“Eating Consciously…It’s A Journey” by Kari Klinkenborg: Former Florida Gator VB Player, Actress & Model!

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Kari Klinkenborg is a former Florida Gator Volleyball player, Actress, Model and all-around super woman. She is also the founder of Feeding Soles, an organization which provides new shoes and socks to children in need.

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“Some people eat to live, and other’s live to eat.   I, myself, would be the latter.  Food is my love, my passion. People laugh when they hear me talk about food; it truly makes me come alive, and I often find myself thinking of my next meal before finishing what I’m currently eating.

Growing up as a competitive athlete, this was fine. However, as I’ve matured and no longer train 3-5 hours a day, I’ve had to face the harsh reality that my metabolism has changed.  I’ve heard it since I was a kid, “Oh honey, you’re so lucky, wait till you’re 25.” Inside I just laughed, I thought oh please, I’ll always be blessed w the ability to eat what I want, look good, and feel great.  Turns out, as with many things in life, you end up eating your own words, or in this case, I guess my own thoughts.  Allow me to explain…

Some of my earliest and fondest memories revolve around food – whether one of my favorite meals my mom or Grandma made, or simply deciding which box of cereal I was going to devour at 10pm when I finally made it home from practice. I can’t begin to adequately describe how I feel after I enjoy a fantastic meal, demolish a cheese plate, bake a delicious dessert, or have a great cup of coffee or wine after a long day.  Okay, yes, wine isn’t exactly food, but you get my gist, food is truly my happy place.  Food transcends time. It brings up memories. It’s exciting. You can have different meals based on the weather, region you live in, or the country you are visiting.  In fact, my ultimate goal is to own a coffee shop/cafe in a little town where everyone knows your name and you can eat healthy, yet indulge at the same time.

Healthy?   Did I just throw that in there?   Okay, after all that babble, I’m going to try and focus here.
 Growing up I was somewhat conscious of the foods I was eating, but I thought low-fat packaged foods were healthy and one pop tart versus two was exercising great self-control.  Ignorance truly is bliss.  I never knew what gluten was until I moved to LA, and I thought a Vegan was a fancy, more modern term for a vegetarian.  I’m happy to report that I now know what each of those are, however, I don’t adhere to either.  Not because I think they’re wrong, but because I’ve learned, and am continuing to learn, what works for me and my body.

First and foremost I have to admit, it is hard. It is very, very hard for me to consume less than I did when I was a competitive athlete burning thousands of calories per day.  I like to eat. Food tastes good. It is exciting, comforting, and downright satisfying.  However, I’ve learned the hard way that instant gratification is just that, instant.
Over the years I’ve enjoyed so many fabulous meals, yet I haven’t felt so great after I’ve consumed them. I always equated feeling bad with a rich meal or possibly (most likely) consuming way too much of the meal I was having.  When I was an athlete, cheat days were everyday.  No lie, I used to have people comment on a daily basis on how impressed they were with the amount of food I could consume.  I almost wore it as a badge of honor that I could maintain a decent frame and still eat what I wanted. It wasn’t until this year that I started realizing that maybe feeling sick after a meal, and actually wanting to vomit, meant more than I was just full or overindulged on my cheat day.    I wasn’t just uncomfortable, I was miserable. I was waking up with terrible stomachaches no matter how many hours had passed between finishing my meal and going to bed.  Of course I’d heard about “clean eating” and it changing peoples lives and blah blah, but that just wasn’t for me. I simply wasn’t going to put that much time, effort, and thought into what I was having for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

After sitting through a business dinner with very well respected individuals in the fitness industry, I started wondering if what they were saying about processed foods and hormones in our food could actually be true. The claims they were making seemed so ridiculous. If all of these things were so harmful for us, how were they allowed to be in our foods? Now I was interested, so when I got home that night, I hit Google University.

