My Personal, REAL Journey with Dieting + How I Gave It Up For Good

Healthy Lifestyle

19 April 2018

First of all, if you’re here I want to thank you in advance.

Maybe you’re reading this because you too, are sick of always being “on” or “off” plan, or going on diets to lose weight only to gain every pound (and then some) back, of constant fear or stress or guilt about food, of never feeling good enough/confident enough/skinny enough/pretty enough.

Or maybe you’re just simply curious about my story, and how I got to be where I am today. Whatever brought you here, just know I am beyond grateful to be open, vulnerable and share my story with you. I hope you’ll draw hope, inspiration, value, love, support or encouragement from it, and know I’m here for you.

HOW IT ALL STARTED 

4th grade. Happy on the outside, struggling on the inside.

4th grade. Happy on the outside, struggling on the inside.

You could say my “food journey” started back in elementary school. I had a major appreciation and love for food straight out of the womb. My mom was an amazing cook/baker and I would often come home from school to find fresh baked chocolate chip cookies or homemade cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting sitting on the counter waiting to be devoured. Yup.

While I loved food and had a major sweet tooth, I never thought twice about what I ate. It didn’t matter. My mom had a very healthy body image and that type of worry was never instilled in me. I was also always tiny no matter what I ate, so I just never really linked weight and diet together. But I did really begin to struggle with OCD tendencies. I remember every night going around and checking all of the heaters in the house to make sure nothing was on them so the “house wouldn’t burn down.” Then I had to have a glass of water and have my parents tuck me in and say the same thing to me every night.

During that time I also had TERRIBLE stomach aches. My parents would have to come into my room at night and give me hot water bottles or rub my tummy while I cried. I went to the doctor numerous times but they never could find anything specifically wrong. I also started seeing a therapist in the 4th grade because my OCD tendencies worsen-end. I want to make it very clear I grew up in a loving home surrounded by friends and family and everything I could ever need. So this wasn’t based on outside circumstances, it was just something that wasn’t stacking up right internally.

After going to therapy I started to feel better mentally, however my stomach aches didn’t ever fully go away. They would disappear for months or even years and suddenly reappear with a vengeance. I had colonoscopies, endoscopies, you name the test, I had it done, but doctor’s couldn’t pinpoint anything specific, instead choosing to blanket-label my symptoms as IBS.

DIETING DISASTER

The stomach pains continued through middle school and into my high school years. However I still didn’t equate food with how I was feeling, and I continued to eat a ton of junk, sweets and processed foods and remain tiny. I never thought twice about what I was eating, until puberty hit.

Pre-Pubescent Years — Always thin as a rail, with excellent fashion sense 😉

I was 16, a total late bloomer and my body pretty much morphed over night. All of a sudden I had curves and with them, far-less forgiving hormones. I started to gain weight. Not a lot and to anyone else they may not have even noticed, but all that mattered was that I noticed. For the first time in my life I started thinking about how what I ate was directly linked to how I looked, and my OCD tendencies kicked back in full force. From that point on I become OBSESSED with everything I ate.

Before a high-school dance, post-puberty

So I did what any girl who needs to have control over a situation does —  I made up rules for myself I could follow. I think this is where a lot of us tend to get stuck, and I hear it frequently from my clients. We may have read something in a magazine/online, saw it in an ad, heard it from a friend or family member or been marketed to believe it by the food or beauty industry and just like that we’re on a low-carb diet because that’s how you lose weight, or we swear off sugar because that’s what make you fat, or we force ourselves to workout every day, twice a day if we’ve had a “bad food day” because burning the excess calories keeps you from gaining weight.

