My why, passion + purpose

I am a firm believer in the beauty that comes with sharing pieces of yourself with the world. In sharing with you my why, I share the foundation of my passion and my purpose. Written here are a few chapters from my story. I share it so that you may not only know me better, I share it in hopes of connection. We are never alone in struggle and every single one of us has a story to tell.

Food and nutrition have been at the forefront of my mind for most of my life, basically a leading character. I became immediately and painfully aware of the effects of food at a very young age. I was a really shy and inward child, smiling was a rarity. I reflected on life seriously and took the weight of the world on my shoulders. Food was my way of feeling good and my coping mechanism in many ways. My father and my mother separated before I was 1 year old, my time was split between them. When I was with my dad, we would eat out for every single meal, ribs at Swiss Chalet, fried chicken at KFC

(I'd drink the gravy) and the All-You-Can-Eat Chinese Buffet were among our favourites. If you know me now you may not believe this, but it is very true! To say we bonded over food was an understatement. He was quiet like me, he was my best friend and eating made us both feel really good.

When I was with my mom, my sister and I ate pretty well. I was blessed to grow up with a strong willed mother, who did the absolute best that she could (thank you momma). She worked multiple jobs and went back to school in order to provide for us. We didn't have the most luxurious of meals, nor did we eat out at the fanciest of restaurants, but my mom always managed to put food on the table and we always had a school lunch. I was never hungry! We all had a lot going on and healthy food was the least of our priorities, or at least the least of mine. I wasn't really an insecure kid, but weight was an issue for me. I was chubby from the age of 6 into my early teens. I remember someone asking me if I was pregnant in grade 2. Fortunately this was the only time another kid pointed out my insecurity. I used to squeeze my belly between kitchen cupboards hoping it would chop off. Weight was something I felt I couldn't control. I would see my immediate family members struggle with it and just felt like it was a part of life, one that I hated. I didn't understand that food was such a huge impact until one day in early 1998, when I was 7 years old, my dad had a massive heart attack. He died for 7 seconds on the operating table.

My dad was 48 years old when he drove himself to the emergency room, because he felt off. I remember going to the hospital to see him and it was the first time I had ever seen him cry. He woke up from having open heart surgery a new person; he was sensitive, mildly more emotional and his entire energy was different. My dad was ordered to drastically change his lifestyle. He cut out sugar, salt, fast food and a lot of animal foods. He ate lots of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains and healthy whole foods. He moved in with his brother and family, who would cook and care for him. I remember him having to get so many needles injected into his arms, his heart would tick like a clock and he started to walk for exercise. We stopped eating out at fast food restaurants and settled on playing chess to bond over instead. Our world was turned completely upside down. My dad lost a huge amount of weight within months of his heart attack. He went from about 250 lbs to probably 175 lbs in 7 months. Seeing him go through this whole process was very mind altering and awakening, the impact has lasted to this very day.

I woke up to find my father lifeless, Sunday September 19th, 1999. He was 49 years old and despite his efforts, his heart gave out and his lungs filled up with fluid. I was 8 years old, I called my mom and told her that my daddy was dead. In that moment, I was faced with real, raw, heart wrenching feelings. Life had happened, I lost my best friend, my father. I didn't really understand what was going on, but I knew that my whole life would forever be changed. Seeing my father go through all that he had experienced the months before he died, really awakened me. It made me painfully aware of how much food really affects us. You see, my father was never a very healthy man. His parents grew up in Ukraine and during World War II they left Ukraine for Canada, my dad was born on the journey. Survival was their main concern. He was big into body building in his younger years, he was even "Mr. Ottawa" at one point and reportedly did body building competitions against Arnold Schwarzenegger (Pretty cool eh!). He was strong and tough. When he stopped working out and let go of that lifestyle all of his muscle turned to fat. He certainly let himself go and like most of us, used food to feed emotions.

This was the very point in my life where I made the connection between health and food. I realized that what I put into my mouth was connected to how I would feel and that it could be the difference between life and death. My dad taught me many wonderful lessons in our short time together, this being one of the most prominent and life changing to say the least. To this day I am forever grateful for the years I was able to spend with him, his passing inspired my life motto "Life is beautiful" which I wear tattooed in Ukrainian on the back of my neck. Even in the deepest, darkest moments there is always growth that will forever impact your life, it's up to you to decide how you deal with that growth.

