I became vegetarian to lose weight but I actually gained weight instead. The end! Great story huh? Lets back up and rewind shall we…
I made a YouTube video on this story, but I feel like I express myself better through writing. I find my thoughts to be more organized and fluid! Essentially I became vegetarian for 2 reasons:
- Emetophobia- which is a fear of throwing up. Weird right? And it isn’t just throwing up, its seeing it, hearing it, watching it happen, etc. I have never been diagnosed, but I legit have this phobia. Like if my sister was ever sick with the stomach bug, I would isolate myself to the basement and stay there for days until I thought all the germs were gone. And if I had to walk past her or be in her presence, I would hold my breathe. One time I even asked to go to my dad’s house to avoid being near the sick germs and that was quite an initiative for me to take. This was initially what caused me to become vegetarian. I was afraid of eating undercooked meat which would then cause food poisoning, so the best way to avoid this was to simply not eat it! Now I know of course you can get sick from cross contaminated or poorly cleaned veggies too, but that thought never really crossed my mind! My fear of throwing up actually caused me to have physical symptoms manifest through anxiety. I was 17 when I first had thoughts of going vegetarian. The anxiety I was feeling was caused by a trip I was about to take with my art teachers and class mates. I was going to Italy, my first out of country trip! So any normal teenager would be excited and thrilled for an opportunity like that! And I was, but I also was a very worrisome and anxious child. I was worried about flying. I was worried about what I could or couldn’t eat (I did not eat pasta at this time (still rarely do!) and thought pasta would be my only food option when in Italy hahaha. I brought ALLL the snacks with me to make sure I had enough food lol). And I was worried about getting sick while on vacation and being so far from my mom. Leading up to the trip, I was constantly nauseous, I had a burning sensation in my chest, and I lost my appetite. I never actually got sick or had a fever or anything, but I did go home a few times from school because of just a general uneasy feeling. My mom took me to a general practitioner, and she said I was depressed and prescribed Prozac. My mom was not happy with that so we got another opinion. Looking back, maybe I had a little depression, but I think the physical symptoms I was feeling was actually anxiety. Anyway, I went to Italy, had a blast, and didn’t get sick haha! But the symptoms still lingered even after the trip. I could have stopped eating meat without any hesitation, but my family was a little more concerned about this dietary change, so it took some convincing on their part that this was what I was going to do. After a few months of slow convincing, they finally realized this was what I was going to do with or without their approval. And it has been 10 years since and I am still loving being a vegetarian!
- The other reason why I wanted to become vegetarian and was less outwardly and openly expressed at the time was because I wanted to lose weight. I had been doing a little research and everything I read mentioned how a vegetarian diet could help you lose weight. However, there is definitely a healthy and unhealthy way of being a vegetarian. And I was the unhealthy version for quite some time….
A flashback to me in Italy! And also as a reference for how small I truly was yet still thinking I needed to lose weight….
I didn’t know much about healthy weight loss, nutrition, or being a healthy vegetarian at the time I became one. Again, I was 17, and going into my senior year of high school. Because I was still at home, I ate pretty healthily for the most part, but this is also roughly around the time I started to emotionally eat in secret. I wouldn’t say I was having full on binges at this point, but when I got home from school, I was generally the first home. So I would run to the panty, grab a bag of chips or pretzels or cheese its (whatever we had on hand), and chow down while watching out the window to see if my mom was coming down the drive. I wouldn’t do this every day, but I did it enough for it to become an unhealthy habit and it escalated into a worse habit in college.
The months prior to college, and my first 3 or so years, were very difficult years for my family and me. I had problems with my biological father all through high school that only seemed to get worse for the first few years in college. I had another family issue arise that was totally shocking and surprising and left me with an emotional scar that took years to heal. I roomed with my best friend at the time my freshman year and she was very judgmental of my family problems and not a great friend. Needless to say, we rarely spoke again after freshman year which was another emotional heartbreak I had to go through for the first time. I luckily had other friends there to support me with my roommate drama, but I didn’t have much parental support because of the issues they were dealing with. So I felt pretty abandoned emotionally and didn’t know how to deal with everything that was going on. I didn’t feel like a “normal” college student and always felt like it was my responsibility to go home on weekends to make sure my sister was ok. Prior to all of this, I was seeing a therapist who pretty much told me I was in the wrong for being judgmental about my family issues when she was really the only support I had at the time and yet criticized my feelings and made me feel like I was even worse of a person. And to top it all off, I was a freshman trying to figure out how to be a good student and excel in school. I thought the only way I could help my family was to do well with my classes and be an A student. So I withdrew from being really social in college especially the first 3 years or so. I felt alone with my problems so I turned to my studies and to food to help me conceal and hide from my emotions. Without going into too much detail, it was a very trying time.
