It’s a new life, and I’m feeling good

Let’s just start by discussing how fabulous Michael Bublé’s version of “Feeling Good” is. I’m not a regular Michael Bublé fan, but this song makes me wants to dance and leap and frolick. Here you go. You’re welcome.

I figured that now would be an appropriate time to express my gratitude to the people who have changed my life. That’s one of those throwaway phrases that doesn’t have a lot of impact, but I REALLY mean it. Really. Let me explain why.

For those who don’t already know, here is a quick recap. There are plenty of people who can treat their work as a means to an end, and still feel happy and fulfilled in life. I am not one of those people. I have always wanted to feel passionate and personally connected to my work. For 9 years, I lacked that connection, and I was miserable. My self-esteem steadily declined, and I struggled with some pretty serious bouts of depression. My husband is probably the only person who ever saw how bad it was. When it came to taking action to find direction and make changes, I was so anxious about the steps that were required that I felt paralyzed, and my mental health just got worse. I wrote more in depth about it a few months ago.

I quit my job a few months ago to become a personal trainer and a part-time nutrition student. I had no experience with personal training aside from my own workouts and reading various books and blog posts about fitness. It was terrifying. It still is. For my entire adult life, I have told myself every self-hating message that there is to tell. I’m not smart enough. I’m too shy. People will judge me. People won’t like me. I’m not thin enough. I’m not creative enough. I can’t figure things out.  I can’t adapt. People will be disappointed in me. I will be the cause of someone else’s unhappiness.

In less than 3 months, I have confronted and conquered a lifetime of fears. I am doing new things, and I might fail, but I am gradually learning that I will still be ok. I’m not so fragile that a mistake here and there will shatter me. All of those terrible things that I told myself are probably only as true as the degree to which I believe them.

It has been a long and arduous journey over the years, which is where the gratitude part comes in. So many people in my life believed in me when I thought that I had nothing to offer. They listened, challenged, and encouraged me when I couldn’t do it for myself. My husband told me numerous times that my happiness was worth any sacrifices that we would have to make. He has supported me in more ways than I can put into words. My closest friends have helped me problem-solve time and time again, whether it was during a workout, standing on the sidewalk corner after the gym, dinner parties, road trips, or vacations together. My family members let me vent about my crappy job, helped me with my resume, and let me know that I just had to pick up the phone if I needed them. My former coworkers commiserated with me, and helped me talk through my options. My new co-workers are the ones who made the change happen when I was finally ready. They gave me the initial push to start thinking about it. They listened patiently when I explained how afraid I was. They answered my many questions the best that they could. They worked awfully hard to convince someone they barely knew that she had something to offer. I think that I’m finally starting to believe them. It’s still a work in progress, but I am so much happier than I was just a few months ago. Thank you to all of the people who have been part of my journey. You have changed my life.

Lessons from a Sugar-Deprived Vegetarian

I hate being a cliché. I really do, but after massive sugar consumption over the holidays, and realizing that I no longer fit into clothes that I bought only a few months ago, I had to face the scary truth that my healthy eating habits have slipped. There were tears. Lots of them. My poor husband. I joined the masses of New Year’s resolutioners with a vow to be healthier in 2013. On Christmas Day, a friend invited me to join her in a 30-day sugar detox, starting January 1st. Her plan was to simply resist eating desserts and read food labels to avoid added sugar. Of course I couldn’t make things so simple for myself. I decided that in order to increase the likelihood of success, I needed more structure. I needed a set of rules. When it comes to carby snacks, if you give me an inch, I will take a mile. I didn’t trust that I could make real changes without slipping. Instead, I got on board with the Balanced Bites 21-Day Sugar Detox when a friend introduced me to it. I’m not going to spell out all of the details, but the big idea is to eliminate all processed foods, alcohol, and anything sweet (including most fruit) for 21 days.

There are 3 levels to the program, depending on where you are in your journey. There are lists of “yes,” “no,” and “limit” foods with modifications for athletes, pregnant women, and vegetarian/vegans (that’s me!). I stuck with level 1, which is the least restrictive, and unlike the other levels, I was able to eat some legumes, grains, and full-fat dairy. Yesterday was my final day of detoxing, and after finding myself overwhelmed with emotions and thoughts around the experience, I thought it would be best to get everything down in writing.

Let me preface it by saying that I have been a sugar fiend my entire life. It’s not just that I love bread and cookies and chocolate. Since childhood, these foods have been my go-to coping mechanisms whenever I’ve felt anxious or unhappy. When I was “on track” with whatever healthy plan I was attempting, I felt deprived. I attempted moderation, only to find that what started out as an occasional treat quickly became a daily occurrence. I’ve been working at this for years. A few months ago, I decided to go sugar-free for a week. I lasted 4 days.

I have now completed 3 full weeks without sugar, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, or flour. What?? How?? Who? Where?Huh? Yup, I’m still in disbelief. It was hard, but not as hard as I had expected. I’m a total rule-follower, so resisting the “no” foods wasn’t that difficult because I had rules to follow. The cravings were manageable, but I did get sick of relying on the same foods for 21 days. By the last week, I was desperately craving more variety. A lot of people report negative physical effects for the first few days, and then they feel great for the rest of the detox. I did not have such a positive experience. I suffered from headaches and fatigue for most of the 21 days. I continued to exercise regularly, but it took me longer to recover than it has before. I felt deep muscle fatigue for days.  I suspect that some of the negative side effects were from the drastic reduction in total daily carbs, rather than from the elimination of sugar and flour. My energy seemed to even out a bit about a week ago, but my mood continued to be all over the place, and (WARNING: TMI!!) my menstrual cycle is totes wackadoodle. Yup, I said it. I warned you. I’m not about to argue that my body thrives on wine and croissants, or that this sugar/flour-free way of eating is totally wrong for me, but when it comes to long-term changes, I need to do some tweaking.

Lessons from the 21-Day Sugar Detox:

  • Plan, prep, plan, prep. I used to be good about this, but I got lazy. This was a good reminder of how important it is if I want to be healthy.
  • A lot of foods have natural sweetness and can be enjoyed if I’m not in the habit of bombarding my taste buds with sugar.
  • Coconut products and almond butter are delicious.
  • I do well with specific rules.
  • I seem to crave variety more than most people. If I get bored with food, I am more likely to stray.
  • It was a relief to be diet-compliant without counting calories. It’s something to strive for.
  • Dietary fat is (maybe) not evil, and it can improve satiety, ultimately reducing cravings. There are conflicting studies and opposing views on this topic. I need to research it more before deciding what I think is best.
  • I should get more of my carbohydrates from vegetables. I’m a vegetarian who doesn’t eat enough vegetables.
  • Regular exercise is important to my happiness. I need to eat in a way that supports an active lifestyle, which I *think* means increasing my consumption of healthy carbs (vegetables, grains, beans, fruit, etc.).
  • Protein. Protein haunts me in my sleep. The average American consumes much more protein than their bodies can use, but I don’t think that’s the case for this weight-lifting vegetarian. During the detox, I basically replaced carbs with fat instead of increasing protein. It’s something to work on.
  • Compulsion is compulsion, whether it’s in the form of chocolate or raw nuts. Of the challenges that I faced, this one is the most problematic, and the most difficult to solve, but hey, at least I found a topic for therapy this week.

While this was not the amazingly positive, transformative experience that some people report, I learned quite a bit about my eating patterns. Most importantly, I DID IT. I put mind over matter. Pre-detox, I beat myself up constantly for not having the will-power to resist certain foods. This little experiment proved to me that I DO have will-power. I DO have control over food. I would say that this lesson alone made it all worth it.