Mistaken identity

Seven years ago this month marks the anniversary of the tragic accident that involved a Taylor University van full of students and staff on I-69; not far from my hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Five lives were lost on the fateful evening of April 26, 2006. The story not only hit national news immediately, but six years later it became one of NBC Dateline’s most popular stories in their twenty year history due to the mistaken identity of two, blonde haired students at the scene of the accident.

For anyone not familiar with the story, in a nutshell, a young female student that was supposedly Laura VanRyn was thrown some fifty feet from the van and sustained multiple broken bones, lacerations, bruises and a traumatic brain injury.  She was airlifted to a hospital in Fort Wayne. When her parents and siblings arrived from out-of-state, they were told by the physician a couple of times to be prepared for what they would see when they entered her dimly lit room in ICU. Her face would be swollen, scratched, bruised, and bandaged; she was on a respirator; and tubes would be coming out of her body.

Long story short, at the scene of the accident, in the midst of the chaos with purses and items strewn all over two blonde-haired students’ identities were accidentally switched. For five weeks the VanRyn family unknowingly watched vigil at the bedside of a young woman that was not their daughter. Even though the girl’s college roommate and a couple family friends noticed the person in the hospital bed was not Laura VanRyn; it wasn’t until she started waking up from her coma and saying that her name was Whitney, did the reality of the mistaken identity start to unfold. 

The story is unbelievably sad, and I can’t begin to imagine the traumatic confusion those families endured.  

Every since learning about the mistaken identity, I’ve been both intrigued and amazed how the mind has the potential to believe and become most anything it is told.

Years ago I attended a Twelve Step program, and at the beginning of this particular group of meetings everyone went around the room and introduced themselves as a 'Compulsive Overeater'. Seriously. That was the introductory declaration before each meeting. After declaring that repeatedly, it started to become my identity. So guess what I did every time I was stressed out? . . . .or sad, tired, happy, frustrated, bored, lonely, or discouraged? I compulsively overate! 

In the summer of 2008, when I committed to the nutritairan eating-style, from day one onward I told myself and everyone around me that I was a nutritarian. A nutritarian is someone who eats high-nutrient foods to meet the body’s biological needs for optimal nutrition; not for emotional, social, or recreational reasons. Being a nutritarian became my new identity; a compass so-to-speak. And guess what? My identity changed! I became a nutritarian!

We really do become what we believe, and what we repeatedly tell others.

We all need to ask ourselves if we are believing and declaring an identity that is incongruent with that which we want to become. If we are, we need to change what we believe; for only then can our true, positive identity come forth.

In other words, we need to be careful not to believe that we are someone we don’t want to become. We must not live with a mistaken identity. Life is too short to become someone we never intended to be!


Here’s to being a healthy and vibrant nutritarian to all!



image credit:  flickr by Virginia Beach Volunteer Rescue Squad History


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Comments (33) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Randy - April 9, 2013 8:51 AM

Thank you for such a well-written article. I feel more motivated than before reading it to succeed on this my third day as a nutritarian.

Jeane - April 9, 2013 9:34 AM

Don't put your mind, where you don't want to go.

Lynne in NC - April 9, 2013 9:35 AM

Emily -- Thank you!
This is so true and I am thankful for your insight into what has been a mistaken identity filled with words like 'fat' 'big girl' and 'doesn't she have a pretty face'... etc.
No more! I'm a nutritarian and am becoming healthier and happier every day.

Nora - April 9, 2013 9:43 AM

Awesome! This is great. The mental and spiritual aspects of our lives are so integral!

Donna - April 9, 2013 11:01 AM

As Joyce Meyer says: where the mind goes, the man follows. :)

Eugenia - April 9, 2013 11:03 AM

I declare I am a nutritarian. It has being hard because I couldn't explain to people my new way of eating but you have helped me with this explanation. Thank you! Awesome article.

Jean - April 9, 2013 11:07 AM

I, too, left OA after a year because of the premise that no one is ever free of compulsive overeating. While the support at meetings and from my sponsor was a big help for a while, I needed to leave when I knew I had bigger dreams for me than OA did. Many years later I am still free of compulsive overeating :)

While I appreciate the nutritarian concept, I prefer not to identify myself with any labels, but instead say I choose to eat a nutritarian vegan diet. Maybe it's a minor point, but important to me.

Thanks so much for another thought-provoking, inspiring post!

Cheryl - April 9, 2013 11:46 AM

Wow, thank you for sharing this. I vaguely remember hearing something about that in the news, but didn't know the details.
Your comments align perfectly with my spiritual beliefs. Jesus said as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.
Also another poster Lynne, thank you for opening my eyes. I'd always jokingly referred to myself as a cow. Yikes. I have been nutritarian in my body since October. Now I am one in my mind and in my mouth.
Wiping tears... thanks :)

Tracy - April 9, 2013 12:07 PM

What an idea! I think this will be one my new identity so to speak. Think it and be it. Thank you.

Raya - April 9, 2013 12:59 PM

Thank you for that. I agree, and as I see handles/ names people give themselves on the internet, I often wonder what they are telling themselves they are.

