Dazzling Blogger Award

I’m overjoyed to have been nominated for the Dazzling Blogger Award! Thank you to Rachel from Jasperden Health for the nomination! Rachel blogs about health and well-being and continually inspires readers to make healthier food and lifestyle choices. If you haven’t already checked out her incredible blog, please do!

What is the Dazzling Blogger Award?

This award was created by Helen from Crispy Confessions to celebrate the achievements of other bloggers who she felt excel in at least one major area of blogging: writing skills, engagement, social media marketing, and content.

The Rules

  1. Thank the person who nominated you for the award.
  2. Link to Helen’s original blog post.
  3. Answer the seven questions asked by the nominator.
  4. Come up with seven new questions.
  5. Nominate seven people who you think exemplify excellent blogging skills.

Rachel’s Questions

  1. What is your favorite childhood memory?

I don’t have one favorite memory, in particular, however I fondly remember many vacations my family took growing up, especially those to visit friends and family in California, where I hope to live in the near future.

  1. Which was your favorite birthday?

In fifth grade, I was obsessed with a show called The Amazing Race. (In all fairness, I still am.) For my birthday party, my parents designed kid-friendly versions of the tasks they do on the show for my friends and me to complete in teams. Everyone had a blast and the pictures are hilarious!

  1. What is your prized possession?

My book trilogy! The Changing Ways Series tells the story of a brave teenager’s journey to overcome mental illness, based on my personal experiences. I’m so proud of it and love that I can share Grace’s story (and my story too) with the world. You can check out my books here.

  1. What is your favorite form of exercise?

That’s a toss-up between running and tennis. I love running for how strong and healthy it makes me feel, the personal challenge it creates, and that I can do it independently. I love tennis for the team camaraderie and the competition.

  1. At the moment, it’s Euro 20. Do you like football/soccer?

While soccer isn’t my favorite sport, I do enjoy watching it from time to time. I played all throughout my childhood but haven’t touched a soccer ball in eight years!

  1. Have you got blogging goals or are you just winging it?

I don’t have a blogging schedule or anything of that nature, however my overarching goal with my posts is to inspire, educate, and/or get people thinking.

  1. What are you hoping to do for your summer holiday?

Lots! I hope to advance my education, write often, find ways to get involved in more advocacy, especially for animal rights, improve my fitness, read some good books, and relax in Southampton for a week in between all the excitement.

My Nominees

  1. Anne the Vegan
  2. Don’t Lose Hope
  3. How to teach a difficult child
  4. Life … Take 2!
  5. Lose Weight With Ang
  6. The Plant Based Bae
  7. Pretty, Plus and Proud

My Questions

  1. How did you first get into blogging?
  2. What do you hope to accomplish in the next year?
  3. What are you doing in your everyday life to take care of the planet?
  4. What’s something unexpected but wonderful that’s happened to you?
  5. If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?
  6. What is the best book you’ve read recently?
  7. What is the nicest comment you have received about your blog?

Thank you again, Rachel, for the nomination! Shoutout to all the awesome bloggers out there for doing what you love!

America, We Can Do Better Than This

This weekend, I attended my fourth craft fair of the year at a small farm in Northern Connecticut. I enjoy craft fairs, for the most part, and did well at the other three, so I had high hopes for this one. On Saturday morning bright and early, I loaded up my car, put on my “Road Songs” playlist, and drove the half-hour to the farm.

(The farm, as I’d found out a day prior, was a family-run dairy farm with their own creamery. Needless to say, I was already having second thoughts.)

Usually at craft fairs, you have no say in which spot you’re assigned and are shown to your booth upon arrival, as was the case with this event. I dragged my heavy cart, which contained three boxes of books, a table, chair, tent, weights, and lunchbox, across the grassy terrain, struggling to keep up with the attendant, until we reached the location of my booth. He left me to survey my surroundings, and when I did, my heart sunk.

Directly across from me was a truck selling Caribbean food with two large flags swaying in the gentle breeze: one promoting fried Oreos, and the other pulled pork. Flanking the truck on both sides were half a dozen or so more food vendors: loaded baked potatoes and fries, fried dough, churros, cannolis, and hot dogs, and just around the corner, corndogs and smoked bacon.

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Somehow, as if by some cruel joke, the vegan had ended up surrounded by meat and animal byproducts, and there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t change my spot. I couldn’t block it out. I couldn’t even vent to my neighboring vendors because they clearly didn’t share my feelings of disgust and apprehension. One of them was already snacking on cheese fries—at 9:30 in the morning!

A wave of panic overcame me but I forced myself to remain calm. Maybe it wouldn’t be that bad. Maybe I could stick it out, mind over matter, power through the pain. (Spoiler: I couldn’t.)

The smell of deep-fried dead animals was what bothered me initially. Even my brother cooking an egg irritates my nose nowadays—and this scent was a lot more intense than a couple of over-easy eggs. Then, as crowds of shoppers began to amass, the dialogue about food started, and that was what ultimately did me in. I took notes on my phone so I could remember some of the more problematic things I overheard.

