I’m sure by now you’ve read the ‘My Journey’ page and perhaps that inspired you to consider health counseling. But I didn’t really get to specifics about *how bad* things were for me back then. (This post is long and sad, so make sure you’re ready…)

While my journey towards health began at 29, my journey towards sickness and deterioration started way before that. In fact, if you want to go waaayyyy back with me, I could tell you what a sickly baby I was due to a weak immune system.

I was not breastfed, but given formula made from milk and other horrible chemicals. (Mom, I don’t blame you. You had no idea how harmful that stuff was, and still is.)

I was lactose intolerant, but nobody suspected it. When I was old enough to give up the baby formula, I was switched to cow’s milk–PINK cow’s milk (Strawberry Flavored Nestle’s Quick Mix) which added huge amounts of sugar and chemicals to my little body.

I was prone to ear infections and was treated with repeated rounds of antibiotics which further weakened my gut and therefore, my immune system. (By the way, I have not used antibiotics for any reason whatsoever for the last 7-8 years now! That’s amazing!)

By age 8 (maybe younger) I began craving sweets and began sneaking Ho-Ho’s and Twinkies whenever I could. (My aunt Rosa can attest to this fact!) In fact, *all* Hostess products were close to my heart, especially those coffee cakes! (Uhh! I have to stop talking about them!)

Growing up, my dinners were always solid, homemade Latino dinners made up of rice, beans, and either chicken/beef/pork. No vegetables were served. Ever.

Breakfast consisted of cereal with more milk (and occasionally we would get Lucky Charms as a treat).  Weekday lunch was a spiced-ham sandwich w/mayo on white bread. I washed that down with a can of Coke and a bag of potato chips or cookies.

On the weekends, my parents had tricked me into cooking elaborate breakfasts for them which consisted of eggs, bacon or sausage, toast and coffee. Sometimes we’d make a huge batch of Bisquick pancakes and smother them with butter and Aunt Jemima Syrup before stuffing ourselves with them.

[PS–I am not naming brands just for the fun of it. These are the name brands that were advertised with the greatest frequency on television and were affordable for our family. I am sure you grew up with those same brands in your household and can tell me stories of how eating those kinds of packaged, preserved, chemicalized, artificial, junk foods ruined your health too.]

Even my supposedly healthy extra-curricular activities were full of unhealthy foods. My dance studio (in which I would intensely practice dance for 7-8 hours a week) had a candy vending machine right in the waiting room. At school football games, our cheerleading squad would get junk foods at the concession stand. (I distinctly remember leaning my soda can up against the fence so I could take a hit of sugar and caffeine between cheers.)

Good thing I was still pretty slender, although I felt depressed and unattractive no matter what anyone told me. I even competed in a beauty pageant and I remember feeling like the fattest girl in the competition. Looking back at the pictures, I can see how stunningly beautiful I was, but it was not how I felt at the time. My self-esteem was terrible and I spent years of my life crying for no apparent reason. My mood swings were completely out of control and I had no idea why.

High school lunch was like going to Trans-Fat Heaven. We were served *nothing* but hamburgers, fries, beef-a-roni, microwave pizza, and tater tots. Did they have vegetables? I have no idea. By that time I had not developed a taste for vegetables. In fact, I never ate a fresh vegetable until I was 18 years old (under major pressure from my super-skinny college roommate).

College was where I did the most damage to myself. Up to that point I could have blamed outside influences for my poor diet. But my college (at least during my first two years) had old ladies who actually cooked homemade meals for us in the dining hall. There were always fresh veggies, a loaded salad bar, and fresh fruits.

But I chose to eat the french toast sticks, the chicken tenders, whatever was fried into a stick shape. I also did a lot of ordering out–pizza, wings, chinese–and washed it all down with gallons of soda in an attempt to keep myself awake so I could study. Little did I know that the sugar in the soda was making me overly sleepy. I used to think I was bored by my schoolwork, but that never made sense because I had such a passion for literature and education. The truth was, my body was going into a sugar-induced “carb-coma’ that causes a kind of drowsiness that is impossible to overcome!

Somehow, I graduated with honors and I was determined to go out and make an impact. But guess what? I had gained over fifty pounds in four years of college and everybody back home was shocked at my transformation. I got married and life’s stresses started piling on in a major way.

