Girl Hero Alexi
Alexi WAS a stressed out girl with eating disorders. NOW she’s a holistic health counselor and writes a blog, The Whole Nut. Alexi left a promising career in advertising to pursue her dream of helping others improve their lives. She is certified through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. Alexi has lived in New York City for the last 4 years after spending a year and a half living abroad in Rome. Previously, she studied Marketing at San Diego University where she was “excited and ready for the real world” only to find out it was less than she expected.
What was it like working in the advertising business?
I got my first job at one of the biggest advertising agencies in the world, so needless to say I was thrilled about the work experience and exposure I would be getting. Then, I was eager to make my way up the corporate ladder.
Soon I found out that the work habits of the ad world (combined with that of NYC) made for long, stressful days and endless headaches. After two years I realized that it wasnâ€™t the path I wanted to be onâ€”I had no time for myself or others and felt completely unfulfilled and unhappy.
Was it hard to leave the security of your job in advertising to follow your passion as a holistic health counselor?
Yes and no. It was hard because I knew that once I left I would never come back. Though miserable, I found that life in a corporate world was a bit comfortable because of the security (despite all the layoffs that were going on at the time). I was taking a leap of faith and forging my own path â€“ which was exciting, but a little scary! But then again, I think by then I realized I was the type to follow my passion rather than idle in comfort and security (in the way that I moved to Rome, too).
How does your new lifestyle compared to your old lifestyle?
Oh it was a complete overhaul. I have energy again. Iâ€™m ME again! My friends immediately noticed a difference and my poor boyfriend saw me pull myself back together from the grumpy, exhausted mess I had become (I also stopped caring about my hair, clothes, etc). Now, I make sure that everything I do benefits me somehow or another, otherwise itâ€™s not worth the trouble. I got my priorities straightened out.
Why did you decide to study at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition? Tell us a little about the program.
I was looking for a serious career change. I was very unhappy with how things were going at the advertising agency (which affected the way I felt) and I wanted to make a move. It was aboard a flight to Seattle in Sept of 2008 that I came across a short article in Real Simple about a woman (who I would later contact) who gave her children healthy food options despite balancing a busy schedule. It was her job title that caught my eye.
After I returned to NYC, I googled the woman, found her site, read about what she did and knew instantly I knew that this was my move. She was so kind to talk with me, and she told me about her time at IIN and her path to becoming a certified holistic health counselor. This was exactly what I was looking for! I looked into the school and within two weeks I was signed up and registered to start in January 2009.
The program was everything I could have dreamed of, and at that time I felt so lucky to have found it. I loved nutrition, but because of my struggles I knew that it was more than just food and number crunching. At IIN we studied all the dietary theories out there with the idea that no one diet works for everyone. Every body is unique, with different dietary needs.
We focused on whole foods, preventative care and how to balance diet with various areas within oneâ€™s life â€“ and how itâ€™s all connected. Top authorities and renowned speakers in the natural foods world (like Andrew Weil, Deepak Chopra, Marion Nestle) came and spoke during our classes. It was amazing to hear what they had to say firsthand, and each lecture was filled with exciting information that would help me to make further changes in myself as well as help others around me. I had spent the last five years sharing my homegrown nutrition knowledge with friends and family, and this was taking it to the next level!
What do you love most about being a holistic health counselor?
Helping others make healthy improvements on their lives! A healthy diet and lifestyle can do a lot in a life. I love helping others shake off the control and wrath that food and diet bring on us â€“ I know how that can feel, but it doesnâ€™t have to be like that! I love seeing my clients transform not only their eating habits, but also their priorities and personal goals. When you begin to eat better, you feel better. And that changes SO MUCH.
Dinner with a friend last Fall â€“ after leaving my old job and overhauling my health habits, I felt much more outgoing and social again, I felt like I had something to celebrate!
Do you mind telling us a little bit about your approach when you have a new client?