“Have you had the pulled pork? It’s to die for.”

Quite literally, as you can’t make pulled pork without first slaughtering a pig.

“Smoked bacon candy. Not much could be better than that.”

Yes, what could possibly be better than imprisoning, mutilating, torturing, and gassing to death a six-month-old pig (the typical age of slaughter for pigs) for two minutes of sensory pleasure?

The event coordinator said to me, “I’d hate to be in your spot,” and I thought finally, someone understands! . . . until he continued, “If I had to sit here and smell all this food all day, I’d gain twenty pounds!”

I’m not sure what it is about fried flesh and coagulated cow secretions that so many people find so aromatic and appealing. If you know, please enlighten me in the comments!

Two hours in, I was finding this whole ordeal incredibly overwhelming—and also sad. To see hundreds, if not thousands, of people having no care for the animals, the environment, and their bodies was more disheartening than I could have ever imagined. Most didn’t look very happy or healthy either, as is often the case after years of eating the Western Diet. It struck me then: this is America. This exploitation and slaughter of innocent animals and disconnected, robotic-like consumption of unhealthy, unethical foods is not just socially acceptable in my country; it’s normal. It’s expected. It’s even protected—and why? So people can wolf down a hot dog at a craft fair? Grill up butchered animal parts for a barbecue? Add cow’s milk to their morning coffee? If humans don’t need to eat meat, dairy, and eggs and there are plenty of delicious vegan alternatives available to most, then why do we continue to treat animals in this barbaric way?

Two hours in was also when I reached my breaking point. I excused myself to the bathroom and called my mom, on the verge of tears. As I was speaking to her, I turned around, and lying in the grass behind me, confined inside a wooden fence, were two beautiful cows. I was struck by the juxtaposition of these amazing sentient beings living and breathing within feet of hamburgers and beef sausages. The tears came, and I realized then how much this—veganism, animal rights—means to me. I realized then that I want to do something more than simply eliminate animal products from my diet to save the animals we ruthlessly and needlessly murder. I’m not sure what that something is yet, but I know I can’t just sit back and be okay with the status quo anymore. That’s not how change happens. That’s not how the oppressed become free.

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It’s easy to judge people for the choices they make. I’m guilty of this. Most of us are. Yet, not everyone knows what goes on behind the closed doors of factory farms and on the bloody floors of slaughterhouses. And even those who do don’t always know how to make smarter and kinder food choices when they’ve been eating a certain way for their entire lives. There have to be strategies for reaching people; for educating them on the horrors of the animal agriculture industry; for showing them that vegan food can be easy, accessible, and taste amazing too; for teaching them that just because we’ve been doing something for centuries and it’s ingrained in our culture doesn’t mean it’s the only way or the right way.

This craft fair was a real turning point for me. It made it clear how, in a mere three months of being vegan, the issue of animal rights has become so near and dear to me. Right now, as I’m grappling for answers to all these questions I have, the only thing I can really say is: America, we can do better than this. Every day is a new day to choose health over sickness, perseveration over destruction, kindness over cruelty, life over death.

Intuitive Eating Update

I wrote a while back about my long and complicated journey with intuitive eating on Nourish. Since then, I’ve experienced a lot of changes in my life, from my diet to my schedule to my activity level to my overall attitude towards food, that have had a pretty significant (and positive!) impact on how I feed myself. The relationship I currently have with food is the healthiest it’s been in years, if not my entire life, which is both incredible and unexpected when I think about how much I was struggling not that long ago. I’ve finally found a way of eating that works for my body and meets my individual needs, and that’s ultimately what intuitive eating is all about.

Healthline defines intuitive eating as “an eating style that promotes a healthy attitude toward food and body image” and “the idea is that you should eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full.” If it sounds easy . . . it’s not. Or at least it wasn’t for me. Up until very recently, I constantly struggled with disordered thoughts and attitudes towards food. My anorexia had convinced me that if I listened to my hunger cues and ate when I was hungry, I’d gain five pounds and go up two clothing sizes. So, I did the exact opposite and denied my body vital nourishment. Worse, I prided myself on my willpower and ability to resist temptations. I didn’t realize until much later the damage I was inflicting by deliberately depriving myself of what I desperately needed.

This extreme diet mentality and disordered thinking gradually began to shift in recovery. I was able to challenge my irrational fears and beliefs, and in doing so, I became less afraid of food and more in tune with my body. That said, I was still very rigid and followed a timed eating schedule of three meals and three snacks a day for many years. I depended upon this schedule to keep my body fed and my disorder under control. It was my comfort zone, and I was scared I wouldn’t know how to function without it.

