I often get funny looks when I tell people I’m a chef. But you don’t look like a chef. Have you heard the expression, Never trust a skinny chef? Then I ask, if you’re eating for health, vitality, to feel your best and to maybe even look 10-20 years younger, you might want to think about that question again.
My confession is, I struggled with a food addiction for years. I was a total wreck around food. And I guess I’m certainly not alone. Apparently, about 40% of the US population struggles with some type of eating disorder. My obsessive love/hate relationship with food started in college and swelled into my late 20’s. When you come from a family plans lunch while eating breakfast and conversations about dinner are on the lunch table, it’s easy to get crazy about the subject. Combine that with a society that condones being super skinny rather than learning how to be healthy, I swung from an orgiastic glutton to avoiding food altogether. It started with late night binging sessions on ding dongs, nachos and every fluorescent food in sight then kneeling to the porcelain altar. The problem was I wasn’t very good at making myself hurl, so I put on 15 pounds in a month. That wasn’t going to work, so the pendulum personality I was, I began a starvation diet, dropping to 87 pounds by avoiding food until 3:00 pm everyday then indulging in 5 bites of rice, 20 celery sticks, 2 spoons of Kim Chee and fueled myself with black coffee all day long. I counted every bite and if I indulged in an extra few bites of anything, I’d kill myself on the Stairmaster until late so I would avoid eating dinner. After a few months, I became too weak to exercise, so I restricted my calories – what was left of the 200 I’d allotted myself – even more. I started losing clumps of hair, became an insomniac, developed a seething paranoia and a myriad of other behaviors that you could call self-loathing.
I’d never admitted this to anyone until recently, but at my lowest point, I thought to myself, I’d rather my heart stop beating than become heavy. Heavy to me was getting to 100 pounds and if I hit that number, who knows what I would do to myself.
My fear of food was eating me alive.
What saved me was my first real job, encouraging people to try new, clean meal ideas at a chain of natural food stores in Boulder, Colorado. God, you’ve got a funny sense of humor.
The idea of entering into a job that was centered around everything edible scared the cheese puffs out of me. But this didn’t look like any other store. Filled with clean, locally grown and natural alternatives to the stuff I found on most grocery shelves, I started to warm up to the idea – and more importantly, needed this job. Gradually, I began my food rehab with education and became editor for our monthly magazine called ‘Healthy Choices.’ I also ran the demo department for all 11 stores, so my role to help our customers understand what ‘certified organic, hormone, and artificial ingredient-free’ meant and to create recipes around the foods we featured. I had to learn to walk the talk, so I started reading labels on the shelves like books in a library and looked up every ingredient I didn’t know. I interviewed every department manager and asked an abundance of questions. I began cooking for myself and fresh food was my muse, inviting friends and family over to try what I’d concocted. I’d find what was in season, played with textures, cooking methods and colors and married these wonders of nature with picks from the seafood and poultry case, which was always brimming with appeal. Even the bakery offered treats made with whole grains and low sugar. I traded out 9 of the 10 cups of coffee I was drinking a day with water. I learned and lived what it meant to feed my body at the cellular level, not just my face. Diet became a 4-letter word, because there was a cleaner choice for everything. Food was meant to keep my body moving and thriving and even though there were a lot of choices out there, I thoroughly understood the best ones for me.
The bottom line – if it came from God’s green earth without a lot of manhandling, it was probably a pretty good choice.
After about a year, I managed to self-heal from my food prison and freed myself from my bite-restrictive ways. And along the way, a miraculous thing happened. My hair stopped falling out. I had energy to enjoy the outdoors, hiking and biking every day. I started smiling again, because my mood started to elevate. And before you know it, I had people coming to me asking what my secret was. I got my joy back.
Now that I’m a mother of 5 (two of my own, 3 from my husband), I understand how important it is to have a healthy relationship with food because I set the example. Baby see, baby do. If all my kids see me eating is rice and kim chee, pre-packaged diet foods and empty calories, I’ve set them up for disaster. If all I ever do is feed them processed meals, preservative laden snacks and diss on veggies, I’d be competely letting go of the wheel. I’ll go so far as saying I think that would make me an unfit parent, knowing that this generation of children is already on course to live fewer years than their parents due to disease.
My mission is to help free you from whatever negative feelings you’ve created around food with a clean approach to eating and make it work with your eat cleaner lifestyle.