You never really realise how much your upbringing can affect your life; the choices you make, your patterns of thinking, and the way you evolve as an individuals, until you take a step back and trace the root causes of certain decisions. Our childhood plays such a vital role in our relationship with food and fitness, but whether or not you’re happy with what foods you consume, or how your body looks… your upbringing does not define the rest of your life!
I’ve been lucky enough to have been exposed to both nurturing foods, along with a constant interaction to exercise throughout my life. Growing up in Cyprus meant that my family bought fruit and vegetables that were fresh, organic, in season, and cheap due to the lack of import costs! However, for those of you who haven’t had a positive relationship with food so far, it’s never too late to make the change that you’re aspiring towards and live a life you love. Most of us have struggled with our body image, or food in the past, especially due to increased social media pressures that we’re exposed to. I know I developed emotional eating habits during my teenage years (will elaborate on that below), but it’s all about embracing a journey of self validation and encouragement for personal improvement.
I’m not just on here to blabber on about how I love my porridge and my walks to the gym, but I’m also here to help you love your food and to create a positive relationship with satiating plant based meals, without feeling guilty or lethargic after consuming them. Also, exercising CAN be fun, so don’t stick to cardio, or to those endless ab exercises that your aunt used to follow from her Pilates VCR. (No offence to your aunt, or to her pilates tape- it’s all for the sake of light hearted humour 😉 )
My love for food was inspired as I watched my mum stir lentil stews, or whip up gooey chocolate cakes throughout my childhood, and was later accelerated when I transitioned to a vegan lifestyle. I was so intrigued by experimenting with different ingredients to form my own recipes, whilst discovering a whole new world of flavours and food combinations. I want to therefore use this blog as an opportunity to share recipe creations that are simple, delicious, filling, and healthy!
Along with my love for food that was fostered from a young age, I have always been involved in fitness as I was a competitive swimmer from as young as eight years old, up until the age of seventeen. In retrospect, I always took the benefits of exercise for granted, as swimming was so ingrained into my routine. For the purposes of providing a quick summary, I’d have 2 hour swimming training sessions for six times a week, along with 1 hour swimming training sessions for three times a week before school, accompanied by 3 gym sessions on three weekday afternoons. To say the least, it was intense.
When I’d rock up to school with wet hair every other day and have to call off trips to the cinema as a fourteen year old because swimming training interfered with my social life, I reached a point where I felt that I wasn’t ‘living’ in accordance to what everyone else’s perception of fun was. So I walked out the pool after training one day, went home, ate dinner, followed my routine as normal… but this time it was different.
I didn’t leave the dining table.
I didn’t go upstairs to finish off that essay that I’d been working on in between practices.
I didn’t leave the dining table.
I poured my heart out to my utterly confused parents who had no idea that my inner conflicts existed.
I remember being physically unable to go close to a swimming pool, or a gym for the few months that followed.
I was so put off by how pressured and stressed that environment had made me feel in the past.
I ended up dropping out of exercising entirely.
Obviously, my situation was quite extreme, however after spending a couple years on the couch, eating away my boredom and emotions, I’d realised that neither my body, nor mind would continue functioning the same as they did when I was exercising. Having a fitness programme didn’t only help stimulate positive endorphins, but it gave me a schedule that enabled my productivity and discipline levels. I learnt things the hard way, but four years later, after reigniting my love for fitness, I can comfortably say that you can chose to be defined by ‘low points’ in life, or you can use them and grow as a person.
Getting back into exercise was one of the hardest things I had to overcome, as I knew how high my levels of stamina and strength were in the past and that I was nowhere close to that after stopping for so long. To be completely honest, I was scared of disappointing myself and didn’t want to confront the situation. Even though I’ve gone back into both swimming and gymming, i’m still not at where I used to be at the peak of my fitness- around the age of 16, where I had a six pack and at least a couple chicken breasts per day… for dinner- oh how times have changed ;)!
Most teenage girls struggle with weight once they hit puberty, but my high intense training routine prevented any of that to ever haunt me, so when I stopped swimming I didn’t know how to deal with my apparent weight gain, or the comments I’d receive associate to it. So i restricted. Seventeen year old Natasa was not happy, despite how she could have been perceived. I mean, I had a boyfriend, I was still slim, I was smart, loved my friends, what could have ever been the problem? Happiness.
