Featured Guest Blogger: Kelly Gallagher
Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved food. My mom can tell you, I was her “good eater” kid. I’d try anything and everything – a quality I’ve kept up with my entire life. Food and I used to have the best relationship. I’d eat whatever I wanted, and between dancing, playing softball, and generally, always being super active, nothing bad ever happened to me (well my figure – I can’t really speak for my arteries). Even in high school, most of my female peers consumed salads and raw veggies at lunch, aiming to reach a certain dress size for homecoming or prom. On the other hand (or plate) I was the girl eating four servings of tacos and going on dates to Wendy’s to ordering everything on the dollar menu twice over. I know. I was the worst. I hate old me too.
Then I went away to college and everything changed. I thought I could eat the way I did in high school. I mean, I was still dancing and I’d go to the gym or run every so often when I wasn’t nerd-ing out in the design/photo lab. I was one of those kids that had no interest in drinking right away and had (read: have) a fear of using the phone. Between zero calories of alcohol and no chance of ordering late night Chinese, I genuinely thought there was no possible way I could gain the freshman 15. God I was wrong. And in the end I gained so much more mental and spiritual weight than any physical weight fried rice and liquor could give me.
I still remember the first time my parents came up to visit me. It was probably half way through my first semester and they came up to watch me dance in one of Dayton’s football games. My mother and I have a very open, best friend kind of relationship. A relationship that to this day is very honest and safe. However, it’s a double edge sword kind of relationship. She’s the first to acknowledge my accomplishments, but also the first to point out my failures and flaws. A blessed curse. After the game, she had told me she didn’t recognize me at first, and it looked like I was on some kind of steroid based on the extra fluff and “water weight” (read: pizza weight) I was holding. I was shocked. It was only a few months ago that she was telling me how skinny I looked, that I should have no reservations in college. This was supposed to be the start of the best four years of my life.
Food had betrayed me. What was once love now turned to hate. I became obsessive. Calories became the enemy. I did everything in my power to not let them beat me. Immediately after that weekend I only bought salads and fruit from the dining halls. I’d freeze 100-calorie yogurts and only on days where I’d burn an extra 500 calories in the gym did I let myself have one. I can remember pretending to sleep, waiting for my roommate to leave for her morning class. As soon as I heard the door shut, I was out of bed and on the scale. Ugh, the scale. Eh, scratch that. It was more like, ugh, the number on the scale. That was actually the enemy. I weighed myself meticulously every morning letting whatever digital number on it determine my day. If the number went up so did my self-hatred. A lower number was good, but it was never low enough. Nothing was ever enough for me. This kind of thinking followed me through the rest of college. My life – every aspect of it – revolved around my weight. When my weight went up I’d seclude myself, missing out on memories with my friends because I was terrified of being caught in any photo taken; physical proof of the monster I was becoming.
As (hopefully) you know, restrictive diets aren’t maintainable and I began binging and purging. This was also when I started drinking. Like most with disordered eating, I would cycle. I’d go a week barely eating 500 calories a day, then, because I was so hungry I couldn’t stand it, I’d binge and purge or use laxatives the next 5. I’d then be so ashamed of my lack of self-control I punished myself with summer runs in hoodies and sweats. I’d restrict. I began going out solely to drink so much that I’d have to throw up. This was the darkest point of my life. By far. I’d take any heartbreak over the mental hell cycle that is disordered eating. Because that’s what it is. Actual hell. A Dante’s Inferno 7 layered Mexican dip of despair. Your mind becomes this trap, telling you that you shouldn’t eat, or rather, that no matter what, you CAN’T eat.
