What Does Self-Love Feel Like?

It’s a sad truth: people have a hard time loving themselves. I think we all have moments.

I was in a therapy group in college that talked about women’s issues, such as: body image, women in society, sexuality, relationships (familial and friendly included), and health (mental and physical). It was life-changing for many reasons, but one activity that I remember in particular was as follows:

Choose a part of your body (or yourself) that you tend to be very negative about. Maybe you think your stomach has an extra roll or two. Maybe it’s your skin, which breaks out (with acne? with eczema?) at the worst times. Maybe it’s a personality trait (too bossy? too needy? too sensitive?).

Write a letter to yourself, from its perspective. Here’s an example.

Dear Anne,

When you look at me in disgust and wish I went away, it makes me more angry. I can feel your wrath about me in the stress hormones which elevate in your bloodstream. I can’t really help that I show up; I just follow what your body tells me to do. If you really want to help me, you can do it by taking care of yourself. Make sure that what you eat isn’t triggering an immune response. If you do trigger me once in a while, it’s okay – I’ll always forgive you and calm down again. But really, I am happiest when you are happiest, because that’s when you make the best choices for yourself (and for me).

Love, eczema.

I think that sometimes I get this idea in my head that making a change involves criticizing the status quo. It’s the idea that in order to move forward, I have to be dissatisfied with something in my present situation. It’s true that dissatisfaction is really worth listening to – but listening to it must be done lovingly.

Think about the language we use, particularly when it comes to exercise and eating. Some of us aren’t satisfied unless we’ve beat ourselves up at the gym, unless we’re in pain by the time the workout is over – unless we punish ourselves by not giving in and eating that cupcake, because we haven’t earned it. We beat our muscles into existence and our fat into submission. Our bodies become outlets for our angst and the objects of our discontent.

Melissa Hartwig, in Food Freedom Forever, wrote the following (I may be paraphrasing):

“What if food is just food, and our choices are just our choices?”

This struck a huge chord with me. Even if I’ve never personally had disordered eating habits (a real danger in this toxic food culture), I realized that I have always been low-key angsty about my food and exercise. If I wanted a cookie, I did think about how I hadn’t exercised enough that day. When I exercised, I could eat more. When I felt bloated or frustrated with my appearance, it was my fault for not exercising and eating too much.

Making these lifestyle changes has introduced a new way of thinking about all of this.

When you’re listening to your body – eating the right food for you, moving at the right times, and otherwise nourishing your body with whatever it needs – there’s just simply nothing to worry about.

I don’t habitually think about how much I’m eating, how much I’m exercising, or whether my body is adequate or inadequate in appearance anymore. All that matters is how it is functioning.

Do I get hungry too often? I need to eat more protein. Do I feel bloated or icky? Maybe what I ate wasn’t the right thing for that moment. Does it feel stiff or sore? Maybe I need a walk, or gentle stretching. Is it buzzing and jittery? Maybe I have lots of energy to burn, and I need to do a barre class or a run.

In short, taking care of myself means giving myself what I need, when I need it. Sometimes I mess up, and that’s fine – it’s not so hard to get back on track when there’s not a ton of pressure or really high stakes. Nothing is “failure,” or “success.” There are only things that work for me at that time, and things that don’t happen to work then, but might eventually. This listening and responding takes daily practice, and is hard to figure out sometimes.

But, this is the freedom that Melissa refers to: freedom from all the pressure and anxiety that often plagues our minds and bodies.

Some people probably naturally respond to themselves in this way. It took a long time for me to learn it. It started with my first Whole30, when I realized what an impact I could have on myself by feeding me properly. Physical changes made mental changes, and vice versa, in a lovely circle.

Now I am convinced that in order to be healthy, I must try to love myself. If I love myself, I care for myself as I would care for someone I love. And it’s important, because it makes it much easier to feel secure, and happy, and to care for others as well.

My personal challenge, and yours too if you want: next time I find myself frustrated or angsty about something in my body or mind that’s not right, I will ask myself: what do I really need right now to feel loved?

And if it’s a cupcake, absolutely go for it. 🙂

 

 

 

What Does Self-Love Feel Like?

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, Three Steps Forward

It sounds like a dance move, doesn’t it? Well, that’s me: always Dancin’ With Myself .

In my post on Food and Feelings last time, I talked about my meltdown of a couple of weeks ago, when things just seemed so hard. After that, I was given the green light to add some things that I’d taken out – Thai food (no soy, though), rice, maybe quinoa or other gluten free grains, and mayyyybe paleo sweeteners, like honey and maple syrup.