For all of my teenage years, intuitive eating was literally off the table. It was a recovery milestone I wasn’t sure I’d ever reach because it always seemed so foreign and far away. A flicker of light in a never-ending tunnel. I’d try it out for the take of exposure but I’d always fall back into my safe and comfortable schedule. Again and again and again. In fact, when I wrote the post for Nourish in March, I was only just beginning to break free and embrace intuition with eating.

So, what changed? Well, it wasn’t just one thing. I’m in a pretty solid place in my recovery and that obviously enables me to be more trusting of myself and my instincts surrounding food. I’ve transitioned to veganism and a whole-food plant based diet, which discourages counting calories and restricting intake. As society has opened up again, so has my schedule; I’ve returned to work and book events, I’m partaking in mental health advocacy, I’m seeing family and friends in person again, and I’m generally feeling more fulfilled and active, all of which have had a positive impact on my mental health. Speaking of activity, as my energy has increased, so has my exercise. I go on runs, bike to work, play tennis, and practice yoga, and it’s all amazing and liberating . . . and it means I have to eat more. Fortunately, I’ve overcome my chronic aversion to shakes and smoothies and now regularly enjoy a protein-rich chocolate peanut butter banana shake or a refreshing peach oat smoothie after a workout.

The final change, and one I largely attribute to recovery, is that my body image is so, so much better (despite my weight being basically the same.) I’m currently writing this post in a tank top and Spandex shorts, two items of clothing I wouldn’t have been caught dead in in the past, and guess what? It’s not a big deal. My body is strong, resilient, and makes the lifestyle I lead possible, and for all those reasons, I love and appreciate it.

Reaching this place of self-acceptance in recovery while simultaneously immersing myself in new and old activities and pursuits has affected my relationship with food for the better. I still eat five to six times a day, however I no longer feel stressed if I wake up later than usual or if a meal is pushed back for one reason or another. If I’m hungry in-between meals, I get something to eat. If I’m full during a meal, I stop. If I’m going to be very active on a certain day, I eat or drink more to compensate. If I’m not as active, I still adequately feed myself because I know it’s what my body needs. If it’s a special occasion like a party or holiday, I enjoy it, keeping in mind that overindulging once in a while won’t do a damn thing to my body in the long run.

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The first time I heard of intuitive eating, I thought I’d never get there. Just like I never thought I’d be an athlete again or feel comfortable in a tank top or drink smoothies without wanting to throw up or genuinely enjoy food. And yet, everything I mentioned that once seemed completely out of reach is now my reality. This is what I wish I could have told my teenage self whenever I felt hopeless or trapped: that with recovery, comes so many amazing freedoms and opportunities. That with recovery, comes a second chance at life.

Incredible Physical Health Benefits of Veganism

It’s been over two months since I transitioned to veganism, and I can honestly say it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made—for the animals, for the planet, and, as I quickly discovered, for my health. I’ll write in the future about the abundant mental health upsides but for this post, I want to focus on all the surprising and incredible physical benefits of my new lifestyle.

I’m not a doctor and this is my personal experience. Also, I think it’s important to clarify that I didn’t go vegan for my health. I already considered myself a relatively healthy person in the sense that I ate well, was physically active, and practiced decent self-care. No, I adopted a vegan lifestyle because the way animals are treated in the animal agriculture industry is sickening, inhumane, and completely unnecessary and I wanted no part of it. Not to mention that going vegan is the single biggest thing an individual can do to reduce their carbon footprint. How could I advocate for protecting the environment while I continued to support an industry that significantly contributes to climate change? It simply didn’t add up.

Not long after I made the transition to veganism, I adopted a whole food plant-based diet. A WFPB diet is all about eating whole, unrefined, and minimally processed foods and excluding meat, dairy, and eggs. I still enjoy (vegan) processed foods on occasion but the majority of the time, I strive to eat this way. This means I make most of my own foods and incorporate an abundance and wide variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, and nuts into my daily diet. It’s inexpensive, relatively easy, and, best of all, I feel absolutely fantastic.

I started to notice changes after only a couple of weeks of eating plant-based. The first big difference was an increase in my energy. I used to need naps in the afternoon to get through the day, yet since going vegan, I nap very infrequently. Mentally, I feel sharper and can accomplish more in a shorter period of time. Physically, my ample energy enables me to run further and faster, play tennis at a higher caliber, and lead a busier, more robust life.

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The next positive change to occur was with my sleep. I’ve struggled with insomnia for years and often spent hours tossing and turning, unable to drift off. Now, minus a few nights where my mind has been bursting with writing ideas, I usually fall asleep within thirty minutes to an hour (and without my melatonin too!) and wake up around 7:00 refreshed and ready for the new day.

One of the most unexpected and pleasantly surprising changes was that my allergies went away. As in, they disappeared altogether. I live in New England and during the spring in particular, I’m always hit hard by allergies: runny nose, dry eyes, dry mouth, headaches, sneezing, shortness of breath—you name it. This allergy season, however, my symptoms are nonexistent. I don’t even need to take my allergy pill or inhaler anymore, and I’m outside much more than I was in previous years too.

