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My Wellness Story Part 2: Finding Balance

My wellness story from 2011 until now. This year I want to get stronger, stay true to who I am, and always inspire you to be better than you were yesterday.

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Thank you SO much for all of your comments, touching thoughts and prayers on my last wellness post. Your support is like a breath of fresh air as my heart longs for compassion and understanding. Often these posts are much easier to write then they are to say, because saying them makes it true and real, and all the things bubble up to the surface that you never knew hurt so much.

So here we are: Part Two of my Wellness Story. Part two of me just laying it all out there. Writing nonsensically because it makes sense to me.

monique with a donut

For so long I was afraid of writing about what came to mind. Mostly afraid of not being perfect. What I didn’t realize is that being authentic isn’t about perfectionism. Being authentic means letting go of what’s trending on the internet and Instagram and just being who you are. For me, it’s about being okay spending time alone with myself on any given day. Sometimes just to peel back the layers that are often uncomfortable and come with a deep history of trauma. Rather so though, it’s about examining who I am on the inside rather than about what you see on the outside.

I mentioned in the first part of my story that I wanted to make 2017 the most incredible year of my life. Truth be told, over the past year or so I got distracted, especially as I became well-versed in the blogging world. It’s consuming in a weird and joyful way, but it also took me away from the things I love to do and why I created this blog in the first place.

monique at the gym

And that’s who I want to be. I want to get back blogging recipes that I WANT to create because they make my heart happy (and hopefully yours too). I want to forget about what everyone else is doing because I enjoy my work more when I LOVE what I’m doing. That means writing weird stories that sometimes mention my loathe for Tom Cruise, talking about life in Chicago and getting to that bubbly stuff that feels like it must come out. Whatever it is. From health and wellness to personal stories — this blog is often a foundation for a connection.

Isn’t it a little strange how much we can grow and change in such little time? Sometimes without realizing that we’re not who we were a year ago, or even yesterday. What we wanted yesterday, may not be what we desire today. However, there are moments in life where you stop and feel your entire self being pushed down a tunnel at 100 miles per hour; these moments are life changing, for the better or worse. The hazy time where your brain is fogged and overloaded and you either continue down the path you’re running down or stop and take a different direction; it is a choice.

Changing your life is never an easy decision to make. It’s not easy, because it requires turning around and walking slowly into the unknown, often acknowledging that whatever it is, will get worse before it gets better.

Today in particular, I’m here to tell you about my wellness story, a journey of discovering balance without being preachy or self-righteous. This is just me bringing you a story of my life, having it come through your imagination and bringing a connection between us. I guess I’ve sort of discovered that throughout this whole blogging thing, you and I have made a beautiful connection; in between recipes, where I tell little stories and talk about my 80 year Grandma doing Zumba, that I somehow mattered to you. That Ambitious Kitchen became a guest in your home. And for that I thank you, because without this blog and your readership, I wouldn’t be who I am today. So before we begin, please know that from the bottom of my heart, you matter to me more than you know.

monique in front of the dead sea

2007: It was like it happened yesterday (OMG nearly ten years ago)

In 2011, my father died. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before and pained me with deep anxiety. At that time, I had no idea what anxiety actually consisted of, but can now recognize it’s plagued me for years. I had a deep fear I would lose my Mother too, and so it was very difficult for me to sleep alone in our home. Not only was the anxiety terrible, but often it translated into my dreams. I dreamt of my Father telling me that he was still here and alive with me. I dreamt that he was also too far to reach. And I dreamt that I was him living through his death.

After my father passed away, I took just a week off before I went to college for the first time. It was probably for the best, but still, I had little time to grieve or feel comforted. Often times, I’d cry in the bathroom where no one could see the pain in my heart and tears in my eyes. All of these memories are still as bold in my mind like they happened yesterday.

