Are you ready?
Warning. This is quite possibly the longest and most self-indulgent and honest article I have ever written about myself, and it wasn’t easy to admit, write, or share. However, I feel like the past 5 years of my life, have been an exceptional journey, one that has been riddled with lessons, and taken me on a wild ride of self-discovery, and acceptance. So, before I explode, I will share what I have learned about myself.
If you plan to read, please read in full.
I have a confession to make.
A little over a year ago I would have hated this picture of myself.
My nose would have been too big.
I would have found something wrong with my hair.
Trust me… I could have found more than several things to dislike, if I kept looking.
Pretty messed up, right?
Once upon a time, when I was trying to make it as a model and actress in Los Angeles, I was told that I was more attractive when I didn’t smile.
I understood, of course.
In fact, when I do smile, a giant mark across my right cheek is revealed. It is from an accident I had when I was around three. I was just being a little happy kid— jumping on the bed with my cousins, of course, but somehow ended up falling into the bedpost and damaged the cartilage in my cheek.
And so, there is a “crease” on my cheek when I smile.
Silly, mean bedpost.
I also spent the better half of my kiddie years not knowing how to smile, naturally.
In addition to the “crease” on my cheek.
I was the weird 11 year old who was still singing…
“All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth.”
Apparently, that sort of genetic mishap runs in the family.
But I literally just did not loose my two front teeth.
They just kind of hung on, until several oral surgeries later…
Don’t worry… I got my two front teeth eventually.
I just had an extra set.
I am told this little “defect” runs in my Irish bloodline. However, I have not met too many Irish folk that can relate, so I think I just may be related to sharks. (Irish sharks, perhaps, but sharks, none the less. #Justsaying.)
It also did not help that I spent, what felt like every moment of 7th grade, in absolute terror that I would come home and find that my parents had gotten a divorce. I longed for parents that were loving and affectionate. No doubt, both of my parents loved, and do love their three children very much, but I really wanted them to love each other. I mean, really really wanted it.
As the oldest, I felt it was my responsibility to make this happen. To hold everyone together.
I grew up in a small town, and went to a small public school.
It was as cliquey in 4th grade, as it was in 12th grade.
I had a nice little group of friends, but also longed to be in with the popular crowd.
You know, the kids who had older siblings and seemed to have it all together: the trendy clothes, the social life, the ones that knew what to say, had the witty comebacks— and just exuded confidence.
I had younger siblings.
I had not a clue how to do my hair, I wore jelly shoes with socks and I shopped at Kids R Us.
So here I am this painfully shy little girl, insecure about my cheek, toothless… and at the age of 12, or at least, this is as far back as I can put a date to this, I can acknowledge I had some sort of hatred toward my appearance.
Some of it could be attributed to normal pre-teen awkwardness. I don’t think anyone wants to feel like they are carrying around a little extra “baby” weight (which, yes, I did, thank you very much), and my skin was always breaking out.
However, my negative perception of myself went a little bit deeper than just pre-teen/teenage nonsense.
Something I was not really ready to own and accept until recently.
So here we go.
I have a warped sense of self.
Although many people are walking around flustered about something they dislike about themselves, for me it has always been a kind of constant dull pain, becoming louder depending on a variety of internal and external factors: stress, sleep, diet, recreational indulgences, relationships, obligations, love, etc.
If you have ever heard me lecture, or have read my bio somewhere, I am not shy about having had disordered thinking about food. I grew up on fast food, dino shaped chicken nuggets, ramen noodles, and a lot of pizza and corn. It is pretty safe to say, the only nutritional thing in my diet was likely the lettuce and tomato on my Italian subs.
My mother would like to point out that we didn’t just go through “drive-thrus”.
That we also ate beans.
Okay, mom… so we ate beans.
We ate beans from a can.
With hot dogs.
And we had Mexican night.
(So basically we had more beans, ground chicken, and canned tomatoes).
I was truly clueless about the correlation between the quality of our food choices and weight, let alone— skin, energy, and emotional and overall well-being.
So, from the age of 12, I was constantly on a mission to find the perfect “diet.”