Senior year of high school, completely confused and consumed by what to eat

A few of my food rules/diets I followed spanning high school and college included:

 Skip lunch and only eat breakfast and dinner (because eating less makes you thin)
– No desserts/sugar-free during the week (which I would then binge eat on the weekend – true story I once ate an entire chocolate peanut butter cream pie to myself in one sitting)
– Salads every day for lunch were the healthiest option, especially with a fat-free dressing I would pack around with me on college campus– yes for real
– Lean cuisines for dinner every night because they were lowest in calories, and I’d actually feel guilty if I ate just regular dinner food, because I didn’t know how to calculate the exact calorie count
– Beer made you fat but vodka was fine, especially mixed with crystal light raspberry flavor (low in calories and sugar)
– When on spring break in Mexico no eating the Mexican food because it makes you fat, instead I brought protein bars and popcorn to balance out all the drinking, and make sure I looked good in a bikini

Does this sound absolutely crazy to you? How joy-less and stressful does this life sound? Or perhaps you can totally identify with this feeling at some point into your life. Either way this is just a small glimpse into what was going on in my head almost every minute of every day.

College — skinny, but nowhere near healthy or happy.

My stomachaches continued and I started to battle depression. I continued on with all my weird food rules, which as you can see involved a LOT of processed and artificial foods like Lean Cuisines, vodka spiked with crystal light, coffee sweetened with a vat of Splenda, protein bars, popcorn and fat-free yogurt with Kashi-Go Lean Cereal. I lost weight, but was bloated and constipated all of the time, stopped menstruating, was dealing with bad skin breakouts and my hair started to thin from either the lack of nutrients, stress or probably both.

THE TURNING POINT 

I’m of firm belief that there are two reasons we make big changes in our life. We either get tired of the circumstances we’re in and have created for ourselves and we decide to make a change with a conscious choice, or we are forced into them by crisis.

Although I wouldn’t say I was in total crisis mode yet, I was definitely getting there and knew I didn’t want to live this way forever. I was tired of the constant battle in my head, the headaches, the tummy troubles, the brain fog, the lack of sleep. I just hit a point in my life where I was ready to feel better and finally willing to do the work to make it happen.

So I went a route I don’t really recommend (we’ll get to that later) and tried to self-teach myself. I consumed every nutrition and healthy cookbook I could find, watched a ton of documentaries and decided to radically change my diet. I went vegan overnight and cut out gluten and processed foods, fake sweeteners and microwaveable dinners. I started eating tons of veggies and making green smoothies every day.

I also began teaching myself how to cook, which was an arduous process at first (I once had to ask my roommate how to boil water to make pasta). While cooking was new and intimidating to me (especially for someone who likes to have full control and know the outcome in every situation), I eventually came to enjoy the process, how present I felt in the moment when I was chopping vegetables, stirring sauces and listening to music. Now cooking is second nature to me, and it brings me so much joy, especially when I’m cooking a meal to share with others. Providing something delicious and nourishing is my way of showing someone I love them – and I really believe that intention comes through in the food.

Needless to say, I quickly dropped any excess weight I was carrying around (about 10 lbs), my skin cleared up, my brain fog and headaches dissipated, I had SO much more energy, my hair grew back thicker and for the first time in my life I was going to the bathroom regularly (and for anyone that has issues with this you know what a game-changer this is).

Post healthy lifestyle changes — feeling happy.

 

I felt so much better and that buoyancy and lightness gave way to clarity — and I knew in the depths of my soul wellness was something I was really passionate about and I wanted to help others get better and let them know it’s possible. You don’t have to go through life feeling this way. You’re not alone, and you deserve better.

 

With this newfound clarity, energy and inner strength I was empowered to take action. I created and started writing my blog, So Fresh N So Green, on a mission to inspire others with nutrient-dense recipes that not only taste good, but make you feel good too. I enrolled in nutrition school to become a Certified Nutrition + Healthy Lifestyle Coach. After I graduated from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition I completed an online business course, and two years ago filed So Fresh N So Green as an LLC, becoming a business owner for the first time in my life.

HOW I GAVE UP DIETING FOR GOOD

Throughout this time period, my relationship with food and more importantly myself, continued to evolve.

I hired my own coach to further my personal development and growth and went back to therapy. While I was feeling so much better, my therapist suggested I may want to try a medication to help me deal with stress and my tendency to revert back to my OCD behavior in stressful situations.

