For This Healthy Chef, It All Began with a Walk

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Hi dailySpark readers! My name is Emily, and I write a recipe and running blog – The Front Burner. I am a vegetarian chef who recently graduated from culinary school, and in just a few short weeks I’ll be lining up at the starting line of my sixth full marathon. But food and fitness haven’t always been my passions. In fact it was quite the opposite – they weren’t even on my radar. For the first half of my adult life, my health and well-being were placed, you might say – on the back burner.

My journey to being unhealthy is fairly predictable. Growing up, I probably had it better than most kids my age – my entire family sat down together to a home cooked meal each and every night. There was always something green on every plate, and fast food was an indulgence saved only for long road trips. I didn’t really know why we ate the way we ate – most of the time I was just happy to eat what was in front of me. Even though I ate well and felt healthy, I had no actual understanding of nutrition or personal health.

I went off to college at a normal size and weight but with very limited understanding of health and nutrition, and what sort of choices I should be making now that I was on my own. In college I dragged through life on a cycle of very little sleep, way too much partying, and late night fast food. My main forms of activity came from walking to and from class during the week, and dancing in the bars on weekends. After four years of fun, I packed up my car on graduation day, and headed home with 30 extra pounds on my frame.

But the post-college years were still not my turning point. I landed in a desk job that kept me seated most of the day, and I lived off of Diet Coke, 100-calorie snack packs, and processed food. The problem was not that I was overweight; in fact my weight may have still been in a normal range. The problem was that I was unhealthy. I didn’t sleep enough. I wasn’t getting necessary vitamins and minerals. I didn’t feel alive.

The year 2005 brought a new boyfriend and a new burst of excitement into my days. For the first time in a long time, I wanted to feel good about myself again. I was tired of wearing extra layers to hide what was underneath, and I was ready to finally do something about extra weight I was carrying around. It all started by simply going for a walk.

Each day, I would walk. And some days I would walk a little more. But while I started to feel stronger and happier through walking, it was also eating up huge chunks of my time. In an attempt to be more efficient with my time and exercise, one day I decided to run. I will be the first to tell you, I am NOT a natural runner. My gait was awkward, I felt uncomfortable, my clothes were all wrong, and I worried that passing drivers were laughing at me. But the next day, I ran again, and that time I made it a little farther. With no fitness experience, and no sense of direction, I knew that in order to be successful I needed a goal. I printed off the Couch to 5K program, hung it by my door, and signed up for my local Race for the Cure. In September 2006, I ran my first 5K, and was forever bitten by the running bug. Running gave me a sense of pride and accomplishment that up to that point was a totally foreign feeling.

As running became a part of my daily and weekly life, I started to feel and look healthy for the first time since high school. But while running was beginning to lift me up, my overly-processed diet full of junk was still weighing me down. I realized that in order to be a fit person and a successful runner, I needed to start considering what I was putting on my plate. I began to browse health food and nutrition sites like SparkPeople. At the time that I began to learn about health food, my idea of cooking was opening boxes and pushing start on the microwave. Reading health websites helped me gain an understanding of calories, fats, daily needs, and metabolism, and finally I understood what it really meant to be healthy. Lethargic evenings on the couch were replaced by workouts at the gym, running in the sunshine, and playing in my kitchen. For so long I felt like my life had been on cruise control, and suddenly I had regained my spark.

The next three years brought true meaning to the word transformation. I started lifting weights and gained muscle definition. I trained for and ran a marathon. And then I ran another, and another. I fell in love with cooking, and finding out where my food comes from. I gave up meat and fish, and became a vegetarian. I felt amazing. I had finally found myself. I married the boyfriend who pushed me out the door for my first walk, and he eventually pushed me to take the greatest leap of all.

At age 28, I quit my desk job in Cincinnati and moved across the country to go to culinary school. Just a few years ago, I had no understanding of food or ingredients, and now I have a Culinary Arts degree from one of the top schools in the country. I am living proof that chasing a dream is worth any risk.

Today I create healthy, vegetarian meals and write about running and cooking at The Front Burner. I try to show my readers that with the right motivation, anyone can be a runner, and cook delicious healthy meals. My mission to “make healthy the new normal” is something that I work towards one recipe at a time. Here is a small sample of some of the delicious dishes you will find on my recipe page:

For more recipes, you can visit my blog The Front Burner. I'll also be sharing more on SparkRecipes from time to time. Now that you know my story, I hope to share many more healthy cooking tips with you down the road.

