This is where it gets a little personal.
But I think it’s important to know why I do what I do, why I love what I love,
and how these things motivate me.
I wasn’t always the slender reed blowing in the breeze that you’ve seen in the pictures or know personally. I wasn’t always the vegetarian. When I was born on September 18th, 1990, I was born into an era of plastic lunchboxes featuring superheroes and Barbie dolls, Furbies, Beanie Babies, Pokemon, and the infamous colored iMac. I had one, by the way, the grape one. I used to spend hours playing Nanosaur, messing around in the rudimentary word processor, and attempting to access the baby internet that did scat whenever it dialed up.
The 90’s were not a bad time for me when I look back. My parents moved from a small house to a much larger one in the nearby industrial park to help with my father’s truck driving. My mom was a Respiratory Therapist, so she had more off days than my dad. Still, most of my companionship went to the German Shepherd my dad had gotten right after I was born. Her name was Jessica, or Jessie for short, and she was a best friend. Obviously, an industrial park encircled by farm and swampland wasn’t exactly prime friend-making location.
Children need to be around other kids there age, though, and I did get that a couple days a week. Whenever my mother worked or it was the weekend, I was dropped off at the babysitter’s house. Afterwards, my grandmother picked me up, took me with her to a night job at a local tavern, then would deliver me to the house for bed. The schedule changed somewhat as I got older and school began, but the elements were still the same. I think this is where the bad eating habits started, though.
Grandmother thought it was cute to give her granddaughter a slew of bacon slathered in grease followed by a “candy.” This “candy” was usually a tropical-flavored TUMS. It was also okay to use Burger King chicken nuggets and french fries as dinner 4 out of the 7 days of a week. The babysitter treated me with ice cream, cakes, cookies, and multitude of other sugary goodies. As for my parents, I don’t think they advocated my finicky palate, but they did nothing to try and introduce to healthy eating. My mom tried to get me decent nutrition, yet her idea of serving sizes was terribly distorted. A dollop of rice was usually three gigantic spoonfuls. Chicken would be 6 or 7 ounces. Instead of a personal microwaveable pizza for me, it was the big ones worth 3 servings. I didn’t know, so I’d eat it all in one sitting. Then, because I was addicted to sugar and salt, I’d be rummaging through the pantry 30 minutes later for the Keebler cookies and Dunkaroos.
Fruits and vegetables were two words excluded from my vocabulary.
The Ripples of Change:
Y2K came and passed. I entered middle school as a tubby, socially awkward girl with no clear idea of what being “female” even meant. Due to my woodland backyard, canine sidekick, and lack of interaction with children my own age on the weekends (yeah, the babysitter usually had babies, not adolescents), I was quite the oddball. My “friends” were the boys that liked pretending they had superpowers or could do martial arts like Super Saiyans from Dragon Ball Z. Yet, I was considered a guy to them. I didn’t behave like the girls I knew. I didn’t like painting my nails, didn’t like playing house, and I certainly didn’t like the color pink. Part of me wanted to be pretty like them, but I thought it was impossible.
I was picked on a lot for my weight in middle school. I was also naive enough to be okay with it, because I wanted to know friendship that badly. When the school day ended, I’d drown my sorrows in sugar cookies and video games or a huge book. The weight gain increased. I remember freaking out over my first band of stretch marks on my thighs and never wanting to wear a skirt again. A high-fat, high-sugar diet tore my sensitive GI tract into the molten roadway of Bowser’s Castle from Mario Cart 64. Soon it was too much to bear. My mom took me to the doctor, who in turned ordered blood work for me. This was nothing new. I was a human pincushion since the toddler years. Asthma, allergies, and now ridiculously elevated levels of HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and glucose had me visiting more specialists than I can remember.
By 2004, entering high school as a Freshman, I was diagnosed as a pre-diabetic. I wore a Misses size 8 for jeans. I couldn’t wear tank tops since my arms were huge. In the summer, I sweated in baggy pants rather than wear shorts. If I did, the guys would start their commentaries about “jiggly thighs” and “huge butts.” I tried to lose weight by skipping my packed lunch. I didn’t know this would have an adverse effect on me. Nor did I know that just dancing around my room for thirty minutes couldn’t combat the hours spent lounging on the couch.
My family tried to aid me in my attempts to be healthy… the wrong way. Since I was little and stuck on a chicken finger and buttered rice diet, my father had a knack for the shame-game. At dinner, he’d look at my plate and say, “With all of those starches you eat, you’ll be 200 lbs in high school.” My mom wanted to be helpful, I knew, but she too had no clue what was right. I was given magazines with beautiful models to inspire me, had appetite-suppressants and Slim Fast handed to me, and was told constantly that I wasn’t that fat, just stocky. I still remember the one day I was saying how I’d like to lose my massive thighs and she suggested liposuction.
