For This Healthy Chef, It All Began with a Walk

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Hi dailySpark readers! My name is Emily, and I write a recipe and running blog – The Front Burner. I am a vegetarian chef who recently graduated from culinary school, and in just a few short weeks I’ll be lining up at the starting line of my sixth full marathon. But food and fitness haven’t always been my passions. In fact it was quite the opposite – they weren’t even on my radar. For the first half of my adult life, my health and well-being were placed, you might say – on the back burner.

My journey to being unhealthy is fairly predictable. Growing up, I probably had it better than most kids my age – my entire family sat down together to a home cooked meal each and every night. There was always something green on every plate, and fast food was an indulgence saved only for long road trips. I didn’t really know why we ate the way we ate – most of the time I was just happy to eat what was in front of me. Even though I ate well and felt healthy, I had no actual understanding of nutrition or personal health.

I went off to college at a normal size and weight but with very limited understanding of health and nutrition, and what sort of choices I should be making now that I was on my own. In college I dragged through life on a cycle of very little sleep, way too much partying, and late night fast food. My main forms of activity came from walking to and from class during the week, and dancing in the bars on weekends. After four years of fun, I packed up my car on graduation day, and headed home with 30 extra pounds on my frame.

But the post-college years were still not my turning point. I landed in a desk job that kept me seated most of the day, and I lived off of Diet Coke, 100-calorie snack packs, and processed food. The problem was not that I was overweight; in fact my weight may have still been in a normal range. The problem was that I was unhealthy. I didn’t sleep enough. I wasn’t getting necessary vitamins and minerals. I didn’t feel alive.

The year 2005 brought a new boyfriend and a new burst of excitement into my days. For the first time in a long time, I wanted to feel good about myself again. I was tired of wearing extra layers to hide what was underneath, and I was ready to finally do something about extra weight I was carrying around. It all started by simply going for a walk.

Each day, I would walk. And some days I would walk a little more. But while I started to feel stronger and happier through walking, it was also eating up huge chunks of my time. In an attempt to be more efficient with my time and exercise, one day I decided to run. I will be the first to tell you, I am NOT a natural runner. My gait was awkward, I felt uncomfortable, my clothes were all wrong, and I worried that passing drivers were laughing at me. But the next day, I ran again, and that time I made it a little farther. With no fitness experience, and no sense of direction, I knew that in order to be successful I needed a goal. I printed off the Couch to 5K program, hung it by my door, and signed up for my local Race for the Cure. In September 2006, I ran my first 5K, and was forever bitten by the running bug. Running gave me a sense of pride and accomplishment that up to that point was a totally foreign feeling.

As running became a part of my daily and weekly life, I started to feel and look healthy for the first time since high school. But while running was beginning to lift me up, my overly-processed diet full of junk was still weighing me down. I realized that in order to be a fit person and a successful runner, I needed to start considering what I was putting on my plate. I began to browse health food and nutrition sites like SparkPeople. At the time that I began to learn about health food, my idea of cooking was opening boxes and pushing start on the microwave. Reading health websites helped me gain an understanding of calories, fats, daily needs, and metabolism, and finally I understood what it really meant to be healthy. Lethargic evenings on the couch were replaced by workouts at the gym, running in the sunshine, and playing in my kitchen. For so long I felt like my life had been on cruise control, and suddenly I had regained my spark.

The next three years brought true meaning to the word transformation. I started lifting weights and gained muscle definition. I trained for and ran a marathon. And then I ran another, and another. I fell in love with cooking, and finding out where my food comes from. I gave up meat and fish, and became a vegetarian. I felt amazing. I had finally found myself. I married the boyfriend who pushed me out the door for my first walk, and he eventually pushed me to take the greatest leap of all.

At age 28, I quit my desk job in Cincinnati and moved across the country to go to culinary school. Just a few years ago, I had no understanding of food or ingredients, and now I have a Culinary Arts degree from one of the top schools in the country. I am living proof that chasing a dream is worth any risk.

Today I create healthy, vegetarian meals and write about running and cooking at The Front Burner. I try to show my readers that with the right motivation, anyone can be a runner, and cook delicious healthy meals. My mission to “make healthy the new normal” is something that I work towards one recipe at a time. Here is a small sample of some of the delicious dishes you will find on my recipe page:

For more recipes, you can visit my blog The Front Burner. I'll also be sharing more on SparkRecipes from time to time. Now that you know my story, I hope to share many more healthy cooking tips with you down the road.

I started my journey without any specific objective in mind - other than the fact that I knew I needed a change. Several years ago, I couldn’t run down the block, and at the end of this month I will run my sixth full marathon. But more important than how far I can run or how well I can cook, is how amazing I feel inside. It took losing weight, gaining muscle, and a new career for me to realize that as significant as my physical transformation has been, my true journey to health has come from within.

What was the first step in your journey to be healthier and happier?