Why?

My upline coach and Beachbody mentor Laurel has been after me since I joined the team to really get down to the true reason for why fitness and nutrition are so important to me. She keeps pushing me to step outside of my comfort zone and show who I truly am, so I’m going to do my best.

Not every fitness story involves the loss of weight – Some involve the loss of a loved one.

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It’s March 25th, and this is normally a time of year when I am somber, miserable, weepy, and heartbroken. The reason why is because on March 29, 1991, my world was forever turned upside down when my mom’s mom, my beloved grandma, a woman who sat at the center of my 5 ½ year old universe, died. She contracted pneumonia and fluid filled her lungs. She left behind seven children and one grandchild. She was 57 years old. She was morbidly obese.

Try as I might, I cannot ever let go of the pain I connect to this time of year. We lost her over 20 years ago, but in many ways, it feels as if it was only yesterday. Perhaps that’s because I had to live with the aftermath of her passing. In the wake of her death, my grandfather, her widower, slipped into a depression. My mother, her only daughter, battled her own grief and frustration as she tried to find a way to still be a mom, wife, sister, and daughter to her remaining family members while also losing her best friend. There aren’t many women on my mom’s side of the family, so losing our matriarch was harrowing. I became forever scarred at a young age from her passing. It was a lot for my 5 ½ year old soul to carry.

It still is.

I celebrate her life as much as I can. There are photos of she and my grandfather on their wedding day hanging in my living room, and each September my mother and I commemorate her birthday together. However, I also carry an animosity, not towards her necessarily, but definitely towards her mindset. My grandmother made it her life to take care of others. She was an excellent mother to all eight of her kids. I don’t know how she did it, because I have my hands full with just my own daughter. She was a God-fearing woman who sang and clapped and lifted her hands in praise at church each Sunday while teaching lessons of virtue as written straight from the Bible. She was loving and caring. I still long for her soft, warm hugs on days when life overwhelms me. But she never thought to turn inward and do a few favors for herself.

I used to think, “If only she had gotten a gastric bypass…” or “If only we could’ve gotten her a nutritionist.” “If only she could have survived, we could have made things better after she came home from the hospital,” and “If only we could have made things different.” Now that I am a fitness coach, I think, “If only she could see me now…”

The truth is, I do this because I know what kind of damage poor health and obesity can cause. These are avoidable conditions, and I’ve watched them both rip my family apart. I love my grandmother very much (So much. SO much.) but I also think it’s unfair that she left us all to mourn her when we were most vulnerable. It’s selfish of me to say that, but in many ways, it was selfish of her to not take better care of herself for the sake of her family. Dying at the age of 57 is not a normal occurrence. It is not natural. That only happens when you have a serious health condition that debilitates you. A normal lifespan is much longer than 57 years…

So, as I settle into my official new title as coach, I am channeling my passion to see people turn off the path of poor choices for their health and jump onto the path of good nutrition and exercise. I do not want to build an army of terminators. I’m not looking to make anyone into a bikini model or iron man. However, if choking down some healthy greens and sweating it out three times a week keeps a middle aged man alive long enough to see his grandkids graduate from high school, then I’m ecstatic to have done my job. I will always love and miss my grandmother – to the point that it hurts me – but I am working to turn her painful death into a call to action for me and everyone else I meet.

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Thirty days ago, I walked into my doctor’s office desperate for answers as to why I couldn’t seem to shake the massive fatigue and dizzy spells I had unexpectedly fallen victim to. At this point, three weeks into my turbulent journey, I had confirmed that I was not pregnant, I’d had a urinalysis done at the urgent care that was normal, and I wasn’t suffering any allergic reactions that I knew of. I was eating food, but it was mostly the meals I could stagger in to pick up or food my family had prepared for me out of the goodness of their hearts. My doctor ordered lab work for me, and also made some suggestions for lifestyle changes that might improve my energy levels. While her recommendations had to do with increasing water intake and cardio exercise, I saw this as a turning point in my adulthood to make a change I had been contemplating for approximately two years. “I think I’m going to become a vegetarian,” I told her. She replied that she was a vegetarian, and that if I was truly interested in making the change I should take an additional B12 vitamin to supplement. I went straight from her office to the health food store to make some purchases, and when I got home, I purged our refrigerator of meat products, save for the frozen food items, which I told my husband to make disappear in the next few days.

