Changing The Way I Eat and See Food

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Growing up in my Vietnamese household, I had to learn to eat every bit of food on my plate. My mom would say, “Không ăn hết là có tội.” This roughly translates in English to, “You should be ashamed if you do not eat it all.” This was with the assumption that God or Buddha was watching so I should do what was right and eat everything on my plate. I didn’t want to feel a lifetime of guilt because I couldn’t finish all the rice off my plate. How silly is that?

As I got older, this phrase would stick with me even though I thought it was silly. This internalized guilt of not being able to finish my food cuased me to gain weight. I was flogged with comments about my waist size, and how “to con” or big boned I was. I was never thin framed to begin with. I met an awesome partner who loves me unconditionally so I let myself go even further. In all honestly, we kinda both let ourselves go. We would overeat because we were so comfortable with one another. For me it was mostly because I was lazy and all these food delivery apps make it way too easy to live a sedentary lifestyle.

I developed a habit of guilt eating. There are starving children in Africa! I am eating all this for them because they cannot, or so I thought. I needed to erase this notion of forcing myself to finish my meals out of guilt. I’ve always realized this but sometimes its harder to put into actions than say you will do it. Teaching people a new skill should be informative than punitive. Unfortunately in my household it was almost always the latter.

Becoming Aware of My Eating Habits

In February 2018, my partner and I went to Vietnam. We traveled throughout the country and ate anything and everything that appealed to us (which was all the street food). We sought out food multiple times a day and ate until we couldn’t breathe. We also drank alcohol and sweet beverages during and between meals. We were easily gorging ourselves on a mere few dollars each day. Our biggest expenses were transportation and hotels. Street food was about $1-2 a dish. It was easy to afford and try everything.

Towards the tail end of our trip I could see how much weight I had gained from devouring everything in my path. I also noticed how unhealthy my body felt from the inside. People didn’t think I was Vietnamese because I was dark skinned and bigger framed than most Vietnamese people. Everyone in Vietnam is thin and short and I just stuck out like a sore thumb. This made me feel like I didn’t belong. I also felt judged. I could hear comments from people as I passed by (which don’t really bother me) and just dismissed them. For a long time, I “lived bravely” and did not care what others thought of me. #rebelaf But comments like these did impact me more than I could admit. I had flashbacks of the relationship I had with my own mother and how it always revolved around weight gain and prettiness. Don’t they know beauty resides within the molecular level? You’ll need a microscope to see it.

I thought long and hard about my decisions and why I just had to eat everything I laid my eyes on. It was my desire to live out of the box and un-conform from the norm. There goes the rebel again. I was eating and doing anything I damn well pleased because I was contesting the people who said I shouldn’t do those things. For a large chunk of my life (and still to this day) I’ve been rebelling and moving against the grain. Fuck what people thought. For some people, this is a quality that really draws them to me. It was also a quality that I could see was slowly killing me inside and out. I remembered my friends and their comments about “how she can really eat” and my boyfriend jokingly describes me as “she often orders too much” when explaining who I am to his friends. I was proud of that. In that moment as I was packing to leave Vietnam,  I wasn’t proud at all. I could see that by doing any of what I did, was because I didn’t respect myself or others. I came back to Seattle and decided to make a change.

It All Started Because I Wanted to Lose Weight

Back in Seattle, I was determined to initially lose weight for my brother’s wedding. I knew I would be meeting with family at the wedding and didn’t want to draw attention towards my body shape or size. I just didn’t want to hear about how big I’ve become AT ALL. I only had a month to make shift happen.

I Set a Goal

I began this journey at 165 pounds. This is the heaviest I’ve been in my life. I was 20 pounds overweight for my 5’5″ height.

In a month I aimed to lose 10 pounds. After doing research, I found the reasonable amount of weight to lose in a month and to remain healthy was 10 pounds. I found that anything beyond 10 pounds would require me to do crazy liquid cleanses and starve myself. No thanks.

Change the Way I See Food

I decided to change the way I see food. I figured this would be the most impactful. I began to cut down my portions from 1 full all-American sized meal into three meals a day. I would imagine the amount of food I was currently eating as compact mass and where it would land in my stomach cavity. I would bring my leftovers home in tupperware that I would bring with me to restaurants. I would split meals with my partner and friends. I would give my leftovers to homeless people living downtown. I would curtail my portions any way I could. I implemented this behavioral change and immediately began to feel better after meals. I was feeling less stuffed and more satisfied. What’s important was that I began to differentiate between those two words, stuffed versus satisfied.

I then made another shift. I wanted more fruits and veggies in my diet. I signed up for a subscription service called Imperfect Produce. I received cosmetically imperfect fruits and veggies at my doorstep every week. The only imperfection about the product were their shape and size, but otherwise they tasted great and most importantly, made me feel amazing inside and out. The produce was also like me, scarred on the outside but awesome on the inside. I’ve noticed that I’m eating 30% more in fruits and veggies compared to before. Read about my Imperfect Produce subscription here.

When dining out, I requested omission of grains and breads from my diet. I would substitute grains for greens instead. If a restaurant has brown rice, I would opt for that. I wanted to see more color on my plate because I knew it was healthier and less processed.

From time to time I would check the scale to see if I had lost any weight. I was down 10 pounds by my brother’s wedding. I was excited to have completed a goal that has been on the back-burner for at least 2 years. By making these shifts, I could see the change in my body (waist slimming down, muscle toning in the arms and legs, clothes becoming looser). Yay!

I reflected back on my trip and saw how ridiculous it was to think I needed to eat TWO small bowls of noodles in Vietnam instead of one. The bowls are tiny, but they’re enough. By setting my intention to enough, I am still experiencing changes my my mind and body.

Live A Life That is Enough

The word that resonated with me so vividly through this process was ENOUGH. We live in a place and time of abundance. You can buy and consume anything you could possibly imagine. How do we navigate through this world and find that place where what you consume, how you interact, how you live is ENOUGH. That’s something I’ve been missing in my life and to think this little diet helped me realize enough is how I wanted to live.

I vow to repeat my sankalpa “I am enough” when I wake up and before I go to bed. It will be a practice I visit every day. I am thankful for the ability to travel. Traveling sure does open your eyes to the things that you need to live your best life.

And my favorite part about this process was that I gained a new sister-in-law!

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