Julianne Rowland - April 9, 2013 1:05 PM

Well said, Emily. As the saying goes, change your mind, change your life, change your destiny!

Jessica - April 9, 2013 2:22 PM

Very good point! This goes along with something my husband and I always say to each other, "don't try, do!" If you say you are "trying to eat healthy" or "trying to exercise more", you are giving yourself the chance to quit, since you were just trying it out. Declare yourself a healthy eater, and that you are exercising more! You will still forgive yourself for the setbacks, but will allow yourself fewer. It works for me, more and more every day.

Lynn - April 9, 2013 2:34 PM

Thanks Emily, this makes a lot of sense. I do still struggle with food addictions though, but I'm fine as long as certain things aren't in the house (like almond butter or oatmeal). Sometimes I wonder if it's all in my head, but it doesn't seem that way mid-binge. While I don't go around saying I'm a food addict, I have to consciously avoid those trigger foods if I want to remain a healthy nutritarian. So I guess my question is, how does one strike a balance between "I'm a nutritarian" and the stark reality of being prone to binge-eating? I'd love to find a way, if it's possible, to have a little almond butter once in a while without losing control.

Emily Boller - April 9, 2013 3:06 PM


Certain foods can trigger tastes, textures, and pleasures (and it may even be a warm fuzzy memory from the past that has nothing to do with food per se). Abstinence from those trigger foods is a small price to pay if they cause a bingeing relapse. AND it may just be for a temporary period of time.

About five years ago I couldn't be in the same room with ranch dressing, bacon bits, shredded cheddar cheese, and croutons. Today I don't have the slightest desire for those so-called foods.

A sign of maturity is to accept one's limitations and live at peace with them.

The biggest lie we can tell ourselves, or have others tell us is "just one bite won't hurt" when we have real life experiences that prove differently.

We have to continually remind ourselves what true pleasure is . . . . true pleasure is not being consumed by addictive foods, not needing insulin and statin drugs, not needing dialysis or a limb amputation, and having the ease of mobility and stamina to hike for miles in a state park without wearing out.

All the best to you.

Caette - April 9, 2013 8:53 PM

Sometime we claim the identity that others have assigned us. This is just as difficult to overcome.

Patty - April 10, 2013 12:44 PM

Yes! Growing up I often heard my mom tell people that I was shy. So, what did I become? Thankfully, there are programs like Dale Carnegie and Toastmasters that helped me to overcome that as an adult.

Paul B - April 10, 2013 2:02 PM

Wonderful post, Emily. While I realize that 12 step programs have benefited many, I realized a long time ago that they were not for me. When I read Wendy Kaminer's "I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional" and read her point about how 12 step programs foster co-dependence, I avoided them.


Katie - April 10, 2013 2:04 PM

Great post, thanks Emily! I just came across this article which seemed to go hand in hand with your post - http://blog.bufferapp.com/a-scientific-guide-to-saying-no-how-to-avoid-temptation-and-distraction

Susan - April 10, 2013 2:14 PM

I am also guilty of repeatedly thinking and saying out loud: "I love these "______", I could just eat the whole thing!". My husband pointed out to me that I say that quite often. I need to rephrase and rethink what I say. Perhaps something more along the lines of "No thank you, I don't care for any right now", or maybe "Oh, I don't care for those anymore." Something that is more fitting with my nutritarian lifestyle. I've lost 70 pounds by not eating the whole thing anymore and by saying "no thank you" and "Not this time." many, many times. It is possible and it does work. Thank you for the reminder.

Bo - April 10, 2013 2:28 PM

Thank you so much Emily! I needed this reminder. You are totally right!

Joyce - April 10, 2013 3:32 PM

This is a great article It is very compelling in addition to being well written. Proclaiming I am a nutrarian reframes how I view myself. It also has an aspect of accountability, I do not want to jeopardise my integrity by failing to nourish my body with healthy foods. I lived in Ft Wayne and remember the incident well.

S.A. - April 10, 2013 5:13 PM

While I have the utmost respect for your amazing experience and insight I have to respectfully speak up based on my own experiences.. I am enjoying tremendous success as a nutritarian and I am happily in overeaters anonymous. In fact, for me these programs have gone hand in hand, both stronger together than would have been individually.

After joining OA I no longer hid away the shame that I felt because I couldn't eat just one bite of those nasty, addictive foods. And although following Dr. Fuhrman's eating plan means that I rarely have cravings anymore, I do take solace in the knowledge that for me I am truly just one bite away from the hell of out-of-control eating. Accepting that fact makes me free from the torment of trying to eat like a "normal" person. And of course one I know, thanks to Dr. Fuhrman, all the reasons why I would never want to eat like a "normal" American.

OA helps keep me spiritually nourished and sane with a whole lot of loving fellow members to boot. I even have the privilege of spreading nutritarianism to some members the group.

With love,

Emily Boller - April 10, 2013 7:38 PM


I agree wholeheartedly with your statement about accepting the power of food addiction and "just one bite" leading to out-of-control eating. We all need to accept that fact, because living in denial of food addiction's power will always hold one captive.

