It's 8:07 on a Tuesday morning. I'm lying on my bathroom floor. I'm shaking, sweating, and about to be sick.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. I'd like to step back, to a brighter, less flu-like time in my life. If you were to look back 24 hours prior to this scene, you'd see me hesitantly mixing up a bowl of fruit-filled oatmeal and packing up a lunch and small snacks consisting of salad, a protein shake, and hardboiled eggs, before heading off to work. Seemingly positive start to the day, right?
It was Day 1 of a clean eating and exercise program I thought would change my bad habits and turn me into the healthiest version of myself (one I'm not too familiar with), and I was prepared to go all in. Now, despite leaving a few of these items untouched as I went on with my Monday, I felt proud by the end of the day. I had consumed tons of water and at least made small strides when it comes to eating fruit, vegetables, and lean protein. Night came and I went to sleep feeling accomplished and expecting to wake up feeling even the slightest bit better than I had the day before.
Surprise: Not the case.
You see, I'm what people would call a sugar addict. I don't just get a craving for an entire bag of Sour Patch Watermelons every now and then. I spend most of my day and all of my calories eating or drinking sugar. I've never been what you'd call a good eater and for as long as I can remember, I've been unwilling to try new things. Unfortunately, those childhood bad habits have carried over into my adult life, leaving me with a dangerous affection for junk food and a diagnosis of pre-diabetes. I've known (for years) I needed to make a change and I finally got sick and tired of feeling run down, lethargic, and achy more often than I'd like, so at the ripe old age of 24, I finally decided I needed to turn my health around.
Turns out I'm so addicted to the bad stuff, my body went into physical shock trying to accept the good stuff. I was so sick I had to stay home from work and spent the day sleeping through sweaty exhaustion. Saltines and Gatorade remained by my side while the thought of eating healthy again sounded like a death sentence (irony!).
BEHOLD, MY "BEFORE" PICTURE:
July 2015 (That's me on the far left!)
The next day, armed with my family-size box of crackers and Glacier Freeze, I headed into work. Greeted by my boss, I explained what happened and was immediately informed that it was likely because I had changed up my habits so abruptly. I was an addict in withdrawal, and the realization was gut-wrenching, literally and figuratively.
My boss recommended I meet with well-known sugar addict expert Brooke Alpert. Alpert is the founder of B Nutritious, a company that offers nutritional counseling and all-around wellness expertise for those (like myself) looking to eat better, feel better, and be better. She had even written a book specifically on kicking the sweet stuff and balancing your life and diet so as to not find oneself in a situation not unlike my own. So it was settled. I needed help, and who better to help me than someone who has successfully gone through the process with countless clients?
The following week I met with Alpert and we discussed both my painful rehab-like Tuesday, morning as well as my habits, likes, and dislikes when it came to food. We spent the next 15 minutes or so going through healthy food options, my "yes" list, and hard-nos.
After being reminded that I have the diet and palette of a twelve-year-old and that her original program would not work on me for fear that cutting sugar out of my diet completely might in fact kill me, Alpert and I got down to discussing my goals. What do I really want from this process? Where do I see myself at the end? (There is no real end, by the way—that's why they call it a "lifestyle change," remember?) And while I of course had the goal of shedding pounds, I also wanted to create a better relationship between myself and the food I eat.
So week 1 was laid out: Two food options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus two snacks, all approved by Alpert and based off what I was willing to eat outside of cupcakes and bagels. After talking through the road ahead and deciding to meet again in a week, we shook hands, went our separate ways, and I, being the anxious, food-addicted a*hole I am (was), went directly to Melt Shop and got a grilled cheese.
I know. I'm the worst.
After that very weak moment of self-sabotage, I resigned myself to sticking to the program as close to perfectly as possible. It was one month, I can handle 30 days. Compared to a lifetime, it's nothing.
Next came the weekend, two days during which I was trapped at home by a major snowstorm. I spent this time eating healthy-ish, and telling myself I'd be better on Monday.
Monday came and, suprisingly, I was better. I had definitely made some sugar-filled mistakes over the weekend, but compared to what I used to consume, it was hardly substantial.
No matter where you are on the financial scale, no matter where you are on an actual doctor scale, I just want people to be empowered by food and the food that they choose to eat. —Brooke Alpert
Now, this isn't to say I was having an easy go of things. However sad this may sound, this was the hardest thing I have ever done—mentally, physically, emotionally. I was drained and energized all at once. I spent days either sad or angry because I couldn't do or have what I wanted, but also more alert and productive because I wasn't weighed down by my eating habits.
When I met with Alpert again, I found myself feeling better already. I wasn't perfect and I didn't magically drop 10 pounds (I wish), but I did lose weight and I did feel more confident.
HERE I AM, TWO WEEKS IN:
Post-week 2, feeling better and making more consistent health choices.
As new food plans were made and a reminder to enforce my midnight curfew had been given, Alpert and I again went our separate ways, and this time, I didn't wind up in a grilled cheese shop—baby steps!
