My relationship with food, diet and health has changed a lot over the years. Three years ago I weighed in at 270 pounds and didn’t think anything of it. I started gaining weight in the second grade — commonly referred to as the 2nd grade stretch by my mother — and that was the start of my disillusionment with food.
I gained weight not because of genetics, but because of my diet. During elementary school, I would eat dinner when I got home at 2:30, then proceed to have a second supper with my family at 5:00. Then I would indulge in a chemically altered dessert before bed. In high school and college, I would often challenge friends to eating contests and be proud that I would always win, even if every time I ate I felt sick.
I didn’t realize that I wanted to change until I got engaged. It reminded me that I wanted to be the best person I could be so we could begin our lives together. I tried every diet you could think of; I ate organic and “free-range” meats, and put in a tiny effort at the gym. I would lose a pound or two and always gain more back.
Then the answer hit me. I started losing weight and living a healthier lifestyle when I discovered my worth, and the cycle of impact my choices had. I adopted a plant-based lifestyle for both my health and to align with my morals. Through the weight loss I discovered I was still gaining. I was gaining insight into the way my food comes to my plate and how that directly impacts the way I feel every day.
Here are the seven things I gained while losing weight:
1. I look at food differently.
Food was always something that gave me simple pleasures. I would use food as a way to keep entertained. I now view food as something that fuels my body. If I can’t tell what my food is made from or how it was grown, I don’t put it into my body. You wouldn’t fill your gas tank with an unmarked liquid and hope it powers your car. You shouldn’t treat your body the same way.
2. I don't need to give up anything.
One thing I struggled with was giving up all of my favorite foods; I thought I would never be able to eat pizza again. Thinking that way caused me to relapse and put a good amount of weight back on. Then I realized I was adding awesome, healthy versions of the foods I loved instead of giving them up. Find ways to create vegan versions of the food you love and you won’t be giving up a thing.
3. I made water my friend.
My favorite drinks used to be soda, iced tea and sports drinks. Now all I drink is water. Processed drinks left me wanting more, and my thirst was never quenched. I now drink 6 to 8 glasses of water a day, and it helps fuel my health.
4. I move every day.
Three years ago, reaching for the remote was the extent of my exercise in a day. I don’t spend my days at the gym, and I didn’t start running in marathons. I just move. Whether I spend 20 minutes on a walk at night with my wife and dog or I shoot to do an intense hike during the weekend, I'm moving my body and getting some sort of exercise each day.
5. I stopped judging people.
When I was heavier, I would always be secretly judging those around me. Every time someone ate something bad, I would criticize and then secretly want what they indulged in. I was insecure with myself and had to put up a shield so I didn’t judge myself. Now that I live authentically, I have no reason to judge others. I strive to create a full life for myself and encourage others.
6. I detox regularly.
Our lives are filled with crud and chemicals. They are in our body and in our lives. In order to promote a healthier life for me, I continually detox. That may be juicing, reducing the amount of stuff I own, or even having the courage to cut out negative relationships.
7. I live guilt free.
The most important lesson I learned from my journey was that I needed to be guilt free in order to be healthy. That meant I needed to live a life that was focused on eating and living in a way that helped improve our world. Cutting out animal products has allowed me to respect the food I eat and the products I use, which in turn allows me to respect myself more.