"I developed a theory that if you are thin and smile a lot, people tend to believe that you have the universe's secrets in your pocket and also that a raindrop has never fallen upon your head." - Glennon Doyle Melton, from "Carry On Warrior"
I absolutely love this quote. Me, to a tee. I have been thin all my life, and I like to make people happy. So I smile a lot. But for several years after my children were born, I was again thin, smiley - and unhappy. I was certainly not fit or healthy, and I was mentally and physically struggling. My story is nothing mind-blowing, but it's real, and I'm owning it.
By luck of nature, I have inherited my dad's slight frame. As a kid, I ran around a lot, and remained athletic in high school. The college "freshman 15" never hit me, as I don't have a big appetite. I was not terribly healthy at that time. Sure, I had fruits and veggies once in a while, but I was more of a double-chocolate chip muffin mac-and-cheese-with-fries on-the-side kind of gal. After college, I started my career as corporate attorney working long hours.
I got home at 10PM every night and sat at my desk and grazed on snacks all day. I ran on the treadmill to keep my weight down but was a ball of stress. I was thin but had little muscle tone, a small pooch and love handles. It was only after I gave birth to my children several years later did the consequences of this unhealthy lifestyle really hit me. And hard.
During my pregnancy, I gained a normal amount of weight but ate an unbalanced diet. I didn't work out much because I was tired, as so many pregnant women tend to be. Post-partum, I struggled. I was nursing but returned to work after a short maternity leave. I felt awful. Anxious and utterly exhausted - and out of nowhere began suffering from headaches and "brain fog." I went to my doctor, to ENTs, to specialists who tested me from here to there, made varying diagnoses and even one of whom told me I should take a valium since I was "post-partum." I was insulted, angry, and filled with despair. I was young and relatively healthy. Why was this happening to me?
I visited an acupuncturist-cum-nutritionist and I'm so glad I did. She emphasized above all the benefits of healthy eating and moderate exercise. Without judging, she suggested that some of my symptoms were physical manifestations of an unbalanced diet and yes, stress. Nothing she said was breaking news, but I honestly didn't believe I could change my ways. I was nursing and eating ok - it's not like I was eating McDonald's around the clock. But I was not eating healthful and nutritious foods on the whole.
She suggested I take my diet back to basics through simple, whole foods, less wheat, processed items and dairy. I started making small, daily changes, such as:
- walking to work instead of taking the subway/taking the steps instead of the escalator/walking to lunch instead of eating at my desk *even 30 minutes a day can help with weight loss and improve your mental state, according to the American Heart Association*
- drinking more water, throughout the day *water flushes out toxins, can assist with weight loss (as opposed to drinking caloric beverages), keeps your skin dewy, explains webmd*
- substituting spelt, oats and other grains for wheat *while controversial, many believe that eliminating modern-day genetically modified versions of wheat out can help increase mental clarity, and regulate moods, according to Dr. William Davis, author of Wheat Belly*
- practicing yoga *long-known as a way to manage stress and improve mental well-being*
I also started exercising a bit more, on my own. I purchased exercise DVDs and starting a few programs, and once a week tried to jog. I hated it at first. I protested, I complained. I resisted. But I slowly started DOING. Getting started took months. Slowly and surely, my headaches and mind fog started improving. I was in a better mood - I was more patient, more content, and more confident. My anxiety was dissipating. I had the courage to pursue a new job, with a more balanced lifestyle. I started feeling like me again. Actually, even better than I had felt years ago. I just didn't know that was possible.
I'm not a health professional, but a mom and wife whose life has been changed for the better by making healthy choices. If you would have told me my eating habits were a large contributor towards my headaches, I would have laughed. I didn't think the relatively small amounts of crappy foods would make such a difference.
But it did. And the smallest of steps made such an impact in my wellness. Today, health and fitness is my passion and my release. I am a full-time working mom, a newbie health blogger and am pursuing my fitness trainer certification. I get some form of exercise daily, be it yoga, running, weight-lifting or chasing after my pre-schoolers. My husband is the chef in my house and loves cooking healthful and balanced meals. My headaches will make an appearance occasionally (think: periods and stress at work) but have generally been kept in check.
Today, I truly believe "you are what you eat." And you are what you DO. So treat your body like the sacred space that it is - eat well, move around, and breathe. It may help you more than you could ever have imagined.