My Food Journey to Health

My Food Journey to Health
Words by Rebecca Deurlein
Illustration by Hollis Callas


Two years ago, my registered dietitian friend and I were on our second glass of wine, shooting the breeze and talking business, when we decided to swap services—I would help her with her marketing and blog writing, and she would put me on a meal plan. I was nonchalant about it: "Eh, let's aim for 10 pounds." She smiled knowingly, and we went from there.

Today, she’s still smiling, as am I. I had no idea at the time, but I was about to spend the next six months or so discovering how I view food and the effect it has on everything about my health. My entire life, I had thought what I was doing was just fine, and while it wasn’t terrible, it also wasn’t just fine. 

I think I let myself off the hook a lot, allowed myself hefty portions followed by sweets, for any number of justifiable reasons. I had just had a baby, or I was a young mom who needed her energy, or I was PMS-ing, or I was working full-time and earning a graduate degree and deserved it. You know the things we tell ourselves. Food can be a real comfort. It can be reminiscent of home or togetherness or celebrations. Food is a powerful force. 

In my case, I didn’t feel I was under the control of food, but I definitely enjoyed it and didn’t avoid much of it. If I wanted it, I ate it. And it was all good because in my mind, I looked good enough and I was healthy enough. No doctors were giving me stern warnings, and I could still wedge myself into a roller coaster seat and get the seatbelt fastened. 

So, when I said, “Let’s aim for 10 pounds,” I was serious. Almost everyone can stand to lose 10 pounds, and I considered myself close enough to average that it seemed like an appropriate goal. Then my friend showed me my ideal weight range for my height and body type. It was a good 30 pounds less than what I weighed when I stepped on the scale, and I found that—alarming.

Not because I spent nights worrying about the number on the scale. It’s just that everything I’ve read from medical professionals has told me that being overweight can be the start of health problems—exacerbated by aging—and the domino effect can be staggering. 

So the number got my attention, and when that happens, I’m all in. My friend told me to follow the meal plan, which would show me not only what to eat, but how much of it was best for my body. We would check back with each other and see how I was feeling, and she would adjust accordingly. And in doing that, I learned some incredible lessons.

The first is that I really like vegetables. Well, almost all of them (I’m talking to you, okra). And not only is it OK, but it’s highly recommended that you eat vegetables all day long, not just at dinnertime. My eggs are now nestled in zucchini spirals, or accompanied by spinach, or scrambled with mushrooms. Vegetables have moved from being a supporting player to the star of the show in many of my meals. Now when I’m hungry, I think about the aroma of roasted butternut squash dressed in nothing but olive oil and salt and pepper. I crave a hearty soup chock full of veggies I rotate out each season, so not only does the soup satisfy my hunger, but it makes me feel and taste each season. 

I also discovered that swapping foods out for their healthier alternatives left me feeling much more satisfied. Moving from white to whole wheat or from crunchy crackers to crunchy carrots—all of it felt better, and my body responded in ways I never could have imagined. 

One day, a glance in the mirror showed me that my skin was clearer and brighter and that my hair, which had been thinning and limp, now had a new body and fullness that I hadn’t seen in years. I noticed that I was no longer tired all the time. I needed less sleep and had more energy than ever before. I no longer felt or looked bloated. I’m not exaggerating when I say that every single physical problem I had went away, that once I started giving my body what it needed, it responded with strength and endurance and an ability to stay healthy, even through a pandemic. 

Yes, I’ve lost weight—about 35 pounds that I’ve kept off for two years—but honestly, the number is not all that important to me. What matters is that I can hike higher and farther than I could 10 years ago. I can sweat my way through workouts I couldn’t have finished a couple years ago, and I can keep up with people half my age. And honestly, I just feel proud of myself for doing what I needed to do to be healthier and happier.

As my dietitian friend says, we are all an accumulation of our lifestyle choices and habits. What I discovered is that getting down a few sizes is great, but the real win is eating so well that weight no longer weighs any part of me down.