As we left off in Part Two with my Journey into Diet La La Land, I was living a lifestyle that I thought was healthy. I was in my mid-twenties, and if you had asked me back then, “Who are you, Ella?” I probably would have replied, “Number one, I’m an ethical vegan, and secondly, I’m into vegan fitness. I run the show at the Flamingo Athletic Club, managing employees, payroll, class schedules, and the personal training program. I’m a vegan trainer myself and spend a lot of my time practicing Muay Thai with my MMA crew and working out. I’m single and have an awesome group of badass friends who I go out with and party hard. I’m ‘living the life’ in South Beach!”
What I wouldn’t have told you, though, was that I had an underlying yearning to be doing more for animals than just living by example as a vegan. I was the only vegan that I knew at the time. This feeling that I was not living and working my true passion triggered subconscious angst as well as a constant feeling of being unfulfilled.
Restrictions and Depression
At the same time, there was a part of me that knew my time to make a significant difference as a passionate vegan was coming; although the vast majority of people had no interest in going vegan. In fact, many didn’t even know what it meant to be vegan and had very little interest in keeping an open mind to understand the benefits. I continued being vocal about my choice to be a vegan and put tons of pressure on myself to do everything I could to prove people could be fit, healthy, and strong on plants alone. That was, at the time, the best way I could help bring veganism into the mainstream.
I also would have neglected to mention I had been struggling with chronic depression and anxiety since my teenage years. I wouldn’t have told you that I walked around all day, every day, feeling fat jiggle all over my body and seeing love handles when I looked in the mirror. Keep in mind my body fat stayed well below 10%. I knew logically that I was lean. My BMI was super low and tons of people were asking me daily how I stayed so lean.
The logic, unfortunately, did not translate to how I experienced my body.
I was putting so much pressure on myself to be perfect in addition to the body dysmorphia, I was carefully measuring and monitoring my food intake 90% of the time. Surrounded by protein-obsessed “meat-heads” and personal trainer know-it-alls, I wanted to prove you could get plenty of protein from plants. I had developed what I now call “carb-phobia” and focused on packing in the vegan protein. The other 10% of the time, as a result of the food restricting, I would give in to temptation and binge on vegan food. I remember eating an entire jar of peanut butter one night. And of course binging triggers intense feelings of guilt and shame, so the cycle continued, and I’d be back to restricting myself to make up for the binging.
Health Issues Began Arising
Another issue I was facing was that I had developed insomnia over the previous few years. The condition had been getting worse and worse until it got to the point I could never fall asleep without the use of either self-prescribed drugs and alcohol, or hard core sleeping meds the doctor prescribed.
Now I believe the insomnia was caused in part by hormone imbalances that I was creating from my eating and exercise habits. Additionally, the stress and pressure I was putting on myself did not help. Stress increases cortisol levels. It’s supposed to. But extra cortisol production is meant to occur in short bursts during times of extreme stress. I had created a system in which I was basically stressed and anxious all the time which created chronically high cortisol levels.
My insomnia was aggravated by the chronic heightened cortisol. Cortisol levels are supposed to drop in the evening to allow you to fall asleep. When cortisol drops, the production of melatonin increases to also help you maintain a regular sleep cycle.
I had destroyed this intricate system.
I knew I was in trouble when I decided to experiment and see how long it would take me to get some sleep without the help of meds. Eight days later I was such a zombie I gave up, and I do not give up on anything easily!
Looking back, it seems like somewhat of a miracle that I was functioning at all, much less enjoying life. But the truth is, despite the inner turmoil, I still see those years in my twenties as incredible and unregretable. I was free to explore me, on my own. As many “issues” as I had, I felt fortunate to be where I was, having started off my life in South Beach with a bad break-up that left me homeless and jobless with only a suitcase to my name.
Since moving to Miami I had found another passion (Muay Thai), worked my way up the ladder to a decent job that afforded me a decent apartment, formed several different groups of kick ass friends, taken full advantage of the SoBe party scene, and explored different layers of me as a human being.
I had developed disordered eating habits and body dysmorphia that felt all-consuming at times. I had horrible insomnia and couldn’t sleep without drugs and/or alcohol. I was dealing with depression, anxiety, and an overall feeling of unfulfillment. I used Muay Thai as my sole form of “therapy” which meant I felt I was “tough” enough to handle what was going on inside me without sharing.
Admitting the Truth
Can you believe it took me over twelve years to “come out” and talk about my struggles? Being the seriously determined individual I am though, I did not sit by idly, allowing my life to spin out of control. I’m a problem-solver, and I had quite a number of problems I wanted to solve.
Behind my persistence was a primal drive to be the best person I could be. I had a mission that was far from being fulfilled. I just needed to take care of me first so that I could put all my energy into saving animals.
This is Part Three of a five-part series.
Part Two: Journey into Diet La La Land
Part Four: Changing Your Exercise Routine