I created The Culinary Gym to inspire and empower people to transform their health and their lives through fresh, delicious plant foods.
I teach how to turn those plant foods into AMAZING meals.
Nothing thrills me more than watching students come alive in the kitchen, as disoriented overwhelm becomes optimistic possibility!
Being part of that kind of magic is a joy and privilege I can’t quite put into words.
But you know, things were not always this way...
In high school, a full 90% of my calories came from ice cream! ... The last 10% was french fries and pop.
And it showed! I had SEVERE acne that covered my face, chest, and my entire back. Ohhh man, was it painful—and embarrassing!
Of course, I had NO idea that what I ate had anything to do with my acne, or that it could be totally eliminated with a few simple changes to my diet.
At the same time, like most teenage girls, I longed to be thin and beautiful. I ran seven days a week, in an attempt to lose weight while still being able to enjoy as much ice cream as I wanted.
No joke ... In case you think I’m exaggerating, check out this photo. It was around midnight at a wedding reception, and I was back and forth between the dance floor and the dessert table. You’re looking at the the sixth(!) bowl of ice cream I ate that night!
Regardless of how socially wrong it felt, I was compelled to eat as much ice cream as I could. I'd even wake up extra early to steal a few bites right from the carton before Mom could catch me.
I knew this gave me only temporary pleasure, and guessed it was wreaking havoc on my health, but I couldn't find a way out.
My only fear was that I'd get atherosclerosis and have a heart attack—waaaay too young, from all the saturated fat.
But that didn't stop me. Nor did the tears and depression that inevitably followed on the heels of each binge. Overall, I was happy and super optimistic, but when I hit a low (which happened several times a week), I felt helpless and lonely, like there was nothing to live for.
I knew I needed help, and I would have given anything to find a 12-Step program, yet I had no idea that food addiction was even a thing.
The few people I confided in didn't understand and laughed it off.
Not knowing what else to do, I did the same, and my addiction continued.
I've always had grand aspirations.
As a little girl, intuitively I knew my purpose in this life would be to help make the world a healthier, happier place.
I wanted to help heal, long before my own health ever crossed my mind. Not just people, but animals and Mother Nature as well.
I also yearned for a life of adventure and exploration!
My fascination with rain forests and the beautiful diversity of plants and animals grew to a passion for animal welfare and protecting wildlife.
Unfortunately, I didn't make the connection between animals and what was on my plate. And to my dismay, as I grew up in the city, my love for nature was swept aside until it was rekindled years later.
Starting in high school, I was on the standard route to medical school. With a desire to help kids live healthier, happier lives, I envisioned becoming a pediatric surgeon. But a junior-year European vacation opened my eyes to natural healing approaches we just don't hear about in the US mainstream, forever altering the course of my future.
My interest in "alternative" health was further piqued while I studied abroad in London for three months as a sophomore at Michigan State University. I found myself drawn to explore twelve different London health museums (who even knew such a thing existed!), and I spent a lot of time in Europe's largest bookstore, browsing the expansive collection of books on natural medicine.
Despite a growing interest in natural healing, my personal health was on a steady decline as I started studying human biology at Michigan State University.
Although I knew that pharmaceutical medicine was not for me, I still thought our health was in the hands of trained doctors.
My diet was full of caffeine, french fries, ice cream, and alcohol. I gained my "Freshman 15" (the 15 pounds new college students are said to pick up in the first year) in just a month!
But weight gain was only one of the challenges of college life.
My acne was slightly less severe, but still extreme. And I was starting to show signs of chronic fatigue, going straight back to bed after my morning class.
Any time I ate, I experienced extreme bloating and abdominal distension. I didn't know it until many years later, but my diet of ice cream, refined carbs, and alcohol was a perfect setup for SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth).
These symptoms stood in sharp contrast with the vitality and the full, adventurous life I pictured for myself, but I was blind to it. I was surrounded by good food, great friends, and lots of alcohol. I was having the time of my life.