When I graduated college I was the heaviest I had ever been. And I know this because I had gone to my yearly Dr.’s appointment and my Dr. was surprised with yet again the amount of weight I was carrying. Binging and restrictive eating weirdly do that to a person. You’d logically think “Oh, if I’m restricting, and then displacing what I do over-eat, I should be able to at least maintain if not lose weight.” Well, I’m living proof you won’t. Don’t even think about it, let alone try it. So there I was. A seemingly happy person, great degree, job out of college who should have been living the dream was actually depressed and self-harming. I lived like this for a few months. Hiding everything I could, making excuses for my weird eating habits and obsessive exercising. But deep down, it wasn’t the food stuff that was the problem. It was the self-loathing. It was looking in the mirror every morning trying to hide my body in any way possible. It was always sitting on the edge of my chair, making sure my thighs didn’t look any bigger than they already were. It was refusing to go to the mall, because trying on clothes caused me full blown panic attacks. It was loving the character of my soul but hating the prison it was trapped in. It was wanting to give up my life because of the way my body looked. Yes. I was at the point of wanting to fall into a coma so that A) I wouldn’t have to look in the mirror anymore but more importantly B) thinking that by being on an IV/feeding tube would make me lose weight and I would wake up beautiful again. How f***** up is that?! I knew that deep down I didn’t want to die. I have too much to offer to fall into a coma at 22. I couldn’t live like this anymore and turned to the Internet for alternative ways of living.
One day, I stumbled across (does anyone even remember the Stumble Upon website?) the documentary Forks Over Knives. It completely changed my life. I won’t spoil it for you, but essentially it dives into the question: “If we are the most evolved, technologically advanced we have ever been, why are we the most sick/disease ridden we have ever been?” From there I went to watch Cowspiracy and Earthlings. I had also found a plethora of vegan YouTubers. Needless to say I was quickly inspired to go vegan.
Now, I wasn’t able to go vegan completely overnight. Believe it or not, I was the girl who used to weave strips of bacon together to top my cheeseburgers. (How did I not die of a heart attack, seriously) The whole process took me roughly about a year. I came up with a work week/weekend 80/20 kind of plan (that I think I made up myself – at least I didn’t read any blogs on transitioning this way – who knows). First round, I was pescatarian (only fish – no chicken, cow, lamb, pig, etc) during the week, and allowed myself a steak or bacon on the weekend. A few weeks in, I found that by Monday morning, I felt like total crap. So I changed my plan. Now I was vegetarian during the week and pescatarian on the weekend. I held this stance for a few months. It wasn’t until I did more ethical research on the fishing industry that I wanted to cut my ties – or quit tossing in my line I guess (I know, I’m the lamest). So I moved up a level on my eating plan. Vegan during the week, vegetarian on the weekend – this was the hardest stage for me to want to leave. And selfishly, it was because of Sunday brunch. Most people think they can’t go vegan because of the cheese deal, but for me, I really didn’t want to give up omelets or have to be that weird girl who only ate fruit for breakfast. I was also back into the dating scene and I was really scared of being immediately rejected for lifestyle/food choices I was making.
But I guess that’s the kicker. Not just with romantic relationships, but all relationships in general. Your life, is well, your life. Yours. It’s no one else’s say on how you get to live it. And even though we think we need everyone else’s approval, we actually don’t. It took me 23 years to actually get that, but thank God I finally did. So I took the leap. I decided that I was going to go full on vegan. And yea, it weirded some people out. I lost some friends. But the few I lost are nothing compared to the amount I’ve thrived since then.
Reflecting and writing about all of this is hard. I tried so hard to block out such a negative time in my life. But as I sit here (aka lay here on the floor) writing this, it makes me see how happy I am now. I look in mirrors again. I don’t hide behind my friends in photos. I wear crop tops. I show my arms. I smile. Isn’t that a crazy concept? I actually smile now.
My name is Kelly Gallagher and I love food. And I know now that food was never the enemy. Disordered eating was my enemy. The stupid dark voice inside my head was the enemy. Food has always loved me. I just never loved myself enough to feed it properly. I know I can’t speak for any other vegan and I will never force my way of living on another human, but going vegan is the best thing I ever did for myself. (Yes, I know preachy vegans are the worst – I hate them too – but getting you to go vegan isn’t my goal here – ask my boyfriend, he eats meat all the time and it doesn’t bother me – he’s also amazing and will try any vegan meal I make us [PS – he usually really likes it]). But really, veganism is one of the most liberating ways of living. I never count calories, I intuitively eat, and I eat whatever I want (the amount of potatoes I consume a week is actually frightening). Now granted, I don’t overeat vegan processed “meats” or cookies, I stick to a very whole food kind of diet, allowing for splurges here and there. And honestly, after eating this way for so long now, I really don’t crave the processed stuff. There are so many options and accommodating restaurants out there. I urge you to at least try (and maybe give Meatless Mondays a chance!)