When I announced my decision to change, most people around me were very supportive and encouraging. Of course, there was also the plethora of questions and doubtful comments, and I’d like to try to address those concerns and curiosity now:

1. This is completely and utterly about me, and nobody else.

Most people’s response whenever anyone shares any dietary choices or restrictions they’re following is usually along the lines of whether or not they’d be able to commit to the same regimen. I’ve done it too. “You’re a vegan? I’m not sure I could ever give up cheese.” I see the ignorance in a response like that now, because nobody asked me if I was or could be a vegan. Similarly, I didn’t change my diet so that the rest of the world could, and my criteria for who I keep company with hasn’t been affected by what I eat. I did this because it was something I wanted to do. No doctor, dietician, animal rights activist, vegan, or vegetarian coerced me into this decision – as I stated, I’ve wanted to do this for at least two years, but in 2013 to late 2014 I was pregnant then breastfeeding, and I didn’t think making a change during that time was the best move for me.

2. I’ve made other changes, too.

In addition to dropping chicken, beef, turkey, and pork from my diet, I’ve also cut my sugar consumption and substituted agave nectar as a sweetener for things like tea and oatmeal, and I’ve eliminated most processed snack foods in favor of high protein and high fiber snacks like legumes, fruits, and vegetables. I still eat tortilla chips in soups and while dipping guacamole.

3. This lifestyle is cheaper.

My grocery bills averaged around $250-$350 total a month depending on the time of year, if I was hosting any dinners, etc. The average cost for a trip to Sam’s Club or Costco was easily $100-$150 due to buying meats like chicken, steak, and turkey burgers. Grocery store trips were usually around $120-$200 picking up all things I don’t buy from wholesale stores like those and alcohol. I didn’t save my Sam’s Club receipts from last month after making the change, but as evidenced from screenshots of my bank statements, I only spent $47.74 on my first trip, and $61.22 on my second one. I did manage to save one of my Publix receipts…

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Screen grab from my statement at Sun State Credit Union. This shows evidence of purchases from both Publix and Sam’s Club. Those trips will last us about 2 weeks for groceries.

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One of my Publix receipts. You can see some of the items I bought, which includes whole milk for my daughter and other groceries like cream cheese and bagels for my husband. The total is less than $100.

I buy specialty foods like Neat Meat substitute, and Woodstock brand extra firm tofu from a place called Earth Origins. Both items are priced at $3.97 and $4.29 per package respectively, and one package of each yields at least three meals. This is cheaper than buying packs of cut chicken or pork from the grocery store, which average around $9-$12 per pack, and only yield one to two meals.

The idea that eating healthy is too expensive seems baseless to me. I think it’s the convenience of opening a bag of potato chips vs. having to steam broccoli crowns that turns people off.

4. My digestive system is on FLEEK!

Let’s not beat around the bush. Shitting on a regular basis is an important part of everyone’s health. Ask anyone who hasn’t been able to go for a few days and they will tell you that all they want is to be able to drop a deuce. The increased fiber I take in from this plant-based diet has regulated my system, making me a happy camper.

All in all, I’m very proud of myself for sticking with this change through the 30-day mark. It takes 30 days of repeated action for something to become a habit, and this habit is one that I’m happy to embrace. I hesitate to label myself as a vegetarian, as I do still eat certain fish like salmon and ahi. The term “pescatarian” doesn’t roll off my tongue as easily, and implies that I eat fish on a regular basis, which I don’t. I prefer to just say that my diet is plant-based – it’s largely vegetarian but I will eat fish. With that being said, I leave you with a glimpse of what meals without chicken, pork, turkey, beef, and processed foods look like:

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Eggs scrambled with bell pepper, black beans, and onion. Served with homemade hash browns and topped in salsa verde, all wrapped up in a flour tortilla.

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Quinoa and steel cut oats simmered in milk with strawberries and agave nectar. This is easily my new favorite breakfast food.

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Mixed greens with tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, and farro.

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Of course, I still blend up green smoothies.

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Peanut and tofu str fry in a mixed soy and oyster sauce.

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Ahi tuna steak, asparagus, and farro.

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Mixed vegetable stir fry.

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Cobb salad with carrots, beets, tomato, onion, corn, avocado, and hard boiled egg.

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Pan-seared salmon and sautéed kale greens over barley.

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Plain greek yogurt with strawberries, raspberries, and agave nectar.

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Neat tacos with organic tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and avocado made with Neat meat substitute.

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Spaghetti in “neat” sauce, made with quinoa noodles and Neat meat substitute.

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A few of the new staples I use in my kitchen these days.