In addition to all these wonderful changes, my body is much less sore (I used to take ibuprofen every day and now can’t remember the last time I needed one), my digestion is super smooth, my skin is clearer, and my PMS symptoms are less intense, not to mention that I’m increasing my longevity and significantly reducing my risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions.

When I transitioned to veganism a couple of months ago, I had no idea I’d feel so amazing. I’ve never felt as healthy in my life, and this is coming from a girl who just a few years ago was battling anorexia and depression and could barely get out of bed. I love food now and look forward to nourishing my body with the best and most wholesome products every day. Above all, I love that I can share this incredible lifestyle and diet with those close to me and see them make a change that benefits themselves, the animals, and the environment too. 

If you want to learn more about the WFPB diet or how to go vegan, check out these great resources:

Forks Over Knives

What the Health

The Game Changers

The 30-Day Vegan Challenge

What Recovery Means to Me

Happy Mental Health Awareness Month! Some of you may have already seen this post on Nourish but it’s a big deal for me to have gotten to this place in my recovery so I wanted to share my journey here as well. I hope you enjoy!

Recovery. It means something a little different to everyone. I’ve been on this long and winding journey to conquer my trifecta of mental illnesses for the past eight years, yet only recently have I begun to experience certain feelings and freedoms that I’d associate with being “in recovery.” Feelings like excitement about life and the future, joy from my hobbies and pastimes, and desire to live independently, meet new people, and put anorexia, depression, and anxiety behind me once and for all. Freedom from the disordered thoughts that consumed my mind for too long. Freedom from urges to restrict, count calories, and hurt myself. Freedom from the assumption that my worth is dependent upon a number on a scale. Freedom from self-loathing and body dysmorphia. Freedom to eat whenever and whatever I please and genuinely enjoy food too. Freedom to be my authentic self and feel proud of who that person is.

It’s been incredible but also surreal. After all, there was a long stretch of time when I thought a full recovery was impossible. While I’m still not quite there yet, I now know that it is, and that it’s very much in reach.

I used to think recovery was something that happened to other people, but not me. I used to think the recovery speakers who visited my programs were lying when they said they didn’t have those aforementioned thoughts and urges, or that on the occasions they did, they were strong enough to combat them. I used to think I’d always eat the bare minimum to be considered “normal,” weigh the bare minimum to be considered “healthy,” and basically exist in a constant state of “good enough.” Surviving but not thriving.

Fortunately, that all changed. It was a gradual transformation in the beginning, filled with small victories such as choosing to eat, not restrict, when I was alone, trying a new or feared food, not weighing myself in the presence of a scale, and resisting an urge to body-check, no matter how awful my body image was that day. I still followed a rigid eating schedule and ate mostly with adult supervision. I still heavily monitored my exercise so it wouldn’t become compulsive. I still suffered from bouts of depression, panic attacks, and lapses with my eating disorder. I still lived a substandard quality of life and frequently wondered whether it would improve or if this was as good as it was going to get.

In fact, it wasn’t until a year and a half ago, a couple of months after I had to medically withdraw from college, that my recovery picked up speed and momentum, which enabled me to get to the better place I’m in today. My college flop truly was the last straw. I realized I could never accomplish my long-term goals if I continued to cling to my disorder and straddle that fine line between relapse and recovery. “Good enough” wouldn’t cut it—not when so much was at stake.

While I was having this realization, several positive changes were simultaneously occurring in my life. I had three part-time jobs, I was attending book events and craft fairs every weekend, I was enrolled in an accredited online college, and I even had a gym membership. I was feeling more active and fulfilled than I had in a very long time. I was also beginning to see a future for myself, a future where I didn’t struggle as much—if at all—with my mental health.

And then the pandemic hit. The pandemic provided an entirely new set of challenges I had to overcome. Most notably, I was forced to find alternate ways to feel fulfillment, motivation, and hope now that I no longer had my jobs, book events, and gym membership to rely on. There was a month or two when I wondered if I could do that; if I could stay actively in recovery with so much chaos and turmoil transpiring in the world around me. And yet, despite a lot of initial doubt, I did. I wrote and published a new book, co-created Nourish with my mom, accelerated my college education, participated in virtual speaking events, volunteered to help my community, and took to exercising outdoors, all the while keeping on top of my mental health. It wasn’t easy but it was possible, and because of that, because I was able to do what I thought I couldn’t, it was also empowering.

As the world gradually reopens, I feel more confident and secure in my recovery than ever. I’m eager to branch out and explore new and exciting opportunities in the not-too-distant future. And I’m overjoyed that I won’t have to worry about my mental health holding me back from doing all that I can do and being all that I can be. Ultimately, this is what recovery means to me; that I can live my life on my own terms, not the terms of my disorder. That I can have hobbies and interests unrelated to food, diet, weight, and all that stuff. That I can take care of myself and my mental health. That I can be free.