After his death, I realized that there are no guarantees in our lives. We are never given more time even if we ask for it. We can’t go back and give that person a hug and a kiss goodbye because it’s simply a moment in time that has passed. As overwhelming and terrifying as this experience was (and still is), I can acknowledge that it’s made me brave like a warrior and given me the ability to recognize how it is to feelings and appreciate loved ones.

You can read more about my Father’s death here.

monique on a boat with friends

2008-2009: Traveling the world + lack of confidence

A year passed by after my Father died. I gained some weight, but attributed it to the freshman 15. I did notice myself eating more than what felt comfortable for my body on a consistent basis. I had always loved food and had a fondness for sweets, however I was never overly conscious about what I ate.

Then one day, I went to the gym and joined with a friend. I was intimidated because I had no idea what I was doing, so most of the time I just jumped on the elliptical. Shortly after I got into group fitness and made friends with others doing the classes too. They were of all shapes and sizes and I knew that we were just all there getting on with life, trying to do something good for ourselves. The feeling after working out was new to me, but gave me an incredible high. I felt like I could achieve anything (the feeling would later become an addiction). I gained confidence both inside and out, and later applied to study abroad in Australia.

Australia was like an entire new world to me. I went not knowing anyone but quickly made friends and discovered that being alone and independent was good for the soul. It pushed me to be resourceful, to discover my passions, to do the things I dreamed about. To this day, it remains one of my favorite places in this world. It also taught me to never be afraid to be alone, because like it or not, you’ll learn incredible things about yourself. Things that will push you to be better.

The downside of Australia is that I felt very uncomfortable with my body at the time. Even though I was probably only 10 pounds over what I should be, I was embarrassed and felt ashamed about this beautiful body God had given me. I wanted my body to be perfect in every way (you know, what you’re so used to seeing in magazines), and so I became extremely self conscious.

I started working out heavily in Australia, which I think started my obsession with exercising. After a tough workout, I remember eating hardly anything during the day, then binging at night after we’d go out. It wasn’t productive to my health or happiness and often I let what I eat completely control my feelings and day. It became a cycle and without any proper education on fitness or nutrition, I didn’t know HOW to exercise and eat normally. All of this, coupled with internalizing grief, led to an out of control eating disorder.

bike handlebars

2010-2012: How did I get here?

As soon as I came back to the USA, I took a week off and went to the gym. I remember it well because I put it in my mind that I was going to change my life for the better. Unfortunately, it turned out to be quite the opposite of that. In about 6 months I had dropped 20 pounds.

5 more by that winter.

and 5 more gone by that spring.

All of this time though, I actually didn’t realize just how thin I was. I thought my body was strong because I could run 6 miles like a cheetah. I spent at least an hour at the gym every day. Didn’t that make me healthy? I packed all of my meals and ate them out of my sad lunch desk containers. Wasn’t that what I was supposed to do?

Clearly my mental health wasn’t right, and slowly, after much pressure from my mom, I recognized that I needed help. I went to a doctor who specialized in eating disorders and immediately diagnosed me with anorexia. Two days later I was in the hospital with a low heart rate.

I didn’t know what to do. I felt completely lost and devastated. Why did I do this to myself? To have a 6 pack? None of that mattered if I was no longer on this earth.

Even though I had so much support from family and friends, I needed support for myself. Bottom line I needed to give myself permission and grace to grieve. I also needed to better understand myself.

monique on the beach with a baseball glove

2012-2013: Following my passion + weight gain

After my experience and diagnosis, I had to start gaining weight, which is fairly easy. However when I ate the things I didn’t have before (or wouldn’t give myself permission to have), I ate them excessively. I’m talking like half a pie, a jar of nutella, 15 oreos kind of thing. Clearly, I was back to bingeing again.

But 2012 was also the year that I started blogging. And it was SO much fun. I cooked and baked whenever I could. It gave me tremendous joy and even when I was struggling internally, blogging always gave me the freedom to just be who I was.

