I was recently at a big convention where there were more than 12,000 fellow entrepreneurs. I’ve been working with many of them for up to ten years, and we’ve not only watched each other’s families grow, but we’ve witnessed and celebrated each other’s growth as people.
Once again, I got loads of compliments and atta girls for my talk, my book, and my team’s success, and I treasure all of it.
But what I also got in staggering numbers was some variation of, “Oh my God, you look so good, what are you doing?” They were talking about my svelte-ness, and it was quickly followed by a list of guesses. Fasting? Paleo? Fill in the name of some dieting program?
So, I wanted to share what I’ve been doing because it’s so different than what I spend my 20s, 30s and the bulk of my 40s doing. I’m leaner than I’ve been since my twenties. But even better, I’ve never felt more at home in my body.
I used to think the only way I could be thin was to deprive myself of certain foods. And for over a decade, that meant carbs, including most fruit. I could only handle this restricted way of eating for a short time to show up at an event on the lower end of my weight range, but I couldn’t sustain it. Why? Because I love food, I love to exercise, and I love the energy carbs give me.
I also don’t do well with deprivation. If there’s something I think I can’t have, it makes me throw a pity party for myself and want it all the more. Can you relate?
I had to take a good hard look at the way I was eating when the Epstein Barr Virus flattened me in early 2018. If you don’t know, EBV is the virus that causes mono (which I got in college) among other things. It stays in the body and can rear its ugly head when you’re stressed, lacking sleep and eating a poor diet. In addition to the supplement protocol that my naturopathic doctor husband John prescribed, I did a lot of reading and watching and learning. Through the work of Anthony William (the “Medical Medium”), I revisited what John had known for years: celery juice is a healing tonic, and the human body needs lots and lots of plants––even the low-sugar variants––to sustain itself. I also reread The China Study (an extensive study on nutrition that my husband had read in med school) and organized a family viewing of the documentary What the Health, which lays out the case for a plant-based diet as a way of preventing and reversing chronic diseases. I finally acknowledged that all these years of low-carb eating had starved my body of precious nutrients.
To get out of my health crisis, I went full-blown gluten-free vegan, eating whole foods (no fried or processed anything), and also avoiding all refined sugar. So many people asked with incredulity, “How are you doing this? Isn’t it hard?” My response was always “Nope.” And I meant it. Here’s why:
I was desperate. No food on Earth was worth being sick for, and I had learned enough to believe that if I could fix the way I was eating, get more sleep and keep to a powerful nutritional supplement routine, I would return to health.
I stopped thinking about what I couldn’t eat and started declaring what I do eat. When presented with a menu filled with the foods I’d always loved, instead of telling myself “I can’t eat a hamburger,” I’d tell myself, “I eat plants so let’s find some that look delicious.” Instead of declining an offer of a piece of cake with “I can’t eat that,” I’d instead say, “No thank you." If they pressed further because it's so delicious/oh go ahead/you can splurge, I started responding with, "I get my sugar from fruits and vegetables.” Not in a holier-than-thou kind of way, but as a fact.
Since I eat all the plants I want—yes, even white potatoes (just not fried)—I never feel deprived. In fact, I eat a larger volume of food now than ever.
In a few months, I was back to health, and the leaner me was an added bonus. I stayed committed to a whole food diet and plant-based eating, supplemented with wild fish and occasionally some grass-fed beef, but still no eggs, dairy or poultry.
The result? Even though I’m consuming a small fraction of animal protein and do lower-intensity workouts, I'm leaner with more muscle mass than I’ve had since high school, and I’m a size 4 and occasionally a size 2. All of this without tirelessly working toward a number on the scale or my clothing tags.
Now let me stop right here and make something clear: this was never about the esthetics or the size of my clothes. It was able being healthy, full of energy, clear-headed and strong. That's what I focused on, and the rest took care of itself.
Let me make something else clear: I’m not suggesting that you shun animal products altogether. I’m simply saying that eating more plants and benefiting from all of their glorious vitamins, minerals, and fiber is a good thing.
And please know that I'm far, far from perfect with my eating. I fall off the wagon occasionally. Like on the last night of the convention after we shed our gala dresses and dug into nachos, burgers. and fries, and the next day when John and I brunched on Nashville’s best BBQ. It was fun and delicious, and it made me feel like shit for several days. So I gladly hopped right back on my flexitarian, plant-based, whole foods diet.
If you’re struggling with your energy, your health, or your weight, pay attention to what you put in your pie hole. If you're thinking about your daily food choices as an exercise in deprivation to fit into a certain size or an Insta example of gorgeous, I encourage you to stop doing that to yourself and your health. Eating is a means to be more powerful, energetic and healthy, and the foods we enjoy should be plentiful, diverse, delicious and full of nutrition. Then make the changes. They don’t need to be the type of massive, all-at-once choices I made because I was in a full-blown health crisis, but forward movement is key.
Figure out if you need structure or accountability to make it happen; there are a lot of programs and groups out there if you do. And get the people in your home on board. Even if they don't adopt what you're doing (or only partially like my family has), they need to know how much their respect and support means to you, and you deserve it.
There are so many things each of us want to do to have the lives we dream of. And we only get one vessel to carry us through. We must fuel that vessel with the nutrition that makes each of our unique vessels work its best. And when you can rock a fitted, beaded cocktail dress without Spanx, it's the frosting on the gluten-free, sugar-free, almond flour cake.