For the first week, this went okay. I accidentally ate soy sauce because there was free octopus salad at my favorite sushi bar. Cue hand hives. It happened about ten minutes post-consumption: tiny red, itchy spots under my skin. Cue feelings of guilt, frustration, and general angst about the unfairness of it all.

In the following two weeks, my forays out of the Whole30 guidelines included rice cakes, almond flour crackers from Simple Mills (this was really made with all compliant ingredients, but is an SWYPO situation), and coconut butter cups from Eating Evolved (coconut sugar). I also had half a girl scout cookie, and…I think that’s it. Until last weekend.

It was my friend’s going away party. I was prepared with compliantly roasted chips and paleo chili. I swung by Trader Joe’s to pick up some gin and carbonated water – the first alcohol I’d have in 2017. When I arrived, I spontaneously decided that this would be a YOLO night. No more worrying about ingredients, no more label-reading or sticking just to what I knew I could consume without repercussions. So, throughout the evening, I consumed: dark chocolate peanut butter cups, gin and soda water, tequila, tomato (in the chili), and a slice of cake.

It doesn’t sound like much. It didn’t feel like much. But, the next morning, I instantly decided: NOT worth it.

Melissa Hartwig, in Food Freedom Forever, promotes a really great system for enacting the “food freedom” that comes post-Whole30. True food freedom is all about making very mindful choices and critically thinking about what you put into your body.

For example – you will not suddenly want to eat more cake when it’s your birthday. Your body doesn’t know it’s your birthday. If you see some amazing treat, Melissa challenges you to decide, with thorough and conscientious thinking, whether that treat is “worth it.” In other words: armed with the information that Whole30 gave you about how that will affect your body, what is the best course of action? It’s sometimes to eat it… and sometimes, it’s to not eat it.

My first mistake was the gin. I had maybe two drinks of it, but it impacted my ability to make mindful choices for the rest of the evening. My other mistake was deciding to throw the rules out the window. I could have had a few peanut butter cups and been satisfied. But, because I was eating “whatever,” I had to try everything.

Why wasn’t it worth it? For the whole day afterward, I was in bed with a variety of symptoms: stomach distress, a massive headache, fatigue, bloating, and suddenly worsened eczema. I was angsty and irascible. On Sunday, I had a glass of wine with friends. Not only is alcohol not great because it annihilates gut bacteria, but I am also sensitive to grapes, sugar and brewing yeast; this did not go well either. Going back to work on Monday was the worst. I slept poorly for a few days in a row, waking up stressed in the early morning. My mood was depressed; I was less patient and much less fun with the kids.

On Wednesday, I talked to my doctor. She told me to go back to what I know works for me: Whole30 eating. After 14 days of that, I’m supposed to reintroduce a medical food she prescribed me for people with malabsorption. It has sugar in it, so I have to monitor my reaction and make sure it’s okay for me to consume. Round 3, Day 6.

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This stuff is pretty delicious, though…

I follow so many bloggers now who are Whole30, Paleo, health nutty clean eaters. They are often very inspiring, because they show me that it’s possible to get where I want to go. But sometimes, looking at their social media accounts makes me feel like they’ve achieved a perfection that I haven’t achieved yet (that cliché instagram probem). My life right now feels out of balance.

I think it’s important to hear from people in this stage, the struggle to back in balance: the stage where you don’t think it will ever happen, and it feels really hard, and you’re in the middle of this giant life change which exhausts your willpower muscles to a maximum. 

But, in the back of my mind, I know that I’m on a right track. My diet right now includes so many nutrients, so much produce, and so much variety. I am getting better at combining simple ingredients to make varied and delicious meals, and I am really comfortable in the kitchen.

People often express pity that I can’t eat all of the things. My external response is: yeah, it’s hard. My internal response is: but, it’s not worth it for me to eat like I used to. What I put in my body has too much physical, mental and emotional impact on me to ignore. It wasn’t always this way, and I hope it won’t always be this way, but for now I’m embracing my reality and thanking this experience for forcing me into a healthful and nourishing lifestyle.

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New haircuts do wonders for morale!

On that note, I’m thinking of starting a project: developing my blog even more, as if it were my full-time job. If I were to write much more often, what do you want to hear? What do you like about my blog? What do you wish I did differently/more of? You can help by leaving a comment addressing any and all of these questions. Let’s learn and grow together :). 

