Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Courage to Change the Things I Can

     I've decided not to be concerned that sometimes my writing wells up from an angry place.
Usually I'm doing something very ordinary; washing dishes, for example. Folding laundry. A sentence fragment winds itself around the hard core of a feeling, a white hot sense of urgency. And so it spins itself into a whole sentence, usually something from the middle of the stack of thoughts. I have to work backwards and forwards to work it into the weft. Intelligently. Usefully. And I worry. Always worry that whatever comes out is too intense, too much like the fevered scribbles in the pages of a journal with a wraparound lock, something I'd write in with a foolish pen, cotton candy pink or with a big plastic daisy on top. He likes me. He doesn't like me. I memorized his schedule so I could pass him in the hall. It is hard to know when your writing stops smelling of rollerball lipgloss and hormone driven urgencies and starts making sense, being real. Or maybe it is all real, and 14 year old real is just as valid as 43 year old real.
What purpose does it serve? I ask that question not with the desperate fear that maybe the answer is "None at all", but because I really don't know. Truly don't. Only that sometimes it is anger and failure and frustration that turns the machine, starts the shower of sparks.
     I am considering the possibility that I am an addict. And I use that word carefully, gingerly, not wanting to grasp the corner of a flag I don't have the right to fly. Being a sugar addict isn't the same as being addicted to something that could kill me outright. Its legal. Hell, its everywhere. And I only use the term in response to the degree to which it is humiliating and frustrating not to have mastery over something that, for most people, isn't even a thing. Isn't even an issue. But when you want something very badly and that want paces your thoughts, talking endlessly, accusing, bargaining, pleading, interrupting your peace, making threats, I think it is fair use. Addiction. Okay.
     I walked that narrow road for a good few months where I kept it away. And didn't miss it. And acknowledged that it was best left elsewhere and not in my house. Then I let it back in through a series of sneaky compromises. And before I knew it, the "When this is gone I'll just...." negotiations started. And hey, something occurred to me.

Changing the things I can is a real bitch.

I think I have paid really close attention to the first part. "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change." because that focuses the whole business on making things okay, dealing with what needs dealt with. Legitimate enterprise. Absolutely necessary. Acceptance seems like something that will eventually happen if you wait the right way. Maybe it will steal over you while you sit around a particularly poignant and introspective campfire. One day you find you have the calluses and muscles necessary to grasp and carry the Things that Cannot Change.

But even if that is true (and I suspect that it is not), that's only a third of the way home. When I ask for 'the courage to change the things I can' the implication is that I intend to make use of that courage and actually change things.


It is the things in this category I'm having to confront right now. A big ol' pile of Things. Behavior I can't engage in. Ways of dealing with stress and frustration and intensity and hurt that don't work and never did. And it seems so stupid that this can be as simple as things I can no longer eat and drink. I am realizing that, for me, there is no 'treat yourself', there is no 'once in a while' with some things. And that has to be okay. Because the only way to stop negotiations with that internal liar, that endless compromise, is to call it out, call it what it is no matter how foolish and humiliating it might be, and deal with it accordingly. The courage to change the things I can.  Not just most of the time', but all the time.

The wisdom to know the difference. Wisdom is a good thing to ask for. Solomon asked for wisdom and as a result, pretty much got everything else he needed. We get it when we ask also. Sometimes there's a little gap between the wisdom and the place we need to land.

I have to believe I can make the jump.

Monday, September 23, 2013

One Year

Well, here we are. 
This photo was taken on Friday, September 20th, 2013, exactly one year after I cleaned out my pantry and went wheat free. As of this writing, I am 85 pounds lighter than I was on September 20th, 2012, and I have been consistently free of the laundry list of ailments and general unpleasantness I have previously catalogued. Right here is a good place to be. For now.
     Reaching this point is a little like sitting on a bench on a long and demanding hiking trail. Sure, I'm a long way from the park office. The view is great. But I have just as far to go to the top. So while the halfway point is nothing to sneeze at, I don't want to linger here too long.
    I won't diminish for a minute how awesome I feel right now. I'm pain free, I have tons of energy, I can do things with ease and without a second thought that I couldn't do at all a year ago. There is peace and relief in knowing what I needed to get out of my system to stop the systemic inflammation that was making it a massive effort just to drag myself through the day. So, yaay on all accounts.
     The second half of the journey is a little different. Because now we're in completely new territory. Now we are firmly on the path of "things I've never ever done before". And its a little scary.

Original image from here.

     I'm preparing for the second half of the journey.  I have no idea what it will look like. I believe I have the tools to navigate it, but it is a constant effort to make sure my focus is health, not appearance, and as such, the length of time it takes is irrelevant. And it has to be irrelevant, because I suspect the trail from here is steeper and those ever present (yet uninvited) companions Complacency and Fear start yammering a little more than they have already when the walk gets harder. But this is the nature of the Difficult Things. Difficult Things are Difficult. That isn't the same as saying they are impossible. They only become impossible when we decide that a thousand petty wants are more desirable than one true goal that is reached by climbing a ladder made of small sacrifices. If I've learned one thing this year, it is that those sacrifices DO get easier to make, but only if you keep making them. You can't think or shame yourself into the right course of action for have to decide what it is and then take it every day, and stop worrying about how messy and imperfect it is, until those decisions become your very nature. Stop wasting energy engineering compromises. (I need to post that somewhere so I can see it every day, myself.)
     Year Two has begun. Let's go.

