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My Father’s Death Taught Me How To Change My Health For The Generations To Come

October 4, 2017

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When my dad died we lost it. I watched my family cry uncontrollably. I watched my step mother fall all over the floor. I watched the snot ooze from my little brother’s nose as he sobbed. I watched my little sister’s back and shoulders rise and fall systematically. I stared very sternly into space as I tightened my face and pinched my lips together.

I didn’t cry.

I was sad; I was angry; I was mad; I was sad; I was angry; I was mad.

But I didn’t cry.

We all deal with our grief differently.

Two months after my dad passed I was about 25 pounds heavier then I was month before he died. What was going on here? While everyone else was crying I was staying up late at night like a zombie and eating my emotions one cookie at a time. How symbolic of my father’s passing.

If you knew my father you’d know that he and I were very similar, I’d go as far to say that my dad and I were the most similar of all my siblings. My father was the life of the party, the ultimate social butterfly. He was a go getter, super ambitious. He always had us kids on the move doing something fun. Does that not sound like me? He passed down so many great habits, values and beliefs but my father taught us nothing about living a healthy lifestyle.

My dad with Elle when she was a baby

For as long as I can remember my dad has always been sick. At about 9 years old I can remember my dad’s breakfast cocktail of medications and one specifically was for diabetes. I can’t recall ever in my life watching my dad eat a healthy meal. To him, salad was for rabbits. He ate what he wanted when he wanted and he felt he was king and should eat like one. I have absolutely no recollection of watching my dad do any type of exercise at all. He would watch us play but not actually participate. As I got older my dad’s medications increased in quantity and eventually my dad went from taking pills to needing insulin injections, then he had to go to dialysis 3 days a week, and the week before he died the had to put a pacemaker on his heart.

After trying to eat my pain away for two months my belly was rolling over my pants and I couldn’t button them up. I knew something had to be done. I knew I needed to make a change for myself of course but ultimately I need to take things further. I needed to make a generational change, the type of change that my children would pass on to their children and their children would pass on to their children. My dad’s death ignited a passion in me to live in a way that my health wouldn’t be compromised based on my lifestyle choices. Too often we hear that health ailments and diseases are hereditary and it dawned on me that if my father passed down his poor health habits of drinking liters of soda and eating oily greasy foods to me that I could be sick some day soon. And that if I passed that down to my kids I would have a hand in this cycle. But I could break this cycle by making healthy changes right now.

I’ve made the commitment to live an active lifestyle as a family because there is no benefit in doing this alone. My husband and I both workout regularly outdoors and in the gym. I really like to run, whether it be on the treadmill or outdoors, doesn’t really matter. I even completed a half marathon! I’ve recently been focusing on weight lifting and strength training to get my muscles stronger. My husband loves bike riding, he could ride all over New York and back. I’m sure you all have seen my social media posts of Joel at his TaeKwonDo practices, this is definitely a form of exercise and he really enjoys this. Elle is enrolled in ballet, gymnastics and swimming. Aside from these organized sport activities we do other things as a family to keep active. By living such an an active lifestyle we are teaching our children that exercise is an important part of our lives. I want them to think of exercise as a normal part of life and not a chore and this mind shift is powerful.

I love playing outside with my kids

I’ve talked about this several times and I’m going to remind you again, you’ve got to encourage your children to get outside. As a family we play outdoors together in our back yard a few times a week. It’s always easier to get the kids outside when you’re also outside with them so put on your shoes and get out there with them. It’s good for your heart and your muscles to join them in their play. I like to take a walk with Elle and Joel while they ride their bikes or scooters. And we love playing tag! During the summer we often go the beach to swim and play in the sand but we always add in a long walk down the coast line and back. When I think back to my days with my dad we always had a lot of love and a lot of love but his death has taught me that the time we spend together with our children can be a balance of love, fun, and fitness.

Vegan Falafel Salad

The largest change we’ve made by far was transitioning to a plant based vegan diet — committing to no longer consuming meat, dairy and animal by products. My husband and I are both Americans but culturally I come from a West African family and my husband comes from a Caribbean family, thus meat is central to us from all sides. Cutting meat out of our diet is like taking out an organ. Our families think we are crazy but it’s been almost two years and we are here for the long haul which means we are being patient with ourselves and we’re learning as we go. We aren’t perfect and we do make mistakes. There have been many temptations and I’ve eaten things that have had dairy and egg in them but I’ve never eaten any meat this entire time. It’s incredibly important that as vegan parents we educate our children as we learn so they to have the information to make better decisions because the world we live in doesn’t always make vegan options accessible to them.

