Wondering what it’s like to work with a food coach? My 3-month transformational journey.

I have a problem. Or, I guess I should say, I HAD a problem. Up until recently though, it was a secret problem, and it had to do with food.

Why is food so confusing? And, WHY does no one talk about it?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve prioritized comfort and convenience eating over anything that could remotely be classified as “healthy”. I knew I was doing this too. It’s always been a running joke in my family (“It’s a pitch in, but let’s just ask Kelly to bring chips”) and in my own head (“Maybe this week I’ll go to the grocery store and cook….. HAHAHAHA JUST KIDDING — I’m going to sit on the couch and drink wine instead.”). It’s not even that I didn’t like healthy foods. My favorite food has been Brussels sprouts for as long as I can remember. But when it came to taking care of myself, I always reverted to literally whatever was easiest or quickest (looking at you, ClusterTruck). Have you ever had a habit you couldn’t remember the source of? To be honest, these habits probably started long ago as a child and as much as I hate to admit it, they’ve been really challenging to change. And of course, a habit is hard to change if you don’t recognize it’s there.

For the last few years, I have fiercely attacked every area of my life to make sure they were aligned with my values. Work, relationships, money — you name it, I have thought about it in some way. But food and cooking has been that one thing that’s always stayed on the bottom of my list. I’d even talked to many family members about cooking; it was never a secret I was trying to change something, but I didn’t have any idea how to start that process. Multiple family members even offered to help me learn to cook but for some reason I could never get the nerve (or make the time) to just start. I knew I needed to change my food habit, but it was the most overwhelming one to address.

So, I’m a list maker. I love setting reminders and things to do for myself (really so I don’t forget), but also so I can feel like I’m accomplishing something and being a real adult. But for whatever reason, the Grocery Store list on my iPhone had always remained empty. Except for maybe frozen pizzas, but did I always need to write it down on that sad little list by itself? More on that later.

Ultimately, what ended up finally changing my mind was… money. I took a hard look at where my money was going, and a lot of my disposable income each month was going to — you guessed it — eating out.

For reference, here was my food spending in January 2018:

  • Groceries: $1.63
  • Restaurants/Eating Out: $263.98
  • Fast Food: $97.68

One day earlier this year, I had a light bulb moment. “What if someone exists out there in the world to help me understand my eating habits and also begin to change them?” Here is where my food coach journey begins.

Once I decided to do some searching on a coach, I struggled a bit with where to start. For one, I don’t have a medical issue* that would restrict WHAT I wanted to eat (for example, diabetes or obesity). Because of that, I knew I wanted to stay away from a dietician or nutritionist affiliated with a hospital network. Secondly, I don’t have an eating disorder*. A lot of my Google search results and even recommendations I received were for coaches who work primarily with those in recovery. I knew that wasn’t for me either.

Enter Erica Ballard. Somehow, I was already connected to her through Instagram, and suddenly started seeing her posts about healthy living and the programs that she offers (thank you, Universe, for sending me exactly what I needed at the exact right time!). I went to her website and filled out the contact form. She responded almost immediately! We set up a complimentary phone call for the following day. Our initial call was on February 9, 2018.

Full disclosure #1 — I was nervous for that phone call. I knew I was going to have to admit that I needed help, and that was reallllly scary. But ohmygosh once I did it, it felt so amazing to have someone listen, to reaffirm what I was I was saying and feeling, and also tell me she wanted to work with me (and help me). We went through the details of her program and I agreed I was in. For three months.

Honestly, the rest was a whirlwind after that.

The first things she had me do were begin a food journal and write out my goals for our three months together.

Snapshot of first week food journal

Three-month goals

Our first official meeting was through video chat, and we talked about my health history, my family and relationships, and my goals. Erica sent me a list of recipes she thought would be easy for me to try. My first task was to choose recipes and make a grocery list. I was nervous, again. Full disclosure #2 — this was probably the first real grocery list I’ve made in my life (there was fish on it! And vegetables! And spices!). Erica even met me at the grocery store that weekend. We talked about things to look for and things to avoid as we walked through the store together (have I mentioned how awesome she is yet?).