I started researching exactly what was going into the foods I was consuming on a daily basis.  Mind you, at this point, I’m not even sure I was aware of what processed food actually were.    Not only was I unaware of the junk I was constantly putting in my body (which tasted so delicious), but the research and studies were downright concerning.   I was truly floored when I researched the impact of red and yellow food coloring, and astonished at the amount of garbage (literally garbage) the FDA allows humans to consume. I would love to say that all of this knowledge allowed me to quit eating processed food and junk immediately, but it didn’t.

I started small. In fact, I decided to start by trying to be dairy-free for a week. I thought this would be so difficult because I love half and half in my coffee and I love cheese. Actually, I more than love cheese! But I had noticed that every time I consumed dairy I would start to experience the same symptoms. I just kind of thought I woke up with dull headaches and runny noses year round. But after my research, I had the feeling that maybe I had a dairy intolerance or allergy, hence my weeklong challenge to go without dairy. Yikes!

Even though I am competitive, I didn’t think I’d last more than 2 days without some form of dairy products. Turns out I went 10 days with absolutely zero dairy, zero. I couldn’t believe how much better I was feeling in the mornings. I wasn’t feeling congested immediately after my first cup of coffee, and I didn’t have a sore throat for the first half of every day. Pretty amazing, but I was not totally convinced. I was pretty proud to have kicked my half and half habit though. On day 10 a friend of mine was moving, so we decided to celebrate by going out for ice cream. Not fro-yo, but the real deal, full dairy, full fat, delicious stuff. It was so tasty and satisfying, but within 3 minutes of the first bite, I was sick. I mean pounding headache, nose running, sinuses hurting, needing to run to the restroom kind of sick. This was the day that I realized I had a severe dairy intolerance. I was pretty depressed because I knew this meant I was going to have to change my diet, and for more than just 10 days. But, it was also exciting to realize that I had found a simple answer as to why I hadn’t been feeling well off and on for years!

I did not give up dairy entirely; I have just learned what works best for my body. I can still enjoy cheese, I just try having it less often. When I do allow myself cheese, I’ve found the raw variety cause very little, if any, discomfort. I’ve learned that certain brands of coconut milk make my overnight breakfast oats taste way better than yogurt ever did, and for the days I’m craving yogurt, I opt for the coconut milk version. I think I was so overwhelmed with all the foods I’d be missing out on if I decided to scale back or go non dairy that I just decided that dairy didn’t negatively affect me, even though I knew it did. It turns out that there are so many delicious alternatives to most dairy products, and that having an allergy doesn’t mean that you have to limit yourself by eating boring foods, or limit what restaurants you go to.

After my dairy experiment I decided to try another one…no processed foods. This was very tough, because it meant I basically had to stay away from my cabinets. I’m always on the go, so I find myself stocking up on pre packaged food – mainly because it has a long shelf life and it’s easy to toss something in my purse and walk out the door. Well, if it can sit in a cabinet for years, what was it doing to my body? Again, I made excuses as to why I wasn’t going to be able to kick processed foods, mainly because I love the taste and I like carbs. I don’t like healthy carbs like oranges and sweet potatoes; I like crackers, chips, granola bars, cereal etc.

I decided I would eat zero processed food for a minimum of 5 days. I again think I lasted about 10, and it was pretty amazing because at first all I wanted was crackers and bread. After about 3 days, my body started craving the things I was giving it. It wanted more arugula salads, kale or mashed cauliflower, juicy watermelon (which I previously never liked), or crisp green grapes.

The hardest part of eating no processed foods for me is constantly having to grocery shop. Fresh food spoils so I only get the amount I can eat within the week so I won’t waste food. Aside from being at the grocery store 3 times a week, and it being more expensive to eat healthy, real foods, I have to say; there is nothing like the feeling of your body running at it’s best. I can truly tell you that my body has NEVER felt as good as it does when I am eating “clean.” I never wanted to be that girl who follows the fads, and I thought that clean eating and no dairy were just that. It turns out that everyone raves about it for a reason. It is a game changer.