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, Three Steps Forward

Why I Needed the Whole30 Reset

On Sundays, I cook. Today’s meal-prep menu:

  • Whole chicken, slow-cooked and shredded (carcass saved for bone broth)
  • Sweet potatoes and onions, roasted in EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil) with cumin, turmeric, ginger, garlic powder, salt and pepper
  • Butternut squash and carrot soup with Italian turkey sausage
  • Overnight chia pudding with almond butter, coconut milk, coconut flakes, and cacao nibs

Everything is packed in tupperware for portability and stacked in the fridge. It seems totally efficient – until I try to get something from the back of my shelf, and a mason jar and Kombucha bottle fall on my toes. It happened three times today…

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Breakfast hash: sweet potatoes, sausage, and spinach

Why, you ask? Why all the prep? Why spend my whole Sunday cooking?

I’m on Day 28 of my second Whole30 Reset.

A year ago, and for years before that, I was not in great physical shape. I don’t mean I wasn’t exercising – on the contrary, I had gotten involved in Spin classes (at The Beautiful Bike, highly recommended), and was exercising hard. I mean that I was sleeping poorly, I had chronic allergies, I had eczema on my hands, and I had random and acute stomach pains. I constantly felt tired, bloated, and low on energy.

It turns out, I have Hashimoto’s Disease, which is an autoimmune disorder where my body attacks my thyroid with homemade antibodies. Thyroids regulate metabolism and hormones, which affect energy levels, skin, hair, the immune system, the body’s stress response…in short, they’re super important, and mine was just non-functional.

I went to a doctor and she prescribed me Levothyroxine, a synthetic thyroid hormone that replaces the hormone that my body isn’t producing enough of and balances out my system. She told me to get my blood tested again in a year, to make sure it was working.

Fast-forward to this fall, a year later, when I finally decided it was time to consult a Naturopath. I had already done a month of Whole30, in August, and had experienced such drastic results that I knew something more was wrong with my system. My new doctor tested my blood and discovered that my thyroid was way out of whack. Like 1300 antibodies when there should be 30. Not only that, she tested me for food sensitivities, and I reacted to so many things. (Lettuce, tomatoes, and radishes?? Grapes? Lemons? Yeast??And cane sugar.)

She told me: you’re going on an elimination diet, but not during the holidays. So I decided that I’d get a head start on my own with the January Whole30.

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Steak with tarragon butter, potato wedges, and veggies

The Whole30 is not a diet. It’s a dietary reset. There are actually many different dietary resets out in the world these days (including things like The Elimination Diet, and the make-your-own reset options in Food Freedom Forever). The basic principle is thus:

Step 1: In the case of the Whole30, commit to eating real food. Nuts, meats, eggs, veggies, fruits. For 30 days. That’s it.

(In other words, eliminate: sweeteners, sugar, processed stuff, legumes, grains, and dairy.)

Step 2: Eat three meals a day. Eat as much food as you want. Each meal must include a protein and a healthy fat. Do not weigh yourself (this is a very important part of the program, which is not meant for weight loss). Watch your body and life dramatically change in so many non-scale ways.

Step 3: On Day 31, begin reintroducing your favorite foods, one by one, very slowly, until you know exactly what they do to your body – and which foods are still worth it.

So here I am, on Day 28.

And I feel fabulous.

I have no more insomnia. My stress and anxiety levels have drastically decreased. My athletic performance has improved. I realized how bloated I’d been (a major sign of chronic inflammation) when I put my rings on my fingers last week and they nearly fell off. I don’t have any more sugar crashes. I’m infinitely more patient with my students, and have a better sense of humor. My willpower muscle is super strong – I’ve been successfully getting up to work out at 5 in the morning, before work.

Beyond the emotional and physical, there are so many other Non-Scale Victories. I’ve learned how to cook new things (herb-crusted roasted salmon with broccoli, anyone?). I found new products that don’t have any sugar added to them – a major feat once I realized how many things do. I read all the labels. I truly feel satiated by my food. No more hanger, no more cravings, no more angst over what I ate that made my stomach hurt…it’s Food Freedom.

In fact, I’m doing so well that my doctor wants me to continue for another 30 days. Then, we’ll undertake a very deliberate and systematic reintroduction process. I’m so excited to see what other health benefits come out of the now Whole60.

I’ve decided to do a little blog series, for any friends who are interested and for my own personal records. I want to remember this journey, and I’m happy to share. Just to be clear, I don’t think everyone needs the Whole30. I do think everyone who does it will have their own crazy, unexpected victories.

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We met the co-creator, Melissa Hartwig! 

I’ll be sharing my tips for success and my favorite Whole30 products, as well as some musings about why this program is so amazing and the psychological changes it has inspired. Follow along if it’s interesting – I figured that there are a ton of cool blogs and Instagram accounts and other resources out there, but sometimes the best resources are the people you actually know. I’m happy to be a resource for anyone looking to improve their health and establish those healthy habits for the long haul. You can hold me accountable for taking my own advice, too ;-).

 

 

Why I Needed the Whole30 Reset