Lessons Learned 2015
noun 1. a pause or gap in a sequence, series, or process.
Hello. I’m Jackie. You may remember that I used to write this blog BodyConsciousness. It’s been a while, I know. I guess you could say I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus. It’s not that I don’t still love to write or that I’ve given up on my health and fitness journey. I suppose it’s because, well, quite frankly, I didn’t really have anything to say. Part of my self-imposed and reflective period of silence has been due to the fact that I didn’t feel in any position to be giving advice or opinion about anything, most especially the topics of “health” or “fitness.” I’ve spent the latter half of 2015 learning (or re-learning) much of what I know (or thought I knew) about those two subjects and taking some serious time to focus on happiness and spiritual growth.
If you can hang in there with me for a few minutes I’ll get you caught up on this little hiatus of mine and the lessons learned in my time away.
Let’s back up to June.
You may remember in my last few posts I’d been struggling with some health and fertility issues, specifically PCOS. Despite mustering all the determination and sheer will I could scrape together (see: “Get Back In the Pool“) by mid June I had fallen into a pretty bad place. Daily workouts and training sessions, calorie counting, and months of medication had gotten me nowhere. I actually had to buy a size up in clothing in June because my summer clothes from the previous summer didn’t fit. Talk about depressing. I felt like a fraud and wondered, “Should I even continue writing a blog?” I felt like giving up. I was stuck.
Around this time I came to the realization that I needed to seriously reevaluate what was driving my life. Surely I was not in control and my tried and true methods were getting me nowhere. In church one Sunday the pastor read a verse from 1 Timothy 4:7-9 “[…] train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance.”
I think it took that a verse and a few others to realize that the physical body I was struggling with was merely a tent, a temporary thing, a vessel that I had seemingly no control over and yet had become fixated on to the point where I almost couldn’t enjoy any other happiness in my life.
Eat, pray, learn.
One of my most favorite books of all time is Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. I first read the book during another dark time in my life and it totally changed my perspective on self-love and personal growth. One of my favorite parts of the book is when Liz goes to Italy and basically eats her way through the country.
“But is it such a bad thing to live like this for just a little while? Just for a few months of one’s life, is it so awful to travel through time with no greater ambition than to find the next lovely meal?” — Elizabeth Gilbert Eat, Pray, Love
This is essentially the philosophy I adopted for a week in Paris in July. Ah, Paris. What a magical, wonderful, beautiful city. And for that one week in July every day started something like this:
…and was followed with un sandwich du jamon, un petit quiche lorraine et baguette, un apéritif de champagne, un cafe au lait… and so on and so on. It was glorious.
In addition to strolling the amazingly beautiful avenues and parks of Paris, taking impressionist art (my personal favorite), and spending quality time with my mom (treasured travel buddy!), I prayed a lot. Not deep meditative rosary beads prayer but ongoing conversation and heart opening and fellowship with God.
When I got back from Paris I called a holistic wellness consultant and nutritionist that a good friend of mine had been recommending for the last year. We jokingly refer to him as “The Food Doctor” because of his belief that food can be used as medicine to communicate with your body and improve its functions. Clearly my methods weren’t working so I relented and asked my friend for his number. “OK,” I thought, “Let’s see what I can learn from this guy…” My work with The Food Doctor the last few months has changed just about everything I thought I knew about food and nutrition.
Before heading to Paris I’d decided to stop taking all fertility-related medications that I’d been prescribed the previous year. Each time took medication it was a silent affirmation to my body that something was wrong with it; it was deficient in some way; it was sick. And that’s exactly how I felt. Sick.
The first thing The Food Doctor asked me to do was to check my blood sugar which thankfully was totally normal despite having been prescribed Metformin (a diabetes medication used to treat PCOS.) Then we began an elimination diet that required cutting out all processed foods, gluten and all grain, dairy, soy, alcohol and caffeine. Ha! I know, sounds fun, right?!