While I believe this is a deeply personal choice and what may work for one person does not for another, I knew in my heart I didn’t want to have to depend on a pill. I wanted to overcome my demons myself. And while I believe this never quite goes away, there’s always going to be the small voice in the deepest corner of your brain trying to self-sabotage you, you have a choice and you can choose to acknowledge and accept the thoughts for what they are, just thoughts. They don’t define you and just as easily as you think them you can choose to let go and love yourself instead.

I make this choice everyday and I fuel my body with foods that don’t mess with my brain or hormones – that are scientifically linked to depression – and because of this I can honestly say I haven’t felt depressed in years.

 

Sure I experience intense moments of sadness or stress or insecurity like most everyone else, but I know how to manage it and so does my body. I have developed a deep level of self-awareness and I am able to really tune into both body and mind and listen to what I need.

For example, while my food evolution began with becoming a strict vegan, I eventually craved seafood and eggs and added them back into my diet. Two years ago, after four years without touching a piece of meat, I found I couldn’t stop thinking about it — so I tried some and felt great. I’ve learned while I love sugar, it totally messes with my energy levels and mood, so I tend to limit my sweet intake, but you better believe if I’m out to dinner with friends and there’s wine and flourless chocolate cake, I’m going to have some. I may not feel optimal the next day, but I consciously make that choice and I own it/don’t regret it.

I know what I need to do to take care of myself, mentally, emotionally and physically so that I’m the best possible version of myself everyday. And once you know this, I believe you can go anywhere and do anything in life. You’ll always have yourself to depend on.

 

Hopefully this is resonating or inspiring you on some level, but you might be wondering how exactly it applies to you and what steps you’re supposed to take to achieve a healthier body and happier mind? First I want to preface that I firmly believe every single person on this planet is unique and there is no one else like you, thus you have your own optimal path to health and wellbeing. But at the same time I have found a few key steps that have empowered myself, as well as my clients to become the healthiest, happiest and best possible versions of themselves.

My 33 b-day in New Zealand (Dec, 4 2017). Living my best life.

3 STEPS TO ACHIEVE A HEALTHIER BODY + HAPPIER MIND, WITHOUT DIETING

 

1.It starts with food

Your fork can be used as a vehicle for healing, or the reason for your illness in the first place. As you can see from my own personal journey, I didn’t have the energy, clarity or inner-strength to follow my dreams and live a life authentic to myself until I started nourishing myself with REAL food.

To help you get a better understanding of how this works, let’s walk through what happens to your body minutes, days and years after you adopt a healthier diet.

+ Within 20 minutes, You start to heal your gut

You’ve probably heard by now that you have both good and bad bacteria living in your gut. As you can imagine you want to promote the good which helps with everything from digestion, detoxification, energy and brain function while regulating the bad bacteria (which feeds off of toxins, antibiotics, sugar and processed foods). Lucky for us, the bacteria living in our bowels, on average, divides every 20 minutes. That means what you eat is continuously either fertilizing the health-promoting bacteria or the disease-promoting bacteria, minute by minute.

+ Within a few hours, you’ll experience healthier brain function

Because the gut and brain are inextricably linked, the food you eat impacts your brain within hours. More sugar tends to create more inflammation, which has a negative impact on your brain. On the flip side, real foods rich in healthy fats omega-3 fats like salmon and avocado create less inflammation and healthier brain function. Your brain is actually made up of 60% fat and when you deprive it of healthy fats, you’re sabotaging your brain with the very thing it needs to function optimally.

+ Within 72 hours of eating a clean diet, your hormones begin to stabilize

When you eliminate processed foods, balance carbs and add tons of plants, your insulin and cortisol levels will normalize. This results in more energy and your belly fat beginning to melt away.

+ Within two weeks of healthy eating, your productivity will go up by 20%

REAL TALK —  one of the first things I see improve in client’s lives once they start eating a clean, nutrient-dense diet is an increase in energy and a decrease in brain fog.

