Healthy Living: Kati's Story

>> Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Kati writes:

As a kid, I hated gym. LOATHED it, might be a better word. It was actually the only class that I had less-than-stellar grades in (er, not to brag? but I don't think that's something to be proud of!!). Our gym classes were very running-centric, and I just couldn't do it. Last one in the mile, every time, and on the verge of passing out to boot. When I was 15, the elephant-on-my-chest feeling was finally diagnosed as asthma. I'm what you might call "bottom heavy," and I wished that I could find a sport that would use my tree-trunk legs but wouldn't aggravate my lungs (and knees, and ankles). I loved swimming, and wasn't half-bad at it, but sadly my school had no swim team.

My diet was also less-than-stellar. My mom is a great cook, but she was raising two kids on her own (and my brother is special-needs), so we were responsible for whatever we wanted for breakfast and lunch. One summer (and most of a school year) this meant that my lunches consisted of EZ Cheese, "buttery" crackers, Sour Cream and Onion potato chips, Oreos, and chocolate milk. All through high school, breakfast was a donut and a cup of hot cocoa or chai mix. I was a kid, I thought I could get away with it.

Then I went to college. Like many of the others who have shared their stories, I gained the Freshman 15+. I discovered that I compulsively stress-eat, and college brought plenty of stress. I thought becoming a vegetarian would solve all that. In practice, I was a "pasta-tarian" -- starch, starch, and some more starch to round things out. And, oh boy, the pints of ice cream for dinner.

One meal credit = one pint. I'd eat the whole thing.

My energy plummeted, and my moods swung like a pendulum. I remember coming home from class at 4PM some days, and sleeping through until 7AM the next day. My roommate couldn't even wake me up for dinner.

However, around this same time I was inspired to finally find a sport I'd enjoy. I had always admired athletic people, and desperately wanted to be one (my mom is quite athletic, also). On a total whim, I took my beater bike to a college-sponsored mountain bike race. It hurt. A lot. Both the cardio, and the crashing into things. But somehow, I loved it. I bought a new bike, and was hooked. But my race diet consisted of Fritos, M&Ms, and gas-station cappuccino. Not exactly performance-food.

I also signed up for an Outward Bound backpacking course, something I had wanted to do in high school but never had the guts (because I was the unathletic, dorky girl). It was amazing, and sparked a real love of the outdoors in general, and backcountry in particular.

Then, I studied abroad. I was miserable. I didn't speak the language as well as I thought I did, I had no friends, and I drowned my sorrows in 20-oz cafe mochas and jumbo slices of tres leches cake. Daily. Along with some super-sugared espresso and chocolate-covered cookies to get me through class. I came home 30 pounds heavier, ringing in at my all-time high of 160.

When I was home, I got a new job at an outdoor equipment outfitter and started teaching environmental education. My eco-minded co-workers brought to my attention the connections between what we eat, your health, and the environment, and I started thinking more about what I was putting in my body. What was it doing to me?! What was it doing to the environment?!?! It finally hit me that my horrible mood swings and low energy might be part of a vicious cycle. I felt miserable, I ate crap. I ate crap, I felt miserable. It just wasn't sustainable, least of all for my body.

I turned my obsessive stress-eating habits into something more productive. I figured, I loved thinking about food. Why not learn how to plan and cook meals with real food? Using mostly vegetarian cookbooks (food blogs are a more recent discovery for me!) I taught myself to make vegetable-centric meals from whole ingredients (confession: I usually add in some animal protein). Lucky me, I also found a guy that likes to invent healthy meals, though sometimes our definitions of "healthy" diverge ;)

In general, I've found that I can eat whatever I want, as long as I stay active and focus on making my main meals as veggie-centric as possible. I stopped weighing myself, but I feel good and my clothes generally fit, so I think I'm in a pretty healthy weight range. Granted, I have a deep love of cheese (we do, too, Kati!) and it is a frequent dinner guest. But I have significantly reduced my sugar-intake: instead of mochas, cocoa, or chai, I drink plain coffee with milk, no sugar. We'll have a piece or two of dark chocolate for dessert (not an entire 1-lb bar, like before). And breakfast is protein-packed eggs with any number of leafy greens and other plant matter. I actually can't stomach sweet stuff that early in the morning now. I guess I've re-programmed my palate!

Eating healthy and staying fit has almost eliminated my asthma symptoms (I still get allergy- and winter-induced asthma). I practice Vinyasa Yoga, which I find helps keep me centered. I do a Master's Swimming program. Last summer I trained for and finished a 100K mountain bike race, which hurt like heck -- but I loved it and plan to do it again! And in February, my mom and I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro together.

I still have ups and downs, but I find that if I keep my food-focus on whole, healthy things, I can stay pretty balanced. When I'm balanced, my motivation to stay active is easier to maintain. And then in turn, my mood stays positive and it's easier to eat healthily! A new, positive cycle :)

Thanks for reading!


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