From my freshman days haha! Yes that is half a gallon of ice cream in my lap and I am sharing it with hall mates, but the four of us (roomie taking the pic) shared it but I think I probably had most of it!
This is also from freshman year. Its a hard pic to look at because I can pretty much relive the pain I was feeling from that time. Even though I was on a super fun trip, emotionally I was not in a great place.
It was MUCH easier to conceal the emotional distress with food than to acknowledge or even talk about my feelings, because I honestly didn’t know what I was actually feeling. I ate what I wanted in the dining halls (hello endless deserts!) and I would always have snacks around (chips, cereal, cookies, etc.) to eat while in my dorm/ apartment room. Like all my past tendencies, I would go through periods where I would try to eat well and exercise and then I would not care and often emotionally eat especially when difficult family matters arose. Im not sure exactly when this started, if it was college or my last few years in high school, but I stopped looking in mirrors too. I avoided them at all costs. If I were shopping, Id avoid looking in mirrors that were outside of the dressing room. I wouldn’t look in the mirror while trying clothes on and just went by how it felt not if it looked good or not. I avoided looking especially at my naked body prior to showering because I was afraid of what I would see. I was in complete denial about my weight and weight gain. So it was definitely an out of site out of mind experience. But I didn’t feel like I belonged to my body. I didn’t feel like I belonged to myself because I felt so disconnected from WHO I was.
So from 17 to 25, I went through this disconnection from myself and cycle of emotional eating to trying to get into shape and take ownership of who I was again. My family issues slowly began to fade and the healing had begun, but I then suddenly found myself in a new environment and change of scenery. My first post graduation job had me relocating to Florida (a state I never saw myself in), yet I was ready for the adventure. I saw it as an opportune time to “recreate” myself. I started going by Jess (my name is Jessica, so radical I know!) but I also wanted to break out of my shell and be “more me” in person. I was a painfully shy child and I still had insecurities holding me back from letting my true self shine. However, I quickly realized this new change was not going to be easy. In fact, it was really hard. And really lonely.
Making new friends and meeting new people in a new state where you know no one and are not in school is really really challenging. Especially if you are still a bit introverted and shy like me. It took me eight months. EIGHT MONTHS. To make first, and for a long time, only friend. So prior to meeting her, many of my evenings and weekends were spent alone in my apartment feeling sorry for myself and eating whole pizzas, or whole family sized bags of chips and finishing it off with loads of ice cream or cookies. But my best friend and I clicked instantly and within a months time were pretty inseparable. I had told myself I would never had a roommate again until I got married haha, but about 6 months after meeting her, she needed a new place to stay. Terrified that I would lose my only friend, I suggested we be roomies. The positives far outweighed the negatives and making that decision was one of my best decisions since moving to Florida.
At the time, she was really into working out and actually counted macros (longggg before I ever was interested in macros), and we would go through phases where we would work out and eat well and then decide having a social life was more important. So like usual, it was all in phases. It was during this time though that I began to look at myself in a mirror. I acknowledged that I had gained weight and that it was time to truly focus on myself. But I was still lacking compassion for myself and had a bit of self hatred and healing to overcome. I wanted to lose weight for the wrong reasons and it took losing myself completely to realize how making a lifestyle change for health and happiness was the right reasons to work on myself.
