I used to perfectly measure out my Go Lean Crunch for breakfast in the morning.
I remember eating an apple and peanut butter for lunch because I knew it wouldn’t make the scale budge too much.
Did I mention I was an athlete all year round? I ran cross country, played basketball, and did track & field. Sometimes I’d come home from track practice, eat dinner, then do more exercises afterward.
I thought I was being healthy. I thought that limiting my food would keep me lean and fit. I was running faster and jumping higher, so it was all ok… right?
I can’t remember exactly how or when this way of thinking started, but I know why it started. Like many of us do in some way or another, I was striving for acceptance and perfection. I wanted to be the perfect athlete, I wanted to be seen as beautiful, I wanted to feel like I belonged, and it slowly started to deteriorate my body, and my spirit.
I was working out too much, and I wasn’t eating enough. I started to lose weight that I didn’t need to lose. My hair started to get thinner. A lot thinner. I stopped having my period for two years, which I blamed on “sports”. Looking and being a certain way started to consume me.
“My hair. My hair. I hate my hair. Why is it so thin? Will anyone ever want to date me? Why is this happening to me? My hair used to be normal.”
This is the type of record that would play in my head, over and over again.
I saw other girls braiding their hair, curling their hair, and doing other beautiful things with their hair. People would say things like “Ali, why is your hair so thin?” or “Your ponytail is so little”. They didn’t mean any harm, but it would send me deeper into a downward spiral of shame.
With my hair getting so thin, I felt like I needed to be beautiful in other ways to make up for it. I was afraid of eating certain foods or eating too much, because I was afraid of gaining weight AND having thin hair. I thought that I needed to stay skinny and be a good athlete, because those were the only things I could cling to for confidence. I was so consumed with being a certain way, I didn’t realize that I was further damaging myself in the process.
I wasn’t free.
I was ashamed.
I was stuck.
Food, the very thing that could help me heal, was what I was becoming afraid of.
When I was struggling with various body image and health issues, I went to see a nutritionist. I still remember sitting in her office and briefly telling her why I was there (I wasn’t having my period, I had lost weight, and lost a lot of hair). She then connected me to a BMI machine and proceeded to tell me how many calories I should be eating every day. I was also given a list of foods that I should be eating.
Did she know I already counted my calories, and that 2800 calories/day sounded impossible? In my mind, I was going to get fat on that kind of diet…
I’m know she meant well, but as a vulnerable high schooler that’s not what I needed to hear. I needed someone to ask me more questions, to listen, and to understand why I was where I was. Walking away from that appointment, I didn’t feel any more enlightened or understood.
And now, looking back, I can see how that experience of seeing a nutritionist helped shape me into who I am today. That experience taught me so much about the type of nutritionist that I want to be - someone that digs deeper than the surface, someone that goes beyond the numbers, and someone that seeks to create a safe and loving space for clients. I want people to walk away from me feeling empowered and understood, not scared and confused.
In all of my confusion and insecurity, I decided to study nutrition in college. I don’t think I knew it then, but deep down I was probably looking for some answers.
Throughout my college years, I began to understand myself more. I began to see that there was so much more to who I was than how well I performed or how I looked in comparison to what this society tells us. I quit the college track team and started working out less. I began to let go of some of the standards of perfection that I had created for myself.
One of the biggest reasons for the slow change that was happening was meeting my husband, Sid. I was loved, cared for, and encouraged in a way that I had never been before. Although the insecurities were still there, they were starting to dwindle in the love that I was finally opening up my heart to. He helped me believe that I was beautiful, and that I was so worthy of love
In the midst of all of this, my relationship with food began to change. I felt free to eat what I wanted, when I wanted. I began to value my health more than the way I looked. I began to see the beauty and goodness that is in real food, instead of getting caught up in restricting it. Also, my body began to HEAL. My hair started growing back, I started having a regular period, and my weight became stable and consistent. I began to love my body and the food that I was able to nourish it with. The thing that I spent all of my time obsessing over and worrying about before became a source of freedom and joy. I was able to let go of control, and I started to feel like a different person.
It took me four years to get to a better place. It took my body four years for me to notice it was beginning to heal. There’s still a struggle, and I still fall into old thought patterns all the time. I still worry about my hair and get discouraged when it feels like I’m losing more than normal. It’s a constant battle. The difference is that now I know and believe that my body can and will heal. I know and believe that food is healing, restoring, and nourishing. I can use food to empower and heal my body rather than use it to cope with my insecurities.
I want to help you find freedom for yourself, too. I want to hold your hand and guide you toward healing and restoration. I want to point you in the right direction, so that you don’t have to spend years of your life wondering why you feel the way you feel. I want to help restore balance to your body. I want you to find JOY and FREEDOM in your relationship with food and in how you view yourself.