New York, Fall 2017
At the beginning of the year, I took pen to paper and listed three goals I wanted to achieve by December. I had been feeling lost for months and was frustrated that I was spending more time complaining than figuring out how I could live a life filled with passion, purpose and meaning.
So I sat down one night, chose three parts of my life I wanted to work on and wrote freely from a place of vulnerability.
I started with the first and most important goal: figuring out what was wrong with my digestive health.
Since the summer of 2016, I had been experiencing sharp stomach pains after meals which were gradually accompanied by chronic abdominal bloating, weight gain, fatigue, brain fog, hot flashes and mood swings. I saw two doctors, did an endoscopy and had an x-ray. Both results revealed nothing abnormal and because the doctors could not see anything visibly wrong with me, told me that the problem was in my head. Frustrated, I took matters into my own hands. I obsessively researched digestion-related illnesses until I stumbled upon a digestive disorder called SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth). Convinced I had found the answer to my discomfort, I made an appointment with a new gastroenterologist and had him test me for SIBO. The results came back positive and severe. The doctor explained that lactulose breath test results show up on a scale of 1-20. My results came back at 160. Despite the bad news, I was incredibly relieved to have finally found out what was wrong with my body (in short: way too much bad bacteria in my small intestine).
Although my case of SIBO is severe, it isn't fatal. Because SIBO is relatively new and uncommon, there isn't a fixed solution other than to take antibiotics and change your diet. The latter part is where it gets overwhelming. My gastroenterologist couldn't provide any useful dietary guidance and there's a wealth of contradictory and dubious information online. I decided to try and heal myself holistically by revamping my diet, exercise regime and mentality. At my gastroenterologist's suggestion, I completely eliminated raw salads, green juices and smoothies from my diet which immediately reduced the chronic bloating I was experiencing on a weekly basis (I would bloat 2-3 inches at my waist over a 12 hour period). I stopped exercising intensely 4-5 times a week and listened to my body's internal cues: if I was exhausted, I'd opt for lower intensity workouts or focus on getting a solid 8 hours of sleep. I urged myself to view my recovery process as a healing not annoying one. I reasoned that since it took months (maybe even years) for my gastrointestinal symptoms to surface, it would probably take months/years for my body to fully heal.
It's been almost three months since my diagnosis and I'm ecstatic that I feel human once more. I've lost half of the 12lbs I gained but most of my clothes still don't fit. My energy level is back to normal, I'm not constantly starving and I'm able to hold a conversation without repeatedly losing my train of thought. I'm so happy I listened to my gut (pun intended) instead of simply accepting what my doctors told me.
My second goal was figuring out the exact steps I needed to take in order to switch careers.
After working in the fashion industry for 8 years, I was dying to do something different. I wanted to pursue something in the wellness space but could not articulate what that career would look like. Part of the reason I spent months feeling confused and was paralyzed in action was because I was too preoccupied with what others might think. It was only when I stopped logging onto Facebook, LinkedIn and asking others what they thought I should do that I was able to drown out the white nose and tune into what I really wanted.
The next steps came quickly and effortlessly. I enrolled in two certificate programs: Culinary Nutrition at the Natural Gourmet Institute and Health Coaching at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. I knew that if I completed both programs and loved what I was learning, then I was definitely taking the right steps in figuring out my next career move. What followed was something I had not anticipated: graduate school. I found out about New York University's Masters in Food Studies program by chance. As I looked at the program's policy and business/entrepreneurship course offerings, I immediately knew I had to apply. It was like I had found another missing piece of my career puzzle.
I had just missed the application deadline by a few days but with some encouragement from my husband, I emailed the admissions team to ask if I could apply. To my surprise, I was told that if I could get my application in by the end of that week (which was 3 business days!), they would consider my application. I immediately requested recommendation letters from two former managers in Hong Kong and submitted my application. I got accepted into the masters program a few months later.
I'll be the first to admit that I still don't know exactly what I'm going to do after graduation but that no longer bothers me. I'm finally on a path I've been so scared to take. I'm slowly becoming more comfortable with the unknown and am trying not to stress over things I cannot control.
The third and final goal was to wholeheartedly pursue a side project I've always had at the back of my head: launch my own Instagram and wellness "brand" (for lack of a better word).
I've always wanted to start my own blog but never felt strongly enough about any niche to launch one. I looked at influencers like Gary Pepper Girl, Blonde Salad and WeWoreWhat and envied the lifestyles and businesses they had build for themselves. I know some people mock and criticize influencers, claiming they don't work but if you actually think about how many hours it takes to shoot, edit, style and post their editorial-esque content, you'll realize that a lot of planning and time is required.
When I adopted a healthy lifestyle a few years ago, the wheels in my head started turning. I thought to myself, when I'm "ready" I'm going to launch a wellness version of what these influencers are doing. I never felt ready but what I did was start a secret Instagram account and blog when I was doing Kayla Itsine's BBG workout. I wanted a fun, private way to stay accountable away from the eyes of family and friends but what began as a motivational tool quickly turned into a dark hole of endless comparisons. A few weeks into the 12 week workout program, I realized that I was obsessing way too much over how much body fat I had and how undefined my abs were. Scrolling through images of sculpted abs and long lean legs made me depressed and tempted to reengage in unhealthy eating habits. I knew I had to take a step back from social media for the sake of my sanity.
I found myself coming back to Instagram months later with a renewed sense of purpose. In a digital world of perfectly curated and photoshopped images, it can be hard to differentiate between curation and reality. I wanted to relaunch my Instagram as a platform that emphasized authenticity and body positivity so I dared myself to openly share my long history with disordered eating, body dysmorphia and body image issues. In all honesty, I didn't know/care if anyone was paying attention but I persisted because I felt that it was important to start a real dialogue about food, body and weight issues. It was, and still is, terrifying to be so brutally honest but if these posts can help even one person feel less alone and frustrated in their health journey, it's worth it.
What I never expected was to connect with so many inspirational women through Instagram or for my account to grow as much as it has these past few months. It's been comforting and heartbreaking to know that I was never alone in my struggles, which is why I decided to launch a brand new blog as an extension of my Instagram account. I realized I could create the change I've been longing to see. We really don't need more social media accounts that perpetuate unrealistic standards of beauty (check out these contoured abs) or promote ridiculous health fads. It's a colossal waste of time to strive for an unattainable and unhealthy physique. What we need is to be open and honest about our body issues so that we can come together to support each other in a meaningful way.
Down the road, I'd love to launch Health Coaching services and to hold intimate workshops to further help women with disordered eating problems. Again, I don't have the nitty gritty details ironed out yet but I trust it will come in time.