I'm referring to taking on an identity that is unhealthy or an identity that one never intends to become.

Dan Vitale - April 10, 2013 8:14 PM

I have recently started a plant-based diet, exclusively. And I am losing weight and feeling great. This is my new life. Although I don't think the comparison to the bus accident was a very good one, I will agree on the Pygmalian effect, that if you keep expounding something, you will become that thing. I can't function from the premise of OA, it is much too defeatist and nihilistic for me, I simply am not the type.

Ann - April 12, 2013 12:55 PM

Wow - what an inspirational post. I live near the place this accident happened, and my heart still goes out to the brave families who dealt with this.
I've been a binge eater since seventh grade - and have been on all kinds of diet (high protein, low carb, high grains/low fat regular, vegetarian and vegan) - but I always caved and binged. I kept 60 pounds off as a vegetarian, but he last 30 have been a killer.
On all these diets I cut fat way down and I think my body craved it - I always felt like I was gritting my teeth and girding my willpower to stick to the plans, and whenever stress hit the cookies would be there, and I would fail.
Since I've been a Nutritarian, and eating many beans, seeds, nuts, nut butters, etc, I've lost 16 pounds painlessly (13-14 to go!). I just don't have the physical cravings, and I feel well-fed all day, so the emotional cravings are not so hard to handle.
OA was suggested to me, but didn't fit with my schedule (it seems very time consuming) and frankly I'm kind of glad I didn't do it, even though I've got the number in case I'm tempted to binge - I just, as you said, don't want the label of being a "compulsive overeater" or "food addict." I want to move away from the whole compulsive eating thing, and it seems like taking on a label like that would make it easier to slip back in.
We shall see...started nutritarian vegan Jan 1, 2013, worked so far...so I'm thrilled!

Bob - April 12, 2013 10:39 PM

I have recently become a nutrarian. I have lost 23 pounds. My blood sugar has been great since the second day of the change. I started eight weeks ago. But the last 4 weeks I have hit a wall. Is there a site we can go to for help with the Eat to Live Plan "End Diabetes?"

Jenni - April 14, 2013 4:44 AM

This is excactly what i have experienced a few years ago. I had a lot of social anxiety and didn't want to talk to people. But somehow I always wanted to become a human that's funny to talk to, engaging and interesting. I have worked a lot with EFT Tapping and Affirmations to change the belief about myself and it has really worked out. Today I don't feel any social anxiety at all and I am mostly part of the party :).

Susan - April 14, 2013 6:57 AM

This describes the Pygmalion effect, also called the Rosenthal effect. Years ago when I was under the age of 30, I taught in a healthcare program at a community college. Our students needed to pass a national board to become certified and be able to work. My department head constantly told the students that they would fail the exam and they weren't prepared, the worst class she had ever had, etc,etc. She thought that would motivate them to try harder. I didn't feel good about that approach but it was my first year and she had years of experience. Finally the dean above us stepped in and required us to watch a film about the Pygmalion theory which states that low expectations lead to a decrease in performance and and that people will internalize "labels". It becomes a "self fulfilling" prophecy. Anyway, after that our students passed the national exam at almost 100 percent. I've never forgotten that wise dean who stepped in and the film. Thanks for the reminder, Emily, that it applies in life, not just the classroom! I'm going to quit saying that "I try" to follow ETL!

Emilia Robert - April 14, 2013 4:08 PM

Thanks for the awesome post. I'm a strong believer of the fact that we become what we believe ourselves to be. In other words, we make our own reality. I needed to read this post right now as I've been going through a rough patch of my life. Thanks for reminding me.

Emily Boller - April 15, 2013 6:37 AM


Congratulations on the 23 lbs weight loss so far! I encourage you to join Dr. Fuhrman's Member Center for ongoing support from both the physicians and veteran nutritarians. One of the physicians may want you to write down a 3-day food diary to evaluate ways to tweak your eating plan to lose weight again. It is so worth the investment; in fact, it's priceless. Diabetes is such an expensive disease that gets progressively worse and more expensive with each complication added. (My son had diabetes for ten years - it's a nasty disease).

A little ounce of prevention here in the beginning will save you years of unnecessary suffering and expense.

All the best to you!

Neil Butterfield - April 19, 2013 7:08 AM

Well said, I love what you say about congruence, very important if you wish to make a success of your life today.

Fred C - April 20, 2013 5:42 AM

I live near Auburn and so am very familiar with the accident in the story. As I've grown older I've learned that you have to be careful about your inner dialogue and the things you tell yourself. Good or bad, many of the things we internalize can come to fruition, so much better that they be good things.

Holly Levine - July 3, 2013 10:17 PM

Hi, I am a member of OA and can no longer introduce myself as a compulsive overeater since being Nutritarian for 3 months. I like the meetings for the spiritual principles I learn. I'm struggling with depression and spending the time to shop, prepare, and be organized to stay successful. I'm overwhelmed at times. Any encouraging words are appreciated.

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