Like most women, I have dealt with a wide spectrum of experiences in the realm of food and body image. Since I was a teenager, I’ve struggled with emotional eating – food was one of the best ways I could “deal” with my issues, and finding (temporary) comfort in a pint of ice cream, a bag of candy, or a McDonald’s meal is something that I’ve done more times than I can count.
When I was in my early twenties (I’m now 27), I started to educate myself about nutrition and exercise, and realized I was very sensitive to gluten, refined sugar, and dairy. Removing these foods from my diet, paired with an active gym routine which consisted of resistance and high intensity interval training, helped me feel healthier, stronger, and more balanced and happy than I had ever felt in my life. During this time, I started using the popular app “MyFitnessPal” to track my calorie and macronutrient intake (i.e. proteins, carbohydrates, fats), as well as to log my exercise. It worked well for me for almost a year – I didn’t feel restricted, and was always trying out new recipes and workouts.
Fast forward to my mid-twenties, where I was working full-time as a registered nurse on a busy general surgery unit. I would always try to pack healthy, nutrient dense meals and snacks for my 12 hour shifts, but I was getting pretty obsessed with my caloric and macronutrient intake. Since I usually couldn’t exercise on days that I worked, I made up for it by eating less, and consuming a pretty boring diet of foods that fit into my self-created low-carb, high protein, moderate fat macronutrient profile.
One summer, I can recall that I pretty much only ate eggs, salsa, goat cheese, apples, kale salad, peanut butter, broccoli, fish, chicken, and protein shakes – these were the easiest foods for me to make, and they fit well into my macros. However, I was SO bored with my food, I felt restricted, and I was never excited to be in the kitchen (this is coming from someone who loves to cook, bake, and create recipes). After the summer ended, I remember falling back into emotional eating here and there (this was usually triggered by stress, anxiety, or pain – I was in a car accident in 2015 that’s left me with some chronic pain issues). I would make up for these “bad days” of eating by under-eating for as long as I could – it was all a vicious cycle, and it was so exhausting.
Back to my chronic pain issues – I have been off work for about four months now with pain in my neck, back, and feet. This makes exercise (which I genuinely love, and usually aim to do 4-6 times per week) quite difficult. I remember when I first went off work; I was so scared of what my body would become if I wasn’t able to do my usual 25 lb. dumbbell bicep curls and weighted lunges, or power through my interval sprints on the treadmill. I was convinced I was going to look like Peter Griffin from Family Guy (no offense, Peter – you’re my favourite character).
Naturally, my first thought was to create restrictive calorie goals on MyFitnessPal, and focus on tracking every morsel of food that I put into my mouth. It was bad – if I licked my finger while adding peanut butter to a smoothie, I would log that additional miniscule portion of food. Needless to say, I was not in a great place at this time. Fortunately, I have a great support system of friends and family, and one of my friends from nursing school encouraged me to start a food blog – it was something that I had mentioned to her many times before, and she urged me, “Just do it! It doesn’t have to be perfect – just start, and work on it a little bit everyday”. So I did (thanks K – you have helped me more than you know).
My blog, “Zakiya’s Kitchen”, has been life-changing for me. I’ve been passionate about health, wellness, and nutrition for a while, but the creation of this blogging platform pushed me out of my comfort zone to actually educate myself about how healing, powerful, and nourishing food can be. I followed holistic nutritionists and chefs on social media, scoured the Internet to educate myself, and attended free workshops on holistic health and nutrition – I was in awe of how much new information I was taking in.
It was around this time that I also purchased “Joyous Detox” – a detox and recipe book by holistic nutritionist and best-selling author Joy McCarthy, aka the woman behind “Joyous Health”. I remember making several of her recipes, and attempting to style the dishes in a creative way, to make them look more aesthetically appealing on Instagram. It was as if the creative part of my brain had been awakened; I’ve always been interested in photography, and some of the food photography out there is absolutely insane, so to actually attempt anything of the sort was both groundbreaking and fun for me.
As I started to create my own recipes, and really pay attention to food preparation and styling, I can recall being so much more satisfied with my meals. I was consuming such a wide variety of foods, and had so much appreciation for not only the macronutrients, but the micronutrients (i.e. vitamins, minerals). I got lazy and disinterested with calorie counting, but for the first time, I didn’t care. This was unheard of for me – I have a science-based background, and have only ever found “results” (i.e. weight loss, which was not equivalent to happiness for me) with calorie counting, so I’ve always believed that in order to achieve the body that I want, strategic planning and restriction needs to be involved.
I’ve always been very intuitive about my body and its functions, so as I trekked along on this journey of self-discovery and appreciation, I could tell that it was happy that I was choosing to nourish it and be grateful for its capabilities. Though I still have chronic pain issues, I have learned which foods exacerbate my pain, and which supplements and ingredients I should use to decrease inflammation and promote muscle, bone and joint health. It certainly hasn’t been an easy journey, but it’s been eye-opening and empowering to take control of my health and wellness.
If you asked me what the “biggest” thing that I’ve learned throughout my journey is, it would probably be the realization that once I appreciated the positive effects that both good nutrition and exercise had on my body, I didn’t feel the need to approach food, body image, and eating with restriction, fear, and negativity. I’m a firm believer that each individual is different – what works for one person may not work for another, and so I always encourage people to pay attention to what their body is trying to tell them. Thanks for reading! I hope that this article can empower women to approach their health, wellness, happiness, and nourishment with the originality and unique care that we all collectively deserve.
Author: Zakiya Lalani
Author Bio: Zakiya is a 27 year old Vancouverite who is passionate about nutrition, holistic living, wellness, and helping others. She has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and runs a food and wellness blog called “Zakiya’s Kitchen”. In her spare time, she can be found cooking, baking, watching Tom Hardy movies, reading, petting random dogs, and drinking matcha lattes.
Link to social media or website: https://www.instagram.com/zakikiii/