anxiously awaiting the last day of school. Leaving a job that never felt like a good fit for the unknown was the most exciting thing I had done in years.

The next day I stopped by the library near my house to start my research journey. It must have been fate because the first book I picked up was Food Over Medicine: The Conversation that Could Save Your Life by Glen Merzer and Pamela Popper. I went home and finished this book in two days. I emerged from this book a changed person. I went on a rampage to learn more about the Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet. I watched the documentary Forks Over Knives, borrowed the book The China Study from my mother, and watched Dr. Pam Popper’s lectures on YouTube. I also started blogging about my plant-based recipes. I tapped into a passion for food, especially food that could heal people, and it was bursting out of me.

Finally, I decided that I needed some kind of education. I did not need a course to teach me how to cook but I needed a course to teach me why to cook this way. I needed to understand how the whole food, plant-based lifestyle could potentially change millions of lives. I found the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and knew the Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate course was perfect for me. Although I had some money saved in anticipation of my period of unemployment, the class would make a significant dent in my savings. I remember talking to my husband about it, wondering how I could make this work. He said, “If this is really what you want to do, I will help pay for the course.” I registered for the certificate program that very day.

In December, 2016, I graduated from T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, energized by the lessons I had learned. During the course I began consuming about 85% of my calories from whole, plant-based foods and dramatically reducing my oil and added fat consumption. It was not until I made these changes that I truly saw a difference in my appearance and energy level. The course also showed me just how misinformed average Americans are when it comes to nutrition, especially minority communities. Debilitating conditions like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension are ravaging millions of Americans and there seems to be very little being done about it. I knew that I had a unique voice to add to the movement.

In January, 2017 I founded my own company and the primary goal is to spread awareness about the health benefits of living a whole food, plant-based lifestyle, especially to men and women in minority communities. Whether online or in a client’s kitchen, I love to spend my time exposing people to the simplicity of plant-based cooking and how to reclaim control of their health.

Recipes from Olivia Parr

Olivia Parr is the founder of Caramel Coated Wellness, a whole food, plant-based food blog and personal chef business based in Wilmington, North Carolina. After reading Food Over Medicine and The China Study, and seeing how minorities are disproportionately affected by health issues like hypertension, diabetes, and obesity, she decided to get more serious about her interest in helping people with plant-based food. Olivia is a T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and eCornell Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate Graduate. caramelcoatedwellness.com Instagram: @caramelcoatedwellness
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