Monday, June 27, 2016

How to change your life: Actions and consequences

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How to change your life: Actions and consequences by Erika Kerekes
A random selfie in May 2016, about nine months into my new lifestyle

Next: Need vs. want
Series index: How to change your life

Author's note: This is the first post in a series on how I improved my health by making some pretty big changes to the way I cook, eat, and take care of my middle-aged body. Nothing in this post is intended as medical or nutritional advice - it's my own experience with my own body. I listen to and consult with my doctors, and you should too. 

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Almost a year ago, I decided to change my life.

It started with a call from my doctor. Some numbers had crossed the line, moving from "we should watch it" to "that's not good and it's time to do something about it." I'm not going to get more specific than this. Let's just say that these were numbers I knew my lifestyle habits were affecting.

Actions and consequences

As a parent, I have thought a lot about actions and consequences. I've tried to teach my boys to think about the results of their choices.

But when it came to my own life and my own health, I was in denial.

I have always struggled with my weight. I have had an on-and-off relationship with exercise. I have always hated and rebelled against dieting, being told what I can (or can't) eat, and how much I can (or can't) eat, and when I can (or can't) eat.

When I'm under stress, I eat whatever I want and I stop exercising. Self-destructive behavior, to be sure.

I started Not Ketchup, my condiment business, in 2014. Starting a new business is stressful on all fronts: You worry about money, you worry about sales, you dig deep for superhuman strength and try to create 27 hours in every day.

Combine that with normal family dynamics and you get stress. Which, for me, meant a lot of the wrong kinds of food and little to no exercise.

Not Ketchup demo at Central Market in Texas
Giving out Not Ketchup samples at Central Market in Texas, June 2014

What did I think was going to happen?

The doctor's call wasn't a surprise. But it made me feel sad, and angry, and most of all guilty.

I brought this on myself. I ate badly, and too much, for too long. I sat on my ass and didn't move my body. Yes, there was probably some genetic predisposition involved. But my actions had developed into very predictable consequences.

The good news: I was not powerless. I could make different choices.

I could fix it.

The first day: Desperation and determination

As it happened, I was alone in my house the day my doctor called. My husband and both kids were away all week. Which meant I had seven days without anyone else around to get used to the idea that I was going to have to make some changes, decide what I was going to do, and get on with it.

That week was hard. Really, really hard.

The first thing I did was put on my sneakers and go for a walk. A long walk. That day, and the next day, and every day that week. Getting back in the groove when it came to exercise actually turned out to be the easiest part of my new lifestyle.

The second thing I did, and the much harder thing for me, was to decide to change my attitude about food.

Act as if

I am a big fan of the "act as if" approach to change. Act as if you're happy, and eventually you will be happy. Act as if you're extroverted, and eventually you'll feel comfortable making small talk at a party.

Act as if you want to eat like a healthy person, and will be eating like a healthy person. And then, at some point, you'll be healthy. Or healthier, at least.

But my first step wasn't about acting. It wasn't in my body.

My first step was in my head. It was about thinking.

My first step was to think about food like a healthy person.

The unhealthy Erika thought about food as reward, as comfort, as compensation. The unhealthy Erika craved carbohydrates, particularly the white ones: bread, rice, potatoes, pasta. Craved them all the time, in any quantities, without restriction, without balance.

The unhealthy Erika thought about food with absolutely no consideration for the consequences.

No gray area

On that first day, I decided that I had to be able to look at food and think one of two things:

"That will make my body healthier."


"That will make me sick. Maybe not today...but someday."

I realize this is extreme. This is black and white.

But this is the way I have decided to approach it. This is what works for me.

Because it's not an exaggeration to say that, for me, at this point in my life, a large bowl of pasta or a piece of cake is going to make me sick. My doctor has the numbers to prove it.

And I have never been good at having a small bowl of pasta. Or "just a bite" of cake.

I made changes. I took action.

First action, then consequences

My actions over the past year have led to (mostly) very good consequences.

All the numbers that were scary a year ago are now normal, without medication.

I've had to replace every piece of clothing in my closet with a smaller size, including my underwear.

I've lost weight. I don't know how much, because I don't weigh myself and I don't own a scale. (More on that choice in another post.) And to be clear, losing weight was never my goal. My goal was not to be sick.

But most important: I feel better. I didn't realize how awful I was feeling until I made changes and started to feel better. I have more energy, my body hurts less, I sleep better, and I'm happier.

(The one negative consequence: I've lost three full bra sizes. My boobs have gotten smaller at twice the rate of the rest of my body. I guess I'm not complaining...but...seriously?)

In the following posts in this series, I'll share the details of the changes I decided to make: cutting out carbohydrates, eating more fat, finding healthy substitutions, and forming new habits.

