If You Can’t Tear Down Your Wall, Build a Ladder Instead + Plant Based Alfredo Sauce (oil free and vegan butter free)


I have a weird tooth. When I was a kid, my mouth connected with someone’s fist, and one of my front teeth was shattered and knocked out. To this day when I look into a mirror, even though the dentist did a nice job of building me a new one, it’s all that I can see. The discoloration, unnatural gap, and weird gum line are front and center in every photo. I actually used to cover my smile, or not smile at all, in a self-conscious attempt to keep it hidden.

And then there’s this…

That unforgettable day in my mid-20s where, in a tiny dressing room, I was valiantly attempting to try on a pair of jeans without looking at myself in the three-way mirror. As I craned around trying to get a glimpse of my backside, without using the mirrors, I felt a little dizzy, but it vanished when I stood up straight. Unfortunately, as I was taking the damn jeans off, I lost my footing and crashed, ass first, through the wobbly dressing room door. I made a fabulous scene landing on my tush with said jeans down around my ankles. I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life. I was so obsessed with not looking at myself in the mirror, so preoccupied with avoiding my reflection, so concerned with all the ugly thoughts about the way I looked, that I inadvertently advertised every single thing that I was so desperate to hide. The irony doesn’t escape me.

In my early-30s when I topped off at 301 pounds, I used to duck and run from any mirror in my path. I would cover, shimmy, and shake in order to avoid seeing any part of my reflection. Department stores were a nightmare, with my reflection on full display every time I turned around. Even my shadow, outlined by the sun on the pavement below as I walked my dogs, never failed to keep my gaze straight ahead in deadlocked aversion.

For years, whenever I dared to look, all I could see was an out-of-control, obese, broken woman covered in regret and burdened with guilt. I carried deep, intense, soul-blistering shame around with me like a toddler clutches her baby blanket.

Shame is one of the hardest emotions that a human can experience. It tends to burrow down under your skin, invade your thoughts, weave around your heart, and scrunch up next to your soul like a parasite. Shame bides its time, hiding, like a predator just waiting for the next opportunity to come rushing forward to knock you down, demolish your confidence, zero out your self-control, and viciously devour your spirit.

I was truly miserable. Poor self-esteem which collided with an irrational belief system, that continually whispered in my ear that I was unlovable and unlikeable, was a particularly potent combination that kept me weighed down under a mountain of burning shame for many years.

I needed change. Significant, earth shattering, soul altering, permanent change. Somewhere, deep inside, I knew it was the only way to stop existing in a world steeped in shame. My mind was a tidal wave of question after exhausting question. Did I really want to live this way? Was I worthy of true love? Could I even find a life filled with joy and security instead of one lived in fear and worry? A tsunami of doubt and fear clutched at my heart and held fast to my spirit.

Making these huge changes seemed insurmountable, daunting, and utterly impossible. It felt as if I would shatter into a million pieces if I tried at all. And like Humpty-Dumpty, I may never be put back together again. I may never be whole. There was a wall in front of me and it was fucking enormous.

So, I built a ladder…

I started by making one easy, good choice and sticking with it. I started with drinking more water. That’s it. Then, I cut out all fast food. After several weeks, I cut out all soda and junk food. Next, I started eating fruit and walking 20 minutes a day. On and on it went, until my ladder not only had a framework, it had several bottom rungs to start climbing. One choice, one step, one rung at a time until I could move up that ladder steadily and confidently.

It wasn’t easy. In fact, sometimes it was excruciatingly difficult. At times, I faltered and slipped and occasionally came crashing down. But! I got up, dusted myself off, straightened my tiara, and kept climbing that ladder.

Real change, especially that searing soul-work of transforming from the inside out, doesn’t happen all at once. I knew I couldn’t tear down that wall in one swoop, but I suspected that I might be able to slowly climb over that bastard. And so I started.

