You could say that growing up with a chef as my dad, and the Portuguese blood in my veins contributed to that. In high school, my friends were eating their Uncrustables and Hamburger Helper at lunch, and I had crackers with gourmet cheese, grapes and honey to drizzle. I grew up going to Napa on Saturdays, and Half Moon Bay on Sundays for picnic dinners on the beach. At least once a month, our family would gather in the kitchen to help Dad make homemade pizzas while watching the Cooking Channel. Like many, food is what we gathered around - the place where memories were made.
My college roommates would roll their eyes as I complained about campus food, until they drove up to the Bay with me for Spring Break, or Christmas Vacation. In my dad's kitchen, they got to experience what I had grown used to: fresh, delicious, and creative food.
Food was never really a problem area for me. I’ve always had a naturally slim build, not much to fight, and not much to work for. I consider myself blessed to have great genes…a healthy and curvy mom, and a strong and fit dad. I felt good in my body, not beating myself up for the ways I looked or ate different. I struggled a bit once I got engaged…I wanted to be a beautiful bride, and I started to care too much about control. I temporarily made food an enemy, but thanks to Jesus and some good friends - that was short-lived (Read more about that here). Things were back to the way they had always been. I could eat anything.
Everything changed a year ago.
It was a Friday night, and I had just seen a movie with my dear friend, Megan. We were driving home and stopped by a frozen yogurt shop. I got the big container, and lots of chocolate syrup. A few bites in and I immediately felt sick. I went to the hospital and was deemed lactose-intolerant. Just. Like. That.
This sucked. I love cheese! Pizza! Nachos! Ice-cream! Fettucini Alfredo! Clam chowder! Mac n Cheese! After this happened, I started doing some research on food allergies, the enzymes in our bodies that help us digest food, and how our bodies change over time. I think I had grown accustomed to thinking my body would always be the same way…which makes no sense! Our bodies are changing all the time! I knew this, but it had never affected my diet. I started following some nutrition blogs and found the plant-based food movement. The colors, textures, flavors and benefits of eating plant-based were immediately mesmerizing. But I couldn’t commit. I was so used to eating meat and dairy…I didn’t understand how it could be healthy long-term.
As time went on, my body started responding negatively to red meat, chicken and occasionally gluten. I was discouraged. I knew I needed protein, and I wanted my body to be stronger for me. I had been fine all this time! I talked to my doctor, and instead of asking me how those foods made me feel, she asked me how I felt when I didn’t eat those foods. She asked about my sleep, fatigue, energy levels, and emotions. Through this conversation I discovered that those physical areas of my life were more balanced and thriving when I ate plant-based.
I was sold. I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired and decided to go for it. She encouraged me to ease into it, and to slowly take animal products out of my diet, noting how my body felt as I went. I started cooking vegan recipes, watching documentaries on plant-based living, and did research on sustainable eating…all while my body improved. I was sleeping all night. I had more energy than ever. I was emotionally consistent. I felt strong. I felt healthy. It made so much sense: put good things in your body, and you will see positive results!
It’s been 6 months since becoming vegan.
I am not naturally good at this. In the beginning, I ate too many Ramen noodles and BBQ chips. I was looking for that "full" feeling, and I wasn't eating right or enough. Fruits and veggies are not as calorie dense as animal products, and so eating a lot is important. I've had to learn what vitamins my body needs, what food pairings are dynamic, and how to look out for vegan recipes that are bad for you. I'm getting better every day! Now, some disclaimers. Sometimes, I’ll eat something with egg in it (i.e. my mom's delicious chocolate chip cookies). I also put honey in my tea. And I won’t throw a fit about a scallop in my pasta. So maybe I’m not the best vegan spokesperson out there. But I was never interested in joining a movement. My concern was to listen to my body so I could live a long life for Jesus! Through this process, I’ve learned that honoring God with my body, not just in the context of purity, is worship.
I am not the vegan who only ever talks about being vegan. I am not the vegan who thinks she is better than anyone else - heck, I ate animal products for most of my life! And I am not the vegan who only goes to dinner parties where vegan food is served. My first calling is to love the whole world - and I don’t ever want a label to keep me from doing that.
So there’s my story. I feel better than ever. This whole thing has given me a new compassion for those who struggle with their health, and it has made my kitchen a brand new playground. I’m grateful for friends and family who don’t roll their eyes at me…my dad is always the first to get creative in the kitchen with me! And although I don’t force him to, Reed is happy to eat meatless meals, and plenty of zoodles.