I feel inspired to write this blog because, as I chop up vegetables for a salad I am eating for dinner, I am reminded that life is all about balance. I ate enchiladas for lunch and granola for breakfast, so a salad seems fitting based on my previous decisions from today...but my life wasn’t always this way.
Growing up, I ate a lot of processed foods that came in packages normally stored in the pantry or freezer. Bagel bits, frozen quiche, canned soup, and cereal were all staples. It wasn’t until high school when I started to pack my own lunch and pay attention to the food I was eating, not based on what I thought was nutritional or healthy, but based on what had the fewest calories.
I grew up dancing. In the dance world, it can be highly competitive to be placed in the front row of routines or receive awards for your performance. I felt a lot of pressure to look a certain way, especially because the majority of our costumes were half tops that revealed your midline. It was the era of Brittany Spears and Christina Aguillera. Because of the way I ate and the phase of life I was in (puberty), I had a little pudge around my stomach that looking back was not a big deal, but it plagued my mind and dampened my self confidence. The conversation of looking thin started to seep into my psyche and by the time I went to college, I had placed myself on a strict, calorie restrictive diet which landed me at 125 pounds at 5’7”. My family started to worry about me and I told them they had nothing to worry about, but behind the scenes, what I ate ran my life and I often found myself drinking coffee for breakfast and a salad (by salad, I mean lettuce and parmesan cheese) for lunch.
One of the best commitments I made during my freshman year of college was to stop eating fast food. I cut out meat entirely and started eating mostly fruits, vegetables, soy based protein like tofu and tempeh, and occasional carbs. Once I moved out of the dorms, I incorporated fish back into my diet but very sporadically because meat and cheese are expensive and I was not only on a diet, I was on a budget. I lost even more weight as a result and received praise from my talent manager and casting directors. I really loved the way I looked because everything seemed to fit, which was a struggle for me in high school, and I no longer felt insecure about my body. I was on top of the world and my ambition shined as a result.
Then, I found yoga. Yoga deconstructed a lot of things for me. It highlighted the ways I was hiding from myself and the ways I escaped my own reality, filling up my time with commitments because I didn’t want to sit with my thoughts. On the outside, everything looked great, but inside, things were breaking down. I beat myself up everytime I didn’t get an A or land a job. I felt worthless in a lot of ways and if I did land a job or find a guy who was interested in me, I asked myself, “why?”. It was a pretty self deprecating time in my life and it was soon time to figure out what I wanted to do post graduation. Luckily, I was a good student and by the time I was a senior already had a job lined up. It was the job of my dreams. I spent a summer under the stars watching concerts at The Greek Theatre while checking on sponsors and box suite holders. I was able to audition during the day and work in the evening. It was the best of all worlds.
Then, I started dating a guy who ate rice. Believe it or not, I didn’t indulge in rice all that often, if so it was a special treat, but it was a staple item in his diet. I started eating it and do you know what happened…my sugar cravings dissipated and soon I was off all of my diet foods that included diet soda and sugar free jello. I didn’t crave whipped cream from the can or extra foamy cappuccinos. I started eating more whole grains but didn’t see a difference in my waistline or increase on the scale. I was really surprised. I think what happened is that by eating high quality carbs and decreasing the amount of processed foods, I started to fill up faster during mealtimes and thus I stopped taking frequent trips to Yogurtland. We don’t realize how bad all of that stuff is for you until you stop eating it and realize it is the very thing causing crashes in the middle of the day and a pudge around your midline. Our bodies are not able to process those highly processed foods thus it stores it as fat, even if you have little of it.
Then, during my first yoga teacher training we read a book that suggested that all of our meals be contained to the size of a bowl. This was my first introduction to portion control. No more huge salads filled with cucumbers and carrots. This time I had to focus on dense nutrient rich foods that would fill me up and fit into a bowl. We also tried all kinds of diets from vegetarian to vegan and raw. Raw was unreal and I would only recommend it if you need to cleanse or have a lot of time to eat throughout the day because while you will get the maximum nutrients from all of your foods, you will also spend a lot of time breaking it all down.