As I climbed that ladder, I also started looking at my reflection in the mirror…

If you let it, the mirror can be a barometer of sorts. It can gauge pretty accurately your emotional, spiritual, and mental health. If you let it, the mirror can tell a story, complete with shapes, lumps, bumps, scars, stretch marks, tattoos, a bad tooth, and even cellulite. If you let it, the mirror can create a whole narrative about why and how you proceed through this crazy life. The marks upon your body are what make you perfectly imperfect. The mirror can be your greatest ally!

I want you to try something:

Go take a selfie, or have someone snap a photo of you, or go take a good long look in your mirror.

Take note of the things you like about your appearance.

Acknowledge your muscles that keep you upright.

Give thanks for the breath you just took.

Think about how resourceful your body is for keeping you going throughout the day.

Find wonder in how your blood flows through your veins carrying all those nutrients to the organs that need it.

Marvel at your nose, eyes, ears, and tongue and at how those senses provide such important information about your environment.

Rejoice in those juicy womanly curves that your significant other can hold onto for love and support.

Gaze upon your hands and celebrate how they so ably care for your children and others in need.

Take a look at how strong and fierce you truly are.

And then, be your own champion!

Now in my 40s, one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life was the day I crossed the finish line of a 15K race at the Biltmore Estate here in Asheville, NC. In a few years, I had gone from a miserable human being who couldn’t walk to the end of her driveway without gasping for breath to a strong, fierce woman who jogged 9.3 miles without stopping! That was the monumental day when I mightily crushed shame with every step and let guilt powerfully fall from my shoulders with every breath.

I wasn’t initially thrilled with the official race day photo that was posted online because I didn’t think it captured what I really felt on the inside. At first, all I could see was the imperfections. I saw the sagging skin, the half-hearted smile, and the poor lighting due to a dreary day. Then I looked at that picture with my heart and I saw the fierce, resilient smile of a warrior! I saw a well-trained body that had survived years of abuse, yet was thriving! I saw pure, unadulterated, uncomplicated joy.

Today, there isn’t a mirror I pass by without giving a look and a smile. Sometimes I even give a wink and a kiss for good measure. I’m not perfect and I can still find fault at the drop of a hat. But, now I remain aware and I am conscious of the internal messages I send myself.

Mostly, I see a luscious, fierce, healing woman who carries scars inside and out. I see a survivor and it thrills my soul.

Are you ready to build your ladder or have you already started climbing? Talk to us in the comments below, we want to hear about it, my dear.

Now that you’ve read Lyndsey’s sweet words of hope and inspiration, swoop up this recipe for delicious (oil free and vegan butter free) Plant Based Alfredo Sauce. Like our Plant Fueled Meal Plans, it’s perfectly suited for building ladders.

Plant Based Alfredo Sauce (oil and vegan butter free)

Author: Molly Patrick


  • 1 cup cashews, soaked in water for at least 10 minutes (130g)
  • 1 ½ cups water (355ml)
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
  • 1 teaspoon mild / yellow miso
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper (about 10 turns)


  • Drain and discard the water from the soaked cashews and place the cashews in a blender, along with the rest of the ingredients. Blend until creamy and smooth. The sauce will seem thin but no worries, it will thicken up as it heats up. 
  • Transfer the sauce to a medium-sized saucepan, turn the heat to the lowest possible setting and cook for 10 minutes, stir often so the sauce doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. 


This sauce is super yummy served over cooked whole wheat or whole grain pasta and topped with steamed broccoli and roasted cherry tomatoes (as photographed). 

Wishing you a happy week. May it be filled with building yourself the best damn ladder ever.



Get a weekly dose of inspiration to eat more plants and celebrate imperfection

Our Sweary Saturday Love Letters are written by our ex-boozer, ex-smoker, plant-loving co-founder, Molly Patrick.


  1. Stephanie Schilperoort on September 8, 2018 at 8:29 am

    5 stars
    I cried as I read this!
    How can you possibly know this much about what I am thinking and feeling!!!
    I woke up at 5am this morning! Wide awake!! I knew there was no way to shut off my brain so I decided to search for some more “whole food plant based” recipes. I somehow got to your site and I have been reading for like 3 hours!! I have cried several times, but in a good way, and I just can’t believe how blessed I am and how the universe is constantly working to provide exactly what I need exactly when I need it!!
    I can’t Thank you enough!!