These changes have worked for me. That doesn't mean my approach will definitely work for you. We are different people, you and I, with different body chemistry, different metabolisms, different shapes. Take it all with a grain of salt and understand that I am not preaching. My way is my way. You will find your way.

For anyone who wants to make changes but feels like it's just too hard - know that I have been there. For almost 50 years, I felt like becoming a healthier person just wasn't possible for me.

But I'm doing it. Because I want to. And I decided it was time.

Erika Kerekes in March 2016
Me in March 2016. Not perfect. But better.


Camilla Mann said...

This is wonderful, Erika! It IS a journey...and you're doing a great job. One step at a time.

Dorothy at Shockingly Delicious said...

Good on ya, Erika.
Well done, and I know you are on a path, so you aren't "done."

Luci Petlack said...

I love that you're feeling healthy with all these changes!! It's so hard to understand that feeling until you've worked at obtaining a healthier lifestyle. In a totally non-condescending way, I'm very proud of you. It's a lot of work to change your attitude toward food and exercise. You've stuck with it and done it all in admirable strides!

xo Luci

Laurie Lufkin said...

Good for you! !!! I'm on a similar path and so proud of you!

Liz Schmitt said...

Brava! I went on a similar regime three years ago and have not gained back the 30 pounds I lost. It is a daily struggle and I need to lose more weight, but your story has given me renewed inspiration to tackle another 10 pounds this summer.

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Kathryn Sheard said...

I'll be following with interest as also switched to a "healthy lifestyle I can live with in the long term" over the past several months after dieting off & on since a teen -- it's very much a "head first" change :-)

Erika Kerekes said...

Thank you, everyone, for your kind words. Liz, you call it a "daily struggle." The interesting thing for me is that once I decided that my brain had to change, I haven't felt it to be a struggle at all - and that's the biggest surprise of all. It was like I hypnotized or brainwashed myself. I look at pasta and I have a little script in my head: "You know what that tastes like. You don't have to eat it to taste it. Think about the biological reaction, carbs --> insulin --> blood that what you want? No, it's not. That's not going to make you feel good." It doesn't feel like willpower exactly. More like a light bulb. I'll talk more about that in another post.

Nancy Rose Eisman said...

Erika, I'm glad you found your way. Continued success and good health!

Christina Conte said...

Good for you, Erika! No regrets on these decisions! Way to go and keep up the good work! :)

Judy Lyness said...

Erika, you wear your new commitment to yourself very well. Keep up the good work.

Mardi Michels said...

Such a huge inspiration. I look forward to reading the rest of your journey!

Jamie said...

Seriously, you have changed your life in so many ways, through choices, decisions, courage, and you truly inspire so many of us. You deserve all the very best that life has to offer. I am very glad I know you.

Carolyn Ketchum said...

Yay, I love this. I did the same back when I realized my blood glucose numbers were going up. I didn't have weight to lose and I was already exercising but going low carb and gluten free was a huge lifestyle change. I remember crying on my floor thinking my lifelong love of baking was over...kind of funny now that i've built a career on the very changes I made!

Natalie said...

Yayyyy Erika!! It's inspiring to hear how people think about food - especially being "foodies". We get so stuck in our patterns, but you're right. Everyone can start to think differently about things. Thank you for this!

SallyBR said...

Awesome post! Changing life habits, ingrained for so long, is THE most difficult thing, and you should be overly proud of yourself!

Looking forward to more about your journey into a healthier you!

Jen Schall said...

I really admire what you've done, Erika! I look forward to reading more about your transformation. You look fabulous... and healthy! :)

Family Spice said...

I am always in awe of everything you do, and taking charge of your health is no different. I suffer from the same malaise as you did, putting myself and my health on the bottom of the priority list. I wasn't always this way, but the past few years, yes stressful years, I have developed some bad habits. I need to start moving again and change my thinking. And I have you as a role model! xxxoxx

Christy said...

That's awesome Erika! You are an inspiration & motivator!

Stephanie Manley said...

You look awesome. It looks like you put a lot of hard work in and it shows.

Jacki said...

Brave and cool.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing! I'm at a similar intersection and excited to read more of your story. Congratulations!

Miriam Lubet said...

Good for you!

Sippity Sup said...

Love. Love. Love, you. XOGREG

Andrew Wilder said...

Yes!!! Cheering you on!!

Katherine Philbin said...

Good for you, Erika! Hang in there and thanks for the inspiration!

Unknown said...

WOW! What an exciting inspiring and fascinating post. So glad I came across it on FB. Just signed up for emails so I don't miss future ones. This resonates for me 100%, and I'm so grateful you're sharing this here.

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