Monday, August 26, 2013


This afternoon when I woke up, I was looking for something I'd misplaced when I was out of town last week. I pulled a box out from under my bed where I keep things I don't need often, thinking I'd inadvertently put what I was looking for in there when I put away my bathing suit. 
     This box is full of race shirts. Back in 2003, during a fervent but short lived (because it was, frankly, unsustainable) effort to be healthier, I competed in about 17 5k races, bike ride challenges, etc. I did all of these at a weight that earned me a lot of encouragement from other competitors that was well meaning, if a bit patronizing. Invariably I'd bring home an XL shirt that didn't really fit and it would go in the pile with the others. I saved them all, though, because they were hard earned, and that's what I do. 
     I pulled them all out. Then I opened my drawers. I made a pile of 2X and 3X t-shirts that I've been wearing, just sort of flapping around with extra material hanging and short sleeved shirts that are anything but. These went in a bag for Goodwill. All my race shirts went in the drawer. I repeated the process with my closet. 3x, 4x, Size 30 pants, they all went in the bag. The bags went by the front door. Then I had to sit down.
      This process was panic-inducing. How strange is that? The fantasy that is sold is that weight loss is fabulous, liberating, empowering. It is those things, to a degree. I feel good, I can move better than I could before, I can do things I couldn't do before. My health has measurably improved. And all those things are good. What I didn't expect is this curious backwash of emotions, uncertainty, fear. You change and you notice being treated differently . Magical powers of invisibility disappear. You both enjoy and resent this. (And that is a weird mix, let me tell you.) Every article of clothing shoved in a bag felt like I was peeling away another layer of protection. 
     From what? This weird feeling of disconnection steals over me from time to time. Who am I now? Who am I becoming? Am I evolving at the fundamental center of my being because my outward appearance is changing? I'm not even certain what my own expectations are. I'm going to my 25th high school reunion nearly 100 pounds lighter than I was a year ago. That sounds like the sort of "I'll show them" revenge fantasy I would have entertained back in the days when my sense of self worth was abysmal and I was feeling particularly invisible. At age 43 I suspect very strongly that in all likelihood nobody really cares. And that is entirely legitimate. I am beginning to think that what really matters is the mind renewal, the spirit renewal, the transformation that is bringing peace, gratitude, and energy to my life, and that the physical renewal is kind of a nice bonus. But not, ultimately, the point. Or the thing my identity should be tied up in.     
      For too long I've let how I feel about myself determine whether or not to engage. Maybe the panic will subside when I let go of letting the body I walk around in dictate (hinder?) the way I relate to the world. Some days I have this locked. Other days I'm not so sure. But I do know this....

Its all a lot more complicated than wearing a different shirt.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Thirty Days

Whole9 Well, it is hard to believe, but it is already over.
When I read, studied, made lists, and prepared for my first Whole30 I thought it would drag on for ages. Even though it was only a slightly more conservative version of what I already do every day, I was convinced it would be hard. I made a wish list back on June 24th and I think this short, concise list of wishes is a pretty good place to navigate from to assess the success of this program for me this time.

June 24th Wishlist

  1. Move past this point and definititively leave the 300s. Dream result: 285 ( vagueness or shyness here, this is a real journey...and those are real numbers.)
  2. Break my dependence on sweeteners
  3. Drastically reduce dairy intake, refine to small amounts of quality cheeses, possibly replace cream or limit it to infrequent coffeehouse intake, in any case, use less. (When this was written I was using a LOT of half and half.)
  4. Increase my awareness of when I eat for reasons other than hunger
  5. Increase variety and quantity of vegetables eaten
  6. Shift my focus from weight loss to wellness and maximized nutrition
  7. Do it right the first time 
I'm going to take these one at a time, starting with #2. 
Going without artificial sweeteners for 30 days was the thing I thought would be the hardest but it actually turned out to be no big deal. I put away the stevia and I discovered that I really did like things without it. I appreciate coffee more. Fruit is sweeter. And without the combination of dairy AND sweeteners I don't find myself wanting to drink gallons of coffee. I'll never use most of them again. 

#3- Dairy intake
This was the big 'let's see' for me with this. And again, it was fine. Black coffee was fine, I used some coconut milk in coffee but I can now take it either way, which is simple and convenient and makes sure I don't drink milk instead of eating real food, which I was doing sometimes. I will admit I missed cheese a few times, a Philly cheesesteak stuffed pepper is kind of missing something without it, but day to day, not having it as an option cut way down on mindless grazing and that was a good thing. I do believe I am one of those people who is very sensitive to dairy products so going forward it will be a very occasional thing. 

#4-Increased awareness
Committing to set meals every day of a particular composition made me aware of how often I'd drift to the refrigerator and eat something just to eat it, and how many times I just ate something incomplete when what I really needed was a balanced meal. I became aware that for a while I've been technically compliant in terms of eating low carb, but not particularly mindful of nourishment or what my body was actually telling me I needed. It only takes a few minutes to put together something decent if you plan and purchase what you need. This month I was forced to do that planning and found out that once you have the right things on hand, doing the right thing is pretty simple. 

#5 Vegetables!!
I definitely ate more veegetables. In thirty days I can attest to six pounds of spinach, 8-10 heads of cauliflower, four pounds of carrots, and an untold quantity of yellow squash, zucchini, salad, tomatoes, broccoli, garlic, and onions. I still want to add more things to our list of favorites, but this is an ongoing project and one I enjoy so no issues there. In a short time I found adding vegetables to every meal relatively easy. There was a time when they were an afterthought. 