I devoted myself to following my passion and acknowledged that it made me so much happier, even if I was overweight or still bingeing. I had a little blog that was SO much fun to work on. It was never about money or making it a career. It was about navigating this world and investing my time in something that comforted me. So, now you know how much this blog truly means to me. It brought me out of a depression and encouraged me to follow my passions in life.

monique and her mom

me and my beautiful mama!

2013-2015: Seeking help + meeting the love of my life

In 2013, I found myself still bingeing and overeating to the point of discomfort. It was as though I didn’t know how to deal with my emotions, and I still hadn’t really come to grips with my father’s death. I chose to seek a therapist out, who is one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. It was a judgement free zone, and I was able to just lay all my cards on the table, both good and bad. She helped me grieve like I never had before. Basically it felt like I unpacked a bag full of bricks I had been carrying around with me for years.

My therapist helped me become who I wanted to be. To be open and honest and real with all of you. In fact, that was when I first started my Wellness Wednesday posts! 🙂 To this day, they’re still my favorite posts to write.

If you are struggling with eating disorders, anxiety or grief, seeking professional help is often one of the best things you can do for yourself. Many women who have eating disorders just want to fix the eating disorder by just eating or finding a balance, but most of the time, the eating disorder is caused by other things in life and the need to control what you cannot.

monique and tony at a wedding

Oh and we can’t forget about Tony, can we?! I met Tony in 2013 and my entire life changed for the better. He has been my rock, my partner, my encourager and the love of my life. Having someone love me like he loves me gives me such confidence no matter what the scale says on any given day. His heart is gold and I’ve learned to love myself so much more because of him. Thanks bae.

monique sitting on a white couch


In 2016, I can say that I found balance in food more than ever before. Basically I gave myself permission to just live my life without the crazy rules and restrictions with food and exercise. I also co-founded the Healthy Glow.Co based on these foundations and principals. Balance is a choice, but it also took time to really become a habit in my everyday life without spending too much time thinking about it. One step at a time is essential to feeling less overwhelmed and critical of one’s self.

two pieces of toast with beet hummus, avocado and blueberries

It’s all about the choices we make in our everyday life.

These are some of mine:

Packing a lunch that’s filling and nutritious on most days.

Learning how to meal prep so I have something to eat.

Enjoying frozen yogurt because it’s my favorite thing ever.

Eating a few too many dark chocolate squares at night.

Saying no to the tortilla chips (sometimes).

Healthy fats are key.

Stopping my habit of digging in the peanut butter jar.

Saying yes to ordering pizza or going out for burgers 1x per week.

Not always having salad for lunch.

eggs and avocado toast on a plate next to a glass of orange juice

Stop being afraid of bread, because bread is freakin’ delicious.

Learning how to make healthier treats at home with new flours/sweeteners.

Eat when I’m actually hungry.

Stop eating just the egg whites (hello 2006).

Walk everywhere I can.

Challenge myself to different fitness classes

Stop working out incredibly hard 6x per week

Take more yoga classes

cookies drizzled with peanut butter next to a packet of peanut butter

Be mindful of ingredients

Try out new foods and global flavors

Enjoy more wine (good for the heart, right?)

Making healthy choices MOST of the time, but indulging when it feels good

Not judging others food choices

Always have snacks available (mostly RXbars & energy bites)

monique with a donut

So now you see that I’ve had quite the journey, and it isn’t over with yet! I’m changing (and so is AK), but also have this innate feeling that this year is an incredible opportunity for personal growth. This year I want to get stronger, stay true to who I am, and always inspire you to be better than you were yesterday. I’m giving myself permission to be BOLD. To live life to the fullest, to take more time to travel and to take risks.

monique and tony with a donut

So that’s me in a nutshell. I’m excited for what’s to come in my life, and proud of where I’ve been because it’s led me to who I am today. P.S. Clearly I love donuts.

xoxo thank you so much for reading!

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