I remember my grandma would always try to make sure I had healthy food when I went to her house. I’ll never forget one specific occasion she said, “Oh Kaysha, look at those chubby little fingers!” I can’t remember how old I was, but my ice cream and over-eating habits began to catch up with me. For lunch one day she asked if I wanted a half sandwich. I said, “A half sandwich? What will you do with the other half?” She couldn’t help but laugh.
While playing at a friend’s house, her mom said to me once, “Well at least you can’t tell if you’ve gained 10 lbs at your weight.” At around 10, I didn’t take offense to that, in fact I wasn’t even sure what she meant. In elementary school and junior high I became the girl that nobody wanted on their sports team. I was too shy and held myself back from even trying to do well. I wasn’t fast, or trained like all the athletic kids were.
I loved food, and ate plenty of it, partly out of boredom, and partly rebounding for my struggles in other areas. I remember a time in elementary school when a kid came over to me and poked me in the stomach, and proceeded to giggle like the Pilsbury Doughboy. I snuck extra cookies and snacks to eat in secret, not wanting to be picked on about my eating habits. I devoured books too, and shied away from school activities and spent my time in art club, instead. My shyness kept me out of band, drama, softball, track or any other sports I secretly longed to try.
My mom at one point said, “Kaysha, you need to pick a hobby. Dance classes, or horseback riding lessons.”
I’m sure she knew the answer before she asked the question. I had been “horse girl” all through elementary school. Since 2nd grade I can remember doodling horses in my school books and notes. By 5th grade, I can remember one of my favorite teachers, Mrs. Dyson, especially encouraging my art. She called all of her students her “eagles,” and played Fly Like An Eagle each morning before class started while we did stretches at our desks. I loved her class. I drew her an eagle, which she proudly hung above her desk with the rest of her eagle collection for years to come.
Horses and animals became my hobby, and through them I gained a lot of confidence over the years. For some reason during high school, I saw something that made me decide to cut all fast food out of my life and re-evalutate my eating. Sophomore year we watched, “Super Size Me” in a psychology class and my disgust with the American fast food industry was solidified. In my rebellion against fast food, I had to become creative with my eating habits and thus began my lifelong learning about food.
Between junior and senior year, an exchange student from Germany came to live with us. She pulled me out of my tightly clamped shell and taught me to dance. This is the year I was also finally forced to complete my high school physical fitness requirement and I thought it might be a good idea to join all the football players in the physical training class (less running, or so I thought.) It would be the beginning of great change in my life. I lost weight, added muscle and found it fun to pay attention to what I ate. The painfully shy kid, along with pounds, started to disappear
The summer after graduation I went back to Germany with Dany, it would be my first time out of the country. In Germany I learned even more about different ways to eat and cook food. My first glimpse into Germany had been a trip to a local summer festival, full of bratwurst, massive pretzels, Bavarian cookies and milk-gallon sized beers. How do these people indulge in great chocolates, sweets, breads and butters, and stay healthy? I wondered.
Europeans spend hours taking time to eat their food, enjoying time with good company and rarely did the concept of “fast food” exist. What did exist, was the slowly increasing infatuation with America’s infatuation with fast foods. McDonald’s and Starbucks was becoming “cool” in Europe. In general though, when friends would ask us out for a drink, or an ice cream, or lunch, we would spend hours enjoying time with each other, and enjoying our treat. I walked it off later, and felt much less guilty about eating such treats. Previously I always felt bad after eating sweets, and in my defeat, I ate more.
When I started college that fall I got up extra early to begin my breakfast, enjoy my cup of coffee, and look over my notes for the day. This became the backbone for all future food consumption in my life. Food slowly became not just a means to satiating a hunger need. It was a time to be thankful for the food I was putting into my body; fuel for my day.
‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.’ —Hippocrates
In the winter of 2010 during my graduate studies in Germany, I rebounded. I wasn’t yet a vegetarian, even though I was making much more educated food choices. I was depressed and stressed during the long, cold winter in eastern Germany. I ate it all; Nutella daily, all the bread, butter, heavy beer and sausage I could eat. I put on twenty pounds that year and wasn’t even upset about it.
When the sun came back out in Germany in the Spring, I headed back down to Freiburg, Germany and I felt like myself again. I didn’t punish myself for my over eating, and it had become clear that depression had taken over that winter and I was now fighting full force against it.
My roommates for the summer turned out to be mostly vegetarians. Yes, in the land of many sausages, I lived in a health concious area called Vauban. I appreciated their insights on food and reasons for not eating meat. Being in the middle of “bio (pronounced in German as “bee-oh”, aka organic)” land I also began purchasing organic products and started researching where my food and products were coming from. I started to cook like they did and would sauté spices along with my vegetables in olive oil for most dinners.
It was this same summer that I took a trip to my still-to-this-day favorite Chocolaterie, Cailler, in Switzerland. I learned about the magic journey of real chocolate. I haven’t found an American chocolate that holds a candle to this stuff. Cailler lays in the heart of the Swiss Alps, in a town called Gruyère. They use fresh milk from local dairies and sustainable cocoa harvesting. At the end of the tour there is an all you can eat chocolate room. I ate just a few of my favorite dark chocolate pieces and tucked two bars away to save for later, and share with friends. One made it all the way back to the U.S. with me.
I began hiking again and falling back in love with healthy food. I dropped at least ten pounds before going back to the US in the summer. It didn’t matter whether anyone noticed or not, I felt better!
By the start of my Camino de Santiago hike, immediately after completing my master’s degree a few years later, I was mentally half-dead and wanted to make my body suffer as much pain as my mind had the previous three years. I needed a mental reset and needed to find myself in the most basic of human needs all over again. I needed to eat to fuel my body and live each day to get up and utilize my body to its max.
After walking 11-20 miles in a day with a 15-20 lb. backpack, I wasn’t even capable of keeping up with my calorie loss. This phenomenon would be another milestone in my health journey.
I learned how to eat enough food to fuel my body’s needs, and not just fill it with empty, greedy calories. I learned to feel what my body felt like working to its fullest capacity, pushing its limits like a well oiled machine, I knew what I had to feed it to accomplish my goals. Everything I put into my body mattered.
At twenty nine years old, after fluctuating between 140 to 170 pounds the past ten years, I have found a routine that works, and developed a healthy relationship with food. I’ve lost most of my shyness, I have fallen in love with salad, I eat foods that I love. I enjoy my pizza, ice cream, beer, wine and chocolate, in moderation. I prefer to think of them as earned little gifts to myself. So eat that chocolate, you’ve earned it!
Eating healthfully doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” endeavor. It doesn’t have to mean cutting out the things you love. It should mean falling in love with the food you are eating, and paying attention the foods you are putting in your body. If you splurge, be mindful of it, and compensate for the caloric intake elsewhere. Fill your body with nutritious things and then sometimes, it’s okay to eat chocolate.
Have you struggled with food? Did you eat terribly as a kid? Tell me your stories!