Happiness was the problem.
Happiness is so underrated in society as people expect it to COME ALONG with other factors, whereas other factors should be a CONSEQUENCE of initially being happy with who we are, accepting ourselves, and respecting the efforts and accomplishments we’ve poured into our life so far.
I was always a relatively slim child, I remember sitting at the paediatric’s clinic when I was younger, as he measured my height and weight, echoing how I always measure in as underweight. I’ve always been a tall person- I’m currently 1.76m, but being constantly shamed for my weight from such a young age (regardless of whether it was for being over or under weight), was surely detrimental to a young child’s mentality. As a result, my mum was asked to give me a special whey porridge that was designed for toddlers in order to aid weight gain.
So I effectively went from being told I was underweight, to being told my extra weight was ‘starting to show on my hips.’ As a blooming teenager in a harsh society, any words that targeted my self esteem were taken to heart, especially when coming from a significant other or a family member- which were both the case. Such comments did not help the emotional eating that accompanied my weight gain, due to my unavoidable sinking self esteem, the stress of juggling a social life, my grades, extra curricular theatrical drama projects, and a damaging long term relationship. For the first time in my life, I wanted to lose weight and didn’t’ know how to.
Restricting calories wasn’t working. Restricting calories wasn’t giving me the energy I needed to reflect my vibrant personality. Restricting calories didn’t make me feel full.
Many people will understandably point out my privilege whenever I mention that the first time I ever struggled with my weight was when I was 17, but I had no idea what to do. For the next two years my body had fluctuated like never before and I even started forming stretch marks on my thighs, which have now mostly dissipated, but it is a process. Avoiding restrictive eating and still feeling full and energised comes through the process of eliminating meat, dairy, and eggs. Not a restricting process, but an enabling process of loving your body and refusing to add dead animals and their byproducts into it. Going vegan gave me the energy I needed to want to exercise again, it filled my body with positive endorphins and stimulated a desire to MOVE!
After spending the first year of University avoiding both the gym and swimming, I have now reignited my love for weight training, cycling, and above all… swimming. Joining the University’s swimming team was such a psychological battle of being terrified that I’d have some sort of panic attack when diving into the pool for the first time. I may have seemed confident when attending the taster session during fresher’s, but all I could think of was that I shouldn’t allow my past fears to suppress my love swimming. Even when I took a break from exercising, every time I had excess energy, anger, or disappointment the only way that I knew of releasing such emotions was through swimming, but not being able to do so felt so suffocating!
I can now go weeks without any intense exercise and still wake up feeling light and energetic because I don’t have any excess animal hormones and toxins weighing me down. Vegan food is much more easily digested and appreciated by our bodies, which is why I’m so grateful to have found a sustainable way of living and eating.
My improved relationship with both food and fitness is all due to my ethical transition to a vegan lifestyle, as my initial motivating factor in removing animal products from my diet was the desire to achieve justice amongst all beings. As someone who believes in social equality, it felt hypocritical to not advocate all animal equality. We don’t chose what families, or socioeconomic conditions we’re born in, so our background shouldn’t define our life of make us subject to any discrimination or mistreatment.
I’m a firm believer that those principles should therefore be applied to all sentient beings in the world. In the same way that we don’t chose what human life we’re born into, other animals don’t chose whether they’re born into the wild, or into a factory farming company that has their death predetermined before they’re even born. So regardless of how much I love the way I feel when I consume a plant based diet, or regardless of how much you enjoy your hamburger/steak/bacon- just remember that your heart SHOULD be bigger than your appetite.
Lastly, reducing, or even better- eliminating our contribution to the consumption of all animal products will greatly reduce the detrimental environmental effects that our world is facing in the 21st Century. I will definitely be going into more detail about this in an upcoming post, however just to put things into perspective- animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the combined exhaust of all transportation (which is responsible for 13%). Livestock and their byproducts account for over 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide and according to the current accelerating rate of consumerism, these emissions are estimated to increase by 80% by 2050. For the sake of surviving and not allowing selfishness and greed to bring an end to our existence, be sustainable, be compassionate, and start caring about the consequences of your actions.
This blog will undoubtadbly combine positive, aspiring, and motivational posts about food and wellbeing. However, it will not fall short of brutal truths, the reality of the animal farming industry and how animal suffering effects our human footprint.