Then, I found Ayurveda. Ayurveda opened my eyes to the doshas, or constitutions. A dosha is a way of looking at your body and mind, recommending certain foods and lifestyle practices that help to cultivate balance and harmony. Getting to know more about your constitution will help you understand which foods feel nourishing for you and why others make your stomach upset. This was when I did a high five in my mind. I was able to eat grounding, nourishing foods knowing it balanced out my dosha (vata) and why smoothies and salads only created more ‘airiness’ in my personality which showed up as distraction and indecisiveness. By this point, I was cooking for myself out of my little kitchen in Manhattan Beach and once again on a budget because I had just become a yoga teacher. I continued to make a lot of macrobiotic bowls filled with quinoa, rice, dark leafy greens, squash, and beans. In some ways, this was good for me because the food was warm, but there were ingredients that were not optimal for my digestion.
After a terrible viral infection that spread throughout my whole body, I made my first visit to a naturopath. I worked with her for a few months to clean out my diet and focus on the foods that were not only best for my body but free of pesticides and harmful chemicals found in foods that are not organic and surprisingly, water. I learned even more not only about food and digestion but also about the microbiome and started incorporating probiotics into my diet as well as certain supplements I still take to this day. Health and nutrition took on a whole new meaning and during this whole process of changing my diet and trying new trends, my size didn’t fluctuate all that much. I maintained a healthy weight for my height and I felt great in my body. I think a lot of that had to do with the yoga and just how in touch I felt with my hunger. Prior to yoga I ate based on obligation and forced myself to eat or skip meals based on what I thought I should do. When I started to listen to my body and it’s hunger cues, I ate just the right amount for me at any given time and save the rest for later or ask for seconds. I was no longer counting calories. I was looking at ingredients and super interested in getting all the necessary nutrients to look and feel my best.
I was able to heal my viral infection naturally, mostly through energy work, essential oils and a healthy diet. I started working with a healer who opened up a lot of hurt I was carrying and probably projecting onto food and how I was treating my body. I worked through a lot of blockages found hidden within the depths of my body that resulted from years of neglect and honestly, betrayal. For the first time in my life, I felt content with my diet and lifestyle choices.
For me, it is all about balance. Never too much of one thing but not necessarily canceling anything out. I still do not eat beef or drink milk. The dairy and cattle industry literally puts me to tears and as someone who cares deeply about the conservation of our planet, I just can’t justify that. I am learning about the impact meat has on our planet and I am honestly at a crossroads, because once I became pregnant with my daughter my body craved fish and I have learned from multiple nutritionists that small amounts of fish and red meat is healthy for my baby and her brain development. You can find these nutrients in other ways and take supplements to provide the omega’s and b vitamins you need for a healthy pregnancy.
One thing I forgot to mention was that my iron levels went way down when I was in college, to the point that I was diagnosed with anemia. I blame this mostly on my uneducated decision to cut out all meat without taking any supplements are knowing which vegetables to eat that contained high levels of iron (such as kale and lentils). If you do decide to cut out animal protein, please educate yourself on the supplements or foods you need to incorporate into your diet to ensure you are getting all the vitamins and minerals your body needs.
I believe in a plant based diet that is rooted in whole foods with select amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and fruits. I will indulge in pretty much anything but I do so on occasion so I never feel guilty for eating a cookie or having a glass of wine. I drink a lot of quality water especially while breastfeeding because it not only impacts my health, it improves my mood and curbs my cravings. If you want to lose weight then I recommend giving up all the “white stuff”: white flour, white sugar, and dairy. You could also give up alcohol which packs on the pounds quite nicely. All of these things contribute to slow digestion and your goal should not only be to maximize the number of nutrient dense foods you put into your body but also eliminate the foods that slow your metabolism so your body has a chance to process things optimally. The same goes for sugary sodas and such things. The answer: water.
That is a small glimpse into my history with food. I have been through the spectrum while not swaying too far in any direction. Even though I was chubby in high school, I was not overweight. Even though I was lean in college, I did not have an eating disorder (although I will admit, it was questionable at one point). And even though I am pregnant now, I am not careless about what I put into my body.
I am very conscious and I feel balanced as a result. This, to me, is yoga. This is why I find #myOm in the kitchen cooking delicious food and preparing meals for my family. I believe yoga is a way of life and if we listen, we start to take care of ourselves in more ways than one. We might first learn by taking care of our bodies on the mat, then our minds in meditation but eventually the practice starts to seep into our relationships and that involves the one we have with food.
We are so blessed in this culture to have access to amazing, quality produce, a luxury most people do not, so I feel it is important that we appreciate what we have and give back where we can.
I would love to hear your thoughts! Do you have a relationship with food? What does that look like? Is there one diet that works for you? Please share, comment and give this post a like if you enjoyed reading it.