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on September 9, 2018 at 6:02 am

      Hi Stephanie! I’m so glad you found Clean Food Dirty Girl and my words. We are all so much more alike than we are different – these struggles are universal. I’m sending you so much love and peace for your journey.

  2. Marie on September 8, 2018 at 9:32 am

    First and foremost congratulations on the marathon! Thank you Lindsey, Molly and the whole dirty team! This speaks directly to me today! My mom’s health has declined significantly over the past 9 months to the point that she requires 24/7 care. I have allowed myself to use this as an excuse for not taking care of me because it seemed like such an overwhelming task to care for another person. I love the building a ladder!! It’s my aha moment. I can definitely start drinking more water while still giving my mom all she needs. It will be so much easier to implement one step at a time!! Now on to working on self love as
    I have always associated my worth with my weight. One step at a time changing that too! Thank you so much!!

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on September 9, 2018 at 6:05 am

      Marie, building a ladder was my “Aha!” Moment too! One little step at a time will carry us all the way home! Sending you big hugs and love as you build your own ladder!

  3. Margie Germain on September 8, 2018 at 9:34 am

    I’m building my ladder with this reminder. I found as I started something new, I’d let something old slide.
    I made a poster to put on my wall with my “Daily Non-negotiable”.

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on September 9, 2018 at 6:07 am

      What a great idea, Margie! I just may do the same thing. Xoxo

  4. Caroline Rowe on September 8, 2018 at 10:07 am

    5 stars
    Thanks sooooo much. This is what I needed to read, to fill the void… Just been beating up myself for putting lots of crackers and cheese into my mouth after a swim. One moment I was joyfully playing orcas and seals with the kids..The next I was having disconcerting phone conversations with people I love and am often hurt by. I can only seem to acknowledge this AFTER filling my face.
    So..The ladder! Yes! This is inspiring (and the decision to begin with drinking more water is simple, pure genius). I love your posts, Lindsay, and your blog, Molly. I am changing, slowly, so slowly, with phases when I am VERY good at wfpb, and phases when I am bitch from hell bad… Despite the erratic progress, the path is leading inexorably upwards from the depths of swamp monster dark.
    Congratulations! On the marathon, and on your beautiful, making a difference, writing. Xxx

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on September 9, 2018 at 6:10 am

      Caroline, I continue to slip and struggle too. It’s a daily challenge and we can just keep building that ladder together – onwards and upwards! Sending you so much love on your journey.

  5. Cynthia on September 8, 2018 at 10:31 am

    Wow you are such an amazing, inspirational writer that just seems to be writing to each and everyone of us ina way that touches us on such a personal level. It’s like you are the friend who has seen us, our fears, hopes, desires and excuses. Thank you for being you and sharing your stories. It not only makes us feel like we aren’t alone but also gives us inspiration. By the way I’ve seen lots of pictures of you smiling and have NEVER noticed a bad tooth, on the contrary I’ve noticed what an amazing, warm smile you have. I guess that’s a reminder that we see things differently than others. We are often over critical of ourselves. Thank you again!

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on September 9, 2018 at 6:13 am

      Oh, Cynthia! You made me tear up a bit… I do feel like a friend to all of you – and I’m so glad that by sharing my experiences, we can see that we are never alone in our struggles. Sending you so much love.

  6. Tara Beirne on September 8, 2018 at 11:59 am

    Love the story, love how you write! How many people does this much sauce serve?
    I know it depends on how hungry everyone is lol but is it meant for 1 or 4 or so?

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on September 9, 2018 at 6:16 am

      Thank you, Tara! I will be making this yummy recipe this week and I’ll let you know. Usually, these sauces from Molly will feed 4-6 normal servings – which means my wife and I can eat two humongous bowls. Hahahahahaha! Xoxo

  7. Peggy on September 8, 2018 at 3:23 pm

    Dude. WHAT sagging skin? You look fantastic in that finish-line picture! Congratulations and thanks for an inspiring story! (Thanks, Molly, for another killer recipe.)