#6 Shifted focus
I would say I had 50/50 success with this. One one hand, I did a lot of reading, which was one of the things I'd tasked myself. I reread the book for this program and the light came on for me about foods that illicit an unhealthy psychological response. I will continue to monitor things that I suspect don't serve me and decide whether they have to be completely eliminated. On the other hand, since this was my first Whole30 I was anxious about it. What if I go to all the trouble and nothing good really happens? Putting the scale away was hard. And while I was able to physically put it away, I wasn't able to mentally put it away. I'm going to be working on that more over the next couple of months. True shift of focus to wellness, as yet, still eludes me because I am accustomed to being a numbers person. I am able to say 'just keep on and the numbers will take care of themselves' but if I'm honest I'm really only digging on that when my numbers are going down. I admit this. I'll work on it.

#7 Doing it right
I was determined not to have to start over. I wanted this 30 days to go like it was supposed to. I feel like I had mixed success with that. On one hand, I didn't have any major fails that necessitated starting over. But on the other hand, I think there were days when I didn't plan as well as I could have and didn't eat as well balanced a meal as I could have. I have a better sense now of how much I need to have on hand to ensure that happens and next time I'll do better. I also feel like I only scratched the surface in terms of meal planning, possible recipes, and preparation strategies so next time I'm going to delve further. 

Unexpected benefit
On the Whole30 Forum, another participant wrote about how she had lost a significant amount of weight and had difficulty seeing herself differently, she struggled with thinking she still had the issues and limitations that compelled her to make this attempt in the first place. A conversation began about the complicated emotional issues that surface in the midst of this effort and I wrote this. 
One of the things I've finally lost at age 43 is the anger and bitterness that used to accompany my efforts to lose weight. I was on some diet or another for pretty much my whole life starting at around age 9, and I always attacked a diet effort with the fevered dream of some kind of revenge fantasy. I thought that being thin would silence the bullies, magically make me good at sports, and generally 'get back' at anyone who was ever mean to me. To this day, as an adult, I tense up when a group of teens walks by because I've had kids say ugly things to me (even as an adult) many, many times. So in addition to seeing myself physically accurately, I've had to relearn how to relate to people in a non-defensive way and somehow, since adopting this way of eating and knowing that every day I do something good and positive for myself and not something based on deprivation and self loathing, I have been able to let go of that anger, fear, and bitterness. When I was dieting low fat I didn't see how I was nourishing myself and feel good about that because, well, I wasn't. Now that I am nourishing myself, the number on the scale going down is almost a side benefit. My 'eye' is still off when I buy clothes. But I find that for the first time, instead of liking big loose clothes to hide in I find all the extra material a nuisance.
I think that learning how to see ourselves correctly is that extra mile we didn't see coming. The good news is that we have the strength to finish it. 

So, #1. Because admit it, you want to know. I sure as heck did.
Dream number, per my wish list: 285
Starting weight at beginning of Whole30 298.6
Final Whole30 weight: 286.8
Pounds lost in 30 days: 11.8
Inches lost: 5

Total pounds lost to date: 74.6
Total inches lost to date: 24.5

So what's the plan? August will pretty much continue as I have this month, not strictly Whole30 but pretty darn close. Come September we go again. My goal is to log a 100 pound loss by the end of 2013.
Halfway, kittens.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Staying on the Path

So in five days, my first Whole30 will be complete.
It went faster and better than I expected. I am absolutely planning to do another one, because I learned a lot from this one and there are a lot more things I didn't really get to do that I want to do.
Operating within a specific set of dietary restrictions is a lot like beginning driving. At first you have to think about everything you are doing, plan your reactions, go through  your checklists. Over time it becomes automatic. Even though most of this way of eating was adopted and assimilated into my life months ago, there was still a fair amount of diligence that had to be applied to making sure I was 'doing it right'. I'm not convinced it was perfect, but it was very good. And at this point most of the changes I've made have indeed become automatic, I no longer have to think through 'can have' and 'can't have'. But much of my attention this go-round has been focused on the food.

As for my goals, I do think that I have met most of the 'wish list' I made at the start of the project. I expanded my recipe repertoire. We ate more vegetables. I am sleeping better. I have made an effort to focus on positive things and avoid both the drama drain and general pessimistic timewasting. I've made some decisions about sources of drama and negativity in my life that I need to walk away from.
I exercised. Maybe not as much as I envisioned myself exercising, but the summer is not over. I have continued to read and educate myself about nutrition and how best to work this program that is working for me.

The biggest revelation for me came when I started re-reading 'It Starts With Food', the book that outlines the Whole 9/Whole 30 program. In it the authors discuss their 'Good Food Standards', which are as follows:

The food that we eat should: 

  1. Promote a healthy psychological response
  2. Promote a healthy hormonal response
  3. Support a healthy gut
  4. Support immune function and minimize inflammation

Now I must admit, the first read through of the book, I was mostly looking for the 'rules'...what I could have, what I couldn't have, maybe a little of why, but only enough to convince me that I wasn't crazy for doing this. Once things got going I decided to start back at page one and carefully consider what they were suggesting. And the first standard finally hit home. So many things that I used to describe as 'impossible to resist' and 'things I can't leave alone until they are gone' fail that first standard. The difference, this time, is that I recognize the necessity of eliminating those things with prejudice. Not negotiating with them, not planning 'treats', but looking at certain things and being able to say 'this does not serve me in any useful way, not nutritionally, it messes with the way I'm wired and makes me want more and more and it is perfectly fine to set it aside permanently'.

