I wasn’t always the healthiest eater as a kid.
Back in my pre-vegan days, I would survive on tri-colored pasta smothered in cheese and butter, bologna on white bread with ketchup, and potato chips. My mum would cook classic Brit comfort food – fried sausages with butter laden mashed potatoes, roast dinners, curries, and fried breakfasts with slices of fried bread.
By the time I was 17, I looked like this:
(That’s me on the left)
My weight gain was over a period of five years or so. I’d always been a little plump as a child, but when I entered high school my weight started to get out of control. I was topping the scale at 200lbs. I felt bloated and “fat” all the time, had terrible acne, and no self-esteem, though I never really did anything about it. I would make excuses as to why I wanted to lose weight, or I would eat badly one day and promise myself the next day I’d be healthy and my “diet” would start the next day. But back then, I had no idea what it meant to be healthy.
When I was 14, I saw PETA’s “Meet Your Meat” video and instantly swore off any flesh from my diet. It was the night of a huge neighborhood block party, and everyone was serving hamburgers and hot dogs. I refused to eat one, the images of cows strung up by their hocks to be slaughtered still fresh in my mind. But just because I was a vegetarian didn’t mean I was instantly healthy. My diet was still crap. I relied on processed Weight Watchers microwave food, and refined pasta and rice. I scoffed at tofu and laughed in the face of danger whole wheat bread. I still shoved down Spaghetti-os with copious amounts of shredded cheddar added or baked potatoes with gobs of butter and cheese on a regular basis.
It was only when I became a vegan in December 2008 that my world (and my taste buds!) opened up. At first, I only ate apples, bananas and potatoes and wasn’t adventurous enough to eat anything else, even strawberries! I began to eat salads because I love spinach. I found whole grains tastier than refined ones. I lost the desire to eat anything with refined sugar or high-fructose-hydrogenated-trans-anything. I became more open minded and so aware of what I put into my body. I began exercising on a regular basis and soon enough the weight started to fall off.
Soon enough, I felt so good I just didn’t want to stop! I didn’t weigh myself at all until about April – and I had lost 27 pounds! That was inspiration enough to keep pushing on.
My weight was around 160 at my high school graduation. I had hated both junior and high school. People teased me a lot, and looking back I’m sure it was due to my weight and lack of confidence.
I’d lost 50 pounds in about six and a half months by my 18th birthday, something I never thought I would accomplish. I looked great, but I still wasn’t really happy with the way I looked. My weight loss soon became unhealthy after that. It became a challenge. Every time I weighed in, I would always want to “beat” my previous number on the scale – and I’d go to any lengths to do it, whether that meant restricting my food intake or exercising far too much. During my summer vacation, I went on a cruise for a family reunion, and I spent all of my afternoons in the ship’s gym instead of getting off at the scheduled stops. Every meal was calculated and planned out. I can remember feeling proud of myself if I went to bed feeling hungry. This continued on throughout my summer and into the school year. I ended up losing far too much weight during my first semester of college, and spent my freshman year battling anorexia, and then non-purging bulimia and binge eating.
After I came home for my fall break, I discovered that I’d lost even more weight, and I was down to 115 pounds by November, which was an unhealthy weight for someone who is 5’8. I barely ate at all, and I went to the gym far too much. I would plan my class schedule around the gym, and if I had to go directly after lecture, I would wear my gym clothes to “save time” and make a mad dash for the rec center. Missing a workout was never an option. Sometimes I even went to the gym twice a day. My friends never saw me at the dining hall, and if they did, I would eat one apple and a bowl of plain lettuce, cucumber, and tomato, a crap excuse for a salad. My hair soon began to thin and fall out. My arms became thin and emaciated. I was exhausted all the time, was always cold, and my heart rate plummeted to a staggering 34 beats per minute. A healthy heart beats at least 60 times a minute. My bones were visible in my chest, and one time a friend put his hand on my shoulder and said I felt bony like a concentration camp victim. All of my friends and family could see that there was something wrong, they could tell I was growing far too thin. But when I looked in the mirror, all I saw was the previous 200 lb me, and not who I really was.
Almost at my lowest weight, September 2009. (pretending to *KO* my sister, haha) About 115-120 pounds.
My freshman year of college was my lowest point. My world revolved around food and exercise. However, despite my struggles, I still managed to achieve a 3.25 grade point average. But above deciding to do well in my classes, I have chosen to do well in all areas of my life. I have chosen to live. I have once again become the vibrant young girl I used to be. My hair became strong once again, my face got color, and my heart rate returned to a normal pace. I’ve also gained a healthy amount of weight back, which has been the hardest part for me. But with that weight came knowledge, power, and a new level of respect for my body. I’m on a mission to pass on the knowledge that I gained: that our bodies can do amazing things, and we shouldn’t put a limit on that just because of some number a scale tells us. Scales measure weight, not worth.
Unlike my vegetarian and vegan transitions, which happened overnight, recovery has been a long journey. It’s a daily choice to get up and decide that I’m going to love myself no matter what, and that I’m not going to feel guilty in any way related to food or exercise. Now I am back at a very healthy weight and I’m focusing more on being healthy and happy and not just being skinny.
Cooking has always been a form of expression for me, and through my recovery I have rediscovered how to share my passion for food with others. I believe cooking is about having fun, learning, and discovery, both with food and with yourself. Express who you are in everything you do, and never be afraid to make mistakes, whether that’s in the kitchen or in your life.