Health

***

“I mean, you were never fat, but…,” a friend.
“Freshman 15? More like the Freshman 30,” a boyfriend.
“Over capacity on elevator! Elevator’s going to break because of girl in green jeans,” a stranger.
“She looks like she’s lost weight, has she? No? Oh, I thought she had…” a family member.

These things were all said to or about me over twenty years ago. It’s funny how I can still hear them all so clearly in my head even today. I know exactly where I was. I can tell you exactly what I was wearing.

No, wait, scratch that.  It’s actually not funny that I remember it.

It’s incredibly sad.

Words can do a number on you, right? It’s amazing how much power they hold, how quickly they can be rattled off and how long they can stay bouncing around inside your head.  Positive, kind words can stick and push you to excel, give you confidence, remind you what you’re capable of. Negative words can shatter your spirit, make you question your capabilities and leave you grappling with self worth for years.

My weight has always fluctuated. I was never naturally thin, but I was never considered very overweight. I have gained and lost the same twenty pounds my entire life (sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less). And I have always struggled mentally with my weight and my identity in relation to my weight.

So, as I was going through old photos last weekend, trying to find a particular picture from a trip years ago, I stumbled on this shot:

This is me on New Year’s Eve in 1999.

I remember this night. I remember that dress. I remember thinking I had no business wearing it (and not because it looked like maroon tin foil). I remember worrying that people would think I looked chubby. I remember holding in my stomach a lot. I remember drinking more at the party so that I wouldn’t be so self conscious. And this was during a thin time in the the never-ending hamster wheel of my weight fluctuations.

I look at this photo today and I think: What the f*ck?!

I wish I could go back in time and tell this 20-something girl that she is worth more than the shell that she is wrapped in.

I’ve written about body image before and my struggle with the same, but I want to be very clear: I don’t write about this because I want comments on how you don’t think I’m overweight or how you think I look great or don’t see what I see. As sweet and as kind as that is, I actually want us to learn that it has nothing to do with me needing reassurance and everything to do with why we are talking about it at all.

No matter what size you are, you can have body issues. Let me say that again: no matter what size you are, you can have body issues.  Don’t let people dismiss your very real feelings, because they don’t think you have anything to complain about. It doesn’t matter if you are ten pounds or one hundred pounds away from where you think you should be.  If you feel it, it exists. And there is no quota you have to reach before the number on a scale can do a number on you.

I wasn’t raised in a household where weight and appearance were a large focus. My mom was a naturally thin person and she never dieted or set a poor example with food or body image as we watched.  Unfortunately, somewhere along the way on my own, I decided beauty and weight were important to my self worth. And ever since that switch was turned on, I have struggled to push it back down or snuff out the thought altogether – especially since entering my step-daughter’s life and having my own daughter, Ivy.

I definitely have failed in the past as an example, especially in the early days as a new stepmom. My step-daughter watched me do every “diet” program out there. She overheard me telling my husband multiple times that “I just needed to lose…” and she was there as I joked about feeling like a busted can of biscuits.

Do I think small comments like this can do harm? Absolutely. Especially when they become a running theme in your household.

Months ago, I was attempting yet another new diet and every morning I would strip down and weigh myself, as my three-year old watched.  She has asked what the scale is numerous times, but she doesn’t (thankfully) yet understand what it means.  On about the tenth day of doing this, and looking over to see her waiting patiently to go downstairs for breakfast, a flash of complete shame washed over me. Shame, sadness and anger at myself.

One of the first things I started doing after I had Ivy was make decisions based on these factors: “Would you want the girls doing this? Is this something you would want your daughters to feel?”  And it has helped me so much to be a better person to myself and others. So, what was stopping me from doing this when it came to my own appearance and self-worth?

I finally decided to make a full stop. A full stop on diets, “skinny” gimmicks and the exhausting hamster wheel of “If I just lose this much…”

I decided that I needed to focus on health and less on weight. I spent hours online doing research. And I kept coming back to this Whole30 book.

Ok, I’m going to be honest.  Initially, every time I saw this Whole30 thing mentioned on social media, I thought it was something people were selling. I skipped right past it. But then I started to read about it and the theory behind it – and the main fact that this is not a diet. This is not a quick weight loss challenge. This is a way to learn about and look at food differently.

And it has changed everything for me.

As much as I loved this program, I also kind of hate calling it a “program” and saying it’s name, in general. It makes me sound like I’m writing a sponsored post and I am not. I’m writing to tell you how this has rocked my world and changed my mindset completely. And let me tell you, it took decades to get here, so hell yes, I’m going to write about it.

I am not going to go into the specifics of the program. (Sorry, you’re going to have to take the initiative and learn about it on your own.) I will say that the entire concept is going back to whole foods and eliminating processed garbage filled with sugar and mood-altering chemicals. Yes, mood altering. By eliminating some food groups for a temporary period, I learned which foods affect me positively and negatively – as well as a whole lot of other things about myself.