At 8 years old, I also made the connection between the food on my plate and the animals that it came from. Don't worry, my friends applaud me for not being *that* vegan, but this is my story after all. I will always remember the day when the reality set in that my ever so favourite tasty frog legs at my favourite buffet were actually FROGS LEGS. I made the personal decision to stop eat animals, with the help of my vegetarian grade 3 teacher (Thank you Mr. Senecal). Not only was this triggered by the harsh reality of animals being food but I also didn't want to go down the same path that my father did. Seeing my dad forced to drastically alter his lifestyle and cut out processed foods, salt, red meat and sugar in order to stay alive shifted me towards becoming a vegetarian. It took me many, many years of trial and error. I was continually on and off supplements because I was constantly told I needed them, tirelessly questioned about my choices and always having to convince my family Dr. that I would be a-okay eating this way. Luckily, I had SO much support from my family who accepted me even though my values didn't align with theirs and did a hell of a lot of research to become a healthy(ish) vegetarian. I remember coming home in grade 3 and telling my mom that I was now going to be a vegetarian and her exact response was "A WHAT?!" So, I did it and never looked back thanks to my moms rice and bean casserole, her staple "I don't know what else to feed you dish". I say healthy(ish) because even though I wanted to be healthier, my university days were full of confusion on how to actually be healthy with a steady intake of whole wheat subway sandwiches filled with just veggies. With that decision came a subsequent life of questions. Where I got my protein was a big one, or how I was alive is among my favourites, I'd say "I don't know, but clearly I am alive". I was always being told how to eat, what to eat and that my way of eating was wrong. I was constantly defending my food choices. Even without advertising it, my way of eating became my label; It's how people saw me. No matter what I did, the fact that I didn't eat meat always came up. 20 years ago, being a vegetarian especially as a growing human wasn't really a thing. I would be told "you're pale you need to eat meat for iron", "you look tired, you need to eat meat", or "you have a cold - you need to eat meat". My health and the way I looked or acted was always of concern for people and somehow correlated to me being a vegetarian. People (not all) would and still get defensive when they realize that my food choices don't align with theirs. Making the choice to be vegetarian was very personal for me. I had seen my dad completely shift his lifestyle and die from a life of bad health choices and I didn't want that for myself, nor did I want to partake in eating animals. At the age of 22 I became a full-fledged vegan. I was always lactose intolerant so the jump to being a total plant based eater wasn't far. It felt AMAZING, for some odd reason my goal was always to become vegan. I finally felt like the way I was eating aligned with my values. With this decision also came many hurdles, like blurry vision from lack of B12, headaches and insane hunger from not eating enough of the right foods. I learned my lessons which only fueled me even more to share my passion for healthy plant based eating, done right! In saying this, I am a firm believer in individuality, I accept all forms of eating and respect every human for their food choices. I studied geography and environmental studies at the University of Ottawa, because I always had a love and intrigue between the human-environment connection. I subsequently started to work in the real estate industry and my shy demeanor went away pretty quickly! At the age of 25 I felt like something was missing in my life. Up to this point, because of my lifestyle, life experiences, and food choices, my mind would constantly go back to food, nutrition and health. Questions like "Why do we eat the way we eat?", "Where does our food really come from?", "Do people make the connection between their food and it's source?", "Is there an ideal diet? etc. I always wanted to know more about nutrition. Was my way of eating healthy? After what felt like a lifetime of defending it, I wanted to know the science. I decided to obtain a diploma in natural nutrition and became a nutritionist. 3 years later, with that under my belt Plant Forward Nutrition was born. I feel like every event in my life has led me to be exactly where I need to be. I have a passion for health, it's one that's been boiling inside me since I was a little girl. I want to inspire and teach people how to live their healthiest happiest life. I want to help expand peoples views, bring back the very fact that food IS fuel and if I can keep one person alive a little longer, that is more than enough. I realize that everyone dies, however losing a parent when you are little mainly due to lifestyle choices is disheartening. Every day, multiple times a day we make the choice to feed ourselves, what we choose is either promoting health or working against our health. The choice is YOURS. Life is absolutely beautiful and your body is worth a life full of health promoting, vibrant food. Enjoy every day, every moment and cherish the beings who surround you and know that no matter what, you have the choice to choose the direction of your life.

Always BE planting forward!


 FREE Vegan Intuitive Eating Starter Guide 

Emily Manuel, B.A, RHN, CYT

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