Everything I do when I am eating clean seems easier. I’ve been able to do yoga poses that I never in a million years thought I’d achieve, or even want to. I can run further and faster without getting tired, and I wake up in the morning feeling refreshed and ready to eat a healthy meal and start my day. My skin looks better. My body feels better. My mind is clearer. The benefits of eating a clean healthy diet and consuming a lot of water are truly indescribable.

This is not to say that I don’t still enjoy a juicy burger and fries or a big piece of cake or hit the candy bins. I still do all of that but I do it in moderation and I try and eat a juicy burger from a restaurant and eat organic beef instead of fast food. Like I said, my body has stopped craving junk the more I cut it out, and sometimes when I indulge in my old favorites, I literally get sick because my body is not used to that stuff anymore. Now, more often than not, I crave dark chocolate, and I’ve never been a chocolate person before. The more real foods you eat, the more your taste buds change and you start appreciating REAL flavors.

My advice to anyone looking to change his or her eating habits or start living a healthier lifestyle is to start small. Make a realistic goal like cutting out sugar or fried foods or dairy for a few days. You want to set yourself up for success. If you’re like me, and you suspect something may be upsetting your body, try eliminating that first and go from there. One of the biggest changes I’ve made is shopping the perimeter of the grocery store. Other than canned beans or tomatoes, peanut butters, Lara bars, or occasionally some crackers, I do not buy anything from the middle of the store. It is basically all processed junk. Buy organic when you can even though it’s a little more expensive. When using veggies and fruits to juice, it’s important that you’re not giving pesticides a fast track to your digestive system. I always buy organic meats if they’re available. This is one food item where I can absolutely tell a difference in the quality and taste. Try sticking to natural sugars. Real maple syrup, local organic honey, agave; they’re all delicious and a little goes a long way.

Find what works for you, and trust your body. Our bodies can tell us a lot if we are willing to listen and adjust accordingly. And don’t beat yourself up. If you want to eat something, do it. Just do it in moderation. It is okay to indulge. It is okay to have a cheat day or two. I usually eat something sweet at least once a day because I know if I don’t I will most likely binge eat. However, I now try and eat a piece of toast with honey and peanut butter, a piece of dark chocolate or an apple with almond butter.

I still live to eat, I just now do it more consciously.”

Author Bio:

Kari grew up the middle child of 5 girls.  A self-proclaimed tomboy, she grew up in Iowa, California and Denver, allowing her to fall in love with the city life while appreciating her country roots.   Kari played multiple sports during her middle school years in Iowa but realizing how much she loved volleyball she made the decision to move back to Colorado when she was recruited by one of the elite volleyball clubs in the country.   Kari competed with her high school track team and was captain of the volleyball team.  After earning All State and All American honors Kari was offered a scholarship to play volleyball for the #2 ranked Florida Gators.  While at Florida Kari was part of three SEC championship teams and lead the SEC in regular season hitting percentage in 2005.   Kari suffered a career ending injury after her junior season but continued to pursue her love of sports and entertaining while earning a Bachelor of Science in Communications, hoping to one day pursue sports broadcasting.  While at Florida Kari hosted a weekly sports show entitled “GatorZone” highlighting all the Gator Athletes and upcoming events.   This solidified her desire to pursue a career in entertainment.   Upon graduating Kari moved to Los Angeles where she founded a charity called Feeding Soles aiming to provide new shoes and socks for underprivileged men, women and children in the Los Angeles area each Christmas.  Kari has pursued acting for the past 4 years, appearing in several national commercials, TV shows and recently shot two feature films.  In her down time, Kari loves being with her family, her puppy Major, being outdoors, being active and traveling the world.

I am so thrilled to have Kari’s thoughts on story on ROO! Isn’t she incredible? I’m so grateful that she was willing to write a piece about healthy eating. Go Gators!

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