This is what happened when I did the Whole30:

  • My energy skyrocketed
  • My chronic anxiety lessened dramatically
  • I was diagnosed with PMDD years ago; my cycle came and went this month without the usual horrific mood swings (this one was a total shock)
  • My suspicions that I have a lactose intolerance were finally confirmed
  • My daughter now asks for yogurt and fruit for a snack or apples and peanut butter, rather than chips or chocolate (it’s amazing how when options change, littles quickly adjust)
  • Constant cravings for junk have completely subsided
  • I feel healthy

That last one? Yeah, that is the kicker for me. As the weeks went on in this program, I started focusing less on how my jeans fit and more about how great I felt. There is something about eating whole, healthy foods that makes you feel strong – and makes you think less and less about what number is on a stupid scale.

Did I lose weight? Yep. Am I going to tell you how much? Nope. Because weight loss is NOT why I did this. I started this program with the determination that I would focus on health and not weight. And that mindset is what got me through this and ended up delivering a whole new outlook on life for which I will be eternally grateful. I feel healthy and strong. And I’ll be damned if I ever make food the enemy in my house again. Not for me and definitely not for my children.

Whole30 is hard. It is. If you’re looking for a quick low carb diet that will get you in a bikini next month, don’t bother. You’re not doing it for the right reason. If you want to make a real life change and be more mindful about what you are eating and feeding your children, then do it. You can do it if you do it for the right reasons.

Decades of self-damage do not dissolve in one month and I’m sure I haven’t miraculously solved all of my body issues in thirty days. But I do think that I have finally found a way to live moving forward that feels nothing like a diet and everything like a choice.

The Whole30 may not be for you.  But if you are struggling with body issues, find something that does work for you. Keep looking. Find a way to live that gives you confidence and strength.  Retrain your brain.  Talk to someone, know you aren’t alone. Never stop trying to know better and be better.

Make that choice for you and make that choice for the beautiful little eyes watching.

xo,

Jen

 

Ivy being Ivy.

***

See that photo up there? Funny, right? Ivy was literally trying out different “looks” for the shot. This is what she landed on intentionally.

After I took this and other photos, I uploaded them to my computer and I burst out laughing at Ivy’s face in this one. But then I looked over at myself in the shot and I immediately groaned.  While I saw nothing but beauty in Ivy’s funny little face, this is what I saw in mine:

Ugh, those puffy wrinkles under my eyes.
That sweater makes me look bulky.
I have a double chin.
I look really heavy.
Even my hand looks chubby.

I made myself post that photo anyway. I didn’t remove my wrinkles with a an editing app or “tweak” my double chin.  I posted it on Instagram – and every day since, I have willed myself not to remove it.

I’ve written before about my lifelong struggle with food and body image and, though I’ve come a long, long way from the days of checking calorie counts on sugar-free gum, I still have a lot of work ahead of me.

I promised myself the moment that I had Ivy I would never “diet” again and just find a way to eat better for my health instead of focusing on my weight.  I haven’t necessarily held to that promise, and so I’ve decided to right that wrong now.

Name a diet fad and I have done it. Every. Single. One. Some have worked (temporarily) for me, some have not.  What I do know after having tried everything is that I am at my most healthy when I am actually not paying attention to calories or fat grams. After I gave birth to Ivy, I actually whittled down to my pre-pregnancy weight without really trying. Why? I was busy.  And happy.  And not caring what the scale said.

I went back to work when Ivy was four weeks old. Yes, I work from home, but I work from home full time in the legal field. (Please don’t ever give me a wink and say “Oh, you work from home?” while doing the quotes sign with your fingers. I will cut you. I work from home.) And, while I work from home, I also decided not to put Ivy in daycare and keep her home with me. I look back at those early days now, and I have no idea how I did it.  But I did it.  We did it. And we’re still doing it three and a half years later.

Those days when she was a newborn were insane. And it’s no wonder I lost the baby weight so fast. However, as time went on and we fell into a rhythm of our schedule, each day became easier.  And I got lazier.  And, over the last two years, I’ve gained weight and just feel unhealthy.

It is a continuous struggle for me to retrain my brain to focus on health as opposed to weight; however, being healthy as opposed to being skinny is what I’m choosing to focus on moving forward. (But make no mistake: I’m hoping for a “thinner” benefit as well.) That said, I like trying new things – new challenges – and after doing some research, I landed on the Whole30 program.

* This is NOT a sponsored post. I am trying this solely on my own after reading the book. *

The Whole30 Challenge is not a weight loss diet and that’s why I chose it. It’s a program designed to make you eat healthier and find out what particular foods your body reacts to either negatively or positively.  It is not meant to be easy or a quick fix. It’s a challenge. For thirty days, you are not eating processed food, dairy, sugar or legumes.

