Everyone has a story to tell about how they got where they are. So here's mine:
I started baking when I was little. I remember going over to my friend's house to decorate cookies and even then knowing how special it was to come together over food and make it look pretty. I also remember when I had an EasyBake oven. What I loved most about that was watching the ingredients that I put together rise inside, become something edible, and smell amazing.
My family has a sprinkling of bakers, too. My aunt and grandmother are both talented at making cakes, pies, biscuits, you name it. I remember Aunt Judy always bringing beautifully decorated cakes and Nana always made many delicious desserts at family gatherings. Their influence instilled in me a love of sweet things and, particularly, sweet things that are beautiful.
As years went by, a sort of internal tragedy struck. I was unaware of its happening because it crept up on me and took control of my life without me realizing it. I started developing severe body image issues.
It began with a desire to get "healthy". I use quotations because my picture of healthy was heavily influenced by our society's media where healthy women are depicted with zero fat on their bodies and very, very small. Now, I definitely had some room for improvement as far as the food I put into my body. But that was not my focus; my focus was on what my body was going to look like. I desperately longed to have a "perfect" body.
I'd already had a deep-rooted feeling of being "fat" even before I was exposed to media surrounding the idea of a perfect body. Out of all my friends, my body was always larger. I remember my first feeling of being bigger than my friends in the fourth grade when I had to start wearing training bras. Some girls made comments about it, which made me self-conscious. As we got older, their bodies stayed tiny, but mine, compared to theirs, was not. I felt like something was wrong with me and the way that I looked.
I started my health journey in middle school by exercising with my mom and enlisting her help to eat better foods. This was easier said than done because I often butted heads with her since I really loved and wanted to eat the foods I was used to eating. Bless her heart. (Side note: I'm incredibly thankful for her help and education on healthy eating and moderation because I really didn't eat well back then.)
So, fast forward to when I started college. I was finally able to completely control what I ate (I lived off-campus and didn't have to rely on mom to provide my meals). Since I still saw myself as "fat" because I had fat around my stomach, I thought that how I ate and the exercise I was doing wasn't enough, and I needed to clean up my diet even more, eat less, and exercise more. I came across a diet plan that promised to get rid of all the fat. I was excited and willing to do whatever it took.
My body reacted to the diet the way that was promised. I lost weight and I was the smallest I'd ever been. Down to 130 pounds from 160 pounds. I couldn't believe I actually did it. I was proud of the way I looked. People poured out compliments about how great I looked, and I reveled in them.
While the diet made my body look "better", it wreaked havoc on my mind and my relationship with food. What made it worse was that I had no idea how unhealthy it was for my mind and body. The diet required strict clean eating for three days, then a cheat day, two more clean days, and another cheat day. I learned the unhealthy habit of following the "rules" on clean days and then completely bingeing on everything that was off limits on cheats days. Inevitably, after every cheat day, I would beat myself up for eating so much and so terribly and plan to restrict my diet the next day and make up for it in the gym.
Luckily, I was forced off the diet Summer of 2014 as I had to leave to work for Ozark Mission Project all summer with essentially no control over the food I would eat. I was terribly anxious about it because I feared that I would gain back all the weight I had lost. I didn't want to be "fat" again. And even though I pledged to eat smart and not over do it, I always ended up eating everything that was available and a lot of it. When I would eat "clean" and then endure comments from others and feel embarrassed for not eating like everyone else. It was a lose, lose situation. Eat like everyone else (like I really wanted to): call myself fat and out of control. Eat clean: feel unhappy because I wanted to eat that food and commune with my friends.
It was an extremely emotional summer. On top of all the anxiety and negative self-image that had piled up over the time I was working, My boyfriend and I of almost 4 years broke up.
I put all my time and energy into trying to create a "perfect" body so that somebody else would want me. I worked out, cooked healthy and ate ridiculously small meals. However, one good thing that came from this is finding my awesome trainer whom I still work with after three years.
Throughout this "healthy" phase of my life, I almost never let myself have anything sweet, much less bake anything. The only things that I did bake were healthy alternatives. I would make Black Bean Brownies. No sugar added. Never as good as the real thing. (I want to add that there's nothing wrong with these alternatives if you truly enjoy/need them. My problem was that I was restricting myself because I wanted to have that "perfect" body. Also, if you need healthy baked goods, I can hook you up!)
The strict dietary rules I set for myself went on for a long time. Only occasionally would I get so tired of it and let myself have some slack to eat what I wanted. However, as soon as I started to feel like I'd gained weight, I was right back on a new diet.
The cycle continued, until I went on a trip to Europe in the Spring of 2016. This was a trip that triggered the baker and foodie I'd tucked away deep inside. What I was most excited for was the food. On the trip, I experienced the love and respect for food that Europeans have. Everything is presented perfectly and quality ingredients are used. Food is an art there and it is something special that brings people together. They weren't afraid of food like I was. They absolutely love it.
I was born with a love of food, but I formed an unhealthy relationship with it. American food is mostly poor quality and fitness media is quick to tell you what is "right" and "wrong" to eat. American culture is also quick to tell you what you "should" and "shouldn't" look like. All of these things in one way or another are what made me have such a horrible body-image and afraid of food.
But in Europe, food is fun and appreciated, and so are human bodies. They love food, but they aren't overweight. That's because they take their time to appreciate it and eat smaller portions. It's a beautiful thing.
Europe is where I had my first macaron experience. They were beautiful, colorful and heavenly. I bought a dozen and ate them all. Macarons were my favorite part of the whole trip. Once I got back, I missed them so much that I decided to make some myself. Long story short, this was a lot harder than I thought it would be, so I took on the challenge to keep trying until I did it.
I researched techniques and bought new equipment. I was surprised at how much fun I had in the process of it all. I then felt a pull to bake more things. I realized how much I enjoyed baking and how much I had missed it.
You're probably wondering how everything I've said about my past, Europe, and baking all ties together. So, after that phase of baking a lot, I set it aside because 1) I got frustrated with macarons and 2) I decided I needed to get back on a diet and stop eating sweets because I still had body-image issues deeply rooted inside.
Thankfully, I finally began to realize that my obsession with the way I looked and what I ate was not normal. I started seeking help. I opened up to Conor, my family, and my friends. I was fortunate to be able to hire a nutritionist and join a mental-health class designed to help overcome body-image issues.
Today I am able to fully appreciate my body for how it looks, how it feels, and what it can do. I'm also able to eat whatever I want in moderation with full enjoyment and without feeling an overwhelming amount of guilt and shame (a lot like the Europeans). Finally, this has allowed me to embrace my love for sweets and baking.
This is the reason behind Samantha'a Sweets. I want to share good quality and delicious food with others. I want to see their faces when they see something that's beautiful and mouth-watering. I also want my story to be known to bring awareness to body-image issues and eating disorders that don't fit under bulimia and anorexia. I want anyone who's suffering with anything like what I went through to know that they can overcome it. They can enjoy life and food and not live with guilt and/or fear of food. I want them (and everyone) to know that they are beautiful and a cupcake every once in a while is not going to hurt them or make them any less of a person. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made.
I thank God for this journey and the lessons I've learned. And I thank him for this ability to share with others.
If you made it this far, thank you for taking the time to read about my story and purpose behind Samantha's Sweets.