August 10, 2011
My family emigrated from the former Soviet Union when I was just a young girl. As my parents struggled to make a living in a new country, my father often brought leftover pizza home from his delivery job.
On weekends I remember exploring endless varieties of packaged foods at the supermarket. I was very intrigued, as grocery superstores did not exist in our small Russian town. Like many, we were drawn in by the convenience of cheap T.V. dinners.
It wasn’t long before I started to develop addictive tendencies toward processed foods. And sure enough, by my teens I found myself frequently binge eating and yo yo dieting.
In my mid-twenties I began transitioning to a vegetarian diet, and even though I knew better, I ended up turning into a junk-food vegetarian. I justified my eating habits thinking, "surely I'm healthier than the average person if I cut out meat, right?"
But I started gaining weight and eventually found myself in and out of depression. I was overweight, in a relationship I wasn't happy in, climbing the corporate ladder – I felt trapped.
I had reached a low in my life, where even my closest friends found my negativity draining. So I continued to mask my pain with the comfort of food, while deeply resenting my destructive eating behavior.
It felt as though food was at the center of everything that was wrong in my life. If only I could release this addiction, I’d no longer feel tempted and manipulated by food. I would slim down and feel comfortable in my own skin. I would have the confidence to pursue the life I had always envisioned. I blamed my compulsive behavior with food for not having achieved any of these things.
The final straw was when I looked up my Body Mass Index (BMI) and realized that at 5’2” and 170 pound, I was in the first stages of obesity. I immediately signed up with the L.A. Weight Loss program but I strongly resisted their eating plan, which heavily focused on processed energy bars. I was faced with the realization that I desperately needed a new start with a focus on health, not just another weight-loss gimmick.
Food represented something destructive in my life, and I needed to change that relationship. I had to associate food with something positive and healing. More importantly, I knew that if I didn’t change the direction of my life, I would end up settling for a life I didn’t want. I desperately needed to feel purpose and meaning again.
I sat down and reevaluated every aspect of my life. Who was I living for, anyway? Was I trying to please my family, live up to the expectations of my peers, or fit some ideal that our culture values? As far as I could tell, the ideals I was trying to live up to were only suffocating me. My life was headed down the wrong path fast.
I had to create my own set of values to live by. I needed a strong, positive belief system that would carry me through on a path to fulfillment. So I defined how I wanted my ideal diet and lifestyle to look like, and what real health meant to me. It was then that I realized I wanted to pursue healthy living.
I felt liberated knowing I could finally start living my life on my own terms, for my happiness. As soon as I made that decision, Life immediately embraced me with guidance.
I was already familiar with raw foods when I attended a lecture that mentioned a book by Victoria Boutenko, author of Green for Life. I picked up the book as it was being passed around. To my surprise, I instantly recognized Victoria’s picture on the back cover.
Victoria Boutenko, who founded the green smoothie revolution, is also a first generation Russian immigrant. Years ago when Victoria’s family lived in Colorado she was acquainted with my mother. She gave a lecture on raw foods for a few of my mom’s friends at our home. I was only in my early teens but I remember her lecture quite well. This was long before “raw foods” was a commonly used term.
What’s interesting is that 14 years later Life would bring me back to Victoria’s message – coincidence? I think not! Shortly after reading her book, I found out about the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute specializing in raw vegan cuisine. By that point, I could no longer ignore the obvious. I had to follow the guidance.
So I did the unthinkable – I walked away from my life. I called off the relationship, quit my 9-year career, cashed out my 401k, packed up everything into storage, and took off to pursue my passion for healthy living.
I completed the Gourmet Raw Food Chef & Instructor certification at the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute, and since my return from completing the program I have maintained a primarily high-raw diet.
Eating a clean, natural diet has connected me back to my body. Food has taken on a whole new meaning for me. But I recognize that it’s an ongoing journey. I try to stay flexible as I continue to evolve and fine tune my diet and lifestyle. I have learned to let go, and not get down at times when I’m not at my best behavior. I give myself love and understanding every step of the way.
Issues around eating, whether expressed through binging or starving, are a form of punishment and self-sabotage. As I continue to love and accept myself, I find I have far less self-destructive tendencies. Because after all, I have a choice, the choice to live vibrantly healthy!