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*This post was written for Nourish. Read the original post here.

My Experience with Medication

This weekend, I went off my last prescription medication, just one month after weaning myself off a mood stabilizer I’d relied on since I was fourteen. Like many milestones in my recovery, this is one I never imagined I’d pass, and now that I have, it feels both surreal and exciting. I haven’t talked much about medications in the past because it’s a very individual and personal experience, however I think it’s important to be open about mine, if at the very least to combat the stigma that continues to surround using medication to treat mental illness.

For me, medications gave me some comfort and reprieve at a time in my life when I was constantly in distress. They decreased the frequency of my suicidal thoughts and urges to hurt myself, and they made it easier to get out of bed in the morning. They didn’t take away my pain or cure me of my disorder but they made living with a mental illness more manageable.

I first started experimenting—under the close supervision of my doctor, of course—with various medications in an adolescent psych hospital in ninth grade. I was deeply depressed, very anxious, and struggling with suicidal tendencies. I don’t remember the first medication I tried—as there were many, many that followed—but I do remember being bedridden for days with chills and an unshakeable, all-consuming fatigue. Some of the other medications I was on elevated my heart rate to the 130s and gave me intense mood swings, while others made my depression somehow even worse.

Finding the right medication for me was a long and difficult process. Ultimately, after a lot of trial and error, I settled upon a mood stabilizer, a serotonin supplement, and an antidepressant at a low dosage to help me sleep. For the years that followed, I relied on that special combination to function in my everyday life. Each morning with breakfast, I’d take my mood stabilizer and supplement, and each night an hour before I fell asleep, I’d take my antidepressant. When I was away, on vacations or (briefly) at college, I’d fill a pill case with my medications so I wouldn’t forget to take them. Having dealt with vicious withdrawals in the past, I knew missing just one day could have serious adverse effects so I stuck with my strict schedule, kept my prescriptions in supply, and continued to slowly but steadily get better.

This past year, I’ve made advances in my recovery that I once thought were unachievable. I’ve come a long way from where I was at age fourteen, and while there were a lot of factors that contributed to my personal growth, I do believe my medications were one of them. Last summer, I started to question whether I needed them anymore. I spoke with my psychiatrist, and we decided it was worth attempting to wean me off them. The antidepressant was easy, however the mood stabilizer, which I was taking at quite a high dosage, proved to be more challenging. Every two weeks, I reduced by 50 mg, and it was going fine . . . until I went from 50 to 0. That’s when the shakes, the fatigue, the emotional bluntness, the headaches—all of it—returned. I quickly went back up to 50 the next day and my symptoms subsided but the experience left me shaken and doubtful.

I stayed on 50 through the fall and winter, which are historically the most challenging times of the year for me. In March, I decided to try to go off my medication again, just with a different approach. I started by reducing to 25 and stayed on that for a whole month. Next, I cut the 25s in half and took 12.5 for two weeks. Then I began alternating the days I’d take it on, and finally, on a weekend when I didn’t have anything to do, I went off it entirely. Fortunately, my body reacted much better than the first time, and I haven’t had to go back on it since. I suppose it pays to take things more slowly in certain situations.

Going off my serotonin supplement (which was technically more of a vitamin than a prescription pill) was painless but still an important step. It feels incredible to not have to rely on medications any longer. Physically, I have a lot more energy, although that could also be due to recent dietary changes I’ve made. Mentally and emotionally, I’m relieved and reassured that I can continue to thrive in my recovery without them. Plus, now I don’t have to worry if I wake up late or forget to take my morning pills. I doubt I’ll notice a difference if I go a day without my multivitamin and iron supplement. 

So, is prescription medication for everyone? Of course not. Is it a cure-all for mental illness? Hell no. But for many people, myself included, medication plays an important role in getting better, if not at the very least easing the pain long enough for the sufferer to persevere through the worst days. My medication made it possible for me to face life, and as a result, I was able to see for myself a future beyond my disorder. I’m happily living in that future now, and though I owe a lot to my medications for all the reasons I’ve already mentioned, I can’t say I’m going to miss them.

My Transition to Veganism (Part Two)

When I decided to transition to veganism a couple of months ago, I had no idea what impact it would have on my life or, more importantly, my recovery. When I told my parents (who have since been very supportive) that I wanted to make this change, I could tell they had reservations. There’s an assumption in society—and especially in the eating disorder community—that veganism is a “restrictive diet” and, among ED sufferers in particular, is often done with the intention of cutting out foods and losing weight.

I knew this was a genuine concern of my parents. To be honest, it was a concern of mine as well. But I also knew why I was making this transition, and that it had nothing to do with an aversion towards food or a number on a scale. When I explained my motivations to my parents—and reassured them I’d work with my nutritionist to ensure I got enough proteins and fats—they seemed to ease up. Every day for the past few years, they’ve seen me work hard in my recovery to ditch anorexia once and for all. They’ve seen this, and they know that the last thing I want to do is to put myself in a position where I’m at risk of relapse.