Each client brings something different to the program, which is a challenge I love about nutrition counseling. I base each individual program around the clientâ€™s goals, health concerns and lifestyle. Iâ€™m there to listen, provide support, offer advice and hold the person accountable for their choices. If you want to lose weight and incorporate healthy eating habits into your busy life, then our sessions are going to be geared a bit differently than for someone who may be struggling with food addictions.
I like to focus first on diet and foods, and second on lifestyle and daily habits. The goal is to find a balance between the two areas, since one is heavily influenced by the other (this is usually a big surprise to most!). I find that most people have a lot to talk about here!
You talk about a personal â€œbreakdownâ€ on your blog. What happened? Was there a specific moment when you broke down? What led to it? How did you overcome it?
It was the summer of 2003, just before my senior year in college. I remember I had just ransacked the entire kitchen and hated myself for it. I had tried to stop but physically could not do it (itâ€™s a terrible feeling). The more I wanted to stop the more I ate. I even took pictures of myself on my (then new) cell phone camera. I was miserable with my recent weight-gain, unhappy in my summer internship, and on the verge of a breakup. I was lonely, bulimic, binging, and depressed, and in the pictures I was balling uncontrollably. There are five of them, lined up neatly. Itâ€™s really sad. Above the pictures, I wrote this:
â€œI am my own worst enemy. I make myself cry. I hurt myself internally and I want to make it stop. I am addicted to food like people are addicted to alcohol. It is my problem, and I need help. People donâ€™t understand.â€
Iâ€™m not sure what happened next (I documented very little of my eating disorders), but I remember that I knew something had to change. I couldnâ€™t go on like that! I started by accepting the fact that I had a problem and that I wanted to get better. I sought help from school counselors, and I started to educate myself on food and eating properly. It didnâ€™t happen overnightâ€”and there were so many variables in my recovery. Iâ€™m still learning and educating myself today. No one told me how to eat or how to get better eating habits. I had to do that all myself.
I can really relate to what you said about â€œobsessingâ€ over food. How did you finally break that pattern? Do you ever still obsess and if so what do you do?
When I was at my worst I thought I could never change. I thought I would be stuck obsessing about food forever (which was a terrible thought). When food was a strange, foreign matter that consisted of calories, I would think nonstop about what I should be consuming less of and what I couldnâ€™t have. It was almost a power struggle â€“ you know, whether or not I could keep the count at a specific number. It was extremely exhausting and I soon realized that it was unhealthy, too. Meanwhile I was craving â€œbadâ€ foods like crazy which would make ME go crazy.
Introducing real foods back into my diet made all the difference. Real foods with real nutrition that actually made me feel good. The other part of that was learning to read my body. It took a LOT of practice, but once I learned how to feed myself real food (not processed or packaged) the power struggle and obsession faded away. Plus, the chemicals in the processed foods werenâ€™t helping my situation.
Now, I think about food but in a different way. Of course I have to plan ahead and think about my food options, but now itâ€™s fun. Itâ€™s weird to say, but: I love what I eat. I love picking my food up from the store and I love preparing my meals. I generally eat what I want when I want â€“ but thatâ€™s because Iâ€™ve learned to eat right for me. Itâ€™s natural â€“ in substance and in habit. And THAT makes all the difference.
You say in your bio that you â€œnever knew I was addicted (to sugar) until I wasnâ€™t.â€ What a great statement!! Can you expand on that? How did you actually free yourself from the addiction? Do you still eat sugar? What do you eat for treats?
Oh my gosh yes â€“ and I know this is so big for you, too! And actually this was a fairly recent discovery. I could go ON and ON about this and how addicting sugar really is and how little we know about it! Sugar is so deceiving, and I find that a lot of people donâ€™t even know why sugar is bad for you.
