My story isn’t unique, but it’s one worth sharing. It is the reason I am who I am, where I am, today. It is what led me to nutrition as a career choice. It is why I live an active life. It is why I am an empath and love helping others, teaching others, and sharing ideas in the hope that my words might make someone’s day, or even someone’s life a bit brighter. This is the long version (although it could be so much longer).

Growing up, I was very overweight. Most people I tell this to now don’t believe me. I have pictures to prove it (a few, anyway – the ones I didn’t destroy out of self-loathing). My earliest memories of my childhood involve me feeling heavy. I remember feeling ashamed about the fact that I was wearing larger clothes than my mom by 5th grade. Shopping for clothes was miserable because I didn’t fit into the cute clothes all my classmates were wearing. There weren’t many cute clothes in the plus-size section. At home, I snuck foods out of the kitchen when no one was looking and hid in the bathroom or closet while I ate it, flushing the wrappers down the toilet so there would be no evidence. I felt like I shouldn’t be eating the food the rest of my family was allowed to eat.

In middle school, I remember a classmate calling me “big eyes”, then refusing to wear my glasses ever again. I remember the boy I liked liking my best friend (the skinny, beautiful one), and not me. I remember feeling mortified every single time I had to change into my P.E. clothes in the locker room in front of other girls. I didn’t want anyone to see my body. I remember pulling my shirt away from my tummy as I ran into the wind, hoping to hide my shape. I remember hating having to run the mile because my shorts would ride up as my thighs rubbed together. I was slow. It was uncomfortable. I always finished near last. From the Cabbage Soup Diet, to Sugar Busters, to Weight Watchers, I tried it all…before I even entered high school.

When I started high school, I wore baggy jeans and sweatshirts to hide my rolls, while wishing I could wear the clothes all the other girls wore. I remember family members making piggy noises at me as I ate. I remember warming the bench on the freshman volleyball team, and not making the JV team my sophomore year because I was too slow, uncoordinated, and couldn’t jump very high.

Like I said, I’m sure I wasn’t the only overweight, depressed pre-teen/teen who felt like she didn’t have any real friends, hated her body, and wanted to hide from the entire world. So many young people who start out the way I did continue down that path for life, feeling unhappy and uncomfortable in their own skin; in a constant battle with food and their body. I was one of the lucky ones. I had a champion. She changed my course and my life forever. My champion was my grandma – we called her Gummy.

When I started high school, Gummy moved to be closer to my family. We started to spend a lot more time together – and I mean A LOT! I would help her grocery shop, clean and organize her house, spend the night, even take friends with me to hang out with her. She was THE coolest grandma in the history of grandmas. Everyone loved her. She was hilarious, never acted her age, was the most generous person I’ve ever known (perhaps to a fault), and said every nice thought that ever crossed her mind, even to total strangers (this made for very long trips to the grocery store). She spent her life making other people feel taken care of, like they were the greatest thing since sliced bread. After she moved closer to my family and saw how I was down on myself all the time, how I was dressing, how I was hiding myself from the world, she knew it was time for her to get to work.

Gummy used every skill she had to boost my confidence, make me feel good, and help me learn how to love myself. There was not a glimmer of judgement in her. She didn’t restrict certain foods around me because I “shouldn’t” have them, or try to convince me to get more exercise and eat less. She made me feel beautiful just as I was. From buying me flattering, cute clothes I felt great in at a plus size, to convincing me to walk with my chin up and a grin on my face like I had the best kept secret in the world, Gummy’s tricks were working their magic. Because I wasn’t looking at the ground, seeming sad all the time, people at school started talking to me more. I started feeling more outgoing and friendly just because I was forcing a smile. Fake it ‘till ya make it is still one of my mantras. When I started to see what a little bit of confidence felt like, I wanted more. This is when I decided, for the first time in my life, that I wanted to lose some weight for myself – not for anyone else. I wanted to try exercise that I liked – not exercise others were coercing me to do to lose weight.

I started by playing little games with myself around snacking – could I eat one less snack after school? Could I not go back for seconds at dinner? The thought of joining a gym or playing sports mortified me, so I bought Tae Bo VHS tapes and Billy Blanks and I sweated it out after school, before I started my babysitting job. After some time and consistency, these new habits were really starting to show. People at school were noticing my weight loss. I was able to buy and wear those cute, fitted clothes the other girls wore. I felt confident.

