It was a particularly sunny summer day when my doctor told me that, at age 30 — even though I had been a vegan for many years at that point — I was on my way to heart disease. I sat on his table and hung my head in defeat.
This doctor wasn’t the first one to tell me to lose weight. Twelve years earlier, during my first visit to a gynecologist, while my feet sat in stirrups and my legs splayed apart, my doctor decided it was the perfect moment to tell me that I was “too heavy for a girl my height” (as if I didn’t know). I nonchalantly agreed, all the while wondering how far the vending machine was from this room.
I had struggled with weight my whole life — as a chubby, bullied kid, an awkward teenager clad in heavy eyeliner, and as an adult who crusaded for animal rights by day and ate entire soy-cheese pizzas by night. Here's how I finally took control and established a healthy lifestyle that works for me:
1. I realized the issue was my bad relationship with food.
I was beginning to realize that it wasn’t my weight that was the issue: it was my senseless devotion to the wrong kind of love. The kind of love I had thought I found in the comfort that came from falling asleep with a full belly, the pleasure of frosting or fried foods in my mouth. Love that left me feeling empty whenever I wasn’t full, left me craving more. I had accepted that my life would always be dictated by food and fat, like a bad lover who told me no one else would ever love me the way she did.
2. I committed to a major change.
I was sick of being sick and sick of the struggle. I started learning about the simple power of combining regular juice fasts with a diet rich in unprocessed, plant-based whole foods, and I began to digest that maybe my lifelong fight with food could come to an end. I needed a real lifestyle change, not just a gym membership and some low-calorie frozen meals.
3. I used juices to jump-start my weight loss.
On September 1, 2010, I started my first juice fast. I consumed five vegetable juices a day (with just a hint of fruit juice added for sweetness and palatability). Ten days later, I was down 11 pounds and feeling surprisingly strong. It wasn’t as bad as I’d originally thought! I had been afraid of what I anticipated would feel like scarcity, but I found I wasn’t hungry very often because there was always the promise another juice coming in a couple hours.
I basked in the freedom of not obsessing about, or even thinking much about food and food prep — which I did in batches to simplify the time-consuming process of loading up and cleaning the juicer — and I settled into the newfound simplicity of juicing as if it were a long-awaited meditation. And rather than think of my juicing as a “diet,” I reframed that first fast as a way to take a break from the hectic pace of my life and settle into a temporary new rhythm. I read a book about healthy living. I checked in with my body. I drank juice.
4. I combined a monthly juice fast with a whole-foods diet.
I decided to finally, as an adult, heed my mother’s advice to eat my veggies. And so, as my juice fast came to a close and I focused on how to change my eating habits before my next juice fast (which I was already mentally plotting).
I replaced junk foods with whole, plant-based foods instead: vegetables (cooked and raw), fruits, some whole grains, lots of beans, some tofu, and a small amount of high-quality fats, like seeds and nuts. I found so many resources out there for eating this way and I stopped leaning solely on the fake cheeses and meat replacements that had helped me transition into my vegan lifestyle.
The following month, I did another juice fast — three days this time. The month after that, I did another 10-day-er. For three years, this regime of juice-fasting (10 days one month, three days the following, then 10, then three …) and eating a whole-foods-based diet in between became my new normal.
5. I started exercising.
My dress size shrunk fast and I was starting to see weight loss as a secondary benefit to discovering my optimal health. I just felt better. For the first time in my life, my health was what was most important, and weight loss was a natural reaction to that. Within one year, I was down 75 pounds. The second year, nearly 25 pounds more fell off of me as though they had never intended to be there in the first place. I took up running. I took up tap-dancing. I felt free.
6. I fed my soul.
These days, I look back at my love affair with food and I recognize what so many of us see when we reflect on old flings. My reasons for entering into that relationship were complicated and based on an emotional void that I tried to fill with the wrong kind of satiety. When I finally created the space in my days and on my plate to feed myself what I actually needed, I took that misdirected, angst-ridden compulsion for eating and I turned it into something productive. The only insatiable desire I have these days is for authenticity. My first step in that journey was dusting off the juicer.