Was it easy? Mmmm…no. But to be perfectly honest it wasn’t that hard either. I kicked my coffee habit in less than a week (most commercial American coffee is s#%@ compared to good French coffee so it wasn’t that hard after returning from Paris. Same goes for American vs. Parisian bread.) I began to eat foods I’d sworn off in the name of weight loss because they had “too much sugar”(pineapple, mango, papaya, bananas) or too much fat (avocado, sunflower seeds, coconut oil.) I realized I had been substituting low-calorie processed health foods and protein powder mixes for actual [raw, natural, whole, unprocessed] food. You’re not “eating clean” if your “health food” comes in a package or has a commercial.
For the month of August I focused almost exclusively on diet. I didn’t see the inside of my gym for more than a month – by far the longest I’ve ever been away. (My trainer probably wasn’t thrilled with me but sometimes you need to take a different approach.) I spent a lot of time outdoors, walking every day and riding my bike. Within two weeks I’d lost 5 lbs and my body fat stayed about the same (within .8%) as it had been in previous months of serious calorie counting and HIIT workout sessions 5-6 days a week. I began fitting into clothes that I hadn’t been able to fit into since before the spring. My belly bloat went away. My sleep and digestion improved tremendously. My seasonal allergies and eczema cleared up. I didn’t feel sluggish and run down even without coffee or other stimulants. Something had changed. I finally felt like I was getting in sync with my body again.
I’m still hesitant to dispense advice. I’m really not an expert, something I realize now more than ever. Yet, I’ve learned a thing or two in the last few months. So if you’re still reading (good for you for hanging in there!) here are a few take-aways from the second half of 2015:
1. There is no substitution for real food. Our bodies have not evolved to sustain themselves with modern processed foods, no matter how “healthy” they claim to be. Mother nature knows what she’s doing. The more you tamper with her handiwork, the deeper hole you’re digging for yourself. Eat whole, unprocessed, natural food. Read labels and steer clear of preservatives, GMOs, antibiotics, added hormones, and other toxins. It matters.
2. Food > medicine. Food can be used as medicine and when done so correctly it can be the most powerful form of medicine available for long-term health. Beets, for example, can be used to cleanse your kidneys and support their function in filtering toxins out of your body. Lemon water can be used to support your liver of cleansing impurities and toxins from your body. Raw chopped garlic has anti-bacterial properties that can be used to fend off chronic urinary tract infections. I’m not advocating against antibiotics if you have an infection. If you have strep throat you better take your behind to the doctor and get some amoxicillin before you end up with a flesh-eating virus, ok?
3. Your health is your responsibility. The food industry is a trillion-dollar industry and they do not have your best interest at heart. Their bottom line in dollars and cents – not your health – is their driving interest. GMOs and generally sh!#%y ingredients are added to food, vitamins, sports drinks, salad dressings, you name it. Vani Hari, author of the worth-the-read Food Babe blog, puts it this way: “You can’t outsource your health.” I feel the need to apologize for previous posts where I advocated for particular processed health foods and brands. To put it plainly, I’m working with new information and I just can’t personally endorse them at this time.
4. You are not sick. You are unhealthy. Common reoccurring ailments are your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Headaches, UTIs, constipation, bloating, heartburn, allergies, etc. While these things may be common none of them are “normal.” The remedy for these maladies 9 times out of 10 is not an over-the-counter or prescription medication. Your heartburn is not your body’s way of telling you it wants a Pepcid, a Prylosc, or a Nexium. It is your body’s way of telling you that the food you are eating is hurting it and it would like you to please stop. Silencing your body by reaching for a pill is a recipe for disaster.
5. Your body needs what your body needs. “Eat low-fat dairy for calcium!” “Get 5 servings of whole grains per day!” Nutritional advice like this is often based on generalized notions of what is healthy for the “average American.” Here’s the thing though — you are not average. You are unique. What works for one body may not work for yours. A doctor told me the other day that I should eat more milk, cheese, and yogurt to get enough calcium in my diet. “I’m lactose intolerant,” I replied. “Well, there are those Lactaid pills and lactose-free milks” was the doctor’s response. Um…no, sorry doc. Ingesting dairy products that my body can’t digest as opposed to giving my body calcium in the form of oranges, collard greens, canned wild-caught salmon, bok choy, and romaine lettuce is bad advice. This doesn’t meant yogurt is bad, it’s just not for me.
So there you have it. Hiatus over.
Happy New Year, friends. 🙂