I started my journey without any specific objective in mind - other than the fact that I knew I needed a change. Several years ago, I couldn’t run down the block, and at the end of this month I will run my sixth full marathon. But more important than how far I can run or how well I can cook, is how amazing I feel inside. It took losing weight, gaining muscle, and a new career for me to realize that as significant as my physical transformation has been, my true journey to health has come from within.

What was the first step in your journey to be healthier and happier?

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HEAT730 3/26/2019
Thank you! This really resonated in me. Report
SPINECCO 12/13/2018
This is a great article. Thanks for sharing. Report
Very inspirational Report
great article Report
way to go Report
Emily, I really like the way you tell your story--straightforward, no judgment toward yourself. Someone wrote that poetry opens the door and stands aside. That's how I felt reading your blog. Just learned about The Front Burner here today, so I'll check it out.
Best, Russ Report
My first step began after seeing a photo of me taken three years ago this week. I resolved to become healthier and fitter as I moved through my fifties! And I am healthier and fitter and happier now than at any other time inn my life. Onward and upward!! Report
Vali- I clicked on the corn bread recipe and the soup recipe popped up! LOL! Report
I'm really intersted in the recipe for Creamy Butternut Squash, Carrot, and Apple Soup but the link takes me to the recipe for vegan gluten free jalapeno cornbread, which I'm not the least bit interested in. Perhaps in a future blog you could post the correct link for this recipe?? Report
Loved your story ~ I'll be checking out the Back Burner for more!
Congratulations on your success and much more to come! Report
Looks like I will need to find out how to bookmark!!!! I am just starting back after an unsuccessful start a year ago with Spark. I don't want to become diabetic (late onset diabetes runs in my family, and Late is getting closer by the minute!!) so here I am again. Running is never (really, never) going to be an activity I will be able to enjoy, I get shin splints very easily, but will be starting to walk outside again, as the heat meter is going down finally here in South Florida!!!! The recipe titles look amazing! Can't wait to try them out! Report
What a great history! Keep up the good work. Report
Thank you so much for sharing. Your comment when you were young "...I had no actual understanding of nutrition or personal health" really hit home with me.
Really enjoyed your post and reading your transformation story. I have a lot in common with you, and it just helped me to vision myself in your shoes one day. Congratulations on all of your accomplishments! Report
I looked at your blog and I love it. It's in my list of favorites now! You look like a tiny Cameron Diaz, btw! I will definitely be making that black bean squash soup in the pumpkin bowl. Yum. Report
I would have to say signing up here! But a walk was also, my first small step to incorporating exercise into my life. I see emily on Kath's blog quite often. I think Im going to add her blog to my daily reading buttons Report
I was so excited to see this post! The Front Burner is one of my favorite blogs, and I've shared it with several of my friends! Thanks so much! Report
Love this! I'm so ready for squash right now. I'll have to check out the blog. Report
I'm planning on trying out the squash and black bean chili on one of these cool, autumn weekends! Report
My journey began when my finace' told me that he thought we were getting boring...he wasn't being cruel he was simply stating a fact that I had known to be true for quite some time. When we first started dating; I faked alot of enthusiasm and energy (we would run around all over the place, we play wrestled alot, we took road trips, we went to the park, we went 4-wheeling, all kinds of activities) but as time went by and hustle of real life came back...I stopped wanting to do anything. My days started to end and begin with sitting on the couch watching tv, eating fast food so I didn't have to even cook, sending the kids outside so that I didn't have to even talk or mess with them after homework was done, and my finace' worked nights so it was all the more reason for me to be lazy.

I decided that I wasn't going to sit out for the rest of my life...and although I admit that sometimes I still just want to sit in front of the television and do nothing I really try hard not to allow it. I started cooking at home 6 out of 7 days a week (one night a week I have a board meeting so I can't be home to cook).