My transition to veganism wasn’t all-or-nothing—at least in the beginning. I started by gradually replacing animal products with affordable and accessible plant-based products: cow’s milk with soy milk, cow’s yogurt with coconut milk yogurt, ONE Bars with Lärabars, and so on. I quickly realized that the plant-based products often didn’t contain as much protein so I increased my intake of tofu, lentils, beans, nuts, and nut butters and began adding nutritional yeast, flax seeds, hemp seeds, and wheat germ where I could. I switched my usual weekend breakfast of scrambled eggs with scrambled tofu, which is actually much tastier. I also take an iron supplement every day and a B-12 supplement once a week, in addition to my multi-vitamin.

Then I started cooking for myself, something I’d never done in the past due to fear and disinterest. The first vegan recipe I attempted was chocolate chip cookies, which, to my pleasant surprise, turned out great! Both my vegetarian parents and my omnivore brother gobbled them up within days. From there on, it was one tasty dish after another: spicy red lentils, buffalo cauliflower wings, sweet and sour tofu, banana bread, macaroni and cheese, cheese pizza, ranch dressing, egg salad. The list goes on.

My ability to create quality and wholesome homemade food for myself was empowering. As a result, I began to appreciate and enjoy food in an entirely new way. A few years ago, I dreaded every occasion when I’d be forced to eat. Now, I can’t wait to fuel my body and mind with food that’s equally delicious, nutritious, and ethical. I look forward to joining my mom in the kitchen forty-five minutes before dinner to simmer lentils or pan-fry tofu or blend cashews for a creamy sauce. (It turns out cashews are a vegan cook’s best friend.) It’s been nice over the past month to watch her, as well, try out new vegan recipes or transform old family favorites into plant-based versions that I can eat and enjoy.

Overall, I’d give my transition to veganism a 2/10 for difficulty and a 10/10 recommendation. Health-wise, I have more energy and endurance, I sleep better at night, I get stomach aches less often, my joints aren’t as sore, and even my breathing has noticeably improved since eliminating animal products from my diet.

In fact, the hardest thing about becoming a vegan for me has been the social and emotional aspects. Most people simply don’t understand the importance—the necessity—of veganism, which is okay, because up until recently, I didn’t understand either. The challenge comes when you explain to family or friends, people who you’re close to and love and respect, why eating animal products is immoral and unjustified, and they don’t care. Or maybe they do care but the fact that innocent animals are brutally murdered every day to produce their favorite foods isn’t enough for them to make a very simple change in their diet. And neither is the fact that the animal agriculture industry is significantly harming the planet; the same planet we must protect and preserve for our own lifetime and the lifetimes of future generations.

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Standing up to a social construct like meat consumption isn’t easy, especially when those closest to you oppose it every day, but significant change only ever happens when people aren’t afraid to defy the status quo. That’s why veganism is more than just a diet; it’s a lifestyle and a movement. In the short time I’ve been a vegan, my life has changed for the better. In addition to my newfound interest in cooking, I’m able to eat a wide variety of foods in moderation without experiencing urges to restrict, and it just so happens that those foods are better for my body, the environment, and, most of all, the animals, who deserve so much better than a life of enslavement, exploitation, and slaughter.

My Transition to Veganism (Part One)

For most of my life, I’ve been a vegetarian. I stopped eating meat when I was seven, then seafood at age ten. Vegetarianism was all I ever knew and something I was very proud of. After all, my lifestyle was more sustainable for the environment, better for my health, and wasn’t harming animals . . . or so I thought.

When I was diagnosed with anorexia at age thirteen and subsequently placed in treatment, my vegetarianism was met with skepticism from the doctors and nurses who treated me. (Read all about that here.) Defending my reasons for becoming a vegetarian was immensely challenging and ultimately made me prouder and more secure in the choice I’d made to eliminate meat from my diet all those years ago. But in treatment, accessing quality vegetarian food wasn’t easy and often involved eating the same foods over and over again to meet my nutritional requirements. Tofu (usually undercooked), beans, peanut butter, and, yes, dairy and eggs were staples in my recovery and foods I relied on for protein and fat, as well as my doctors’ approval. I knew only one vegan in treatment, who had to drink vegan protein shakes several times a day to compensate for the nutrients the hospital was unable to provide him with via solid foods.

Once I was in recovery and no longer needed inpatient care, I continued to incorporate animal products into my daily diet. My mother’s baked goods—sweet breads and cookies with butter and milk and eggs and more—that were comfort foods during my refeeding days continued to be in high demand. I’d challenge my irrational fears of food by going out for ice cream and pizza and allowing myself slices of cake and pie at celebrations. In retrospect, this was all important for my recovery, and by eating these foods and defying my disordered thoughts, I was able to get to the better place in my life that I’m currently in. In fact, until recently, I’d never even considered the possibility of going vegan.

