Taking Control

Hi, I’m Angela. I do yoga, love to cook, drink more coffee than I should, and I’ve overcome depression and a crippling eating disorder. More than anything else in this world, I want to lend a hand, share some words of comfort and help those struggling with the same daemons I have fought for years. As the director of Groceryships, I’ve found my calling, my bridge to a fulfilling life. As you read my story below, I implore you not to label it a ‘sad’ one. Rather see it as a story with challenges that I hope serves as inspiration for anyone currently feeling disarmed. You too can get up, and you too can slay the dragons…


“Look everyone, its Angela hanging from the ceiling”, said Francis, pointing at the inflatable whale hanging from our 11th grade classroom. Francis was the class bully; ‘big-boned’ himself but so hilarious you had no other choice but to succumb to his cruel charms.


The whole classed joined in, pointing and laughing for the remaining 45 minutes of class. That day I walked home broken hearted, wanting to drop dead.  The next morning I awoke with the unyielding resolve to never get teased again.


I started reading everything I could on diet, nutrition and fitness. I started counting every calorie that touched my lips. I even memorized every food item’s energy count. Plain oatmeal packet: 100 calories, apple: 80 calories, skim milk 90 calories. Breakfast was less than 200 calories. I’d treat my calories like money in a bank account: every cent was to be carefully spent.


I lost 50lbs in a year. I was obsessed. I tried to enforce my personal diet rules on my family but they weren’t so enthusiastic about fat-free cheese, light bread, and sugar-free everything.


For as long as I can remember, I had always been fat. In the Dominican Republic, where I was raised on a farm until I was 9, I was given the endearing nickname of ‘La Vaquita’ (Little Cow).  But as an adult I realized that there was a specific moment when the weight started piling on like the Oreo cookies I’d stack by my nightstand. It was when I was five years old and my mother left me. I was left to the care of my sweet grandmother who knew how to love me via overfeeding, and my aunt, the town’s social butterfly and who had three boys of her own to raise. I wasn’t an orphan and I had a roof over my head, but I understood on a deep level that my Mom had chosen to leave me behind. I subconsciously connected my mother’s abandonment with being unworthy of love, pushing me to food to fill the void that she had left.


That initial abandonment was only the beginning. My childhood was plagued with sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Before she left, Mother was everything but a mom to me; she was violent to her five children and a wordsmith in emotionally abusive language. Her repertoire included: “you ruined my life, I hate you and I should have aborted you all”. Lovely. I was sexually abused by a cousin 10 years my senior when I was in the care of my grandma and aunt. That permanently scarred me and caused the selective memory I’m still trying to awaken from. I lived on auto-pilot, going through the motions and with too many grown up responsibilities to grow up like a kid should. Meanwhile, I continued to lose weight at a dangerous rate. My 5’9” frame was housed in a 127lbs body. You could count my ribs and my clavicle said hello before my smile had a chance to. I, however, was happy: “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”. I was made fun of and criticized for no longer having curves and for being to thin. I felt like I could never win.


After I had lost all the weight I gained compulsive, emotional eating and bulimia nervosa. It was a way of self-mutilation when I again became the object of sexual and emotional abuse from another man. My stepfather’s love for me grew darker and more twisted with time. He was obsessed and would fabricate stories in his mind that fueled his jealous rages and would make me plead for him to stop. I started binging and the fear of gaining back the weight pushed me to purging. I heard the back of a toothbrush was good tool for this purpose and I began experimenting. After a few weeks, I didn’t need any tools and I was on my way to a full-blown eating disorder; one that I’d pray to God to liberate me from.


My battle with my eating disorder has been a long and arduous one. Some days it makes me drop to my knees pleading for mercy, and on other days I kick it straight in the face. I think we can now call it a draw. No, I’m going to give myself the credit due: and declare a win. Food has been both an escape from all the pain, a filler for the voids, and a ticking bomb in a life-filled with landmines.  It’s been my comfort and my torture.


I moved from NYC to LA in 2009. I told myself it was to be more adventurous and for a career change. I was really just escaping my past and running away from a present that was too gray to bear. Los Angeles saved my life.  I don’t mean in the flowery, beach bum, sunny days and vegan kind-of-way. LA and the universe saved me by placing amazing people in my path, instrumental to my healing and my newfound genuine smile


A little over a year ago I finally decided to dip my toe into health and nutrition; I enrolled in The Institute for Integrative Nutrition to get a degree as a holistic health coach. I kept my full-time and high-paying PR job, but I secretly hoped that health coaching would turn into a full-time career, because I wanted to help people who’d struggled with food the same way I did, and also knew that I needed to continue to battle my food-demons. One day I went to lunch with a fellow student, Jeff, who wanted to introduce me to the founder of a startup non-profit called Groceryships, and over the next 24 hours my life completely changed.


Sam Polk had started Groceryships earlier that year, and was looking for a Spanish-speaking health coach. When Sam sat down across from me, he looked like every other yuppie I’d ever spoken to. But when he started talking about the correlation between eating and emotional trauma, his own story of yo-yoing with weight, and his deep desire to help everyone struggling with food, especially people more in need, I was hooked.


As I heard Sam talk so passionately about his past struggles, present work and dedication and vision for the future of the program, my heart filled with joy. He was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing with my life. How could I help? We agreed I’d come on as a volunteer.


When I walked back into my PR office after lunch, I found my boss in tears. Take a seat, she said, with an “I’m sorry for what’s to come” face. She was unable to deliver the news with her shaky voice, so one of the firm partners just gave it to me straight—we’d lost our biggest client, and I was being let go.


I would have never left.  I suppose it was the universe’s way of intervening.


I wrote Sam and Jeff a ‘thank-you’ email and explained what happened: “I have lots of free time to volunteer now.” Sam called me the next day. He said that my heart and energy were inspiring, and he thought I’d be the perfect person to lead the pilot program of Groceryships.  I was floored.


I’ve now been working for Groceryships for six months, and it has become the most important thing in my life. It’s not a job; it’s a calling. Every day I use my history of food struggles and my understanding of the emotional side of eating to help others, and in doing so I’m also helping myself. I also use not only the nutrition education I received from The Integrative Institute, but I also get to use the food skills and strategies that I learned through my years of dieting to help people who are struggling with obesity.


The best thing about Groceryships is that both Sam and I understand that our food issues will be a lifelong struggle for us. So we are not going into these meetings saying, “I’m fixed, here’s how you can be fixed,” but instead saying, “I’m struggling, you’re struggling, let’s support each other together.” We are just people that have struggled with many of the things our Groceryships families are currently fighting and we want to provide a space to share, a few words of encouragement and practical life advice. Through this work, I find myself disarming those stray grenades from the past.  By hearing them going through their feelings, triggers and reactions, I can see and understand my own. These families are helping me as much as I’m helping them. Groceryships, the families in the program, and the wonderful members of our team have become my saving grace. At my job, I earn money, find purpose, and heal myself. It’s the dream job I never even fathomed to dream.


I won’t always win every battle but the war is an endless journey, and I will say this loud and proud: I am a warrior.