I was told all the wrong things. Eat less. Count calories. Everything in moderation (even though ‘moderation’ is very liberal). You’re a growing child, you need to mange!
The Crash and Burn:
One day I received a heavenly surprise in the mail. SHAPE magazine had sent me a trial workout DVD. Try it for 9 days then pay or sent it back to us, free of charge. From the first time I popped it into my laptop, I was hooked. It got me moving…in the safety of my own room. To me this was great. I didn’t have to embarrass myself by working out in public. SHAPE introduced me to yoga, pilates, jazzercise, and eventually, resistance training. The DVDs were great for a dumbfounded teenager looking to shed some pounds. Plus, once I got moving, I found it kind of enjoyable.
Next came the biggest challenge of all: my diet. In high school, I wanted to be a vegetarian; but the problem was, one, my mom didn’t want to buy separate food, and two, I didn’t like vegetables. I did cut out soda from my diet, only to replace it with Starbucks’ White Chocolate Mochas. I tried to monitor my calories, though my knowledge of portion control was nonexistent. I’d see “1 cup of cereal” on the box and pour, without measuring, what I now know to be 2-3 heaping cups of cereal. Yikes. Another health folly I made was thinking that Chinese take-out was a good option over McDonald’s. Shrimp Lo Mein with white rice was the go-to. I’d eat the whole container then be hungry again not even 20 minutes later.
By the time I graduated high school, I had somehow managed to keep my weight around 140-150 pounds. I reached my adult height of 5’7″ (67 inches), and I wore a size 11 in junior jeans. My physical activity had increased. I was making time to workout at least 30 minutes, 5-6 days a week. My eating habits didn’t see a change until 2010, when I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in Japan. Detached from my parents and introduced to the other side of the world, I had the ability to make my own meal choices 100% of the time. I also had the chance to make wrong decisions 100% of the time.
Japan. In America there are quite a few misconceptions: that the Japanese eat sushi all day, every day; that Japanese cooking is like Chinese cooking; that there are a lot of vegetarians in Asia. No. From day one, I learned that is a huge, huge no. Raw eggs cracked over bowels of sticky, white rice; French pastries; Yakisoba; Ramen; Gyoza; beer; pasta; mushipan (steamed bread); Pocky… Yeah, the portion sizes were smaller, but I was suddenly eating more bread and fattening fried foods than ever before. My first 3 months in Japan proved to be the highlight of my life. I was happy. Fat and happy.
I returned to America 15 pounds heavier than when I left. The negative comments I was receiving made me get serious. For whatever reason, this need to change my ways really unlocked my passion for dance. I started grooving the nights away. Eventually, readjusting my diet, keeping a food log, and dancing helped me thin out. After the great earthquake of 2011, I went back to Japan. Those who remembered me complimented the weight loss, and I was thrilled to be the apple of so many handsome eyes.
Unfortunately, having been raised in an environment that promoted an unhealthy self-esteem, I sought the approval of “skinny.” There were also financial issues that kept me from buying the more expensive of grocery staples. Soon, I was eating steamed vegetables and tofu almost every night. And the fear of getting fat from eating what I used to eat not only had me shying away from social gatherings, but I was reveling in the hunger. I told myself that it was withdrawal from sugar and fat. It would pass. I’d purge even more with exercise, and the pain eventually subsided.
Dance kept me going. I’d muster up enough energy to attend the free classes at a vocational college in Shibuya then stumble back to my apartment, exhausted. Depression, too, crept up. Eking out a living in insular Japan was harder than I’d thought it be. Stress from life alongside an eating disorder nearly brought me to a grisly end.
My parents convinced me to return to America. So, I did.
Restarting and Rebuilding Myself:
Since then I devoted my life to fitness, health, and dance. I’ve done countless public speeches on eating disorders and the consequences. I’ve gotten educated in nutrition and exercise science. In December 2013, I graduated from a tiny community college with an Associate’s of Science in Exercise Science. I also earned Personal Fitness Trainer and Yoga Instructor certifications from American Fitness Professionals and Associates (AFPA). The local YMCA took me in as a group exercise trainer and fitness attendant in November 2012. In August 2013, the amazing Tilton Fitness of Mays Landing, NJ, hired me to teach yoga. During my free time, I went to a little dance studio called The Arts of the Dance Centre, where my passion for dance ignited and invigorated me. I also help support the spread of PLYOGA, a fusion of Plyometrics and yoga.
I combat the anorexia nervosa during times of stress still, but it is not me. It doesn’t rule me. I have goals. A life of fitness and dance has rescued me from myself, helped me recover, and brought me to an educated understanding of how to better treat my body. The gift of life and happiness is something I want to share to with everyone I meet.
That is why I guide people through yoga practices. That is why I train individuals to become more physically and mentally healthy. That is why I dance for me and for others.
And I hope that you, dear reader, may glean some of this joy as well. Thank you for visiting this page, and may you find whatever it is you are searching for.