I didnâ€™t even know a sugar addiction could exist, I just knew that I had a sweet tooth and really liked baked goods. While I knew baked goods werenâ€™t great for a healthy diet, I didnâ€™t think it was because of the sugar. But then I started to read a lot of studies on the adverse effects of sugar and decided to take a closer look at my diet. I started limiting my sugar intake; the more I read about it, the less I craved.
Then, about a year and a half ago I started eliminating all sugar from my diet. I would indulge every now and then, but I would immediately see the connection, and I would only crave more sugar! Itâ€™s a vicious cycle. I did have a small breakdown sometime at the beginning, which was a real eye-opener (and another story!). It was very circumstantial.
I kept on that path for about a year until I decided to get serious. I started to bake again (something I love), but the goodies were NATURALLY sweetened (with agave, honey, maple syrup, etc). These treats satisfy my sweet tooth but without the guilt or crazy cravings. It didnâ€™t take long for me completely lose ALL desire for sugar. I still LOVE baked goods and desserts; itâ€™s just that now I take a more natural approach. I also love chocolate, but now I stick to raw chocolate or Green & Blackâ€™s 70% dark. Now when I do try a â€œrealâ€ dessert I find that itâ€™s just way too sweet!
The recipe below is a favorite of mine. Iâ€™ll whip these naturally sweetened cookies up when I have a baked-goods craving, and it gets it every time!
Banana Oatmeal Cookies
1/3 cup almond butter (I use raw almond butter by MaraNatha- no extra additives!)
2 ripe bananas
1 Tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp unsweetened almond milk (I like Blue Diamondâ€™s Almond Breeze)
2 Tbsp agave
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
dash of cinnamon (optional)
1/2 cup grain-sweetened, dairy-free chocolate chips (I go for Sunspire)
Instructions: In a large bowl, mash bananas with a fork until smooth. Add almond butter, almond milk, vanilla and agave and mix well. Add remaining ingredients and stir until well combined.
Place spoonfuls of dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake 13-16 minutes at 350 degrees, or until done. Let cool for about 30 minutes so they firm up a little.
You workout with a trainer right? How has working with a personal trainer helped you?
I do â€“ this was another life-changing commitment! I know I mention this in my blog, but I had put off a trainer for YEARS because I used the cost as an excuse. Yes, trainers are pricey (especially here in New York!) but Iâ€™m committed to building a healthier me, so in the end I finally signed up! What a HUGE change it has made in my world of exercise!!
This is a picture from a vacation last month. Iâ€™ll always be fair skinned and Iâ€™m happy and confident in my body once again.
How does your boyfriend feel about your lifestyle? Does he share it?
I love this picture of us- we were celebrating a friendâ€™s birthday, and I had just left the ad agency a few days before. It was a happy weekend!
Alex is great (nice name, hm?). Though he doesnâ€™t share my â€œpassion,â€ Iâ€™m very thankful that heâ€™s so supportive of my health initiatives. Heâ€™s really patient and doesnâ€™t mind taking part in my healthy habits, which makes for a winning combo. I am careful not to force anything on him, though. If he wants to take on the same sort of diet, thatâ€™s great, but for the most part he enjoys his own tastes. I think that as long as Iâ€™m happy, heâ€™s happy.
Fortunately, weâ€™re both adventurous eaters and love eating out, and New York makes it easy with so many options â€“ we can pick a place where we can both order and be happy. Not to say he doesnâ€™t enjoy my cooking, but he does like to poke fun and call me a â€œwoodland creatureâ€ because of my diet mainstays (I generally donâ€™t eat meat or dairy). Who can hate quinoa though?
If you could go anywhere in the world TODAY where would you go?
I have this sudden curiosity with Bora Bora. Iâ€™ve clearly never been, but it looks beautiful. I told Alex that we HAVE to go there, so we looked at flights. Not cheap. I may not get there TODAY, but Iâ€™ll get there!
Thanks, Alexi, for so openly sharing your journey with us. You can read more about Alexi at The Whole Nut.
Hugs and High Fives,
Girl Heroes – Changing the world by choosing health!
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