By my senior year in high school, I had enough confidence to join a gym. Not long after, I met and started dating a personal trainer there. I had a boyfriend! He was a personal trainer! Someone who was super-fit and handsome liked me enough to call me their girlfriend!! I felt validation. I felt vindication. With the help of my boyfriend, I learned a bit more about how to work out. He also gave me a diet to follow. You can probably see where this is going…I went from one extreme to the other. I started obsessing over calories, time at the gym, my weight. My relationship with this guy, and my food, started to define me.

I moved away to college and continued to count every calorie and obsess over my weight. Despite fighting constantly and hiding unflattering aspects of my relationship with my boyfriend from my friends and family, I made sacrifices no college student should have to make to prevent a relationship from ending. Without a boyfriend, who would I be? No one else had ever liked me. Would anyone else ever like me? I drove home most weekends to see my boyfriend. I didn’t socialize because it made my boyfriend jealous. That five year relationship went on FAR too long (and ended just 6 months before our planned wedding), because the idea of having a boyfriend offered more value to me than being happy on my own. I didn’t know how happy I could be if I just learned to love myself.

Even though I finally had the courage to end a horrible relationship, it still took me years to fight off the demons that were constantly telling me my worth was dictated by my appearance, a number on the scale, or on the tag of my jeans. If I didn’t look like the girls in the magazines, I wasn’t working hard enough. I worked out every day. I counted my calories every day. I could tell you the caloric value of any food out there. I felt successful because I overcame the overweight girl I was, but I still hadn’t learned to appreciate my body. Instead, she was my enemy. I was constantly fighting to keep that overweight girl from ever coming back. Every time the scale went up or my clothes felt tight, I panicked.

It was around this time I decided to go back to school. I earned Masters in Nutrition and became a Registered Dietitian so I could help others lose the weight and turn their lives around the way I did (physically, at least). What I did NOT learn in school was that there was so much more to living a healthy life than calories and diet and exercise. This pattern continued into my late 20’s when the burden of numbers became too heavy. I knew my thoughts weren’t normal. I was tired of fighting myself.

A friend, and fellow RD, pointed me in the direction of Precision Nutrition and their coaching program. I made the investment and and spent a year as a client in their program, working with a life-changing coach. The information I learned wasn’t new. However, their program, and especially my coach, taught me how to apply nutrition and self-care in my life, in ways that were sustainable. My coach challenged me to see I didn’t have to live every day following strict rules, then beating myself up when I inevitably failed to adhere to them again…and again…and again. She showed me I could love and appreciate my body at a heavier weight, just as well as I could at my supposed “ideal” weight. Most importantly, she helped me embrace and open myself up to the possibility of getting pregnant and willingly letting my body change – to release control and gain all that weight I had struggled for over a decade to keep off. She helped me embrace life. Following my year as a client, I spent the next two years as a mentor for my coach’s group of female clients, then earning my Precision Nutrition certification to use their program with my own clients.

I now have a healthy, happy son, and a healthy, happy relationship with my own body and food…even after pregnancy and birth. It took me about 23 years of struggling, feeling alone, different, and unworthy, slogging through grueling workouts, berating myself and my lack of will, trying to chisel and squish my body into this perfect mold it had to fit into, before I finally learned to learn to cherish my body, my health, and my relationship with food.

I don’t want any other child to have to go through what I did. Becoming a mother helped me understand how vital it is to educate, validate, encourage, and support our children as they begin to discover the role food and nutrition plays in their lives and their bodies. Our children deserve to be comfortable and confident in who they are. By cultivating healthier food habits, self-respect, and body positivity early on, a successful outlook on life will always stay with them.

My parents always made sure I was taken care of and supported. They loved me and wanted the very best for me. They were never overweight themselves. They never had to “diet”. They thought restricting “fattening” foods and encouraging me to diet and exercise was the best course of action. I can’t blame them for doing their best. They did they best they could for me with the tools, knowledge, and experience they had. I know they would have done anything to help me avoid the challenges I faced. I can’t help wondering how my path would have been different if my parents had more resources at their fingertips.

This is why I’ve made it my mission to inspire parents to raise confident, healthy children whose individual paths to success stem from the positive environment they are cultivated in.

If your child is struggling, know that they, and you, are not alone. Your child’s health should not be a convoluted road. You and your family deserve reliable resources that facilitate open discussions on how to navigate through each life stage of your child. The best lessons don’t happen when you shield your child from experiencing the inevitable struggles in life. Instead, use all the resources you have to guide them to overcome obstacles, so they can find the confidence within to make their own best choices. I want to be that resource for you. I want to help you be that guide, that champion in your child’s life, like my Gummy was to me, building a confident, thriving, happy, healthy child.

A better future starts now.