I have struggled with food my whole life. My family of four would polish off a half gallon of ice cream in one day. My mother, a full-blooded Italian, cooked the most amazing meals, which I ate heartily. And I remember sneaking white bread and cream cheese sandwiches after my parents went to bed.
When I was in the 6th grade, everyone had to be weighed in gym class. I remember noticing, as the scale teetered over the 100lb mark, that I was the only kid in my class in the triple digits. That was the first time I paid any attention to my weight. During my senior year of high school, I overhead my crush tell a classmate that I was too fat. That was the first time I realized my weight hindered me, and that’s when I started the first of many, many diets.
Over the next few years, I lost weight with one fad diet or another (everything from Lean Line to diet pills to Weight Watchers to flat-out starving myself) and, in between, I gained it all back due to various reasons. These included the “Freshmen Fifteen” (and the Sophomore fifteen and the Junior fifteen, and…), heartbreak, new love, losing my mother, and relocating multiple times.
By my late-twenties, I hit my lowest weight ever with the help of Weight Watchers. I started to bicycle with a group and met my now husband, David, during one of those rides. At our first dinner out together, I decided to be blatantly honest with him. I told him that I didn’t want to date. I was just fine living alone, eating my diet food. I opened up about my life-long struggle with weight and laid out my fears of gaining it all back. He told me he was the same. We talked for hours about eating right and cycling. I had found my match.
We were married almost two years later, and I got pregnant soon afterwards. My pregnancy was an easy one, and I had fun eating…too much fun perhaps. I gained sixty pounds by the day of delivery. With Weight Watchers and nursing my son, I managed to get my weight back down, but then came more heartache and change (multiple miscarriages, the death of my father, more relocating, and job changes). I became depressed and the weight snuck up again.
At this point, I was desperate. I just wanted someone to take care of me. I thought Medifast was the solution, since this system takes away all the planning and guesswork. David was on board, and we both lost quite a bit of weight. I should have been happy …at peace. Instead, I was terrified, because I didn’t know how to eat to keep off the weight.
Around this time in late 2012, a relative of mine lost 85lbs by following a vegan diet. Of course, this piqued my interest, and she encouraged David and me to watch Forks over Knives. After watching it, I announced to David that I wanted to be vegetarian. He watched Dr. Greger’s lecture on the leading causes of death, and he proclaimed that he wanted to be vegan. So, we cleaned out our house of all animal products. This left a lot of junk food, pasta, nuts, and bread in our pantry because, after all, they were vegan.
Guess what? I gained ALL my weight back that first year of being vegan! After much frustrated Googling, I discovered Chef AJ and noticed that she was losing weight in her videos. I emailed her with questions, and she encouraged me to come to Los Angeles to hear her teach her program. Unfortunately, I was not in a position to attend at that time.
A few months later, Chef AJ reached out to me about a conference in Columbia, MD. I was certainly willing to drive three hours for a one-day conference if Chef AJ was going to travel across the country to speak there! The conference was the first plant-based conference that I ever attended, and this was when I discovered that there were plant-based promoters on the East Coast.
We went to the event in the spring of 2014 and came home excited to try her program, although our pantry remained stocked with nuts, pasta, and bread. About a year later, I was able to purchase Chef AJ’s and John Pierre’s program online. Their program came with tons of helpful tips and recipes. It promoted eating a plant-based diet while avoiding SOFAS (Sugar, Oil, Flour, Alcohol, and Salt). As long as I strictly followed their program and stayed home, I lost weight. But, as soon as I allowed myself to start going out with friends, my willpower plummeted and my weight skyrocketed.
After three full years of trying to be vegan/plant-based, I stood in our kitchen and declared to David that I was done. It was not working for me. David stared back at me, speechless; he did not want to give up our vegan diet. That was when Chef AJ and John Pierre announced their UWL Mastery program (which was ten times the cost of the standard program). Spending that much money did not seem like a wise choice, but, after much deliberating, I realized I needed this and jumped in.
The program started January 1, 2016. I did everything exactly like my teachers told me to. Honestly, it was easy - all I had to do was eat nutrient dense foods. And, of course, I finally realized that I needed to clean out the house of the foods that triggered me to overeat. Chef AJ advises, “If it’s in your house, it’s in your mouth.” So true. I needed to create an environment that supported my way of eating.
Initially, I was still buying my son “forbidden” foods, because I felt like I was giving him a special treat, and, in some cases, I thought it was all that he would eat. He eventually vowed on his own to stop eating meat, and we transitioned him to eating our healthier way.
By mid-spring of 2016, I had lost 30 pounds and had started to walk my neighborhood for exercise. A neighbor noticed my weight loss and invited me to start running with her. It was hard for me to keep up at first, but I enjoyed it. She later asked me to join a bootcamp class with her. Again, I said yes. I couldn’t do a single push up, jumping jack, or squat. It was rather embarrassing, but my classmates were all very encouraging and supportive. Then, this same neighbor asked me to run a 5K, then an 8K race with her. Over and over, I agreed. A pattern was forming. I just kept saying “yes” to the challenges that were put in front of me.
In this continued pattern, I ran a 10K before being challenged to go to Buffalo NY and run my first half marathon. I trained all winter and kept eating plant-based, free of SOFAS. I finished my first half marathon and swore I would never do another one… but I did another that fall. Since then, I have run countless half marathons including the Leadville Heavy Half Marathon out in Colorado. This race starts at an elevation of 10,000 feet with the finish line at 13,000 feet. And I finished it! Me! A “non-athletic” girl who was 48 years old and had spent her whole life yo-yo dieting.
Currently, I am training for my first full marathon in Philadelphia with plans to complete a 50K for my 50th birthday in May of 2020. I honestly believe that by eating this way, I have all the power and strength that I need to accomplish any goal that I set for myself.
My hope is that my story inspires you. To make a lifestyle change. To be persistent. To be kind to yourself. And to just keep saying “YES!” to the challenges placed in front of you.