The diet that would promise happiness, beauty, and love.
Yep. At 12— I thought a bag of Skittles and a Snapple was a healthier alternative to the school lunch of chicken nuggets and fries.
And yep… at the age of 16, I also thought having a giant bag of goldfish for lunch was somehow better than a bagel with cream cheese, or PB+J sandwich on potato bread.
For all of the “health,” “lifestyle,” and drug awareness classes we had growing up— you would have thought that someone would have taught us something a little more insightful than “An apple a day keeps the Doctor away.”
Truthfully, my dad only ate Macintosh apples, and I happen to find them absolutely disgusting and mushy. Therefore, I did not eat apples unless doused in copious amounts of jiffy peanut butter.
Let’s fast forward.
I am also not shy about having suffered from depression and anxiety, which I became more acutely aware of when I was a senior in high school.
As my diet proceeded to worsen during my first few months of freshman year of college, I put on the freshman twenty (not 15)… and as my skin continued to breakout… this obviously only worsened my self image.
The enemy became my weight.
The enemy became the food.
I saw this therapist at 18.
He prescribed medication, charged a lot of money, and told me, my parents probably should get a divorce. He also said that he would like to talk to them (aka: counsel them).
It was my worst nightmare.
As I cried in his office, I will never forget him handing me a box of tissues and saying: “See. But you’re still beautiful— even when you cry.”
Which only made me cry harder.
I could not see it.
I transferred colleges a few times. With each transition, the food got a little bit healthier. I made better choices.
Naturally, the weight came off.
And then, I became obsessed.
It was this game of calories in and calories out,
measuring and keeping tabs of what I was eating.
My “diet” was not nutritious.
I lived off of bland cereals, fiber one, low fat soy milk, lots of fat free, sugar-free non-sense,
and grilled chicken.
(I was also incredibly addicted to bread).
And, I did party like your typical college kid.
But hey! I was thin. And thin meant happiness, right?
I was still suffering from depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and my skin was still an imperfect disaster. I also felt alone, despite having some very genuine and supportive friends— and college seemed, cold, superficial, competitive, and harsh. I craved something meaningful. I didn’t know exactly what that looked like… but I knew there had to be more.
I think when I realized that it wasn’t the weight that was holding me back, it only seemed to add fuel to the fire of my self-hatred.
And as I crashed and burned, now a Junior in college, I became open to alternative suggestions. I was truly at lose ends.
But wanting out of the misery.
So at 20 years of age, during Spring Break at home, I stumbled across a book that talked about the impact our diet (and digestion) has on our overall well-being. It explained how you could achieve your ideal weight, and ideal health, almost effortlessly— once you knew the secrets.
Which were not too secret.
The book made it very clear to me that it was the quality of our food choices, not calories, that were so vital for overall well-being. Foods from the earth, could, and did nourish.
It seemed like common sense.
With nothing to lose, I gave it a chance. I watched as my digestion felt radically different within that very first, large and satisfying meal, and I was excited…
I felt satisfied.
Within just a few days, I started to feel more alive and radiant.
And I thought… Ah hah!
This is it!
This is the solution.
Still self-critical, but almost over night, I stopped counting calories, I started eating fruits (Ahhh! Sugar. Ahhh! Calories!), and healthy fats (Ahhh! Fats!)… and just greater volumes of food in general. What really sold me on this new “diet” — was that I wasn’t gaining weight (even losing a bit), but looking more radiant, and nourished.
It seemed to be effortless.
Of course, not all of this happened at once. But, I was overall just a happier person.
I just felt more alive, and free.
I continued to nourish my body, and gradually, over the next year+, the aching depression dissipated.
The anxiety all but vanished… (Read my article here, about treating Anxiety naturally), and I can honestly say I haven’t actually counted calories in over 8 years. It felt powerful to be able to feel more in control of my overall well-being. It felt even more incredible to not feel like I needed to be “perfect” or restrictive. It was a different type of control than measuring food, or counting calories.
It was empowering.
So, was I cured of what some would have called Anorexia?
Because that was never actually the problem.
Just an obsessive compulsive symptom of the negative perception I had of myself.