By my senior year at MSU, my interest in natural medicine inspired me to start working in the prepared foods department at a local health food store. One Friday afternoon in the kitchen, I was awestruck by the aroma of an organic red bell pepper. It smelled so good that I put down the knife and took a bite.
As I chewed with curiosity, I realized that vegetables could taste really good!
In that moment, it hit me: food is the cause, and the treatment, for most chronic diseases! ...Including childhood obesity, which had become a keen interest of mine.
That evening, I started my application to Bastyr University's master's program in nutrition instead of applying to be a doctor of naturopathic medicine.
It would take several more years to really dial in my understanding of health and healing.
My time at Bastyr was marked by debilitating fatigue. No matter how fascinating the topic, I could NOT keep my eyes open (and caffeine didn't help in the slightest). It was embarrassing. I had to apologize to my professors.
Over time, other troubling symptoms like joint pain, hair loss, and unusual sensitivity to cold began to accompany the fatigue. Eventually, I discovered the name for the symptoms I had been grappling with: I had Hashimoto's disease, an autoimmune thyroid condition.
Highly motivated to feel better, I set out to heal my thyroid condition using diet and nutrition (a process that continues to this day).
Although I tried to "eat better," I didn't really know what I was doing. Still, with "food as medicine" as my guiding principle, I gradually made healthier and more conscious choices.
My first stepping-stone was being a vegetarian for one year, just to force myself to learn how to prepare foods I'd never even heard of, like lentils and split peas.
In 2007, I started working at Whole Foods Market in the prepared foods section. I spent three years there as a catering specialist, and I fell hard for the culinary world. I loved being in the kitchen and working with real food, which I didn't experience much of as a child.
Then I saw Dr. Gabriel Cousens' Simply Raw documentary, and I got my first solid confirmation that eating garden-fresh plants could actually reverse disease. Ecstatic about this information, I managed to help Whole Foods Market in Bellevue, Washington develop a raw foods bar.
My next step was working at Seattle's first raw vegan restaurant, where I met lots of health enthusiasts and further refined my understanding of plant-based eating. Finally, on New Year's Day of 2010, I began a four-month stint eating only raw plants. I LOVED this way of eating, so I decided to further my knowledge with a two-week internship at Dr. Cousens' Tree of Life Center in Arizona.
Upon my return from the Tree of Life, I learned of the most important influencers in my life to date: Drs. Alan Goldhamer, John McDougall, Michael Klaper, Doug Lisle, and Jeff Novick. These professionals broadened my understanding of whole-food, plant-based nutrition, showing me that disease reversal was very possible without it being 100% raw.
It all made sense to me ... even Dr. Goldhamer's recommendation to be "SOS-free" by avoiding all processed sugar, oil and salt!
Just a couple months later, I was offered a job as a live-in chef for a doctor in Seattle. He had spent time at TrueNorth Health Center to reverse his multiple sclerosis, and thus wanted all of his meals to be whole-food, plant-based, and SOS-free.
This was the perfect opportunity!
I could further optimize my diet and start my career in using food as medicine.
One year later, I moved to California to integrate into and serve in this community, which inspired me no end! I knew I was on the right path when TrueNorth and Dr. McDougall hired me to teach weekly cooking classes at their world-class residential medical facilities, in Santa Rosa, California. I got to witness firsthand the joy and wonder of this lifestyle - both the delicious, health-giving food and the remarkable ability of the human body to heal itself.
In 2015, I opened a small cooking school in Santa Rosa, which I called "Plantz St. Culinary Gym." For years, I enjoyed teaching in-person classes to a small but vibrant community. Then in 2018, I closed Plantz St. and decided to focus on building my online business.
With a decade of experience now under my belt, I have no doubt that whole plant foods are the most potent medicine for our bodies and minds. At this point, I've fully made the transition from processed food addict to genuine lover of (and ambassador for!) whole-food, plant-based eating.
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