I hear a lot of people say 'you can't deprive yourself' and 'you have to have X or you won't succeed, it is too hard' but I'm here to say after a forty year battle with 'moderation' as a person with a disordered relationship with sugar that it may be the only thing that works. You don't 'scale back' an abusive relationship. You end it. The good news is, it isn't as hard as you'd think. And in a way I don't completely understand yet, when I let false comforts go they seem to take a lot of things with them-- irrational fear, old resentment and bitterness, carefully kept catalogs of unforgiven wrongs. It is fun to look at pictures and see how things are changing, but at the end of the day this is about walking a better path with a quiet mind.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Story So Far

Wow, I'm already on Day 10. Hard to believe. I fully expected that I'd have some sort of cheese related DTs, or I'd be passing through my local coffee shop in a floppy hat and sunglasses trying to score some gelato or a latte. (I told them what I was doing this month, so they'd call shenanigans if I went in there and ordered either one.) To some, what I've done here looks a lot like pulling a lot of blocks out of my Jenga tower of food, scrutinizing it, and then pulling a bunch more out. On one level that's exactly what I did. What some don't understand is that I didn't get rid of anything a person NEEDS. We've been made to think we NEED bread, we NEED whole grains. Once I went low carb I thought it was my heaven mandated right to put a ton of cheese on everything. I was super careful with milk, just like anything that had double digit carbs per serving. But over time my intake crept up, and my success rate slowed down. Hence the second round of Jenga.

     Here are the things I'm discovering so far.

  1. Cooking is a blessing and a curse. I've found wonderful recipes and eaten great meals. Balanced meals with tons of vegetables, healthy carbs, and good meat with all sorts of spices and nice things are delicious and they make you feel great. Lots of energy, happy tummy, no heartburn, no issues. And you'd never miss the dairy products, I promise. At the same time, there are days when I think if I chop ONE MORE ONION I'm going to go insane. Cooking from scratch meals in an unairconditioned kitchen in the middle of July is not for the faint of heart. There are days when I feel like I dirty and rewash all of my dishes. There are days when I catch myself thinking that it was just easier when I could say "Let's just go out to eat."  But. When I get over my fit, creating something with my own hands that I know is going to do good things for my body is satisfying. Every time you look at a task and overcome that 'I don't feel like...' feeling and actually DO it, it gets easier to pick up the knife and go. 
  2. I can absolutely live without all the things I thought I couldn't live without. I used to be one of those people who would say "I could never". I could never drink coffee black. I could never live without (whatever). My message is, I can, you can. Absolutely can. 
  3. I have become aware of how many things I did simply out of habit and not even because I was hungry or wanted that particular thing. How often I'd just graze from the cheese drawer or eat slices of deli meat. How often I wouldn't bother with the overall nutritional impact of a meal, focusing only on the bad things I had eliminated. Yes, you can eat clean and still eat carelessly.
  4. If it doesn't get easier as you go, you aren't doing something you can sustain forever. If you are on a 'strict diet' but your relationship with food is still disordered, if you still think about things outside your 'plan' as forbidden, and indulge in things and then think of yourself as 'bad', reflect. Eating shouldn't be a punishment/reward scenario. It should be a sensual experience of vibrant, healthy food that sustains us. Things we look forward to making, sharing, and partaking of. I will never again sadly scrape the corners of a little plastic tray trying to capture the last dregs of something that did not satisfy me in the name of a 'diet'. I will never again whip four chemical laden low fat ingredients together and call it dessert because it is 'Only 2 points a serving'. (F that all the way to Tuesday. I am seriously done with that nonsense.) If it comes in a box, it had better be cat litter or trash bags, because it sure as heck isn't something that's going on my table.
  5. I am not a lone wolf. There are lots of people out there who have done this. They have a lot of ideas. They made mistakes along the way. Read. Ask. Listen. Complain to them if you must, But find support and learn. It makes things a heck of a lot easier. And considering how many of those wise, done-it-before people I have met along the way are survivors of life threatening health conditions, or widows at 30 with small children, or living with multiple disease states and doing what needs done despite pain and significant limitations, my excuses are invalid and yours probably are too. 
I don't know if I have moved forward yet, since the scale is disabled and shelved for the 30 days, but I did find a pair of capris that used to strangle me and they fit just fine. So good things continue to happen. 


Monday, July 01, 2013

Locked and Loaded

                                                                                         Seaweed: Don't knock it till ya tried it.
     I write this on June 29th, one day before the official start of my first Whole 30. I am excited. I've planned the first week of meals, bought all the necessary ingredients, discovered a few snacks that are just too cool for school, sharpened my vegetable chopping knives, and I'm ready.

     I've been shedding no-go food items like rocket stages: first milk, then artificial sweeteners, doing sort of a last dance with cheese this weekend and then I'm all set. (The other no-go items were already eliminated.) As of this writing, with a start date of September 20, 2012, I have lost 64 pounds and 19 1/2 inches. In case you are wondering whether all this eliminating all the junk food has had any effect.
I don't miss it. Its funny how, once you start making the kinds of choices you know you need to make for your own benefit, they get easier and easier to make as time goes on. "New normals" are easier than you think to adopt.