Which, was a symptom of something even greater than all of that.
Still in college, but over 3,000 miles away from home. I was homesick.
And when I was home,
It was never what I was looking for.
The disconnection between my parents was like an elephant in the room.
Maybe 5 elephants.
Continuing to skip forward,
My parents finally got that divorce I had spent 10 years worrying about.
I got my first job outside of college.
Worked my butt off.
Didn’t know a soul.
And so when the opportunity presented itself to move out of rural Connecticut… back home I went.
Well… “Home” is subjective.
To my mother’s, I went.
To then fully commit to being a nutritionist, which delighted me more than anything I have ever put any sort of effort into.
But I was still living amongst the elephants.
Struggling to start a private nutritional practice at 21-22, write a book, and to escape from the pain of my parents divorce, I ran away to Dallas.
Where I found, a little cluster of friends that became like a family.
We connected almost immediately, bonding over something, or someone, missing in our own families.
I focused on myself, friends, writing, and the career I was trying to grow.
I would be lying if I told anyone I was in love with myself, but for a very short time, I felt on top of the world.
There was still something missing. I went on many dates in Dallas. Most of my girlfriends were always in serious relationships— and I was kind of the odd one out. For me, nothing clicked.
Until it did, or so I thought.
And I got married, into three beautiful children.
Yep. At 23 I was a full-time mom.
Because I was stubborn, and so damned and determined to believe in Fairy Tales and the magic of weddings, marriage, and family!
As it turns out— Marriage solves about as many relationship problems as does having children to save a marriage.
As it also turns out, marriage to a person that expects absolute perfection is a very very bad match for someone that is already very hard on themselves.
And because this is about me, and not anyone else…
I will just say, that when you do not respect yourself, you will likely not be respected.
And you will lose yourself, very quickly.
And so I did.
I became isolated.
And I isolated myself.
I couldn’t bare for anyone to know how empty I was feeling. (Especially, my clients).
The lack of connection I was feeling was excruciating.
I didn’t want friends to known my pain.
So I plastered on smiles, and found temporary happiness in chips and salsa, and late night snacking.
The forever optimist, and seeker of fairy-tales, however, I set out to make others happy, and fulfilled.
And that part of my life was fulfilling, or at least, in the moment of doing so. I loved watching my private practice grow, inspiring, empowering, and helping to change lives. It was my favorite part of Dallas. It gave me a greater purpose and meaning.
I tried to be the the best nutritionist, and employee, wife, and step-mother I could be. Never perfect, not always with a smile on my face, but trying to fix, and save, and piece together. I was exhausted. It was exhausting. I failed daily.
(and I have also never had more respect for mothers in my life).
My emptiness and lack of respect for myself came with a price.
I really started to make snacking at night a consolation prize— for making it through another day.
I put on weight.
I ate my weight in chocolate.
It was as if I needed something to blame.
Something I could measure.
And a failed relationship seemed like a personal failure.
Things did not get easier.
I just wanted a hug.
A million hugs.
Finally, the divorce occurred.
I moved again.
Back in with my mother…
A bit lost, a bit broken, and a bit wornout.
However, for every person that applauded me for the weight I had gained, it became harder to mentally move beyond this idea that “weight” was not, and should not be an issue.
Instead, it was incredibly frustrating to hear the “positive” in their sincere compliments, when I had gained weight because I had been miserable, eating late at night, and usually not the most nutritious or balanced of choices. (We will just call them “empty” calories). For what it is worth, I am sure I did, and do look healthier to most, in large part because with the extra weight, the stress was not so evident.
As I picked up the pieces, something else happened.
I found myself in another, even more unexpected relationship.
Eventually, one that taught me more about myself than I was ever willing to acknowledge.
One, that made me incredibly grateful for the tiniest of things, silver linings, and the power of friendship.
It gave me a radically new perspective on life and forced me to process and grow.
Although harder to acknowledge in the moment, that relationship taught me how beautiful imperfections were.
How to appreciate photos of myself, and to actually smile in photos…
I mean really smile.
