03/29/2013 08:19 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Every Journey Has a Beginning

I decided to become a health coach because I wanted to help people. All my life, I told my parents, teachers, and friends that what I wanted more than anything was to help others. I spent a better part of the past 25 years figuring out exactly what that meant. Did I want to be a doctor? A teacher? A lawyer? I bought into the belief that I had to be anyone other than myself or do anything other than live my life. I didn't ever think (until recently anyway) that the best way I could help others was to just be myself, share my experiences, and do what I would normally do, which is take care of myself.

I grew up in suburban northern New Jersey, just a short drive from New York City. I grew up like most kids -- eating school lunches, popcorn at the movies, white bread, and ice cream loaded with high-fructose corn syrup. I didn't exercise a lot, though we were encouraged to play outside a lot as kids and also encouraged to join sports teams as we got older, though that never really appealed to me. Luckily, I was a very finicky eater as a child so weight wasn't an issue for me in the earlier part of my life. I didn't even notice myself beginning to put on weight until middle school, when I realized that I didn't fit into the size 0 jeans like a lot of my friends. But I didn't think much of it and went about with my life.

Toward the middle of high school I began to realize that my weight seemed to be getting higher and higher, but I had no idea that there was a link between food and my weight. I also began taking antidepressants because I had been having anxiety that was impacting my life negatively. The doctor mentioned a laundry list of side effects, but nothing about gaining weight. And because I had been able to eat pretty much whatever I wanted (without gaining weight), I didn't think anything of it and so I continued to eat what I had always eaten. I didn't even have the information about what sugar, carbohydrates, and fast food could be doing to my body, in addition to the added medication (which I now know can in fact impact metabolism). And in fact, no one around me seemed to be educated, either. So I continued eating snacks at the mall with my friends, pizza and Chinese food takeout on the weekends, and pasta/cheese/meat/sugar-filled meals and snacks. I drank Diet Coke because I thought it was delicious and because everyone else drank it, too.

This sort of eating went on for me until I was about 21, which is when my journey to wellness really began. I had reached an all-time high weight of 237 pounds. I was on the highest dose of medication I had ever been on, though I still felt anxious and unhappy. I could no longer fit into clothes that my friends were wearing, and unlike many of my friends, I didn't have a boyfriend. And in fact, I didn't have much awareness about my weight at all. I remember seeing myself in pictures and not really identifying with that overweight person. In many ways, I felt like the skinny little girl that I was for so many years. And so I kept on eating and eating -- and eating even more because it had become such a comfort to me to know that even on days where I felt lonely, I could reach for a candy bar or a Pop-Tart or frozen pizza, or even fast food. I had a relationship with food and I had no idea how negatively it was impacting my life.

In January 2005, when I was 21 years old, and weighing in at almost 250 pounds, I got sick. I had a high fever (104 degrees) and just a general feeling of sickness all over, and a really bad sore throat. My sister took me to the hospital because my fever was so high, and they diagnosed me with some kind of bacterial infection. My sister took me home where I proceeded to be sick, alone in my apartment, for 10 long days. My fever continued for five days. The medication interacted with my antidepressants, resulting in massive panic attacks and debilitating anxiety. I spent 10 days alone in my apartment, feeling sick and hanging out in chat rooms online -- and eating whatever I wanted -- to try and dull out the pain that I was so numb I couldn't even feel. My life had become a dark cave that I had created. I had alienated myself from most of my friends and even my family. And a dark realization set in and I began really looking in the mirror and seeing the truth, and what had happened to my body -- and my life. Suddenly, after years of overeating and hiding behind food, I was able to actually see and be aware of the fact that I was overweight. I wanted to run and hide and bury myself under my covers and stay there forever -- because trying to "undo" what I had done to myself felt like too big of a challenge. I didn't think I could do it. I felt alone and like no one was around to support me. For the first time in my life, I realized I had to rely on myself and I needed to start somewhere. So this is where my journey started. I put on my XXL sweatpants and drove to Blockbuster and rented Supersize Me -- and watched it three times in a row and took notes. And this was my starting point.

At first, I knew I had to admit to myself that I was overweight. Overcoming the denial was the first step for me. I admitted this to myself and my family. I looked at pictures of myself, looked in the mirror often, and took new pictures so I had a reference point. It was one of the hardest things I ever did, but I knew that I had to. Having developed thyroid issues, pre-diabetic bloodwork, and high blood pressure at the young age of 21, I knew I had to do make changes in order to save my life. In some ways it was life or death, and this is what I told myself every time I wanted to reach for a donut or order Dominoes. I read book after book and educated myself about high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils -- and removed them from my diet immediately. I began (with the assistance of my doctor) going off my medication and weaning down to a small amount, and then eventually, coming off of it completely. I lost the first five pounds, then 10, then 20, 30, 50, and 60 over the course of a few years. I did not take diet pills or have surgery. I did not take appetite suppression medicine or restrict my diet severely. I also did not exercise all that much in those beginning years. I just began to pay attention to food labels and educate myself about organic food, etc.

And then after so many years of this, I began phasing things out. First alcohol, then gluten, then red meat and dairy, then soy and corn, and then refined sugar. And as I did this, the last 40-plus pounds came off. I began cooking food at home and rarely going out to eat. And then recently, I began an exercise routine and introduced the importance of movement and activity into my life. And then I added in spirituality and a daily spiritual practice, as well as yoga, hiking, biking -- and otherwise creating a deep, rich, and fulfilling life around things that I always wanted but never believed I could have.

I share all of this because I want my journey to be heard. My intention is to touch others with the story of my journey -- to motivate, support, and encourage anyone who feels like they can't do it, or feels like it's too hard to start. And I admit, the beginning was the hardest part for me, too. I didn't believe in myself yet and I didn't believe that the weight would come off or that I would ever be happy. But furthermore, I felt scared to let go of the "overweight girl" because honestly, without all that weight and my unhealthy relationship with food, I didn't know who I was. I had defined myself by that for so long that the idea of letting go it it terrified me. Without 120-plus pounds of extra weight, who was I? Without all that medication, how could I handle actually feeling my emotions? How could I go through life in a new body and accept and love myself fully? I asked myself these questions daily -- and even though I didn't have an answer yet, I trusted that if I kept going, I would find it. And so I kept going day after day after day. I found the strength inside to love myself enough to take care of myself and to make better choices and to keep going. And here I am, nine years later. I am learning to love my new body and learning to accept what it feels like to have accomplished so many goals. And it wasn't just a journey of my outer changes, but my inner changes as well. I awakened to myself, my gifts, desires, wants, dreams, and spirituality. I began to live and interact with myself and the world instead of just existing from day to day. And it is still a journey for me, every day, to love myself and take care of myself and to continue moving forward. I love my life -- and it has taken me years of uncovering awarenesses to be here. I am thankful every day because it feels like I gave myself a second chance. I gave myself a second chance at not only being healthy, but at experiencing true happiness as well.

And so now, my journey continues as I embark on my new career as a health coach. There is nothing I would rather spend my life doing than holding space for others while they move forward on their own path towards health and wellness. I wish I had had someone there with me on my own path, loving and supporting and encouraging me -- but I didn't. And what a blessing it is that I can be that support system for someone else. What a beautiful gift it is that what I have felt called to do for my entire life, now has a name. And so here I am, stepping into my role as health coach as I continue to love and take care of myself even more each day. Helping others is my way of giving back and it is the most fulfilling feeling I have ever experienced.



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