This is a guest blog post from local vegan chef and food writer, Carolyn Flower. You can follow Carolyn at https://instagram.com/nutritiouslyplantful/. The Real Food Stories series profiles the unique personal experiences that lead our writers to understand the important connection between the food they eat, and their health and wellbeing. You can find the rest of our stories HERE.
Food and I
Ever since I can remember I’ve always loved and been fascinated by food. Food was something I valued and craved. I always looked forward to meals and going to restaurants with my family and friends. However, even though food and I go way back, we haven’t always had a healthy relationship.
As a child I disliked wearing shorts, and I felt uncomfortable wearing tank tops even during the summer months. In high school, I always had to wear swimming shorts with my bathing suits, and I was uncomfortable about my desire and appetite for food. This underlying discomfort with my body and appetite lasted for the first 20 years of my life.
In college, I majored in environmental studies and started to learn more about localism, food systems, sustainable agriculture, and the general environmental impacts of food production. I even volunteered at my college’s farm! To be honest though, nothing that I learned changed my perspective on my eating habits or alleviated my body image issues.
My journey of self-discovery actually started in my efforts to lose weight through Weight Watchers. I still wasn’t eating a whole foods diet or being mindful of seasonal produce, but I did start to discover the satiating power of fruits and vegetables. Though Weight Watchers completely condones all the frozen diet meals you can eat, it was at this time that I finally began to explore and appreciate the wonder of the many edible and highly nutritious plants nature provides us!
I could tell my taste buds were already recalibrating to the more complex and sometimes more subtle flavors of deliciously whole foods. I also started connecting what I ate with the importance of moving my body every day.
It became so empowering to know that I was becoming physically stronger and more flexible as well. I never thought of myself as athletic and the fact that I had come to enjoy running trails, weightlifting, and interval training (hello burpees!) really surprised me in the best possible way. I started thinking that so much more was possible than I had ever imagined for myself.
I become a pretty voracious reader and researcher when something profoundly interests me, and so I started to research the relationship between eating a plant-based diet and thriving physically.
Sometimes people ask if going vegan was difficult, but the truth is the initial change really wasn't. All my favorite foods are vegan! Hummus, avocados, beans, carrots, fruits, potatoes... I never feel like I'm deprived. What’s more, I feel like I've found my "food center" through Veganism. Eating plant-based has made me much more interested in cooking and trying new flavor combinations. I feel like a whole new world of opportunity and pleasure has opened up to me. There are already so many foods I would never have thought to use that I now cook with regularly. Veganism has also been a way for me to think more compassionately about myself and the world.
Exploring my new diet has also taught me to be less judgmental of other people's choices. I've realized that there isn't one diet that is right for everyone, and people need to have the space to explore what their own "food center" is. I do think though that plant-based diets can highlight how important and beneficial it is to consume an abundance of fresh foods and eat the rainbow!
When I was in college, my classes on environmentalism would leave me frustrated because it seemed like nothing could ever be solved and one person couldn't really make much of a difference. But diet choices are one place where individuals can make a significant impact over the course of their lifetime. So, although environmental issues are still very complex and can't be solved by one person alone, eating vegan has instilled more hope inside of my heart and mind that we still have the autonomy to think critically and make our own choices in life, that CAN have a bigger impact; the same way eating locally can have a profound impact on the local economy.
Onward and Upward
I still have what I call, "bad body days" or days where I feel insecure in my body and anxious about calories and exercise. Coming from a place of intentional weight-loss, it can be hard for me to not get consumed with weight maintenance and my fear of gaining the weight back. I’ve met really interesting and caring people through fitness though, and they provide the support network I need to feel confident in my gains and my future.
I'm not going to pretend it's always easy or that I've figured it all out. My food journey so far has been a journey of both the mind and body and has brought many challenges, and just as many victories. I've realized that being open about my anxieties and body image struggles is really important in order for me to move forward and thrive. I've also been able to talk more freely about these issues and, on some level, realize that I'm not alone in these struggles. I definitely have some challenges ahead, but I feel like I'm at least a little bit closer to achieving the confidence and peace that I desire through just eating a good plant-based diet.
Moving forward, I look forward to finding new opportunities to share the wonder of healthy, nutritious eating and I am very excited to announce that I will write an ongoing series of healthy, plant-based recipes over the LFA blog! There’s so much decadent but healthy food to discover in this world, that I am happy to share with my community. Thank you so much for reading, and I hope my recipes pique your curiosity and entice your own creativity in the kitchen.