My name is Maida Ference. I’m 48 years old, the wife of a career soldier, mother to two teenagers, and a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. This is the story of how I overcame decades of food addiction, discovered the joy of knowing and nourishing my body without shame or judgement, and was led to my passion for empowering others to improve their quality of life.
I grew up in a big, loving Mexican family and food was at the center. My most cherished memories were punctuated with food: Fried burritos my cousins picked up to take to the drive-in movies, hopping in my favorite uncle’s Jeep to go out for raspas (shaved ice), tortillas made from scratch and served hot off the comal in my tia’s kitchen, my choice of candy and soda pop from my grandparents’ grocery store. The pan de polvo (Mexican wedding cookies) made by my great aunt could be found at every wedding, anniversary, and quinceñera. Being surrounded by the people I loved the most was accompanied by food.
I was a little chubby, but so was nearly everyone else in my family, so I didn’t give it much thought until I was in the fourth or fifth grade. My female classmates had started wearing makeup and vying for boys’ attention and I started to become self-conscious. Despite taking dance and gymnastics classes since second grade and walking to and from school every day, by fifth grade I weighed 106 pounds. My self-esteem started to take a nose dive. I can still remember the boy would ride by me on his bike, laughing and calling me “bubble butt.” My solution to teasing was being extraordinarily friendly. I believed if everyone liked me, they wouldn’t make fun of me. For the most part, that turned out to be true. By the time I was 14, I weighed 172 pounds, too heavy to be on the drill team despite all my years of dance training (the weight limit for my height was 140). It was then that I went on my first structured diet, along with my mom, dad, and sister. We drank shakes for two meals a day, avoided red meat, and took handfuls of supplements. In the photos from our summer vacation in Europe, we were all the thinnest we’d ever been. Soon after returning home, we also returned to our pre-diet way of eating. This was the start of decades of roller coaster dieting. I tried medically supervised diets, weight loss centers, meal replacement bars and shakes. I counted fat grams, carbohydrates, points, pounds, and inches. Every month it seemed there was a new right way to eat. I hated my body for being bigger than I believed it should be and for being hungry. I felt powerless, depressed, hopeless, and I blamed myself.
By January of 2001, I’d had my gall bladder surgically removed and had reached 339 pounds. That was the day I was given my OB/GYN’s approval to start trying to have a baby and it’s also the day we conceived our first child. During my pregnancy, I had only one rule for myself regarding food, whatever I put in my body had to have nutritional value. That act of love for my child, with no other restriction, resulted in a healthy 8 pound 11 ounce baby and a complication-free pregnancy. Six weeks postpartum, I weighed 295, down more than 40 pounds from my pre-pregnancy weight. I adhered to the same rule while I was nursing and during my subsequent pregnancy. My son was born 6 weeks after his sibling’s first birthday, same weight and near identical in length. While I nursed him, I nourished my body with the knowledge that what I was eating was feeding him and my weight remained stable. However, once he was a year old and weaned, I returned to my pre-pregnancy cycle of dieting. I was either on a diet or overeating in anticipation of the next one.
By the spring of 2007 I was back up to 325 pounds and had been told I was pre-diabetic. I started researching weight loss surgery and that November I elected to have gastric bypass surgery (Lap RNY, for those in the know). That March, I had my first post-op alcoholic drink. I was nervous about it, because I’d seen a talk show once on which people who had had bariatric surgery expressed their regret, because their addiction to food had evolved into other addictions. By February of 2009, I had my first alcoholic blackout. I spent the next three years trying to control my drinking and not understanding how I could go from being someone who stopped drinking when she started to feel the effects of a cocktail to not being able to stop once I started. It didn’t make sense. In April 2012, in an effort to appease an angry friend, I went into a recovery program. It took me several months, repeated relapses, and some fairly hefty consequences before I finally understood. Whether it was the change to my anatomy impacting how I metabolized alcohol or simply trading one substance for another to change how I felt, I was now an alcoholic. And, like a person who had been diagnosed with a chronic illness, I would have to take steps to keep it from debilitating me, one day at a time, for the rest of my life.
Right about the same time that I admitted I was an alcoholic, an acquaintance posted on social media about his wife’s vision improving as a result of diet and lifestyle changes. I wrote to him and asked if he would share what they had done. While I had maintained a 150 pound weight loss, I only felt smaller, not healthier. I still suffered from depression, anxiety, migraine headaches, and hypoglycemia. It was this conversation that would end up changing the course of my life, right alongside my sobriety. He told me about the paleo lifestyle and, while what he described seemed extreme, he simplified it to a book recommendation and a small, simple first step, magnesium. Soon thereafter, I eliminated gluten and my digestion completely changed. As the months passed, I noticed that I no longer had migraine headaches, my last which had lasted two weeks and was impervious to even IV medication. The more attuned I became to my body and eliminated foods that weren’t serving me, the better I felt. The depression I’d been suffering from for decades subsided, as did the anxiety I had been experiencing for a few years. In 2015, I tested positive for Celiac Disease and started on the autoimmune protocol (AIP). I had adopted a way of eating focused on nourishment and supporting my body in healing itself, rather than restriction or changing how I looked.
While listening to a paleo podcast, I heard about the Nutritional Therapy Association and researched the programs they offered. I was afraid I wouldn’t be a good student, but obstacle after obstacle was removed from my path and in the fall of 2016, after 15 years of being a stay-at-home mom, I entered the NTA program for Nutritional Therapy Practitioner certification. I learned that there was not one right way to eat and that I had been hungry all those years, because the food that I stuffed my body with was lacking nutrient density. My body had simply been asking for the nourishment it needed.
Over the past 5 or 6 years, people have commented on how I “keep losing weight.” Truth be told, what they see is a reduction of inflammation, a change in body composition, thicker hair, a brighter complexion, joy, energy, gratitude, and confidence that have resulted from my program of recovery and finally giving my body the abundance of nourishment I had previously only afforded it when it was carrying or nursing my children. My weight has changed very little and even so, I tend to think of it as a range, fluctuating depending on exposure to inflammatory foods (by accident or by choice), sleep, and hormonal fluctuations. I have learned that healthy and pleasurable need not, and dare I say should not, be mutually exclusive. Talk to me for a few minutes and it will be overwhelmingly clear how passionate I am about replacing a restrictive mentality with one of abundance and choice fortified by self-awareness, free from judgment and dietary dogma. And, I love guiding folks to the point where I tell them, “It’s time for you to trust yourself more than you trust me.” Regardless of your age, genetics, history with food, or disease state, you can improve your quality of life, living authentically, treating your body and spirit with the love and respect you deserve.
You can find Maida on Instagram, and Facebook at @nuancednutrition :
Or contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a Free 20 minute Consultation to determine if Nutritional Therapy is right for you.
Mention Austin Wellness Collaborative for a 20% discount on services.
She can also be found March 9-10 at the SXSW Wellness Expo at Palmer Auditorium and March 29-31 at the New Story Festival on the Huston-Tilloston campus where she will be both presenting and have a booth. Her presentation is entitled Loving Yourself Healthier.