|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.
|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 eventually...you 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.
|Me in March 2016. Not perfect. But better.|