We have posted countless times about the mental health benefits of proper nutrition. Some people however, need a more anecdotal approach. I want to share my path to healthy eating and my passion for nutrition, maybe you will relate.
How It Began
I have always had an interesting relationship with food but my true passion for nutrition came later, when I was about 19. Like most of us I had gained weight in my first year at UofT. I wasn't sure how to manage the many influences around me. I had often blamed my 'lack of willpower' for my poor eating habits. It wasn't until I started to educate myself on nutrition that I learned willpower had nothing to do with it. My passion for nutrition was actually sparked by my love of documentaries. While I was unhappy with my appearance I couldn't bring myself to change until I watched Fed Up.
I am unsure what exactly it was about this movie that make things click for me. It changed everything. The movie brought to light the many complex relationships between food and politics. Perhaps it was the movie's provocative questioning of the food industry as a whole that drove me to change.
The Next 2 Years
When I tell people how my interest in nutrition began they are often shocked that it has lasted. Very soon after I had watched Fed Up and educated myself further I changed my entire diet and lifestyle. I went completely clean. By clean I mean I ate no added sugars in any form and no processed foods. My diet solely consisted of: chicken, fish, whole grains, vegetables, fruit, eggs, and plain greek yogurt. I allowed myself 1 cheat meal a week but didn't often use it.
It was amazing I finally felt better! My migraines and headaches were less frequent and as long as I stayed on plan my stomach was perfect. The inexplicable nausea I had felt for months on end disappeared. My chronic back and neck pain improved and I lost weight. For the first time I felt I had control in my life, but in a healthy way. Those of you with anxiety will understand the need for control and the many unhealthy ways we usually strive for it.
I ate this way for about 8 months in its most restrictive form and a year and a half in total. It all came crashing down the summer after 3rd year university. Spending summers at my family cottage, it became impossible to stick to such a regimented diet. I slowly became more and more flexible until I was eating whatever I wanted.
4th Year University
In 4th year I moved out of residence at UofT and into my own apartment. I finally felt like I would have total control over what I ate and be able to as strict as I chose. The adjustment of needing to take care of everything myself, however, proved to be a barrier. Throughout 4th year I wavered back and forth between strict clean eating and gorging on whatever food I chose. I quickly gained back the weight I had lost and the inconsistency kept me feeling sick often.
Each change between diet would result in a week long adjustment period of hell. Every time I began a clean eating cycle I was sure I would be able to stick to it but never did. Willpower had nothing to do with it. As you research nutrition you will find the food industry has developed hyper-palatable food that plays tricks on our brains. This food lacks proper nutrition yet is highly addictive. Regardless how much you eat, your body is left starved.
I am vegetarian. I am a strong believer that as you gain more information you should adjust your beliefs accordingly. Otherwise you are not becoming educated, you are becoming ignorant. Vegetarianism is something I have wanted to do for a long time yet never could. Ethical and environmental reasons were important to me but not enough. It wasn't until I finally made time to read a book I had wanted to read for a long time that I was able to make a change. The China Study is hailed as the most comprehensive study on nutrition ever conducted. It is cited by every nutrition documentary I have watched and every other book I have read.
The simplest summary I can give is that it provides significant evidence to show a correlation between consumption of animal proteins and incidences of heart disease, cancer, and the majority of diseases of affluence. The book covers both an animal based study as well as a human study, both of which demonstrate significant correlation. This book is what caused me to be vegetarian.
Personal health is the most selfish reason on the planet to be vegetarian but it works for me. I found the change surprisingly simple. I had almost no cravings, which is rare, and I feel so much better. My mental and physical health have improved since becoming vegetarian and I am so grateful for that. I have more energy, fewer mood swings and am emotionally stronger. Where I will be another 4 years from now? Who knows, but for now this works for me.
I can summarize my personal experience with nutrition into 4 main lessons.
1. No one is perfect and no one's journey will be the same. There may be lots of missteps along the way but all of those will teach you something.
2. Trust in yourself and listen to your body. What works for one person may not work for you.
3. Education can only help, never harm. Read and watch everything you can and then decide for yourself.
4. Whatever your reasons, your choices are valid. The driving force behind your choices must come from within because some people may not support you.
Required Reading/Watching ListDocumentaries:
- Fed Up - sugar, politics, & childhood obesity
- Cowspiracy - environmental impacts of animal agriculture
- Vegucated - meat eaters go vegan 6 weeks
- Food Inc. - where your food really comes from (if you're brave)