And then, just like that, I was cooking! UM, IT WAS HARD AT FIRST. My first recipe was Lemon Pepper Salmon with Cauliflower Rice. First step of the recipe was to zest a lemon. I had no idea how to zest a lemon. Second was to prepare the cauliflower from scratch. Man, that’s hard (and messy)! Ever since then I’ve purchased frozen, but wow cauliflower rice is good!

Through the rest of the three months, I met with Erica every two weeks over video chat. Between sessions, I had unlimited access to her through phone/email/chat… and something began to happen. At first, I was texting her almost every day. “Erica, should I eat this?” “Erica, this is HARD” “Erica, look at this picture of these tacos I made!” “Erica, my friends ordered pizza. SHOULD I EAT THE PIZZA?” She always replied quickly and was super supportive with exactly the reply I needed to hear.

But after a few weeks, I settled into a groove. Sunday became grocery shopping day. I learned how to choose recipes that seemed low stress and easy, or fun (or both), and I began to plan out my weeks using a meal prep system. Food, cooking, and grocery shopping became more of a priority in my life. The food journal that I kept for the first month shifted to home-prepared meals, and wayyyy less snacks. Today, I have a small database of recipes that I cycle between, and I throw in new recipes every once in awhile when I have the time.

Even my palate began to change. I remember telling her in the beginning that I was craving cheese. I also remember sharing along the way that I ate a piece of cake and my body’s response to all of the sugar was noticeable. I was starting to learn the foods that were the best to keep me full and feeling the greatest. We talked about water consumption. We even talked about the best times to eat (there are three different ways to “eat” throughout the day), and I cycled through all of them until I found the one that works for me. We talked about breakfast, and how to ensure that I am fueling my body appropriately each morning to set myself up for peak performance throughout the day. I EVEN BOUGHT A COOKBOOK.

Look what started to happen! Here is my food spending for February, March, and April:

February

  • Groceries: $86.70
  • Restaurants/Eating Out: $246.55
  • Fast Food: $88.87

March

  • Groceries: $323.66
  • Restaurants/Eating Out: $179.19
  • Fast Food: $15.42

April

  • Groceries: $203.80
  • Restaurants/Eating Out: $159.19
  • Fast Food: $8.36

I even hit all of my three and six month goals in three months, including feeling healthier, and truly learning to use and love my kitchen!

The three months flew by. My last session was April 25, 2018. Each session was an hour, but this last session we had no new topics to discuss, and we met just briefly to recap and say goodbye. It was bittersweet in a sense, and I was a bit emotional, knowing I was being set free to continue my journey solo.

I was surprised how accessible cooking was for me without making any huge changes. Yes, I was grocery shopping more, and spending a lot more time just thinking about food in general, but I was saving money by not eating out! I also had this irrational fear that I was going to have to replace all of the supplies in my kitchen. In the end, this fear was never realized. I only purchased or replaced a few things:

  • Cutting board
  • Blender
  • Grater
  • Salad dressing shaker
  • Egg hard boiler
  • Mason jars

The biggest change I noticed was that I started to like and enjoy cooking for myself. There is something about acquiring and making your own food that is super enjoyable! It may have taken me 32 years to figure it out, but hey, it’s working for me now. Today, my grocery store list is always full for my next shopping trip! And yes, I still keep emergency frozen pizzas in my freezer, but now that I have better habits overall, I don’t feel so guilty when I need to make one.

I still claim that Erica has magical powers, but she keeps saying that I did all of the work. :) That may be true, but it felt wonderful to have someone to talk to and hold my hand while changing old habits and developing new ones.

If you are interested in working with Erica (did I mention she’s amazing?), you can reach her through ericaballardhealth.com.

* not to downplay food related medical issues or eating disorders. If you are in this category, I hope that you have found a solution. If not, the 2–1–1 service has wonderful resources to point you in the right direction!