Of course weight-loss is a benefit of going vegan (I’m a size 2 again at 5’9), but so many other aspects of my body have changed as well. My skin rarely gives me issues, my hair and nails grow at a rapid pace, my energy is really stable, and I no longer have to depend on multiple cups of coffee to get me through my day (which between my career job and dance teaching job is usually 10-12 hours). Through veganism I’ve learned to love my body and the things it’s able to do again. People generally ask me about “how I get my protein” and honestly, my diet has everything covered. I never feel deprived and I’m doing more athletic things I ever have in my life (hello 36” box jumps!)
In the spirit of all this, I’d love to share a pretty diverse recipe. Chickpeas and squash have been my absolute go-to’s as of recent. Chickpeas are amazing! They’re an amazing source of protein, fiber, and manganese. They are also incredibly versatile. I roast them in taco seasoning and cumin for taco night, or with a bit of curry powder to put over salads. You can mash them with some avocado and lemon to make a protein and healthy fat tilled “mayo”. Or, if you have the time, blend them with Tahini and you’re favorite spices for hummus. These stuffed acorn squashes are so delicious (boyfriend approved) and surprisingly easy – and like I said before, diverse as you can use any kind of squash (butternut, zucchini, yellow, pumpkin, etc) and mess around with your own kind of “stuffing” weather it be bean, quinoa or rice based and filled with other roasted veggies!
What You’ll Need:
2 small acorn squash
1 tablespoon coconut oil, warmed
Sea salt & ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons pine nuts
*1/3 cup raw cashew butter
1/2 cup filtered water
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
1/2 teaspoon gluten-free tamari OR *coconut aminos
1 cup packed arugula, plus extra for serving
1 medium shallot, small dice (about 1/2 cup diced shallot)
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
*Can either buy raw cashew butter or make your own by throwing your cashews in a food processor and adding water a bit at a time until you reach desired consistency. (I cheated and bought mine at Whole Foods in their in store nut butter section)
*Coconut aminos are essentially a more natural soy sauce. I personally think it tastes better because it’s not as salty. You can find them in the Asian section of your supermarket.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Cut the acorn squash in half lengthwise. Place the halves face-up on a baking sheet and drizzle with a 1/2 tablespoon of the coconut oil. Season the squash with salt and pepper and slide the sheet into the oven. Roast the squash until tender strands start to pull away, about 45 minutes.
- Remove the seeds from the squash and set aside.
- While the squash is roasting, toast the pine nuts in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Once pine nuts are golden brown, remove them and set aside.
- Make the arugula cream: In an upright blender combine the cashew butter, water, garlic, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice, tamari, arugula, salt, and pepper. Blend this mixture on high for about 45 seconds, or until totally smooth and fluid. Check the cream for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Transfer the cream to a sealable container and keep in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- Return the medium sauté pan with the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of coconut oil to the stove over medium heat. Add the shallots to the pan and cook, stirring often, until very soft, about 4 minutes. Add the chickpeas to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Once the chickpeas are warmed through, stir in the remaining tablespoon of lemon juice.
- To serve, place warm squash halves on plates and gently pull out some strands of “spaghetti” to make a pocket of sorts. Divide chickpea mixture between all squash halves. Drizzle garlicky arugula cream over both servings, and garnish with toasted pine nuts and extra arugula.
***Remember cooking is about YOU and creating something nutritious to reward your body for giving you life! If you hate lemon, just use the juice and no zest. If you adore garlic, add as many cloves as your heart desires. If you feel you need more greens in your life, add some spinach to that arugula cream! Everyone has different tastes and preferences. And like any kind of eating lifestyle, you’re only going to eat the things you enjoy eating! Be selfish! This is the only body you get! Do what you can to take the best care of it that you can!