I spent the next seven days eating pretty clean (roasted cauliflower and turkey burgers became my best friends), and the days went by faster and my body started to improve. I was exercising, eating well, and starting to feel more and more confident as time passed. But I was still coming down with a series of fun little headaches that were my body's way of saying You miss sugar, remember? And I hated the fact that I was only 10 days into a month of work that was going to be followed by a lifetime of more work. This is normally the time I would quit, but I had made a commitment to Alpert and to myself, and I promised I would do my best.
There's that saying, 'Eat to live don't live to eat,' and I think that's total BS, and you can quote me on that. Because yes, it's great if we weren't—but the truth is food is love, food is medicine, food is nourishment, food is comfort. We're always going to be eating, you know?
At the end of week two, my best had paid off. I had lost more weight, seen my face start to thin out, and notice my body no longer bloat. I was wearing more of the clothes in my closet outside of baggy winter sweaters and taking more time to do my hair or put on some makeup in the morning. In short, I began to care.
Week three, though, became a battle I didn't see coming. I had made progress! I was feeling good! Why not cut myself a little slack? I had a setback, which made me feel not just physically gross but incredibly guilty.
Needless to say, my meetings with Alpert after my fourth and final week of this lifestyle change (my final week guided by an expert, anyway) were not the best. But instead of getting bogged down by the calories consumed or the grams of fat encountered, Alpert turned the conversation to the why. Why was I sabotaging myself? Why, after all this time, did I feel the need to go back to the food that got me here in the first place?
"It's so easy to keep going down a path," Alpert would later tell me in our session. "I feel bad, therefore I want bad food. You think it'll make you feel better, but it makes you feel worse. Once you start going in the right direction, you want to keep going. It's really quite cyclic."
Thankfully (and surprisingly), as a result, my setback only made me want to get back to work and turn my mistake into a lesson learned. And this time, instead of keeping me from the food I so badly wanted, Alpert gave me what I never expected: A pass to indulge. Not a pass to order three pizzas or a dozen Georgetown cupcakes. But an intentional pass to select something I'd been craving, something of quality. She told me to completely enjoy it, smile through it, and not feel a bit of guilt afterward. The key, however, was to not turn that one indulgence into a slew of them. This was a test. And instead of feeling excited to have the permission to go ahead and eat something unhealthy, I was terrified of failing.
On test day I was both nervous and excited. I had chosen my indulgence—a vanilla bean donut from Donut Plant—and could not wait to get my taste buds on it. I know. Seems like I didn't reach high enough. But I promise you, these are the best donuts you will ever have in your life. So off to Brooklyn I went, on the coldest day of the year, to find my treat. I ordered, I indulged, and I rejected any inkling of guilt. Even better though, I passed the test. And despite having a pretty serious headache by the end of the night (yep, damned if you're on sugar, damned if you're off it), I was feeling great.
OFFICIALLY SANCTIONED CHEAT DAY:
Successful indulgence day!
There's no Monday, it's now.
My final meeting with Alpert was here and, despite not being as rigid with my eating choices as I was in my prime (RIP Week 2), I didn't feel frustrated or disappointed with myself. This wasn't me cutting myself slack or letting things slide. I'd just finally given up on the idea of all of nothing. In the past, the choice was binary: Either I worked out six days a week and ate well 100 percent of the time or I was glued to the couch and ordering takeout. Now I knew I'd have to live in some middle ground—and stay there.
I was so used to being a be-all-end-all eater and exerciser that I almost didn't know what to do with this new-found understanding. And in the end, the scale showed I had gained weight in that final week rather than lost. But I was in a better place with food and healthy eating habits than I'd ever been. I stopped feeling anxious at the thought of having to make better food choices. I stopped feeling deprived of what I "really" wanted. And I stopped putting so much pressure on myself to make perfect decisions every day.
Me, post-decision to eat better, live better, be better, etc. (I made no promises about giving up selfies)
The truth is, I'm going to get a cookie after work sometimes. I'm going to eat ice cream, and I'm going to order pizza. But the difference is, now it's a meal, it's not my entire diet. It's something to enjoy outside of needing it or else. It's no longer stemming from an addiction to food, but from an appreciation for it.
ALPERT’S BEST ADVICE
At the end of my 30 days with Alpert, my guru left her grateful disciple with some sage advice that I am happy to share with you today:
On the endless excuses and passes we tend to give ourselves:
"We're all really busy. We all run a marathon every day. We have children, family, jobs, responsibilities, roommates. And you get it all done. If I can get past people's excuses, then there's nothing we can't accomplish."
On the one word she'd like to take out of her clients' vocabularies:
"I think it may be willpower. Because it's not really about willpower. It's just about setting yourself up for success. So you don't need willpower. If you have a delicious yummy dinner and let yourself have a piece of dark chocolate, the refrigerator isn't going to be calling you. You didn't need willpower over that popcorn, right? Because you were satisfied with how you ate."
On how she measures both her clients' and her own success:
"What I like seeing is consistency. That's really important to see. You can almost see how the weeks progress and it's easier when I start reading through their food diaries. Or even just how they enter my door. There are different levels of excitement and nervousness. Eventually after a couple weeks they're like, 'I got this.' And that' when I know I'm doing my job really well."
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.