Reflections & New Directions

Dear Veg Worlders-

It’s been quite a while since I’ve visited my blog. Since my last post on May 3, so much has happened. In the past 8 weeks, I “said yes” to my wedding dress, landed an apartment in Minneapolis, worked my last days as a Drexel employee, studied for my “final” finals, GRADUATED!, defended my masters thesis, moved out of my Philadelphia apartment, and finalized countless details for my own wedding. And on Friday, I will travel to Chicago for the first leg of my move to the Midwest.

That’s a LOT of stuff, right? To say this time in my life was overwhelming would be an understatement. But now that the cloud of anxiety and stress has dissipated, I am taking time to reflect on the most important lesson I learned over the past 2 years. Surprisingly, this was not micronutrient metabolism, the nutrition care process, the DASH diet, or the best way to calculate tube feeding requirements.

Instead, what I truly and deeply learned is “simple”:

It is very important to take care of yourself.

Now, I did not intend to lose sight of my personal health. Of course, no one wants to do that. Instead, we get so caught up in our goals, our daily tasks, and the incredible standards we set for ourselves, that our emotional and physical health falls by the wayside. As we push ourselves to the succeed, work days get longer, stress builds, and time for exercise and healthy eating becomes the lowest priority. All of us can relate to this in some way, shape, or form.

And unfortunately, as this cycle persists, most of us reach a breaking point. For me, it came in the middle of May, in the form of crippling anxiety, much different than the usual stress that kept me going every day. In retrospect, it’s really no surprise I reached this point. I was working two jobs, carrying a full-time course load, and planning a wedding and a move across the country- all while deep in the trenches of the competitive dietetic internship match process. I was getting limited exercise, and was chronically under-fueled on my low-fat, high-carb vegetarian diet. The makings of a bad ending!

So when my anxiety hit its peak, I knew it was time for some changes. Instead of pushing myself to carry on, I wanted to address the root causes of my distress. In true dietitian fashion, I was aware that many of these causes were related to diet, sleep, and exercise. And as a future wellness professional, I had exactly the toolbox I needed.

First, I did my homework. I researched the relationships between nutrition and anxiety, and read countless evidence-based articles and books. I slowly made changes to include the best foods for mental health in my diet, while I cut back on some problematic foods. This meant way more fruits and vegetables, fatty fish, and high quality meats, and way less grains, processed foods, sugar, and caffeine. Next, I saw a functional doctor for SpectraCell micronutrient testing, which revealed a number of deficiencies and possible issues with my gut. From there, I was able to formulate an appropriate supplement regimen that will get me back on track.

This process is evolving, and I continue to experiment with dietary changes, as well as methods to increase physical activity and improve sleep, all while expanding the knowledge I gained in graduate school. In fact, I have discovered a new passion in the field of dietetics- nutrition for optimal mental health. I am confident that these changes will prepare me for the next chapter of my life, and enable me to manage my stress in a much better way. And I hope that one day, I can guide others through similar issues.

I did not write this post to suggest that I have more stress than any one else (we all have it!), that problems simply go away with a few dietary changes, or that these changes are always easy and possible. Instead, I am sharing all of this as a reminder that our health truly is our greatest wealth. When we have many responsibilities and are driven to succeed, it is difficult to break the cycle and prioritize our wellness. But it is possible. And the benefits are long-lasting.

As for the blog? I intend to keep it up! While I no longer identify as a vegetarian, I am still a veggie enthusiast, after all! I plan to continue a predominantly plant-based diet. Stay tuned for more recipes, that might just pair perfectly with a side of meat or fish ;-).

Thanks for reading!

– Lizzie