That changed a couple of months ago. I was on Reddit, like I often am when I have nothing else to do, when the vegetarian subreddit I follow linked a post uploaded to the vegan subreddit. I don’t recall the exact post but I decided to check out the subreddit and see what it was all about. And it was . . . opinionated, as I expected. But it also provided me with a wealth of knowledge and ideologies that I’d previously been unexposed to or unwilling to acknowledge.

One user had shared a 2019 Ted Talk by a vegan activist named Earthling Ed, which I watched. The whole talk was very compelling but it was the last few minutes when Ed talked about vegetarianism and how it simply wasn’t enough that really struck me. I was shocked and heartbroken to learn what went on in the dairy and egg industry and inspired to dig deeper. The more I educated myself on these industries that were supplying the same products I regularly ate, the more compelled I felt to make a change. How could I say I loved animals and then drink milk from a cow who’d been forcibly impregnated and separated from her baby in the process of producing it? How I could tell omnivores that eating meat was wrong and still enjoy an egg salad sandwich when thousands of day-old male chicks are macerated in the egg industry every day?

I realized I didn’t want to eat dairy and eggs anymore. I used to think I needed them for protein but countless scientific studies have proven that we don’t need animal products to survive and in fact are healthier without them. So what if they tasted good? Taste, to me, was far less important than the life of an innocent animal who didn’t deserve to be exploited and slaughtered. (After all, the milk and dairy industry = the meat industry). I also realized I was in a place in my recovery where I could make this transition for all the right reasons.

When I was battling anorexia, I flirted with the idea of going vegan so I’d have an excuse to not eat some of my biggest fear foods, namely butter, cheese, and cream. The animal rights aspect that’s what veganism is really about wasn’t part of the picture; in my mind, all that mattered was restriction. Five years later, however, I have no interest in reverting to restrictive behaviors ever again. In fact, one of my initial concerns when I made this switch was that I’d inadvertently cut out foods, miss out on crucial nutrients, and hinder the progress I’d made in recovery. But that didn’t happen. If anything, veganism has benefited my recovery by introducing me to new and highly nutritious foods, inspiring me to cook for myself more, and making me appreciate and enjoy food in a way I never did before.

After eating a 90% plant-based diet for a couple of months, I became completely vegan two weeks ago. Everyone’s motivations for becoming a vegan are different but for me, it was for the animals and the earth. It’s been an incredible journey so far, and I’m proud of myself for making this change and would strongly encourage others to do the same.

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Stay tuned for part two next week, where I discuss how I transitioned to veganism and the impact it has had on my life so far.

When the Kitchen is No Longer Scary

I used to be terrified of the kitchen. Not of the room itself, of course, but what went on inside it. Back then, I was deeply entrenched in anorexia and was convinced that food was my worst enemy. So the kitchen, with its cabinets packed with snacks and sweets and its appliances that would produce pastas and pizzas and cakes and cookies and more, was my living nightmare.

I still remember all the evenings my thirteen-year-old self would anxiously hover in the doorway, my head peeked around the corner, watching my mom in case she tried to slip an extra pad of butter or tablespoon of oil into whatever that night’s dinner would be. I still remember all the afternoons I spent reading labels on the backs of cans, bags, and boxes until the calories were ingrained in my mind. (Many still are to this day). I still remember all the mornings I’d wake up to the tantalizing aroma of a homemade breakfast or fresh-out-of-the-oven baked goods wafting from the kitchen and instead of allowing myself to get up and enjoy it, I’d lay in bed with my stomach empty and my mind full of prepared excuses.

“I’m not hungry.”

“I’m not in the mood.”

“Thanks but I’ll just have cereal.”

This naysay mentality towards food and cooking dictated my life in the years to come. For too long, I lived in constant fear of what I’d eat—of what my parents would make me eat—and would only ever venture into the kitchen when I absolutely had to. As a child, I loved to help my mom cook and subsequently gobble up her delicious recipes so I know this sudden aversion was especially hard on her. One day, I was sampling sugary dough while she baked chocolate chip cookies; the next, I was adamantly refusing to eat those same cookies because I was convinced they’d make me fat.

Overcoming my fear of food was a process that has taken time, patience, and repeated exposure. The more comfortable I felt eating a slice of pizza or chocolate chip cookie, the more safe and secure I felt being in the kitchen. I no longer worry that my mom is sneaking calories into my food, just like I no longer wake up filled with dread and anxiety about what I have to eat in a given day. I don’t read labels close to as often as I used to, and when I do, it’s only to ensure I’m getting an adequate amount of protein or another essential food group or nutrient.