I handled this stress by picking at my skin, a habit I had developed when I was a small child to alleviate my anxiety. When I was younger I picked my legs. They were so pock-marked that I could no longer wear skirts and so by junior high I had moved to picking the skin on my torso. In college I picked my arms since being in a northern city allowed me to keep my arms covered most of the year. But by the time I was newly married, I hated myself so much that I began to pick my face. There was no hiding it. It was a cry for help.

No one knew how to help me since even *I* wasn’t sure what my major problem was (aside from hating my life). I had nothing to hate, in reality. I had a college degree, a great husband, a huge apartment, awesome in-laws, and a really beautiful dog (she was my first “baby”) who kept me company in my darkest moments.

I drank soda like an alcoholic. I ate raw cake batter which I hid in the pantry for days (I know, gross!) I ate until I felt I might vomit, but didn’t. I watched hours of t.v. and my new husband and I grew apart to the point where we had discussed divorce. We hadn’t even made our one-year anniversary. He was my high-school sweetheart. This idea crushed me.

That was when I finally hit bottom. I decided to go on the Atkins diet. (Yes, I actually read the entire book and, with my limited knowledge of nutrition at that time, it made sense to try it! Lol!) My husband and I (who were now reconciled) both lost over 50 pounds in less than a year, but at great expense to my own (and especially to my husband’s) health.

There were many problems with this diet, but the worst side-effects came about because we switched to diet sodas and sweetened everything with artificial sweeteners. My husband began to experience numbness in his fingers, hands, arms and eventually his entire torso.

He had to go on disability at 23 years old and he was terrified. Within a few weeks of testing, he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Treatment involved giving him an intramuscular injection in his thigh (the needle was as long as my index finger) once a week forever. Side effects were 24-48 hours of flu-like fever, chills, and body weakness. We did it every Friday which incapacitated him for the rest of the weekend. It was the source of much stress in our lives.

Fast-forward to our first pregnancy. I had been working for five years in a high-stress job and commuting 45+ minutes each way on what seemed like the Parkway of Death. My diet was nearly 100% drive-thru and take out. By month seven, I had developed gestational diabetes. I was swollen from toes to chest. I thank God this happened to me because it was my first wake-up call–well, it was the first one I actually paid attention to anyway.

I was sent to a clinical nutritionist and put on a strict diabetic diet. I was told that if I couldn’t control my diabetes with diet alone I would be put on insulin. The idea on being dependent on injections (like my husband was) really frightened me. I was very obedient to the diet and I started to notice some good changes.

After a less-than ideal birth, I experienced another tailspin of depression and physical deterioration. I had migraine headaches that would last for days. I was taking so many Advil that my stomach was becoming inflamed. I was also suffering from severe postpartum depression, but nobody knew it, not even myself. Not until the day I tossed my baby across the living room in sheer frustration did I realize I was in major trouble. (Don’t worry, he landed safely on the sofa cushions, but believe me, it was another rock-bottom moment for me.)

I found a local chiropractor who advertised that he could help eliminate migraine headaches and began the painful process of re-aligning my defeated posture. Things began to get better. Headaches were down to once a week and only lasted one day. Eventually they disappeared altogether.

In the meanwhile, I carefully read book after book about a new type of parenting that was essential for high-need babies like mine. It was called ‘Attachment Parenting’. I followed it’s teachings like it was the Bible and my baby became happier and more content. At four months old, he and I finally bonded.

I started having hope for my future again. This hope opened a small window in my mind for good things to start coming my way. One day, I saw a flyer at the local grocery store advertising a new support group called the Holistic Moms Network. It took awhile for me to begin to fit in. I was still eating burgers and drinking soda. But as I learned the details about the damage I was doing to my body, and the needless suffering I was causing myself (and my family who were desperately trying to love me), I couldn’t help but change.

I gave myself some grace realizing that my poor eating habits had been established as a small child. I gave myself time to change and didn’t try to do anything drastic overnight. Even though I felt deep guilt and shame for *still* hitting the drive-thru on my way to my Holistic Moms meetings, I kept going anyway.

And that is where my journey to health began…

I hope you enjoyed this post even though it might have been sad, upsetting, or even angered you at points. I am not proud of how long it took me to get well, but I firmly believe that, with a network of support, anyone can do this.

PS–I still have areas of my health and nutrition that I am working on improving, so this is an on-going journey for me. But I refuse to let people suffer (like I did) while I attempt to get my health in perfect order. Believe me, most of this is up to you. I am here to give you the information, support, and encouragement you need to change your life forever…I am never going back, and neither will you!