I have always known that I was meant to help others. From a very young age I was sensitive and empathetic to those around me. My personal experiences of being a recovering food addict, along with the death of my father at the age of 23, had a profound impact on the course of my life and who I became.
At the age of 18, I left High School morbidly obese. I felt ashamed and frightened that no one would ever love me because of how I looked. As a young girl and adolescent I was bullied and mistreated because of my size and how I looked. During my childhood I heard language such as; “we don’t want you to be fat” or “You need to go on a diet”. I began to think I was ugly because I was fat and saw myself as less then others. My parents knew that I was overweight and didn’t want me to struggle with being fat. I was put on different forms of restriction diets to manage my weight and was told what I could and couldn’t eat. My parents tried to control my eating, but I began to sneak food whenever I could. This had a big impact on who I became.
When I was 16 years old I was diagnosed as a compulsive overeater, what is now called binge eating disorder. I began to see myself as inferior to the more dominant women in society, white, thin and beautiful. Due to my size I always felt insecure in public. I noticed that people treated me differently and I was always judged by what I looked like. Although I was way above average size, I felt invisible.
I stayed obese for a long time. All through college I hovered around 300 lbs. I was ashamed of who I was and felt guilty that I wasn’t able to be a “normal eater”. It wasn’t fair that I was fat and had to be on a diet. Compulsive eating served a purpose for me and for a long time and I wasn’t ready to give up being that way. I loved food and it gave me comfort. I didn’t realize at the time that by being obese I was hiding from the world.
When I was a sophomore in college my father was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He lived with his tumor for 4 years. He stayed strong and positive. He was willing to fight and try everything in order to live. After many brain operations, radiation, and aggressive chemotherapy the tumor took over. He died on October 11, 2002. This was my wake up call.
In my father’s death he made me appreciate life. I decided that I didn’t want to be fat anymore and I was ready to change my life. I went to a nutritionist and began a diet and exercise program. I learned about proper nutrition and how to really take care of myself. After losing weight I gained confidence and strength. I put a lot of energy into my “diet” and was constantly obsessing about what to eat and what not to eat. Later I came to recognize that I still had an unhealthy view of myself, which manifested itself in the way I ate.
During this time I was a New York City public school elementary art teacher. Working with people in the Bronx changed my life. I loved being an art teacher, and started putting all of my energy into my job. For 6 years I was devoted to my life as a teacher. I thought it was my responsibility to save all of “my kids” and make their lives better. After some time I became frustrated with my work environment. It made me angry that no one seemed to care and there was not much I could do to change their life’s circumstances.
Working as a public school teacher in the South Bronx was emotionally draining. I was depressed and still turning to food for comfort. I began evaluating my life. I felt stuck and miserable. I wanted to be happy and successful. I wanted to help people, but how? I kept going back to my father. How could I create the life that I wanted?
In 2010, I resigned from my teaching position in the DOE and enrolled in the Institute of Integrative Nutrition to earn a certification as a holistic health counselor. I didn’t realize at the time how much I wanted to be a counselor and help empower others to change their lives for good.
My education equipped me with extensive knowledge in holistic nutrition, health coaching, and the importance of preventive care. I learned how to be supportive and really listen to a person’s whole story in order to help facilitate their healing process. I recognized that we all have a story of who we are and how that view helps shape the way we see ourselves in the world. Through my health coaching education I began to see people from a holistic perspective and how the mind, body and spirit are all connected. I believe this, along with our environment, the people in our lives and how we are raised can help determine our capacity for resilience and how we live our lives.
In 2011, I found my own company, Cultivate Nourishment LLC to provide health and wellness counseling to individuals interested in breaking free from emotional eating and learning to live in a body they love. I provided individualized programs that include education on nutrition and self care, as well as reducing stress and anxiety. My counseling program taught people how to tune in with their own bodies so that they can empower themselves to make healthy decisions.
It was at this point in my life that I realized that I wanted to be a psychotherapist. I began to recognize my own capacity for healing and knew that I could use that to help others. After developing extreme self-awareness and tapping into my strengths, I discovered that social work was the right path for me.
In August 2016 I graduated with honors from Fordham’s University School of Social Service with a Masters of Social work. I gained tremendous experience in the field working as a social work intern and volunteer counselor in a variety of areas including, counseling adolescents and their families, working with adults experiencing interpersonal conflicts, anxiety, depression and hoarding. I also have practice working with older adults as well as in the field of substance abuse.
Over the last few years I have learned how important it is to use a holistic viewpoint when working with clients. The individual does not survive alone, but rather through their interaction with various systems in their life. I believe it is imperative to draw out the client’s strengths and help them identify their resources and natural coping abilities. This is in my opinion the true essence of social work counseling.
Due to my life experiences and professional journey as a teacher and holistic health counselor I know I can be of service to others. As I continue to learn more about the social work profession and how to be an effective counselor I am confident that I can use my innate capacity of being empathetic and tap into client’s strengths in order to help them get unstuck in their lives.