My weight fluctuated throughout high school and college but stayed in the “normal” range, for the most part.
I won’t say that I struggled with an “eating disorder” but my eating habits were definitely disordered and being in a sorority only put more pressure on me personally, because everyone was on a diet. Dieting was popular. Drinking in excess was popular and blacking out Thursday-Saturday was the norm.
I wouldn’t eat much before going out at night, sometimes nothing at all if we went out after class only to be STARVED when getting home, therefore inhaling whatever drunk food we ordered… I would restrict food (mostly carbs) before a vacation or before a dance to feel good in a tight dress but I wasn’t necessarily skinny because of all the drinking and late-night unhealthy eating… I was studying nutrition, fitness and health so I enjoyed working out and eating healthy food (when I wasn’t drunk) or what I considered to be “healthy” back then but it was a struggle because I felt enormous guilt with most foods. I was also chronically bloated/dehydrated from all the booze…
My “healthy” diet consisted of low fat greek yogurt for breakfast and 100 calorie packs or bars for snacks. Sandwiches on a scooped out wheat bagel with deli turkey and “light” cheese or salads with hard-boiled eggs and low-fat dressing for lunch. Dinner was whatever they served, which was somewhat healthy (for the most part) because they always had vegetarian options and vegetables but on the weekends, eating healthy went out the window completely.
There was a total lack of balance with my eating habits. Food was either “good” or “bad”. The whole “protein obsession” wasn’t really a thing yet, but “low fat” and “low carb” sound all too familiar.
Everything was low fat and carbs were the devil which had me constantly asking myself “what in the world am I supposed to eat?”. One of the reasons I yearned to study nutrition, fitness and health in college was to learn about what was “healthy” and what was considered “right” or “wrong”, which totally backfired as food consumed me and became my main focus.
Today, my food philosophies go against everything I learned in school (counting calories, studying nutrition labels, calculating how many calories you need to burn to lose x amount of weight, calories in, calories out etc.) which I do NONE of today.
- I don’t count calories
- I don’t track macros
- I don’t measure or weigh anything
- I don’t read nutrition labels, only the ingredient list
- I eat whenever I want, at anytime of the day
- I probably eat 3x the amount of food now than I did back in college
As I stand here on the other side at 28 years old, I’m in a healthy, happy place both mentally and physically. I LOVE food again and I owe this so-called “food freedom” to the plant based lifestyle. Whether something is “good” or “bad” is no longer in my food vocabulary. I’ve found what works for me which is real, whole, plant based foods full of color and vibrance. No dieting or deprivation; just as much as I want and need to eat in order to feel full and satisfied.
It is possible to thrive purely on an abundance of plant foods.
There are guidelines I choose to follow like not eating or cooking with oil when at home but if I’m out, I don’t worry about it. Never once has this lifestyle felt restricting because I’m always satisfied and there are alternatives for literally everything I could ever want.
My taste buds have evolved to crave color. Fresh fruits and veggies. Leafy greens. All the kale and spinach. I love them all because of how they make me feel. I’ve learned how to indulge and eat things I enjoy like the occasional vegan cupcake, coconut milk ice cream, chocolate chips on the daily, almond creamer in my coffee and red wine in moderation – all without guilt. These indulgences are not considered “cheat meals” to me, as that saying holds a negative connotation, like I’m doing something “bad”.
They are just indulgences and are required to maintain sanity.
I’ve learned how to eat plant protein like beans, legumes and tempeh and feel fueled. How to eat high-quality whole food grains like sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa and oats – as much as I want. How to eat whole food fats like avocados and raw nut butters and tahini on a daily basis and feel more than satisfied. How to incorporate superfoods like chia seeds and hemp seeds for extra plant power.
I’m able to maintain my weight eating plant based vegan food while also gaining strength, endurance and flexibility. I feel agile, athletic, energized and hydrated. My workouts revolve around how I feel that day and listening to my body is the most important thing. I workout how I feel like working out, 2-4x per week. I push myself but I won’t do anything I hate. Some days I just want to SWEAT so I do the stair master for 20 minutes. Some days I want to lift and work on my strength and feel strong. Some days I’m really annoyed, agitated and my body is tired, so I do yoga or go on a walk to set my mind straight. The other days I relax. I workout to feel good, to get my blood pumping and to sweat out anxiety.
I never could have imagined getting to this place of balance with my eating and exercise habits but I’ve come a long way and I know many of you have too.
Why am I sharing this? Because of the constant stress surrounding daily food choices that I still see, every single day. I want to help people find the joy in food again. I want to help them count colors, not calories.
Whether in the form of an email, comment or message on social media, I’m constantly getting asked about calories, nutrition facts, if a food is good or bad and how often should they be eating said food.
- How many calories for one serving of this recipe?
- What are the nutrition facts for this recipe?
- How many times per day/week should I be eating the ‘Cleansing Detox Soup’?
- How much spirulina should I consume each day?
I LOVE hearing from you guys. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE when you email me with excitement about starting the cleanse. I LOVE when you tell me your entire family was eating kale, after you made my ‘Spicy Kale and Quinoa Black Bean Salad’. I LOVE when you feel compelled to make positive changes after reading ‘My Vegan Story’. Answering and responding brings me happiness and lets me know what I need to do to improve TGF.
I can’t help but want to scream every time someone asks me about calories or nutrition facts and if something is “good” or “bad”. I don’t know? How will it make you feel? It’s gotten to the point where I don’t want to answer those types of questions because my answer is rarely heard or liked and tends to go in one ear and out the other.
I didn’t go vegan to lose weight; it sort of fell in my lap after a bottle of wine and this documentary on Netflix. For ethical reasons first, as I couldn’t bear to eat another piece of animal flesh for 20 lifetimes and secondly, because of the science surrounding plants and their undeniable ability to reverse chronic disease. Not to mention it forever healed my acne and has shown me what balance really means.
I understand that establishing balanced eating habits takes time. It’s hard, its personal, it brings up emotions that have been tucked away for longer than you want to think about. A balanced, simple approach to eating takes years of mindful practice but it gets so much easier and becomes second nature, over time. I would not be where I am today if I still worried about calculating how many carbs were in my banana oatmeal or how much fat was on my avocado toast. I would not be where I am today if I listened to the media or if I followed the latest diet trends surrounding raspberry ketones or carb cycling. I would not be where I am today if I counted calories or studied nutrition facts or deprived my body in any way.
Not saying I’m the healthiest person in the world because I’m not. Not saying my way is the only way either… but I used to do the same exact worrying and counting and being scared of food and beating myself up over eating too much pasta or bread and you know what? I weighed more then than I do now and I sure as heck wasn’t loving or listening to my body. Those were stressful times, not happy times.
I understand some of you NEED to know exact amounts and be in control of every single calorie that enters your body because I was the same but unless you are on prep cutting for a bikini competition, counting anything in relation to food is not living a balanced life. You can’t do it forever. There is NOTHING more pointless in life than a short-term fix. Maybe you feel that counting is necessary in the beginning of your health journey, but I urge you to move away from it entirely and listen to your body instead.
Otherwise, when does it end? Do you plan on counting calories until you’re 90 years old? How about counting colors?
I will not give up on spreading this message of ‘Count Colors, Not Calories’ because there is nothing more liberating in life than to not worry about food choices ever again. Instead, be consciously aware of them. Study ingredient lists and forget nutrition labels. Indulge and get back on track at your next meal. Sweat when you feel like it and do yoga when your mind isn’t right.
Whatever it is, find a balance.