'I Saw How Powerful Good Nutrition Can Be:' Tara's Success Story

'My choices matter more than my genes.'

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When I was 11, my mother died from a massive heart attack. She was just 36, and her passing had a huge impact on me. It even affected my career: I spent six years in the pharmaceutical industry working on disease therapies, because I wanted to figure out why our bodies fail us — and how we can treat them when they do. Then one day, I got a call from my doctor.

Tara with her mom. 'Her life ended way too soon.'
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My blood work showed that I had early-warning signs of heart disease, including high cholesterol and high levels of C-reactive protein, a substance that signals inflammation. I was 26 — a decade younger than my mother when she died.

Like most women my age, sometimes I ate well, sometimes I ate poorly — and most of the time I ate out. I decided to start cooking my own food, and this, more than anything else, helped turn my health around. I thought I didn't like vegetables, but once I got comfortable in the kitchen, I realized I just didn't like how other people prepared them. I also sought out more fiber-rich foods. Thanks to those dietary changes, I never had to go on heart medication, and I lost more than 15 pounds.

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To keep my progress going, I enrolled in a yearlong nutrition certification program at night. Halfway through, it dawned on me: I could shift my focus from disease treatment to disease prevention.

So I quit my job and started my own practice. In the beginning I would meet clients at their homes, but I found that when I came to them they didn't put as much effort into change. There's something about physically getting in your car and showing up for an appointment that makes your commitment feel real. As soon as I could afford it, I rented office space, and now I see dozens of clients a day.

The work is rewarding, but it's also hard. Food is usually tied to emotions and habits, self-care, and love. It can get complicated, but my favorite thing is when I help a client who has gone on and off diets her whole life finally break that cycle.

This story originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.

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