Food was always the enemy. I just couldn’t seem to help myself. I would incessantly gobble up chocolate and French fries and chicken fingers and milkshakes. I knew it was wrong and I hated how I looked, but finding restraint when the tempters were so salacious was nearly impossible. My freshman year of high school, I started to count calories. I gave myself 1200 a day and went to the gym to “win back” the ability to feed my starving body. As a 5’8” (and still growing) teenage girl, I should have been eating 2,000+ calories a day, especially considering the way I worked out. The minimal amount of calories that I did consume were empty. I would scarf down a bag of pretzels, eat an apple and finish lunch off with some lettuce dressed with lemon juice. I was not loving or cherishing my body like I should have been, I was merely feeding it the baseline amount it needed to survive.
Thankfully, my calorie-counting obsession never turned into an eating disorder, although at times I would say it was dangerously close. It carried into my sophomore year of high school, where I still compulsively counted calories and religiously visited the gym. This all changed when my sister, a proud vegan of 6 months, urged me to watch Forks Over Knives and Vegucated on Netflix. These documentaries promoted a “whole foods, plant-based diet” and provided scientific research and personal testimonies to back up their claims. I saw the way the animals were being treated and my heart shattered. I could not believe that I had been participating in this system and that I had been so blissfully ignorant about it. I went from a cheese-loving carnivore to a vegan in less than 24 hours.
The first year of my veganism was tumultuous. To me, a meal centered around meat, and everything else was just a side. I had to rethink this entire approach to eating and learn to worship vegetables as the beautiful, colorful, lifelines that they are. I discovered the power of brown rice and black beans and fell in love with sweet potatoes. I felt pounds effortlessly start to melt off my body and stopped counting calories. Food no longer gave me anxiety. However, I developed another dangerous mindset; I began to think that anything that was vegan was automatically healthy. I also became really lazy. Instead of putting a little effort into making lunch, I would eat 3 servings of pretzels dipped in hummus. I would load vegan cheese (made with tapioca starch) and tomato sauce onto an English muffin to make mini-pizzas every day after school. Cookies were fine, as long as they were vegan. The pounds started to come back and food became my enemy once again.
It took a revival of sorts for me to rediscover the power of food. My neighbor, who is a dedicated nutritionist and personal trainer, opened my eyes to the power of whole, complete foods. She recommends a diet free of dairy, wheat, soy, red meat and refined sugar. I once again realized that my diet needed change and cut out all wheat and refined sugar (for anyone who would like to learn about wheat, I recommend The Wheat Belly, it’s an extremely informative exposé on America’s favorite food). I stopped eating food that came from a bag and started focusing on whole and complete foods that made me feel powerful. I always thought it was so cheesy when people said they “listened to their body”, but that is one thing my journey with food has taught me to do. After I eat a meal, my body tells me how that food made it feel. If I get a headache, I can pinpoint the exact food that bothered me. If I feel sluggish, I know it’s probably because I haven’t been eating the way I should, and I try to repair myself with my next meal.
Food is such a beautiful, powerful healing tool. The way that I eat gives me an identity, a passion and a lifestyle combined. Without veganism, I think I would either be 20 pounds overweight or eating 1200 calories of pretzels a day. Without my food renaissance, I would still be scarfing down all kinds of vegan junk and lying to myself about its health content. As a senior in school, I love my body more than I ever have and honor it every day. I became the veggie-loving hippy that I never thought I would be, but I could not love my life more. I could not love food more. I could not love my body even more. I’m so at peace.
Emily is a student, dedicated vegan and fashion admirer with an overwhelming sense of wanderlust. She studies history with the hopes of one day traveling the world, gaining cultural enlightenment, and feeling as sparkling and powerful as possible.
Image reference: This is a picture of one of my favorite homemade dinners, a spelt flatbread loaded with squash, kale, mushrooms and onions, tomato sauce, and a little bit of Dayia cheese because we have to indulge ourselves sometimes!