     Another curious but true fact: I am losing something more complicated than weight. So many of my previous efforts were bound up in some sort of complicated revenge fantasy, as if making my outward appearance different would somehow silence or shame every childhood bully and judgement-passer I'd ever encountered. When you really think about that, it is pretty ridiculous. "I'll show them" is a poor and pointless motivator. Because they don't care. They never carried the weight of their unkindness the way you did. (And if you are still carrying it, it is well past time to put it down.) There is an enormous difference between berating yourself so you can have a traditionally acceptable outward appearance and taking care of yourself because YOU deserve to feel not just better, but fantastic, and because YOU deserve to not just function, but thrive. I'm not working on a body that can wear skinny jeans. I'm working on a body that can climb steep mountain trails, sure footed and unweary. I used to think that doing it for me was selfish. But now that I've got some traction I realize how doing it for me unpacks so much of the bitterness, disappointment, and nonsense and discards it.
     So that's where I am. Looking forward to a month of moving ahead.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Deciding to be Still

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
     As it often happens, my husband came to me with a good idea. After reading a blog post from a friend who had decided to do the same, he said,  "I'm taking a week off from social media," he told me. "No Facebook, no Twitter." Impulsively I decided to join him, knowing that it would be easier to keep to if we were both doing it, and feeling weirdly excited for an 'excuse', as if I needed permission to disconnect.
                                          How to be happyFind a place to be still. Go there. Repeat. 
      I love social media. It keeps me connected to far flung friends, affords me support for different pursuits from people all over the world that I would not otherwise have, and gives me a way of sharing in people's lives that is nothing short of miraculous.
     There's only a couple of problems. One, I find myself almost addicted to that relentless connection. To that illusion of multitasking, always checking to see if there is something new. Two, I started to lose my connection to silence, to deliberation, to doing one thing at a time and giving it my full attention. So taking a break afforded me the chance to remember how I used to do things before I had that constant hit of information and interaction at my disposal. And it was good. I also noticed that I was less focused on the negative, in ways both petty and grand. There was no opportunity to dip a finger in gossip. Or that nasty little taste for schadenfreude that we all have trouble admitting we have.
     Commitment to stillness is a lot like commitment to exercise. Practice makes us strong and able. Practicing stillness makes us calmer, comfortable with less input, less "noise". And I think we need it as much as we need to move. So I'll be back 'online' tomorrow, but I am adding regular breaks from being online to my practice of the 'Whole 9' principles. I have a suspicion that being less connected will ultimately result in my being better, more meaningfully and mindfully connected.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Powerless and Unmanageable

                                          SWYPO-- at my house
 I'm not sure why this always happens.
I relish the ideal moment to write, and then sit at this computer staring at the blinking cursor. "What was I going to say again?" My mind patters off giggling, leaving me with vague ideas of topic and snatches of lyrics to 80's pop songs.
     I'm sitting at my kitchen table in an empty house. It is a beautiful day, unseasonably mild, making sitting in the furthest spot from the air conditioner (which is not on, because it doesn't need to be on) possible. The goodness of the weather makes even being inside an almost obscene waste.

So of course I'm sitting at my kitchen table thinking about artificial sweeteners.

     I'm sorry, non-nutritive sweeteners. Artificial sounds so...artificial. It invokes the bright pink packets of Sweet and Low that used to blare cancer warnings, and the pencil thin, chain smoking, over-tanned women of my youth that would sit by the community pool clutching Jackie Collins novels and returnable bottles of Tab.
     One of the 'rules' of the Whole30, which is happening in just a week, is chucking all artificial sweeteners for the duration of the month. The idea is to reconnect with the taste of real food, not food that is overstimulating and nutritionally bereft or chemicals 600 times sweeter than naturally occurring sugar.
And this has been a tough one for me. See, I was always a sugar addict. Not a sugar user, not a sugar fan, a sugar addict, with all the skin crawly obsession, selfish hoarding, theft, deception, and other nonsense you'd normally associate with addictions that can get you arrested. It took me 42 years to realize that this particularly delightful component of my personality could not be bargained, rationed, Points valued,or negotiated with. I was surprised how much emotion came along with this realization. Fear. Panic. Grief. Sadness. I was like the character in 'As Good as it Gets' breaking down after his involuntary pet sitting that he unexpectedly enjoys comes to an end, and he laughs bitterly, saying to himself  "Over a DOG." Only it was sadder. Because I was thinking about brownies and cinnamon buns.
     Giving up sugar, I figured I was free. Because there were things I could use without consequences instead. I started to feel better. Good things started to happen.
There was, and is, only one problem.
I am still 'using'. I spent an inordinate amount of time, and not a small amount of money, trying to determine the exact right combination of sweeteners that would satisfy me. I wasn't looking for a certain balance of flavor, or a stability in a recipe, I was looking for something that would flip that cool, happy light on just like my old friend sugar.
And that, my good gentles, is STILL addiction.
     It is what Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, the authors of 'It Starts With Food' and the people behind the Whole30 call SWYPO-- Sex With Your Pants On. Getting off without technically 'breaking rules'. And I'll be honest. I don't make this statement with peace and smug satisfaction. The realization, bluntly, pisses me off. I'm pissed off because of the way my brain works. I'm pissed off that finding a way to keep it quiet by essentially engaging in the same behavior isn't acceptable, and I'm pissed off that I KNOW it isn't acceptable, because it means I have to do something about it. Not just for thirty days, but permanently.
     Now, my low carb friends will be quick to point out facts (and they are facts) about the dangers of some of the things in that picture and the relatively benign nature of others. They will argue that there are some things that can be peacefully accepted as part of a reasonable way of eating and for themselves they will be 100% correct. For me, they will be wrong. I wish they weren't.
     Or maybe I don't. Powerlessness is pretty fertile ground for gratitude.
And victory.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Whole 30 Countdown: The Goals