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on September 9, 2018 at 6:17 am

      Hahahahahaha, Peggy! Thank you. So much love and light to you! Xoxo

  8. Louise on September 8, 2018 at 6:56 pm

    Hi! Well said. Can’t eat this since I have to do low oxolate. Have been eating too much nuts, soy, spinach and other high oxolates and now have more kidney stones. Bummer. Anyhow I didn’t even know the risks of this at all, I was shocked spinach and soy and nuts like cashews could be bad for me. Just FYI there might be more of us.
    Good post on your feelings and wishing you all well.

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on September 9, 2018 at 8:11 am

      Thank you for your kind words, Louise. Sending you lots of love and goodness for your journey ahead.

  9. Janette on September 9, 2018 at 5:50 am

    Love it!! I have built my ladder, too. Was so happy to read this story. It is reaffirming.

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on September 9, 2018 at 8:12 am

      So proud of you, Janette! Sending you big hugs and love.

  10. Desiree Holt on September 9, 2018 at 2:18 pm

    I Loved This Story!!!! I more than Loved this story…I FUCKING LOVED this story!
    Thank you for sharing. Gives me inspiration and hope!!!

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on September 12, 2018 at 1:20 pm

      And I fucking love you, Desiree! Thank you!

  11. Jules Schnedeker on September 10, 2018 at 8:26 am

    What a POWERFUL story and just what I needed to hear today – blowing a kiss and sending a wink right back at’cha. Thank you for sharing; you’re incredible!!!

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on September 12, 2018 at 1:21 pm

      Hi Jules! Thank you for the kind words. Big hugs to you!

  12. Kelley on September 10, 2018 at 10:31 am

    It’s like you speak to directly to me and know what i need to hear right at this moment. I’ve been told I have walls around my wall, once one comes down there is another one right behind it. It is terrifying to me to let those walls down. It seems way less scary and much more manageable to build a ladder over them one wrung at a time. I also love the idea of adding positive healthy things to my life instead of taking things away or stripping my walls down where that may leave me vulnerable. I’m going to add things that make me happy, healthy and whole. I’d been in the process of starting, but this has reminded me that i can do it with a deliberate plan. Thanks for giving me hope today Lyndsey. ?

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on September 12, 2018 at 1:23 pm

      Hi Kelley! Yes, we all need to be reminded to tear down those walls and keep on this journey, one step at a time. Big love sent directly to you!

  13. Linda on September 10, 2018 at 12:50 pm

    I love you, Lyndsey and Molly! Thank you!

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on September 12, 2018 at 1:24 pm

      And I love you right back, Linda! Xoxo

  14. Mary Kay on September 12, 2018 at 12:44 pm

    The rungs on my ladder broke, and I crashed down – HARD. I’ve been feeling totally out of sorts with myself.
    Thank you Lyndsey for giving me the inspiration/ encouragement to start rebuilding, one step at a time.

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on September 12, 2018 at 1:26 pm

      Mary Kay, I have crashed and burned so many times that I’ve stopped counting! The important thing is that we get up and keep moving forward. Big props to you for climbing your ladder – we’re all in this together!

  15. Sally Loomis on September 13, 2018 at 8:42 pm

    Obviously there are many of us who struggle with these areas! Thank you for having solutions that speak to our souls. I have found some solutions here and there but I take what I can get! I have liked some of the recipes in the Ultimate Protein Cookbook by Melanie Wildman. Her kids struggled with a lot of allergy issues that I can relate too. Thank you again for this beautiful recipe and your overall mission, it helps so many!

  16. Lisa on September 15, 2018 at 6:56 pm

    5 stars
    Wow Lyndsey you are beautiful inside and out. X

  17. Kris on September 26, 2018 at 8:51 pm

    Would you recommend almonds or white beans or ??? as a cashew substitute in this? Wondering if it will be accepted by my alfredo-loving teens?

