I grew up in Japan, and that had a great impact on my diet. My mother is Japanese and she cooked a lot for us growing up. We barely had any fast food and rarely ate out, the majority of our meals and desserts were baked by my mother. She cooked everything from scratch instead of buying them from the store both to save money and to eat healthier. My American father is vegan 90% of the time, and my older sister also became a vegetarian in her early years. My mother never stopped cooking meat because she enjoys the taste and many traditional Japanese dishes include meat or fish. But she always cooked lots and lots of vegetables. In Japanese culture, whether you are at home, at school, at a restaurant or at a friend’s house, it is considered very rude to leave food on your plate. So, ever since I was a young girl I was taught to always finish everything, even if I disliked certain vegetables.
Eating at McDonald’s happened once in the blue moon, and for me it was a special treat. At the time I loved the taste of fast food, plus only being able to eat it so rarely made me love it even more.
I moved to United States with my mother and two sisters when I was 13 years old. I remember hating American food. Everything tasted different… and bad. I remember that even mayonnaise and milk tasted very odd. I could not even finish my first bowl of ice cream in the US because it was too big and too sweet. Now that thought will never cross my mind when I eat ice cream. But just like how our body is designed to be adaptable, my palate adjusted to the standard American diet within a few months, so everything tasted fine after while.
My mother still made an effort to cook homemade food – we hardly ever had pre-packaged meals, microwave meals, or “take-away”, and we still hardly ever ate fast food. But my desire for fast food was still there. When I got older and started driving my own car to school, I had a part-time job and had a lot more freedom. I had my own transportation and my own money to buy lunch, which meant I could eat as much fast food as I wanted. I remember skipping my mother’s home-cooked meals to eating at McDonald’s, Taco Bell or Wendy’s. Thinking back to it now, I feel sorry for my mother for favoring fast food over her home cooking.
I was still a teenager and I played basketball competitively for my high school team, so I never really gained weight from my bad eating habits. I remember weighing close to 140lb in my senior year at high school. I lifted weights regularly and had an athletic physique. It was when I left home to attend University in California that I became conscious of the food I eat. I soon realized that if I didn’t play basketball every single day, if I didn’t make an effort to exercise and eat better I would begin to gain weight. I would turn into one of those “Freshmen 15” (this is a saying for first year University students gaining 15lb in the first year). I didn’t want to gain weight, so I started going to the gym and watching what I ate. I remember drastically cutting down on my fast food intake.
During my University years in California, I was pressured by the media to look skinny. Skinny was beautiful and especially living in the materialistic society of Los Angeles I felt even more pressure to be certain size. I remember counting calories, going to the gym, and trying all those funny weight-loss pills and weight-loss food products the store. I remember my lowest weight was 127lb, since my senior year in high school I had lost 13lb. I also remember my sister telling me to be careful because I was losing too much weight. She said it was neither natural nor healthy. I thank her today for telling me that.
I went to South Africa for a semester abroad during my junior year, and these experiences helped me to slow down and not care so much about how many calories I ate and what jean size I needed to fit into. Compared to the LA culture, South Africa allowed me to forget about the superficial life and just chill and enjoy the good life. I ate a lot, I may have gained few pounds but I was genuinely happy. I never stepped on the scale the whole 6 months I was in South Africa.
A year later I ended up coming back to South Africa to start studying for my Master’s degree. The less superficial lifestyle being one of the reasons that I wanted to come back. I still consciously tried to eat healthily for my own sake. Just because I wanted to be healthier, rather than counting calories or trying to lose weight.
Being vegetarian always fascinated me maybe due to my father and sister being vegan or vegetarian. I was interested in food so when I learned more, it seemed as though eating meat was not necessary for me, for my health, for the planet and especially for the animals. Many documentaries like “Food Matters”, “Supersize me”, “Meat the Truth”, “Vegucated”, “Food Inc”, and “Earthlings” have also influenced me, but those documentaries just reinforced the feelings that I already had. Previously I had stopped eating meat for 6 months, but I decided to give it another shot. Starting in February 2012, I stopped eating meat again. With one exception, I still eat fish and other seafood. So I guess I am not a strict “vegetarian”, but more of a “pescetarian”? One of my main reason to stop eating meat is due to choosing a healthier diet for my body, I do care about the planet and the animals forgive me for being honest here, my main reason was for ME and MY health. I chose not to give up fish because I like fish, but I also liked meat too, I still eat fish because I believe eating fish is healthy for me. When I do buy fish I try to buy the wild variety rather than farm raised.
Soon after that I developed a strange facial skin irritation. I had a red rash all over my face and it itched like hell. Sometimes my skin was so red I looked like I was a drug addict or being abused by my boyfriend. First I thought I was allergic to some of the facial products I use. So I threw away all of the commercial facial products in my bathroom and started using natural products. I used just water to wash my face and used Jojoba oil and coconut oil as a moisturizer. Nothing improved so I moved on to cutting out all the allergens from my diet. This included nuts, soy, dairy, gluten, fish, and eggs. Nothing helped so then I started to take out all the additives, preservatives, MSG, etc from my diet. I took out anything that was not natural. When I went to the grocery store I would only shop from the fresh produce aisle. During this time I did hours and hours of research on the Internet about food and learned whole a lot about GMOs, all the chemicals that are put inside our foods, and how diet is linked to many diseases, behavior problems, allergies, mental health, etc. So this was the enlightenment part of my food journey. It turned out that my skin irritation according to my allergy doctor; “You appear to be modestly atopic with house dust mite sensitivity, which might be aggravating the skin on your
face with eczema but it is in a distribution of seborrhoeic dermatitis and I suspect you may have a sensitivity to the Pityrosporum ovale fungus which could be contributing towards the flare-up of your facial dermatitis”. So it was nothing to do with food I eat :) Although I am so glad I came across this problem because of this I started my research on food.
I started to watch what I ate on whole new level that I had never even thought of before. When I buy food now I always look at the label, this is not to check calories but to check the ingredient list. You have no idea how much crap is in our food nowadays. I started paying close attention to my body’s reaction to food and started listening to my body.
I don’t like to be put into a box or categories. I am not meat-eater; I am not 100% vegetarian, vegan, pescetarian, gluten-free, or raw food fanatic. My diet today is a mixture of everything. I don’t eat meat 98% of the time, but if my boyfriend is having a damn good steak right next to me I will ask him for a bite. I eat lots of veggies, preferably raw veggies . I still eat fish and seafood. I don’t eat eggs, dairy or gluten at home, but when I am out or someone cooks for me, of course I will not refuse bread, eggs or cheese. I try to keep my sugar and coffee intake to a minimum. I try my best to incorporate as much raw food as possible in my daily diet. I like the raw food philosophy and I agree with many of its tenets. I enjoy trying out unique raw food recipes.
But most importantly I am happy with having a healthier body; my body seems to enjoy this diet. I don’t count calories anymore and I barely ever get on the scale. I eat well and I exercise daily and that’s all that matters. I truly believe in the saying: “You are what you eat” and if you can’t eat it, you shouldn’t put it on your body. Food is medicine and I would like to live my life as an example and a proof to others.