Food… where do I even begin? I started this conscious eating journey about three years ago and it has been quite a roller coaster. I went from eating anything and everything to cutting out gluten, dairy, soy, refined sugar, meat, grains, peanuts, and corn. Not all at once, mind you. So… I first began as a gluten free, soy free, and refined sugar free vegan. Surprisingly I LOVED eating this way, never feeling restricted or unhappy. I was on cloud nine. For about seven months I swore by this diet of mine, sharing food pictures on Instagram and promoting vegan-ism to family and friends. Then, within two weeks, everything changed. There is a diet called 80/10/10, in which you eat 80% fruit, 10 percent fat, and 10% protein. Wary at first, I delved into research, eventually concluding that I would reap the benefits of this diet. So I tried it out. For a little under two weeks I ate nothing but fruit, a few nuts, and a teeny tiny amount of avocado. At this time, I was partaking in my first year of cross-country, having thrown my tennis racket to the side. We practiced every single day of the week, running anything from hills to sprinting on the track. My body was exhausted from this new strenuous sport and the inadequate amount of nutrients I was ingesting. Along with my daily starvation came ACNE! “Oh that’s not so bad,” you might say. But imagine not just your entire face but your chest, shoulders, back, and the inside of your elbows sporting A LOT of red bumps. I was miserable! I had just started a new school for my senior year and my confidence was lowering with each passing week. One day, during my second week of this diet, I remember sitting on the kitchen counter, crying, as my mom tried to explain to me that this “lifestyle” wasn’t working for me. I had put my heart and soul into this, I mean I went as far as buying a huge box of bananas to add to my daily smoothies, which were nothing but water and 10 of those sugary and delicious tropical fruits. After hitting my breaking point I went back to eating cooked vegan food for a while.

Thanksgiving finally rolled around and I was still battling the horror of my skin, truly ashamed to look at myself with out makeup on. I ate so healthy yet I looked like pizza and candy were my meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Despite the beliefs I held about vegan-ism, I began researching other diets to clear up skin. The day before thanksgiving I came across the Paleo diet. A diet that consists of meat, vegetables, fruit, and nuts. I desperately wanted to continue eating vegan but I didn’t know what else to do and my body was telling me something. So… Thanksgiving day was the first day I ate meat since that previous February. My mom bought a natural, no hormones added turkey and did it up with spices and other delicious ingredients that chefs know about. The first bite was strange. All I could think about was that this piece of food came from the inside of a dead animal. Being the drama queen that I am, at least when I am around my family, I made everything from gagging faces to pouting lips. The rest of the week I continued eating the rest of the turkey… and I felt really good. As the weeks passed by meat became a staple and grains became the enemy. My body significantly toned up and my constant hunger significantly toned down. Along with that, my acne, with the help of an incredible facial expert, slowly dissipated. So I ate mainly Paleo for the next year and a half. Was it all butterflies and rainbows? Absolutely not. I fell off the diet wagon many times, wanting to indulge in sweets and grains. My weight was up and down, never staying consistent and I felt SO restricted as I watched my friends enjoy their first year of college eating whatever they wanted. I kept at that cycle of falling off and climbing back until a few months back in November I decided I was going to be done with meat. It didn’t happen overnight, and I am not a vegetarian or vegan. There was something inside of me that knew I could no longer ethically explain to myself why I ate animals. Yes, there may be health benefits of eating meat, but living in this modern world I knew that I could decide to go with out it if I had the will to do so. I began by taking out red meat, which had been something that I heavily relied upon the past year. Then slowly, I ate less chicken and turkey till lately I haven’t felt the need to eat it at all. Fish is still something I’m working towards eliminating or at least decreasing from my diet. I just don’t feel right deciding that cows and chickens are more important to save than fish. They are all living, breathing animals.

BUT… here is the thing.

I no longer feel right supporting the meat industry but I do feel the need to eat what I am offered. Will I buy a chicken sandwich? No. But… will I eat some bites of chicken if someone has kindly made and offered it to me in their own home? Absolutely.

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Maybe you won’t agree with this, and I know this isn’t right for everyone. I have a cousin who is a strict vegetarian and I would never expect her to eat chicken or beef if it is offered to her. That is not her path and I am inspired by her morals and values. But I am not her. I am choosing to eat consciously, without a label, but willing to accept what is offered to me out of respect.

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I feel more at peace with food than I have ever. Knowing that I don’t have to define myself as something is really liberating. If I decide one day that my body is going to be sick with out meat, I will eat it. I will eat it, be thankful for it, and not beat myself up about it.

I am not a vegetarian, I am not a vegan, I am not Paleo.

But most of all, I am not defined by the label of my diet.

Food used to be a battle but now its a pleasure.