Whole30 ain’t messing around!

Since posting about a private Whole30 Facebook group, I’ve had lots of messages and comments asking about it. So, I’m going to document weekly updates here with very quick breakdowns of my day. If you’d like to join our (very relaxed) Whole30 group online, shoot me a message and I’ll add you. We have people starting it on different days, we have people just prepping to start it, and we have people who are just eating healthier or creating their own personalized challenges, in general, and want to share recipes, ideas, etc.

Here’s my summary of Week 1:

Wednesday – It’s Day 1. I’m excited to start! I hard boiled eggs in my new Instant Pot (more about that later in this post) and I cut up two of those eggs, mixed them with avocado, olive oil and red pepper flakes and I’m good. I’m not much of a sweets person – especially in the morning – so this doesn’t feel particularly difficult for me. I would much rather be eating this on top of toast, but I’ll survive. Also, I drink my coffee black, which is going to be a huge bonus for me, since I can’t have dairy.  (Some people in our FB group who drink cream and/or sugar have found a fix for this.) Lunch is a salad. Dinner is a roast with carrots and potatoes (again, in the Instant Pot). I pass on the bread that Brian and the girls are eating. I go to bed feeling full. I got this! 

Thursday – It’s Day 2. It’s been a chaotic day with work and Ivy, and I forgot to eat breakfast. I have a late lunch of a cobb-ish salad I make and plan to cook a nice dinner. I forget it’s Hannah’s sports banquet where there will be a potluck.  I figure this won’t be hard for me to resist, because I have an aversion to food cooked by people I don’t know.  (I am suspicious of possible non-hand washers and spoon-lickers.) And then we get there. And everything looks good.  There’s fried chicken tenders and meatballs drenched in bbq sauce. I make a sad plate of vegetables (no dip), salad (no dressing) and three small pieces of salami. I remove Ivy’s cupcake wrapper for her and I get frosting on my hand. I wipe it off on a napkin instead of licking it. I want an award for this, but no one has noticed.

Friday – It’s Day 3.  I have the eggs and avocado thing again. For lunch, I have the same cobb-ish salad.  For dinner, I make this fantastic Butter Chicken in the crockpot.  Brian and Ivy eat it over arborio rice that I, again, made in the Instant Pot.  I eat mine over sautéed kale, which is actually really good. (I’m one of those freaks that actually likes kale.) I feel full and content – but I have a headache all day that won’t go away no matter how many Advil I’ve popped. I almost feel like I have a hangover, which makes me sad because I never got the benefit of wine for the hangover.

(Butter Chicken photo and recipe by One Lovely Life)

I am quickly realizing that food prep is key on this thing, so today I baked six chicken breasts in the oven and made Kitchen Sink Egg Muffins.  Just doing this (super easy and quick) saved me so much time for the rest of Week 1.

Saturday – It’s Day 4.  I eat two of my pre-made, glorious egg muffins topped with hot sauce and I’m happy. We get busy during the day and I forget to eat lunch (this is totally not normal for me, by the way, and unintentional). I grab a handful of almonds and eat an apple for a snack. For dinner, I make myself a spicy stir-fry while Brian and the girls order pizza. Normally, we all eat the dinner I make – however, my step-daughter is having a friend sleep over and what I made is far too spicy for the rest of the family. I have frozen grapes for a snack later, which curbs a sweet craving I’m having. It’s amazing how “sweet” grapes actually taste after having no sugar for 4 days.

My headache is still annoyingly present and I feel unusually tired. But I’ve read this is all normal.

Sunday – It’s Day 5.  Those egg muffins are worth their weight in gold and I’m not sick of them at all. For lunch, we go out to eat and I order a steak and steamed vegetables. I hear myself saying “no oil, no seasoning, no butter” to the waitress and I’m embarrassed and think she’s rolling her eyes (she’s not). I have leftover Butter Chicken for dinner and more frozen grapes as a snack.

My mood is super happy, but I’m …. soooo …. tired.

Monday – It’s Day 6. Hello, egg muffins. We meet again. And I’m still not sick of you!  I have another Chicken cobb-ish salad (ok, I’m starting to get sick of chicken…). I feel unusually hungry later, so I have an apple with almond butter. For dinner, I make a “hot wing” stir-fry. I totally made it up as I went. Brian and Ivy had pasta and Brian actually said, “Why does yours look better than ours?” 

Headache is gone and I no longer feel tired.

Tuesday – It’s Day 7. I’m quite sure someone put uppers in my coffee. I have endless energy and my mood is incredibly happy!  Food is same ol’ same ol’ – except for this fantastic Whole30 Chicken Salad I made (with homemade mayo that I also made – don’t be scared, it took five minutes!).