    • Team Clean Food Dirty Girl on September 27, 2018 at 6:22 am

      Hi Kris! In lieu of cashews, you could use almonds or sunflower seeds. Both of these will still provide the rich (from fat) mouthfeel of the sauce. For almonds, I would soak them longer than the 10 minutes called for in this recipe. Maybe overnight in your refrigerator. Almonds don’t get as soft as quickly as cashews do. Sunflower seeds will definitely work in place of cashews too, they will have a more distinct flavor. White beans will also work but will not have the same mouthfeel because beans are much lower in fat. Let us know if you try it and what they think. Thanks for stopping by! ~Karen

  18. Andrea Black on January 19, 2019 at 10:59 pm

    5 stars
    Just made this sauce. Serious wizardry and didnt add nutneg or onion powder. Did put in nutritional yeast but dont think it was actually necessary. Thanks so much.

  19. BJM on May 3, 2019 at 7:30 pm

    I have some pine nuts that I bought before I realized I don’t like them. Could pine nuts work for the cashews (which I am allergic to)?

    • Molly Patrick on May 4, 2019 at 5:01 am

      I would do almonds instead. Pine nuts may be too strong of a flavor.
      Let us know how it turns out!

  20. Alisa on August 26, 2019 at 8:22 pm

    Hi there! Super excited to try this recipe. Curious – about how many cups of sauce do you think this yields? Thanks!

    • Douglas R Mosier on August 31, 2019 at 5:41 pm

      I don’t know about the exact measurement, but it was enough to cover about 10 ounces of (dry) pasta after it’s cooked without any soupiness.

  21. Douglas R Mosier on August 31, 2019 at 4:41 pm

    Doesn’t taste exactly like alfredo sauce but it is delicious!! (I had to use lime juice as I didn’t have any lemons). I’ll be making this one again!

  22. Elizabeth K on January 14, 2020 at 3:20 pm

    5 stars
    This was excellent – a definite keeper! Thank you!

  23. Diane on February 16, 2020 at 3:41 pm

    5 stars
    I’ve made this before and it was wonderful. Can it be frozen? Thank you ?

  24. Sue on March 13, 2020 at 10:21 am

    5 stars
    Thanks for the inspiring words! Just wanted to write and say I made this sauce last night. WOW…just awesome! Tonight I’m having leftovers will some baked tofu mixed in, kind of a “chicken” alfredo dish! Can’t wait…thank you!

  25. Jen on March 28, 2020 at 10:04 am

    5 stars
    Really delicious Alfredo sauce! I dare say better than the ones made with dairy. This Will help me break my cheese addiction, thank you ??

    • Molly Patrick on March 28, 2020 at 3:07 pm

      I’m so glad you liked it!

  26. Louise on March 29, 2020 at 9:12 am

    Beautiful writing. So raw and fierce.

    Thank you ❤️??

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on March 30, 2020 at 8:04 am

      Hi Louise!

      Thank you so much for the kind words. It means so much.



  27. Ashley on May 4, 2020 at 4:07 pm

    Pro tip: double the recipe, cause it’s that good.

    • Team Clean Food Dirty Girl - Steph on May 4, 2020 at 9:14 pm

      Agreed! It’s one of my go-to “Wait, this is dairy free!?” recipes.

  28. Rita Castor on July 2, 2021 at 3:13 pm

    Lyndsey! Oh my goodness, what a powerful and beautifully-written piece! Thank you for inspiring us and sharing so much of yourself. I am so glad that I found CFDG, not only for the incredible recipes and meal plans, but for this wonderful community and you extraordinary #dirtywizards!

    • Lyndsey Hafer-Williams on July 3, 2021 at 3:30 pm

      Hi Rita!

      Thank you so much for your kind words.

      I’m so happy that we found each other and that we are all part of this amazing community together.

      Sending wishes for a beautiful week.



  29. Shane on August 20, 2021 at 4:34 pm

    5 stars
    This sauce is SO delicious it’s a staple in our house! We double it with a pound of pasta and a whole lotta broccoli.

    • Team Clean Food Dirty Girl - Brittany on August 20, 2021 at 11:31 pm

      We are thrilled to hear this recipe is well-loved in your home! The more broccoli, the better… Thank you for the review and keep on cooking those tasty plants!

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