More recently, I’ve discovered that I enjoy cooking. I attribute my newfound interest in cooking to three primary reasons: my recovery, the online cookbook Nourish I co-created with my mom last year, and my transition to veganism (more on that soon). I love discovering new recipes, transforming old ones, and, most of all, nourishing my body with wholesome homemade food. From banana bread to spicy lentils to sweet and sour tofu to my old frenemy mac & cheese, I feel like I’m reshaping the kitchen into the safe and happy space it used to be one dish at a time—and in a new way that works for the new me.

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I’m by no means free from food anxieties. Part of me wonders if I ever will be. I still instinctively gravitate towards lower-fat recipes and am more cautious with oils than I’d like to be. But I also have an appreciation of food and my body that I previously lacked. I’m able to make (most) food choices based on hunger levels and desire, instead of what has the fewest number of calories. I recognize the impact my diet has on a larger global scale, beyond just myself and my taste buds, and try to honor that as best I can. I enjoy food and genuinely look forward to eating after spending most of my teenage years eating because I had to in order to survive.

These newfound freedoms are not ones I take for granted. I constantly remind myself of how far I’ve come, and I also look forward to continuing to expand my variety of foods, teaching myself new recipes, and leading by the example that a balanced diet and kind food choices are not only possible for most people but key to health, happiness, and sustainability.

The kitchen doesn’t scare me anymore; on the contrary, it’s a room I love, appreciate, and spend an ever-growing amount of time in. Speaking of which, I’m off to make myself some lunch now. One buffalo cauliflower sandwich, coming right up!

My Experience with the Pfizer Vaccine

“We have a vaccine for you. Can you be here in one hour?”

This was the call I received from my local hospital on the afternoon of March 12th, completely out of the blue. A couple of weeks earlier, I’d joined a no-waste program that distributes leftover vaccines at the end of the day. (Many hospitals and pharmacies do this by the way—the best way to find out more is to just call.) The moment I hung up, I hopped in my car and drove to the hospital. I called my boss on the ride over to tell her I’d be late to work, and she completely understood. “You go get your shot,” I believe were her words.

00F6574D-ED90-4FE9-806C-75C6B2BDEE2FAside from some soreness in my arm that lingered for a few days, I didn’t feel much from my first shot. Emotionally, I was pleased and relieved but also a little guilty since I’d gotten my shot before most people my age. Knowing that my vaccine would have gone to waste otherwise helped me get over that initial guilt but it’s not lost on me that I was lucky. Consequently, I felt like I had a responsibility to share my experience and encourage others to get vaccinated too. I suppose that’s part of the reason why I’m writing this now, just three after getting my second shot.

Although I never once considered not getting my second shot, I was still nervous. How could I not be after hearing about the vast array of unpleasant reactions my friends and family who’d received it before me had had? Within my immediate family, my mama had a rash and, worse than that, my mom, a picture of good health, was so tired and lethargic that she didn’t feel motivated to get out of bed. All symptoms I’d experienced daily when I was battling major depression in high school and hoped I’d never have to endure again.

Despite my festering fears and anxieties, I showed back up at the hospital on April 2nd and got my second shot. After I’d sat around for fifteen minutes (protocol), I hopped in the car with my mom to head home (but not before picking up vegan ice cream at Whole Foods to celebrate). As we drove, I was overcome with immense relief knowing that I was finally protected and safe after over a year of living in constant fear. I’m fully aware that the pandemic is ongoing but it still felt like a major milestone.

So, how did my body react to Shot #2? Well, I woke up at 5 AM the next morning freezing cold and was only able to fall back asleep once I’d bundled up in sweats and fuzzy socks. When I finally dragged myself out of bed at 8:30, I was physically exhausted, sore, and shaky. I had a headache and a chill I couldn’t shake. My mental processing and productivity were significantly slowed. I spent the day lounging around in my pajamas, reading a book for English, watching March Madness, and editing a manuscript for an upcoming writing project. Easy and mundane tasks that made me feel mildly accomplished nevertheless.

IMG-1759By the evening, my symptoms had improved, and when I woke up the next morning, they were almost entirely gone. That was it: one crappy day that, in the scheme of things, wasn’t even that bad. One crappy day that, had it been the coronavirus, could have lasted weeks, if not longer.

I know that many people, for a variety of reasons, are still hesitant about getting vaccinated. To those people, I’d say: trust science. Trust research. Trust doctors. Trust that this is the only way we’re going to put this miserable and deadly pandemic behind us once and for all. The vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel, and we’d be foolish to turn away from it. Because, to me, one day—a mere twenty-four-hours, if that—of feeling crappy is completely worth it if it means I can protect myself and my family and anyone else who’s close to me from a life-threatening virus. It’s worth it if it means I can travel again and give in-person book talks and go to work and do all the other things that have been put on hold for the past year; things that bring me joy and fulfillment. It’s worth it if it means our society—our world­­—can finally return to normalcy, and someday, hopefully in the near future, I can safely walk through my town and smile at people and see them smile back.

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