It taught me to stop apologizing for everything. To embrace my goofiness…
To stand up for myself and to just say NO, to things that didn’t serve me.
Amidst all of the imperfections in this relationship, I learned what I was afraid to know all along.
That I have a really warped perception of myself, that I am worthy and deserving of love, and that much of this love has to come from within, but love should also be able to be easily reciprocated.
It also proved to me that as much as I want to fit in, I also have the ability to stand firm in my beliefs— nutritional, and beyond, and that I wasn’t going to embarrass anyone for being different. (Only the wrong people).
On the day this relationship ended, I was flying back to New Jersey for a family wedding. It had been an exhausting day,
I sat next to someone extremely fit on the plane.
Although I was too emotionally spent to engage in conversation, conversation did happen. Over the 4 hour plane ride, it naturally turned to nutrition, diet, and fitness.
And naturally, as it is habit for me to self-deprecate, and point out something I find “wrong” with myself before they do (they never do)… I referred to myself, which I have now for the past year, as a “Chubby Bunny”— Which, clearly, I am not.
And this plane friend looked at me, and in so many words, put a label on this warped perception of myself.
I don’t do labels.
But in that moment, I owned it.
In fact, I was too freaking tired to argue it.
During this moment of silent acceptance, I felt this overwhelming sense of relief wash over me as I acknowledged that I am so tired finding something unlovable about myself.
So if you have made it this far, you may be wondering what my point is.
Trust me, I am kind of wondering the same.
Recently, I watched the documentary entitled— The Happy Movie.
(Which you can rent on Amazon Prime).
What really makes the happiest of people so happy?
Well, they found that in studying identical twins, people with almost the exact genetic makeup, that 50% of our happiness is genetic, a surprisingly low 10% of our happiness is based on circumstances— like income, social status, where you live, age… (you know, the stuff that most of us are told to focus on), and a whopping 40% is determined by our “Intentional” activities. Activities you can do that increase dopamine:
Variety. “The Spice of Life.”
The desire to do good for others.
The desire to be a better person (aka: personal growth).
But, do you know what was the most consistent theme throughout this documentary?
In all of these communities, where individuals were leading long, and happy lives— they also all had meaningful friendships, relationships— and they worked together, helped one another and supported and loved each other.
And that, is what I see so consistently amongst my clients that experience such profound results— so quickly. They are into self-improvement for themselves– yes, but also constantly wishing to do good for others, and have wonderful, albeit imperfect, meaningful relationships with their families, friends, and loved ones.
When we get so wrapped up in accomplishing and accomplishing… and achieving, and competing, isolating, and the good and the bad, and never asking anyone for help, or leaning on others— We forget about connecting with what is present, and the people that genuinely love us.
To bring this full circle, if I were writing a letter to my 12 year old self, I would start by telling her:
That I understand.
That I know what it’s like to feel alone, and up against the world.
To desire connection, meaning, and to pick on ourselves because we are often the easiest targets.
I would tell her that, traditional schooling tends to focus on what we need to improve, and what we are not good at, instead of focusing on strengthening our strengths. (Which trust me, we’ve all got strengths– and mine does not happen to be math).
Nourishment comes in many forms.
It is just as important to nourish the body with nutrient dense foods, as it is to nourish your mind and heart with positive affirmations, and gratitude,
to dance in the rain, instead of raining on someone else’s parade, and that it is more than okay to reach out and ask for a hand, a listening ear, and a hug, to escape the times of darkness.
This is one my favorite TED Talks about connection and addiction– It’s called: “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong“.
(Which really… addiction goes far beyond drugs and alcohol– and can be food or shopping, obsessive thinking… etc.)
The truth is that nutrition is so incredibly a part of the solution, but it is not the solution.
There are many things that create balance and happiness.
I am a work in progress. I’ll own that. But I can honestly tell you, when I see a picture of myself, or when I glance in the mirror, where I would have said—
“Ew. Please delete”.
Instead I focus on the smile and the journey that got me here.
I’ve got a bit of a different perspective these days.
And I have a few people to thank for that. 😉
So now you know.
Lots of love,
P.S. That crease on my cheek… I often forget about.