I've not got it all figured out, but I am at least trying again, and my kids see that too. Report
This is a great post, Emily, and thank you for the inspiration! I have a lot of similarities in my own life with what you wrote. I have not totally committed to living a healthy life (I keep cheating!), and your post inspired me to make some big changes. Thank you! Report
How wonderful ! What was my first step to good health ? I knew I had to reform my eating habits. I definitely ate too much junk and not enough healthier options. I didn't do it over night. It's taken years of tweaking to improve my nutrition, but it's certainly been worth all the extra effort. Today, I follow the 80/20 rule. I eat right 80% of the time and 20% of the time I indulge, but not over indulge.
I refused to buy larger pants, when the ones I had were getting tight. My husband agreed and we splint the healthy food choices. He is in charge of fruit and I get veg. Report
Three months ago, I was diagnosed with RA. After watching my mother subcumb to this disease and become an invalid, the news that I also had RA sent shock waves of frear through me. I knew then and there that I had to change my way of life if I did not want to become a young invalid like my mother did. I looked to nutrition and exercise to help me fight the symptoms of the disease. I have a stubborn streak in me that helps me to push even on my worse days. I am determined not to fall victim to RA this early in life. I will soon be 57, my mom was wheel chair bound by the age of 60, and I will do everything in my power to avoid that or die trying. Report
Life is a constant transformation--thanks for sharing yours with us! It has inspired me to work a little harder on my own journey...
In February, 2006, a good friend of mine passed away at the ripe old age of 33. He had had other medical issues in the past and one night, as he slept, his heart simply gave out - it was the catalyst that forced me to evaluate my own life and choices. I was 26, 240 lbs, and miserable. I began going to the gym nightly and using WW points system. By August, 2006, when I moved to Florida, I was down 20 lbs. I've not put much effort since due to a demanding work schedule, however I've recently rekindled my fire and am willing to make the last 40 lbs disappear.

Thank you for sharing your story. I, too, am not much of a runner due to my belief in how others perceive me when I run. Today, I begin with a walk... Report
your blog is now bookmarked! Your recipes look delish!! Report
This has to be the most AMAZING and INSPIRATIONAL blog I have read yet. "Bar None"!!! Miss Emily, your information and story will stay with me.
Thank you so very much for sharing it with us. Hugs, Elizabeth Report
Emily, thank you for sharing your wonderful evolution into fitness and nuitrition. Just amazing & love how you've titled your blog, "the front burner"! Report
That's an amazing journey you have taken!

I hope & pray that my kids will find the value of good health from exercise & nutrition. Too often they just perceive it as "mom's thing"! I know that I can offer advice, but they have to take hold of it for themselves and want to be healthier. I seek to be a model or example, but they still have to choose. Report
Now THAT'S inspirational. What a transformation! We never know where life will lead if we dare to try. Report
Thank you so much for this article. As I read, I was totally agreeing with what you said. My first step in this journey was to get rid of soda/pop completely out of my diet and drink the old fashioned good old water. It was also crucial that I stop eating the processed foods and counting my calories. I'm saving money now and my food tastes better! Of course, I'm always learning, and find these Spark articles and blogs so helpful. :) Report
Thank you so much for sharing this. I bookmarked your blog and will definitely be checking it out! Report
I fully enjoyed the blog, and I am going to go check out the full site now. Thanks for the inspiration to get off my butt tonight! :-) Report
I've never let my weight get too high, because my family has had a lot of heart problems. My grandfather died when he was only about thirty. I love that this site is so educational, and about diet and exercise, not just one or the other. Report
great article. thanks for sharing. Report
I read Emily's blogs every day and love them - but I actually didn't know this background to her story. Thanks for sharing! Report
Awesome read! Report
I love Emily and the Front Burner blog! The first step of my journey was realizing that I want children. And I want to be a healthy role model for them! Report
Very inspirational reading! Report
Bookmarked your blog. thanx Report
I love reading food blogs and also trying I bookmarked your blog so I can continue reading about your fitness and cooking adventures. Report
Joining Sparks three years ago, was my first step in changing how I viewed my health. I was 214# then, and I'm at 173.2# today, which isn't great at all, but I'm still working on it. Things didn't go like I'd planned, but I'm still at it. Most people who join Sparks quit, so I'm glad I'm still here. Report
I'm not sure what my first step was. I've always been concious of my health in a way, but not always doing something about it. I grew up in a large family so it was mostly quanity over quality when it came to food. My best friend was the daughter of an organic vegetable farmer so I got a lot of nutritional information from them.
I am really interested in eating better for my body and eating for disease prevention. But, just recently (since July) I have upped my exercise routine/regimen to lose weight and joined Sparkpeople again. Report
I saw the title of the post in my Google Reader and I KNEW it had to be Emily! I love your blog! :) Report
Your post is awesome! I JUST started my whole exercise/diet program and you've definitely uplifted my spirits. Thank you SO much. :) Report
Emily writes an absolutely amazing and addictive blog!!!! Everyone should go read it- now LOL (FYI- I've been a loyal Front Burner reader for over a year now).

For me the journey began with a letter from my doctor telling me if I didn't get myself in shape in three months I would officially be diagnosed as diabetic- that was completely NOT ACCEPTABLE to me. My entire journey focuses on increasing my physical health (no, I never got that diagnosis and have since sent my high blood pressure packing). . . but it's also increasing my satisfaction in life.

Oh, and so you know, we've never had a Front Burner recipe in our house that we DIDN'T like! Report