Rising Above PTSD Through Exercise and Eating With Purpose
Stress checked? Yes, Chef
Here we are, halfway through 2020, and it’s difficult not to feel scared, anxious, angry and frustrated. As we try to adjust to this new normal, it’s important to remember that stress and trauma affect us all in different ways and that mental health is now more important than ever. As a cancer survivor, I understand the waves of emotions that can hit in unimaginable circumstances. At the age of 15, I woke up one day before school and discovered a swollen lump near my collarbone. After seeing a doctor, getting a biopsy and waiting for what felt like an eternity, I got the news: I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that affects the lymphatic system—and it had spread to my chest. I remember feeling scared, anxious, angry and frustrated. I wanted to scream.
We’re all coping with a stressful mix of feelings during this pandemic, but life is full of moments when, even in the midst of a storm, you can still fish out the good. These are moments that propel you forward so that you can adapt, grow and prosper. I remember the moment when I realized as a teen that my thoughts affected how I felt about my diagnosis. My choices were to either feed into the fear and unknown or change my mindset. I chose the latter and made it my mission to seek positivity. I focused on food, exercise, family, friends, prayer and faith, all of which remain foundational in my life today. Once I was cancer-free, I determined that eating healthy, exercising and maintaining a positive mental attitude would be a permanent part of my lifestyle.
My bodybuilding career began shortly after my chemo treatment ended, and I would go on to become a personal trainer, nutrition coach and professional chef. For more than 10 years, I competed in professional bodybuilding shows, the last of which was the 2013 Hercules Championship in New York City, where I placed third.
Then, in 2014, my mother was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer—18 years after my own cancer diagnosis. Working to help her in her battle led me to cannabis, and I began researching its medicinal benefits. But my mother’s fight ended very differently from mine the following year. Her passing shattered my world; I was left emotionless, displaced and confused. This intensification of anxiety, PTSD and depression led to my own experimentation with the cannabis plant. Five years later, I’m still adjusting to my mother’s loss, but I’m passionate about teaching others how to pursue better health through real food, eating with purpose, exercise and incorporating cannabis into a balanced lifestyle.
Over the past few years, I’ve had the privilege of cooking in numerous restaurants, preparing meals for amazing organizations—including Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, First Descents and the Palette Fund—and working with various celebrities in the entertainment and financial industries. I also took second place in Spike TV’s “Frankenfood” show.
In 2017, I launched SimpleEats.com, a site devoted to helping others understand the importance of eating healthy and incorporating cannabis into their diets. My goal was to create healthy snacks to counter anxiety, depression and PTSD—treats like Cinnamon-Chili Cannabutter on toast, a great way to kick-start your morning. Because capsaicin increases metabolism and helps reduce body fat, I infused the cannabutter with chili pepper. This can be particularly useful during stressful times like quarantine, when many of us have consumed more and moved less.
Granola, Oat and Hemp Crumble is a perfect snack to get in some extra protein; the combination of carbs and fats will also provide extra energy while you’re enjoying some safe, socially distanced outdoor activity. With my Zucchini Turmeric Chocolate Chip Almond Muffins, I offer an end-of-day or post-workout recovery snack. The ingredients are all about reducing inflammation and muscle damage, replenishing glycogen levels and promoting overall recovery. Spreading these snacks throughout the day can be an effective method of microdosing and help keep you calm, relaxed and balanced.
I enjoy finding new ways of incorporating cannabis into my meals. If you are just beginning to experiment with this plant, remember that less is more and to always consult your physician for treatment of ailments. I hope that my story has inspired you to keep moving forward, never give up, stay positive and make the changes in your life you need so that when this is all over, you come out stronger on the other side.
By Tito Dudley
Photography & prop styling by Erin Scott
Food Styling by Lillian Kang