Whole9 It was pointed out to me by my husband, ever the helpful Editor, that I had not perhaps fully explained what has already changed in my day to day life, and how I got to this point. Without boring you with a 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times'-length explanation, suffice it to say that I read Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis and made a decision to implement the suggestions contained in that book as a means of addressing several health issues that were draining my energy, keeping me awake, and generally ruining my good time. I read the book, implemented the suggestions, dumped both wheat and sugar officially on September 20th, 2012, and experienced an almost instant relief of a list of complaints so long I'm glad I wrote it down because I wouldn't have remembered them all. I have said goodbye to heartburn, chronic joint pain, incapacitating lethargy, persistent skin rash, poor sleep, and brain fog, just to name a few. And when I say goodbye, I mean just that. None of those things have returned. So. I know we all know how to use The Google so I won't overload you with links, but I do encourage you to check out this book for yourself. There is a cookbook, which, in addition to being full of tasty recipes has a quick and dirty rundown of the book itself in the front.

 Anyway, one of the suggestions for starting this Whole30 is to commit to specific goals in a number of areas. These are my goals. The goals are based on what the authors refer to as the 'Whole 9 Factors'-- areas of life that need to be in balance to improve health. I apologize if this isn't one of the more exciting blog posts I've ever written, but I like the idea of putting these out there, and committing to them. I only just saw how the self-evaluation for goal setting says 'don't feel a need to make a goal for every one of the 9 factors', which I totally did like the overachieving Girl Scout that I sometimes am, so I'll edit myself somewhat and hit the most important ones.

I have been absolutely compliant when it comes to elimination of wheat. I have been almost completely compliant regarding sugar-- there is none in my house, and aside from a couple of treat sorbettos from the local coffee shop, I've had none. So the prospect of eliminating grains and sugar for the Whole30 is not a real big deal to me.
Dairy, however, is another story. Dairy is allowable in my way of eating, but not in the Whole30. And this will be a challenge. Because I love love love dairy products. I love cheese. Real cream is like the sweet tears of little baby angels in my coffee. And while I've been improving my health by crazy leaps and bounds and losing weight, I have definitely been overindulging in 'legal food', which I know will, at some point, hamper my efforts, so I willingly set aside my beloved Kerrygold Dubliner and cream for my coffee in order to bring things into balance.
Things like this, I will miss. First Place cheese. Can I join the American Cheese Society? Is there a uniform?

Yeah, yeah, so what's the goal? My goal is to increase our overall vegetable intake, increase variety, and expand my repertoire to recipes that aren't so.... cheese-centric. I'm going to continue to make an effort to source the best quality possible ingredients. I already have a meal planning system in place so that will continue.

     Working third shift makes some unique demands on life.  Some of it involves realizing that you can't do all the things you used to do when you worked day/second shift. And that involves saying 'yes' to things very, very carefully. Showing up tired is simply not an option. My goal here is to continue to commit to rest as a priority and not something I fit in after I spend myself on everything and everyone else, because eventually, everyone gets shortchanged otherwise.

Stress Management
     I will choose two days a week to be completely free of social media. Seems weird that this would be the first thing under stress management, but I observe in myself a tendency to indulge worry, frustration, helplessness, and less honorable things like gossip and meanness if I spend too much time in the 'virtual world'. Sometimes even the sheer volume of information available about good things can be a stress. You can only absorb so much.

Personal Growth
     I will continue to read books that inform my understanding of nutrition, well being, spirituality and health, ONE AT A TIME. My reading list for the Whole 30 will be as follows:

  • Made to Crave 60 Day Devotional by Lysa TerKeurst -I already started this but I'm saving the last 30 days for July.
  • It Starts With Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig- this is the book that explains the Whole 30 concept, I am reading it now but will likely refer to it during the month.
  • The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson-I've had this for a while and just need to get to it.
     I believe in doing what you enjoy. I am not of the mind that what Mark Sisson calls 'chronic cardio' is any good in the long run. What I do for movement, just like what I do for nutrition, needs to be sustainable and joyful or it is nothing more than a short term and ultimately untenable fix. Luckily, I enjoy a lot of things. The biking, walking, hiking, and exploring will continue. A rainy day may find me doing a DVD of some kind, but otherwise its all outside, all the time. I also want to explore some weight training. 

My Whole30 begins on July 1st. Anyone wishing to know what all this is about can head here for tons of information. A few intrepid adventurers have already let me know that they are in. Want to join me? Let me know!

Sunday, June 02, 2013

The Journey So Far

So things have been going pretty great.
Bet you expected some kind of penitent paragraph for not posting recently? Nah. I have much darker things to feel guilty about. (Not really. Well. On some level we all do. It is quite possible I've had a sminch too much iced coffee this afternoon.)
Anyhow, where was I?
Oh yes. Things have been going pretty great. Thought I'd post and let everyone know just what I've been doing.
As I may have mentioned, back in September I made super major changes to my way of eating. A lot of things that weren't serving me well were unceremoniously dumped with no sensitive breakup discussion or apology. What started with a literal black trash bag has rocked on for nine months now. I'm not very good at photographic evidence, but I do have some. So let's review.
Here's me in October 2012, about a month after my nutrition overhaul. At this point, I was enjoying increased energy and definite decrease in joint pain. On this particular day I was on my feet all day, which is not something I had previously been able to do without discomfort.
Yeah, its from kinda far away because we were trying to get the mastodon in. But you get the picture. Both of those articles of clothing have since been discarded because I almost dropped those shorts in the middle of the grocery store.
This photo was taken in February of this year.
I look happy, but believe me, running indoors in a beige room on a treadmill is not my idea of a good time. But in the dead of winter it keeps me from sighting in from a water tower so we'll go with it when its 11 degrees out. Most of the happiness in this picture comes from the fact that I can move. And I feel pretty darn good.
These days, with the mountain laurel in full bloom and the temperature somewhere between 75 and 90 (North Central PA is nothing if not capricious where weather is concerned), my gym looks more like this.
And I've traded in the bike with no wheels with a view of the dusty TV for this one.