My father’s death reminds me each and every day how making a few small changes now can make for a long and healthier tomorrow. While it may seem like no big deal to enjoy a soda and fast food every now again the value is in eating healthy and working out as a lifestyle choice. I know my dad is watching me from heaven and he’s so proud. I’m not your chunky baby girl any more daddy! I love and I miss you.

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  • Reply Hannah Rooks October 4, 2017 at 6:34 pm

    I LOVE THIS! It’s so sweet how such a loss can turn into such a gain for your family. What you made of the situation is beautiful. I’m so sorry for your loss. And I’m so glad you’re changing your life for the better and making your dad proud!

    The plant-based diet really intrigues me. My husband and I recently watched the “What the Health” documentary on Netflix (highly recommend!) and it’s such an eye-opener. I 100% believe it’s the way humans were made to eat, but it just seems so hard. Now I’m going to go check out some of your recipes! Thanks! & keep up with the recipes 🙂


  • Reply Victoria Stacey October 4, 2017 at 8:44 pm

    I’m so sorry for your loss. You do however look fabulous! Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Reply Megan Acuna October 5, 2017 at 2:08 am

    So sorry for your loss, but so glad you using it for such a healthy platform! Go strong women!!!

  • Reply Tina Lashley October 5, 2017 at 9:20 am

    Hi Jenell, thank you for your story. I was so sorry to hear about your precious dad passing. You are such an inspiration. Keep up the good work!! Blessings to you and your family.

  • Reply Sarah October 5, 2017 at 9:27 am

    I am so sorry for your loss, but celebrate the win of your health! I love that you can live to tell you dad’s story because you CHOSE to live. Keep up the great work.

  • Reply Dominique Lessard October 6, 2017 at 6:57 am

    Congratulations on changing your daily habits and taking your health seriously. This is very hard to do, but you had the biggest motivation: your kids! I try hard to stay healthy, and I am doing quite good actually. I’m far from being perfect, but I am trying. I have to go play more outside with my little girl though. I should follow your footsteps! Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Reply Melanie October 9, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    My husband’s dad passed away last year. He had diabetes,as well. His death and health issues have had a profound effect on my husband. He has changed his eating habits and exercises more.

  • Reply Censie Sawyer October 9, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I am thankful every day for having my parents still on earth. Your courage and strength shows me that you have learned so much through your grief. I too turn to food during rough patches. It is so difficult some times. You look amazing!

  • Reply Winter White October 9, 2017 at 6:41 pm

    What an amazing tribute to your father that you have decided to use his life as a lesson. I know he is smiling down on you and shining his loving light on you and his grandchildren. I recently changed my lifestyle as well and have committed to eating healthier more balanced meals. I run for 30 minutes in the morning and have incorporated more activity into my day to day. I FEEL SO GOOD! I want to push myself to try vegan for a month out of the year just to see if I feel a change. Thank you for the inspiration! God bless you and your beautiful family!

  • Reply Britni Newton Vigil October 9, 2017 at 7:00 pm

    What a lovely way to take a loss and turn it into something positive for your life. I know when I eat healthy and seek out exercise I definitely feel worlds better. I think making it a lifestyle is a wonderful way to look at it!

  • Reply Gemille Sleweon October 9, 2017 at 8:45 pm

    We don’t realize how big of a role our diets play in our health. After being diagnosed with PCOS back in March, I decided to make some
    Lifestyle changes as well. You look and feel so much better when you do.

  • Reply Kimberly @ Berly's Kitchen October 10, 2017 at 8:42 am

    You look amazing!! It’s not easy making a major lifestyle change, but you’ve done a great job. Your dad would be proud. Keep up the great work. 🙂

  • Reply Melissa Dixon October 10, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    It is great when you can set a good example for others and be self motivated! It is like something I could be saying for myself. My family has had generations of diabetics on my moms side and we struggle with a sweet addiction as well. We love ice cream and need to make the healthier version rather than swing through the drivethru for a quick fix.

  • Reply Heather October 10, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    I am so sorry to hear of your loss. But it sounds like you have made a positive change in your life in spite of your grief. I need to reevaluate my health so that I can inspire health for my children.

  • Reply Karlyn Cruz October 10, 2017 at 2:09 pm

    It’s stories like this that truly motivate me. I love how real you are and the honesty of your story. I’m so sorry about your dad. I’m glad, however that you’ve used his experience in a positive way and I’m sure after all that he went through, he would have been happy to know you’ve taken this path. You look so great and it’s nice that you’re encouraging exercise and good health with your kids as well. It’s so positve to read.

  • Reply Tami October 10, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    What a difference your efforts have made! I need to make some drastic changes to my lifestyle. I have plenty of reasons. Yet, I just sit here.

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