Prior to beginning my journey, I really was lost. I began to isolate myself while my best friend, her new boyfriend, and other friends would go out, I would stay in. One time I was so lonely (from self isolation) that I went out for a bike ride and was stopped by a very disoriented guy. I was a bit nervous to stop, but stopped anyway. His phone had died during the night and he needed to call a friend so I let him use my phone. His friend wouldn’t answer and he began panicking because he needed to get home to clean up and get to work in time. So me being my nice self offered to DRIVE HIM HOME! Why I thought this was a good idea? Im not sure I will ever know. I was only about a half a mile from home so I quickly biked home, grabbed my dog (because the irrational fears only then started to creep in), got in my car and went to pick him up. I thought having my dog would help protect me in case this guy decided to be a bad guy and pull some trick on my vulnerable, innocent self. First thing he mentions when in my car, “Yea so last night we just kept popping ecstasy and drank so much whiskey, I don’t remember anything.” Cool, Jess, cool. Great idea to pick up a disoriented stranger off the road. Awesome life goals. However, he was very sincere and grateful for me taking him home and all ended up fine in the end. But this was the beginning of my meltdown. I began to drown in no longer knowing who I was and I certainly had no sense of self worth.
Leading up to this moment, life was beginning to get a bit murky. I hated my job. I felt so talentless, worthless, and under appreciated. I felt set up to fail and would go home crying on my lunch break quite frequently. I was miserable and so unhappy. One early evening in 2015, I had a friend over one Friday or Saturday night. It was about 10PM and I turn to him and ask if he liked Funfetti Cake because I was craving it. So we went to the store. I made the cake. And ate half of it and declared it my “hot mess” year. Hot mess indeed (see pic below for proof haha).
Yes I ate half the cake by myself because my friend didn’t want any.
Around this time, my best friend and I decided to try a terrible cleanse. It was awful. I was hangry. I lost 5lbs in 5 days, but it was unhealthy. I did it to “reset” but it only made it worse. The images below were “before pics” from that time and I weighed in at 186lbs.
About a week later I turned 25 and was definitely aware of my quarter life crisis beginning. Prior to this time, I didn’t drink alcohol (remember the family issues from college, well it was about alcoholism and because of it, I chose not to drink in college. I don’t feel like I “missed out” for not drinking because I prided myself for being different at the time). But something inside me needed to feel something, anything, so I began to drink. Not proud of this and it certainly is NO reason to begin drinking, but I was lost and I felt I needed to rebel against myself to find me again. So I began drinking in February that year, was still eating whatever I wanted, was not working out, quit the job that made me really unhappy in May and started a new job in April during these few months. This was when I should have seen a therapist again. But everything happens for a reason. I needed to start my journey, so I could make the right friend, that could then suggest the right therapist. I didn’t start seeing a therapist again until the day after my 26th birthday.
I never weighed myself prior to my journey, but I am sure I gained probably 10lbs from January to June. It was the image below (taken May 2015) that inspired me to make a change. I called myself a “beached whale” and my best friend reminded me, “You do not look like a beached whale, you just don’t see yourself the way the rest of the world sees you!” So it truly was in that moment, that I knew I needed to make a change for my mental, physical, and emotional health. And I needed to do so out of self love.
A week later, I started Kayla Itsines Bikini Body Guide program and never looked back. This lifestyle change stuck this time because I was no longer striving to look a certain way. Sure initially it was spurred by wanting to change my appearance, but this change no longer came from a place of self hate. It came from a place of love. I finally knew I deserved to love who I was and I never really knew how freeing this lifestyle change could be because it made me realize that looking a certain way was NOT my value, being true to my authentic self was where my worth was!
It did not come easy though. Working out was hard. Eating better was hard. But you know what else was also hard? Hating who I was. So I chose my hard, self betterment through challenging myself in new ways. I still had a lot of emotional scarring to heal, so binge/ emotional eating episodes were still happening for quite some time into my journey. About a whole year and a half! I definitely cleaned up my eating and was eating better than I used to, but the urges to self soothe through food continued for quite some time. In fact, even writing this is bringing up a lot of emotional distress by reliving these feelings and I actually am snacking as I write this and its uncomfortable to admit and acknowledge, but I still am not immune to soothing through food. It is scary to recognize old habits appearing, but I know I am stronger than my past self and tomorrow is a new day 😉
So basically, it isn’t a vegetarian diet that I blame because you truly can be a very healthy (or very unhealthy) vegetarian with proper nutrition and mindset. But my emotional and mental body were not in alignment for many years and because of this, my physical body suffered. Through living a more active and healthy lifestyle, I have realized that sometimes we have to go through the tough shit to realize how strong and capable we are. It takes a lot of time, a lot of practice, a lot of patience, a lot of gentleness, a lot of forgiveness and a lot of gratitude for who you were so that you can become all you were meant to be <3