And this makes me very, very happy indeed.
I know people are curious about numbers. I've already broken down all the other good things that have come of this so here ya go, numbers people.

Pounds lost to date: 62
Aggregate inches lost from five separate measuring sites since 2/16/13: 15
Number of discarded articles of clothing to date: 5 (Note that I would have donated these if they had not been threadbare and, in some cases, ah, items of intimate apparel)

So what's on the horizon? A summer of playing in the woods and on the trails, and, this July, a Whole 30 Challenge. While many of the changes called for in the Whole 30 are things I have already successfully implemented, I want to focus on the positive side-- more veggies, more attention to the other aspects of the Challenge (the Whole 9 principles) and general focus on optimizing wellness and making the most of every single day. Far from being an exercise in depressing deprivation, this sort of discipline has given me my life back in a way I never thought possible. It doesn't matter how long it takes. It takes what it takes. The journey is a blast so far.
I'll be back soon. With pictures.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Iditawalk 2013

So, in the deep midwinter, we were blessed with a day of springlike weather. It was the boggy, muddy sort of springlike weather, but the earth thawed out just long enough to enable me to fill my lungs with fresh air and the smell of the promise of growing things. Overnight my driveway went from being a treacherously planned amateur luge run to plain old warped blacktop. I know the respite is temporary, but that is the nature of respite. And arguably, what makes it sweet.
(I can't rotate it. I tried. I'm sorry.)
On February 1st, I begin participation in something I have participated in before, a very long time ago. Back in 2003 I wanted something fun and motivating to get exercising again. I can't remember where I stumbled across the event, but I was struck by the inventive idea of involving the whole world in your fundraiser.

You can read about their goals and history here, but simply put, from February 1st to March 31st you commit to walking 1,049 minutes. You log your time every day that you walk to meet the goal. I always liked the timing of it because right when winter starts to make you feel restless and anxious, you have something to focus on that is a sense, you walk right out of winter. Or almost out of winter, given winter's tendency to linger in these parts like the last guy to leave a party. No one is going to give you their number, winter. Go home already.


Because I can never leave well enough alone I decided to make it a little interesting. In addition to the walking, which I am defining as 'joyful movement' and which may also include some DVD exercise and housecleaning, I am doing two other things.

One: For the two months of the Iditawalk I am giving up coffee. This has actually already started, since it made sense to stop when I ran out of ground beans and creamer. I cleaned and put away my machine today, but I actually haven't had coffee for about three days. I noticed my intake creeping up and up and it was going from pleasant morning beverage to three times a day drug habit. So I'm pausing to get some clarity on that. I am still allowing tea, since I don't find myself 'needing' tea, but my caffeine intake is drastically reduced. This is less of a thing than I expected it to be. The coffee 'problem' was compounded when I discovered the perfect combination of no calorie sweeteners that made my coffee taste exactly like it used to when I would put sugar in it. So much so that some of my old sugar-addicted wiring started sparking again. I haven't had any real sugar, but my lizard brain sure seemed to think that the 'good old days' had returned and this is no bueno. At a certain point in breaking a hard habit, you realize that keeping it broken has to be a priority. So we'll see. I'm thinking it is just a matter of drinking it without sweetener. Which is completely doable.

Two: While I have increased my vegetable intake, I want to increase it even more, trying new things, trying new ways of preparing familiar things, to give vegetables center stage in food preparation. I'm already pretty much doing this but I want to do it even more. Mostly  because vegetables are awesome.

So the Iditawalk, for me this year, is going to be about celebratory movement, cleaning out my closets (literally and figuratively), enjoying new tastes, and doing the heart and soul work that needs done for my ongoing wellness. I expect to walk into a glorious spring with all the hope that is emerging in full bloom.

My reading list for the next few months is also aimed at doing the 'soul work'. I'm interested in continuing to educate myself and embrace truth that gives life! I've been listening to a lot of people whose stories are full of encouragement and I realize that good stewardship of the body I've been given is a labor of love and joy, not obligation and drudgery. Here are the titles I have in my 'virtual stack'.

  1. Made to Crave by Lysa TerKeurst (this is actually the subject of an ongoing small group study)
  2. Wheat Belly/Wheat Belly Cookbook by Dr. William Davis (I have read both but still refer back to the information in both, as well as the recipes, which are outstanding. This is the book that started it all for me. 
  3. Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease by Dr. Robert H. Lustig (Dr Lustig has a talk on YouTube about sugar. It is very much worth your time.)
  4. The Gabriel Method by Jon Gabriel (working on your head, not just your body)
  5. Why We Get Fat..and What To Do About It by Gary Taubes
  6. Secrets to a Healthy Metabolism by Maria Emmerich
As I said before, I started to get traction on this journey when I chucked out everything I was ever taught about what constitutes healthy food. Since I started I've learned a lot, improved a lot, and found a lot of encouragement and hope from various sources. I am on the road, but there are miles to go. I'm just much more certain that they will be miles of celebration and joy. 