I’m not having cravings at all. Like, none. I see pictures of cupcakes and french fries online and I feel nothing. Later that night, I do feel really chubby and bloated, oddly. But, again, I read up online about the timelines of this program and this is normal. Apparently, my body is adjusting to the new way of eating and sorting itself out. This is why the program does not want you to weigh yourself throughout the 30 days. I weighed myself in the beginning and have been avoiding the scale ever since (full disclosure: I told Brian to hide it from me).  Besides, there is something about eating healthy that kind of erases the need to worry about that scale number. I’m doing my part. I’m hoping my body is following suit.

 

Whole30 Chicken Salad

 

So, here’s the deal: it may sound like I breezed through pretty easily, for the most part, this first week, but I’ve been lucky in that I have been unusually busy and when I’m busy, I don’t focus much on snacking or eating, in general.  Also, I have done Atkins before several times (told you… I’ve done them all!) and I am not unfamiliar with very restricted phases of eating, so I mentally prepared myself going into this.  If you are not used to restrictions, then this is going to be a bit tougher for you. You also need to be prepared to do a lot of prepping and grocery shopping. But I promise you, once you get going – you’ll hit a stride and know how to make this easier for yourself moving forward.

So, in summary, the benefits of this in Week 1 have been:

  • Increased energy (after initial slump)
  • Better mood (happy!)
  • General overall feeling of healthiness
  • My family is eating better as a whole (no more processed junk)
  • Eating whole, fresh food is changing the way I think about all food in general, especially what I feed my family

The tough parts:

  • I know I’m going to hit a rough patch soon – the Whole30 Timeline states that around Days 10 & 11 will be the hardest. I’m bracing myself.
  • This isn’t cheap. Buying fresh food is expensive. It’s ridiculous and horrible that it’s so much cheaper to eat crap…
  • It can be time consuming. Preparing ahead of time is key. But preparing ahead of time also saves you loads of time later – so this is actually a wash.
  • I miss wine. I want a glass of wine.
  • Did I tell you about the wine?
  • Wine.

So, Week 1 is down!  I’ll update again on Week 2. And, hey, consider our Facebook group… I love the little thing we have going!

***

Ok, onto the Instant Pot.

I posted on Facebook asking if any of my friends had a pressure cooker/Instant Pot and if they liked it.  I received a few responses from people who have it and love it, but the majority of responses were basically: “I’ve been looking at them, too – but I’m terrified, so you buy one first and let me know if you live.”

Assholes.

So, because I’m a loving, giving friend, I took one for the team (of assholes) and bought one last week.  I have to say, this thing is handy!  I haven’t made too many things with it yet, but each recipe/food I did make turned out awesome, so I give it a thumbs up!

Here is what I’ve learned so far:

1/ I will never make hardboiled eggs another way again. Put a cup of water in the instant pot, place eggs on the basket tray (included with the instant pot) and set manually for 8 minutes.  Eggs are perfect every time and peel perfectly.  I’ve done this twice now – and had flawless results both times.

2/ I will never cook rice another way. I made arborio (Italian rice) and, again, it took 8 minutes and it was perfect!  I got lucky on the amount of water to use (there are varying opinions online) – but you may need to tweak it on your results. There are instructions included with the Instant Pot that worked well for me.

3/ I made a roast and potatoes in under an hour. That’s pretty incredible. I was shocked that both the meat and the potatoes turned out perfectly. The carrots were a little mushy, so I’ll need to work on that timing.

4/  Drawback: Though the Instant Pot cooks super fast, sometimes it feels like forever for it to “preheat.”  I learned after reading a few articles online that this can be remedied by turning the Instant Pot on immediately before getting out your ingredients/food and setting it on the “sauté” mode. This will kick-start the pre-heat.

5/ Bonus: I have not blown up my house or scalded myself. The first night I tried it, I made Ivy go in another room just in case. Now that I have the hang of it, it’s pretty simple. Just make sure to read the instructions on how to release steam. You don’t want your hand in the way of that opening when you switch levers, trust me.

So far, I love this thing! I’m excited to try new things with it. In fact, I’ve been keeping it on my counter every day, because there is so much you can do! I still love my crock-pot, but the Instant Pot is a great tool for quick cooking. And the amount of dishes I save (no pots and pans to wash!) has been fantastic – especially with the amount of cooking I’m doing on Whole30.

***

Wow. That was a long, not-very-entertaining post.  Chalk this off to (hopefully) informative.

I’ll be back with my usual anecdotes again soon! Or maybe not… Day 10 is coming up. I may just come here to yell at you incoherently about cupcakes and wine. Stay tuned. You owe me… the Instant Pot thing and all.

I could have been maimed, for God’s sake. 

xo,

Jen