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’m no stranger to health journeys. Like many American women, I struggled with an eating disorder as a young adult. In my 20s, I spent years working across sub-Saharan Africa, mainly in Sudan, Malawi, Cameroon, Senegal and Botswana, where food is locally grown with zero pesticides and little sugar. During this time, both my relationship with food and the food I consumed became healthier (good ‘ol talk therapy never hurt anyone, either). I was no longer as controlling about food. For the most part, I felt good. Not to mention, I was young and physically working hard (hello, war zones), so my metabolism was in full effect.

When I found myself back in the U.S., this new environment (not to mention a 35-year-old body?) pushed me to embark on a wellness journey to discover the diet that best suited my life and body. I wanted to find foods that gave me the energy to live my life comfortably. For me that meant playing with my son (aka chasing him down), exercising regularly, and doing the work I love. Needless to say, my diet has been a joy—and challenge—to figure out mentally, physically, and financially.

But hey, aren’t all worthwhile journeys filled with joys and challenges? Here’s what the past few years on this path has looked like for me.

Vegging Out

I experimented with vegetarianism at first. I didn’t eat much red meat to begin with, so this wasn’t difficult. However, chicken has been a staple since childhood. Removing this was rough. Many struggle with vegetarianism because they replace protein with carbohydrates; it took me about a month to figure that out. I added more vegetables to my diet for extra protein (edamame has 18 grams of protein per serving), while also increasing foods like eggs, nuts, lentils, and some dairy.

Find out what does not work

I felt good as a vegetarian, but my interest in healthy living spurred me to try veganism. Now that was hard. When staples like eggs and cheese were taken off the table (quite literally), my body experienced turmoil. My digestive track was off, and I had strange cravings (medium-rare steak?). Also, as a busy person, the prep time I needed to get fresh foods that had the ideal protein content became #toomuch. Veganism may work for a lot of people, but it wasn’t for me.

A Happy (and Healthy) Place

I decided to consult a nutritionist. She had me undergo food allergy and body type testing. I discovered that I am sensitive to some alternative grains and even some random foods—mushrooms and cranberries, what? With her help, I also learned my body is a “mixed type.” This means I need protein and lower amounts of carbs, but not zero carbs. (All bodies are completely unique, so don’t think this is transferable but think about testing your own).

So, I decided to try pescetarianism with the elimination of refined sugar and cane sugar. My diet of wild-caught fish, plenty of veggies, and moderate-to-low carbs is what ended up making me feel healthy and most of all, happy. I also play with alternative milks. And double-bonus, my kid is entertained by all the maple syrup and date-based desserts I try making. The Oregon berry crumble from this cookbook is one of my #kidfaves.

But It’s Not a Piece of Cake

I can’t say it’s always easy. I learned that wine isn’t always right for me, but come on, a nice dinner out without a pinot noir? There is only so much one can sacrifice.

It was also tough on my wallet. My two-month period of experimenting with veganism meant that I bought food, tried it, and sometimes didn’t approve. I spent money on food that made me feel less than stellar, and a lot of these “alternative” foods are more expensive than the regular staples. However, I did eat out less, which on the flip side, helped me save money. Now that I’ve developed my routine, I know roughly what I’m going to spend on groceries each month, and I’m totally content to invest that amount in my health.

Make Food An Essential Investment

At the end of the day, I have become more in tune with my body since I first began this journey. I actually listen to it now and am more connected to the rhythm of my food needs with my cycle. (Yes, there is evidence this is a thing). I also have the maturity to assure myself that the money I put into eating well is an essential life investment. Now that my self-acceptance levels are higher than ever before, I accept the things I cannot change (my body type), change the things I have control over (food and exercise), and am content with the happier reality that emerges (at least I’m trying my best). Feeling at home in my body and having a symbiotic relationship with it and food, though difficult at times, is a true joy.