Registration for the Iditawalk is still open if you are interested in joining me! In the meantime, here's a little bit of encouragement. As I've said before and will continue to say....
Change is possible. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Typically, the first thing you do when you haven't posted in three months is write some long self deprecating paragraph right about here that delineates all the reasons why you've been absent, lamenting writer's block, sunspots, the current national social climate, and why you can't ever seem to get a decent tomato in the supermarket, and all the ways those very serious conditions scheme to keep your blog in blackout mode. 

Imma skip all that. 

Honestly, over the last however-many weeks since I've blogged, FANTASTIC things have been happening. Here's the deal.

On September 20, 2012, the day began with a garbage bag. I took a big black bag, opened the door to my pantry, and chucked a whole bunch of food. On the advice of a friend, I decided to experiment and see if the elimination of wheat from my diet would address some very persistent and unpleasant health issues I was having. Scary as it was, I decided to go all-in. And since the program I began with suggested the elimination of sugar, I was down with that as well. 

Those of you who have known me all or most of my life know that was probably an even bigger deal. I have been a sugar hound from pretty much day one. I essentially torched my House of Comforts and watched it burn to the ground. I didn't write about it when I started because I was afraid this would be 'just another thing I've tried' and that my enthusiasm would fade over time. I have certainly lost weight before, and I am all too familiar with the feeling of clinging desperately to little victories trying to drown out the massive anxiety caused by maintaining a relationship with food that was difficult to manage. That describes my experience with every single "diet" I've ever been on in my life. When the marching bands in the positivity parade got back on the bus all that rang in my ears was my obsession with what I could and couldn't eat, when I could eat it, and whether I was 'doing it right'. Eventually the stress of that day to day would cause me to let go of whatever I'd aspired to do. So you see why I was reluctant to say "Yaay, loookatmeee". 

Four months on, it doesn't feel so crazy to talk about what has been happening. Because what has been happening feels like a miracle. 

First, some realities:
1. I have not had any wheat whatsoever, or any sugar other than what naturally occurs in fruit and vegetables, since September 20, 2012. Absolutely none. I've deliberately and systematically rejected the typical American diet.
2. I had to retool my cooking completely, which necessitated the purchase of some new-to-me ingredients. I had lots of help from more experienced wheat-free cooks and access to a ton of recipes that are both delicious and easy to prepare, so I have by no means freelanced this process on my own. 
3. I no longer eat any processed food. None. No boxed dinners, no canned soups, no frozen dinners, no commercial snack foods. Obviously I'm not churning my own butter and such, so there is some element of processing to what I buy, but if something has a giant paragraph of ingredients I don't buy it. No fast food. I do still eat in restaurants but I make very careful choices, and there are some places where the menu is a total lockout. (ie Pizza Hut) I no longer eat fried food of any kind. 

That probably seems like a grim and heavy list. It probably sounds boring and oppressive and horrible.
It isn't. 

Here's another list. 

1. Since 9/20/12 I have had absolutely no heartburn. This was the first thing to go. I used to have it for some duration or intensity Some foods I ate would burn from the first bite going down. I had acid reflux. I would wake up coughing and sometimes with acid backed all the way up into my throat. I had to be careful not to eat at least five hours before bed. I took omeprazole on a regular basis and I had to keep Tums in my locker at work. This has completely and totally ceased.

2. I had chronic edema, which gave me swollen ankles and feet and it hurt to press on my shins. Its gone.

3. My feet hurt every day. In fact most of my joints used to hurt every day. There were days when I could force myself to walk a mile or so and I'd be all right, but I'd pay for it the next day with stiffness and soreness.
That is completely gone. I can be on my feet all day with no issues. Nothing hurts. 

4. The initial impetus to try this was a persistent and very itchy rash that kept recurring. It would retreat but never really leave me, and nothing I tried to control it for about four years did any good. 
It is completely gone.

5. I had persistent fatigue. I never felt rested, never felt energized, dragged myself through most days with an outward good attitude (publicly, anyway) that was an effort to maintain. This is gone.

6. Through no other effort than this change in diet, as of this writing I have lost 39 pounds. This was never the goal, but it is happening, and now exercise is returning to my life not as a hated chore to mold myself into a less-hated form, but because I have energy, I want to spend it, I like movement, and movement feels good. 

7. My focus, concentration, and energy level has increased. A lot. So much at times that I feel obnoxious to myself. :) 

The anxiety I felt any time I ever approached this life improvement process from a weight loss angle is gone. I feel strong, energized, and hopeful. If I were to put a number on it I'd say I feel about 25 years old. I see what is possible, and it is exciting. The weird thing is, it hasn't been hard. Some food is just food, some food is a drug, and when I stopped using the drugs, there was no more negotiation, no more struggle, no more deprivation-feeling, no more distress. 

So I'll be checking in with this from time to time, I decided that it was important for me to chronicle what's going on so I don't feel sad that I didn't keep track later on. I'm doing some things to make it all fun and I'll be writing about those here, efforts to fine-tune my nutrition and movement and make the best of what it turning into a very, very good thing. I spent enough time feeling is time for a little freaking-amazing. 

Here's a bit of encouragement. I watched this documentary recently and it has a LOT of good (and sobering) information in it. 
Oh, and the guy pictured  in the first little screen shot? That's Joe Cross. He has an amazing story to tell too, which you can see in this second film. 

Change is possible.