I first began to pay attention to what I ate and what I put in my body in high school. I was suffering from severe stomach pains and was diagnosed with the beginnings of an ulcer. I noticed my pain had nothing to do with spicy or highly acid foods as many suggested. Rather it was high fat and high sugar that made me curl into a ball on the kitchen floor. My worst nights were those spent out with my friends eating pizza, burgers, soda and ice cream. I had this great reminder if I did not pay attention to what I put in my mouth, I would suffer. In a relatively short period of time I was “cured” but still cautious. Since my sophomore year in high school I can count the number of sodas I have had on one hand.

During my first year practicing as a PT I began to observe my patients that seemed to have persistent pain or just didn’t respond to rehab the way I hoped fell into a certain pattern with food choices. I began reading and learning about anti-inflammatory diets. This was long before the Gluten Free or GF trend. I learned: refined sugar, refined grains, dairy and many mass-produced animal products could be extremely taxing to the human system. I couldn’t possibly ask or educate my patients about changing their own eating patterns if I couldn’t do it myself.

I made a decree; I would give this “nutrition plan” a 3-month trial. No dairy, no refined sugar or refined grains, no animal products except seafood and eggs (organic of course), and no caffeine. I reflected on my time in high school not wanting to stand out or look like a freak. Back then I would just eat really small portions of the trigger foods but this was an experiment in the name of science. I would have to be socially strong. I would not cheat. I adopted this attitude of it is not an option. I would hear the words, “I can’t have that”, come out of my mouth with conviction. Soon this became who I was. This extremely restrictive eating pattern began to consume me. I immediately noticed all the positives. I lost weight and actually had to work at not slipping underweight. My skin was healthier. I was in love with the control and self-discipline. I was well aware of the strain I put on my friends and family. For them to abide by my rules to include me into social meals was inconvenient. But they were always happy to do it. They even talked to me with a bit of envy for my healthy ways. My 3 months turned into years. I did not budge on my restrictions except for a very occasional cup of coffee with friends or after a late night.

Then I was out at a fundraiser for the Girls and Boys Club with a guy I had been seeing for a little while. He was supportive of my “healthful” choices. But this day he walked up to me, looking deep into my eyes and said, “You really ought to try this.” He was holding a chocolate covered strawberry. I couldn’t resist his crushed marbled eyes or boyish smirk. I held my breath as he fed me. It tasted like pure heaven. I don’t know what I thought would happen if I broke a rule. Guess what, I did not die and the world did not end. I slowly began to loosen my control on food. As I did, I noticed all the things I hadn’t, during my time of restricted eating. My energy wasn’t completely zapped after a run, my mood was more stable, I lost the little peach fuzz that had begun growing on my face, my menstrual cycle returned, I wasn’t cold all the time, I had an appetite, I could relax around food.

It wasn’t until I began to find a little balance that I realized I was suffering from disordered eating. No matter how “healthy” I thought I was being I did not have a positive relationship with food. Food, the very thing that is meant to fuel us had become negative entity.

I promised to never be so rigid again. Today I surf the ever-evolving wave of balance. I think an occasional cleanse of elimination is warranted. It helps to bring back into focus healthful choices and self discipline. This can take place seasonally, in times of health compromise, after holiday or vacation excess, but should not be expected as a daily lifestyle. I like to do a two to four week cycle a couple of times a year and occasionally a short burst of just 3 -5 days if I need a little reminder to put things in check.

Daily, I try to keep the less than desirables at a minimum and choose high quality as much as possible. I refuse to be a social leaper or inconvenience. I aim to study myself and know what tends to truly effect me. There is no one formula for everyone all the time.

I know love, happiness and joy is more important than a perceived perfect being.

Everyone will have a personal journey with health and nutrition. I just hope a few can learn from mine and seek balance from the start. Life is not a science experiment; we cannot possibly control all the variables. If we try it will not be a life worth living.

Just in case you were wondering, that guy who fed me the Strawberry almost 10 years later still teaches me to live life to the fullest, everyday.

Aim true to you and enjoy the journey.