Numb. That's the best way I can describe the feeling.
Numb in my body. Numb in my emotions. Numb in my energy, my spirituality, and my soul.
Numb because, at the time, I was not eating very many living foods. It makes complete sense to me, now. But back then, I was just trying and very clearly failing, to survive.
Cake scraps in between custom cake orders, large lattes to fuel a double shift, and soggy french fries when my belly was rumbling at the end of a long day, after the dinner rush was finally over.
Six hours of sleep five nights a week was not nearly enough to fully recharge from all the work I was signing up for. But what choice did I have? The momentum, albeit unhealthily fueled, had to be maintained because I knew if I stopped or slowed down, I'd fall behind...
Living on my own in sunny Orlando, Florida, had me feeling so independent but at the same time so trapped. Trapped in a body and a lifestyle that was on an express track to burn-out - a track and last stop I could clearly see but felt powerless to prevent. Trapped in a cycle of over-working just to make ends meet, and suffering from poor health as a result.
I finally broke down in tears one afternoon at the end of our pre-shift meeting at the restaurant - a uniquely hip place serving small plates and creative cocktails, where the staff and guests alike were as eclectic as the "for sale" artwork that covered the walls.
Between sobs in the manager's office, I braced my ribs for impact as I felt the intensity of the next cough coming before it insisted on escaping my tiny body. I could barely get the words out, partly because the coughing was at its worst, but also because I was embarrassed to some extent.
How had I carried on so long, how did I let it get this bad? Was working this hard really worth it? Why had it taken a near physical collapse that day to shake me back into the reality that I had created?
I was afraid to live in my own body. My entire torso was sore and tired from five months of coughing fits, but more than the physical pain of those five months with bronchitis, I was emotionally distraught that I would put myself through this...
When I could finally pick my head up again, return to work, and slow down enough to notice the things around me, something stood out that I hadn't seen before. A handful of people, people whom I felt I really admired, appeared to be glowing but I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was that they'd had in common.
Yes, they all wore crystal jewelry, drank mineral infused and chlorophyll enriched water, and smelled of essential oils. As I got to know them better, I discovered that they all enjoyed a vegan lifestyle. Ah ha! That had to be the thing that created this alluring quality I had become so curious about. This glow, or what I would later learn was their energy, drew me into the idea of exploring a plant-based lifestyle again.
It had been staring me right in the face, but only when I was ready to see it was I able to notice. Inspired by my ill-health and seeing food as my remedy, I got to fantasizing about a vegan future. I had been vegetarian for a year in college, and vegan for just one summer, before I became obsessed with some unhealthy habits and lost too much weight. So I'd already learned about the reasons someone might choose this lifestyle, but actually putting into healthy practice was something I had overlooked before.
A sustainable and healthy vegan future? Is that even possible?
I was determined to create a plan to transition sustainably, as if my health depended on it. Because, truly, it kind of did. I took a good long look at the food I was presently eating, and the list I made helped explain why I was feeling so deflated, so numb.
To save you from all the beige and boring details, the top foods in my diet at the time were, as I alluded: leftover cake parts and chocolate chip cookies, large lattes with an extra shot, french fries, plain toast, and maybe the occasional smoothie. The starting point was flagrantly unhealthy and I knew I could only go up from here!
Getting from Point A to Point B had to also be fun, though. In fact, I had once loved to cook, but had lately not been making the time for it. Working two nearly full-time jobs will do that to a person's schedule. I was in need of a complete lifestyle overhaul.
Feeling inspired after a few days to rest, and my latest discovery of these interesting vegan peers, I was determined to reignite the passion for home cooking and I knew this was my golden opportunity, if for no one else, then for myself.
Where exactly was Destination B, though? Yes, I'd been inspired to go vegan again, but how could I possibly make the huge leap from Point A, what I was eating, to Point B, what it was I envisioned on the plates of my plant-based future?
The answer was baby steps, because that's really all I had energy for. I laid out the checkpoints on a clear path to my vegan destination and began my journey.
The transition that unfolded in the next four months is the same process that I teach in My Plant-Based Path, so that others may enjoy the journey to their plant-based destination, where ever that may be, and actually stay there!
This season in my life was filled with discovery, experimentation, plenty of failure, a lot of grace, and a vitality that started to return to my body and my life the moment I decided to make the change.
Using my own transition as a place to play, I noticed that a few important things were changing. First, and very obviously, was the actual food that I was buying and subsequently eating. It may sound apparent, but if you don't buy the ice cream, you can't eat the ice cream. I became reacquainted with the produce section, exploring local Farmer's Markets in the Sunshine State. Strawberries tasted juicier, sweet potatoes tasted sweeter, fresh corn a lot snappier, and don't even get me started on the amount of hummus I was consuming - let's just say it could have been considered a major food group.
I knew what I loved, so I started there, by including more of those foods on my plate in an effort to crowd out the ones I was keen to eliminate with time and practice. I also knew what I didn't really love, something I could consider an easy win - red meat. After just a few days, my confidence in myself had sky-rocketed.
The second big shift for me would happen in my very tiny kitchen, with only my Chef's knife from pastry school and a sturdy cutting board, a staple piece I insisted on investing in, like a good pair of jeans.
Peeling, chopping, and oven roasting veggies became part of my routine, as they do for nearly all health-conscious vegans. But what unfolded from here laid the ground work for developing the creativity and the sense of fulfillment I so longed for in my first attempt at adulting with a career in retail.
I mixed and matched my fruits and vegetables, spreads and sauces like a fashion designer hot with inspiration and up against a deadline finishing their spring collection. I was blown away by "real" food's ability to not only restore my health and vitality, but spark a sense of creativity and JOY.
The sense of connection I started to feel toward Nature also brought me back into myself, a place I had felt so disconnected from. My palate started to shift, and my confidence was growing, as I cooked my way through any vegetarian or vegan book I could get my hands on. Even just reading the recipes start to finish was enough to light a creative fire inside my head, and in my belly.
These practical skills and food philosophies are the foundation of my signature course, Plant-Based Fundamentals. In this video based, self-paced program, you'll learn the very same strategies that I developed intuitively in that tiny Orlando kitchen, and that I've been using and teaching ever since.
There's so much more to share, and the story continues weekly at laurendagostino.com/blog