+ Within one month of healthy eating, your skin will be clear and glowing

Our body’s largest organ is the skin, and what’s going on on the outside is a reflection of what’s happening on the inside. If you’re struggling with acne, look to your diet first. Being overweight or eating too many simple carbs can make you more likely to develop acne problems, and eating a clean diet will result in clear skin, often in as soon as four weeks!

+ Within six weeks, your thyroid and estrogen are back on track

Which means you’ll be able to keep weight stable, you’ll find yourself experiencing fewer mood swings, you’ll have normal pap smears, and your hair will stop falling out.

+ Within five years, you won’t be aging as quickly

Your telomeres get shorter as you get older and are one of the parts of DNA that scientists believe are responsible for signaling your body to age. Studies have shown that after five years on a plant-heavy diet, telomeres were significantly longer than those in a control group.

+ For a lifetime, you’ll experience more effortless weight management and joy in your life

When you eat a healthier diet it’s so much easier to maintain a healthy weight throughout your life. It’s not rooted in a diet or deprivation or rules and it allows for so much more freedom and joy.

Your Action Step:

I know that was a lot, but the key takeaway here is just to focus on eating real foods, especially lots of plants. Food that doesn’t have a label is typically real food (think apples, bananas, broccoli, etc.) It doesn’t need to be labeled because you know what it is. It’s one thing. For the rest of the food you buy (with labels), start paying attention to the ingredients. If it’s a long list of a bunch of stuff you can’t pronounce and have no idea what it is, your body won’t know what it is either and it’s probably going to cause more harm than good.

 

2. Work on the most important relationship in your life — the one with yourself 

Eating real food was the gateway to getting in tune with my body and paying attention to what it needed, and slowly I was able to build a new, healthy, joyful relationship with myself. I know that sounds super cheesy, but it’s all very interconnected. This is a huge part of the learning process and key to being a healthy human. Don’t blindly follow someone else’s path. Embrace that there is no one-sized fits all approach and invest in getting to know yourself.

Your Action Step:

Start getting curious. Don’t participate in things mindlessly, especially eating. Start to check in with yourself regularly and ask questions. Why am I craving this? Am I really hungry or am I just self-medicating? How does this make me feel? Is there something else I could do that will make me feel good without any guilt? How is this serving me? Is this really what I want? Do I know this thought to be absolutely true? Is this working for me? What could work better?

 

3. Get the support you need

If you want to make healthy lifestyle changes the most successful way to do this is with constant encouragement, accountability and support. Most of my clients have the best of intentions but struggle putting them into action because no-one is there to help hold them accountable. We often just need a helper, some sort of teacher or guide for a period of time and brief window in our life and then we are empowered to take the reigns ourselves and continue to heal.

Seek out that person. Don’t NOT get help or make the mistake of thinking you can do it alone. I tried this method for most of my life and wasted far too much of it trying to do it on my own. I was able to make a lot of positive changes but the real transformation happened when I enrolled in nutrition school and hired my own coach and mentor.

 

Having someone, whether it be some sort of specialist, an experienced mentor or teacher, a therapist or a coach provides you with the support you need to follow through on your good intentions.

 

Lastly, If some part of my story resonated with you, I would love to help however I can, and believe the 21-day Group Program I’m launching in May be a great place to start. My personal journey lead me to create this program, which is designed to help you stop worrying about what you “should” or “shouldn’t” eat (something you can see I wasted so much of my life doing), and start making choices right for YOUR body and life.

Get all the details HERE or feel free to reach out to me — hello@sofreshnsogreen.com.

Your Action Step:

Be good to yourself. Start making conscious, every day choices that lead to big results, instead of waiting until it becomes a crisis or you’ve battled with it for 10 more years. Ask yourself if your relationship with food and your body is good enough to stay the same? If it’s not good enough know you deserve better, and it’s okay to seek help. You matter, you’re loved and you can do anything if you start taking action.

Lauren Chambers

Lauren Chambers is the Nutrition + Hormone Health Coach and Feel Good Food Blogger of sofreshnsogreen.com. She's on a mission to help you balance your hormones, boost your energy and improve your mood through food, so you can look and feel your best.