Whole30, Take One

To be honest, a lot of my starting the Whole30 was a whim. I’m part of a group on Facebook that encourages each other toward health and fitness, and several of the girls in the group were planning to do Whole30 together. I had done some research on it before, but not too extensively. Just enough to know that it seemed pretty extreme, and cheesecake was going to be a non-option. For a really long time, that was enough to tell me that it wasn’t for me.

A few weeks before I found out my girls were going to be doing it together, I began encountering a problem I’ve never had before in my life. I started getting cystic acne underneath my arms. Huge welts, so painful that moving my arms at all made me want to cry. On several occasions, students would come up to hug me, squeezing my arms up against my torso, and I would literally have to concentrate on not pushing them off of me. 

I’ve never had acne problems, ever in my life, including during puberty. So for me, this was a red flag that all was not well with my body.

So when the opportunity to do Whole30 with accountability came up, I decided I didn’t have anything to lose. I jumped in head first, and Josh decided to jump with me.

If you’re not familiar with the program, it’s a month-long elimination diet that takes out food groups that commonly cause inflammation in the body. The biggest culprits are grains, legumes, dairy, sugar, and alcohol; Whole30 eliminates those food groups and some oils, and gives your body 30 days to heal any inflammation and resulting damage that may have been caused to your system. And then, after the 30 days, you reintroduce those food groups individually over the course of about ten days, watching for new symptoms as you reintroduce. This procedure gives you a chance to figure out exactly what foods, if any, are causing your issues. Any foods that don’t cause any symptoms can be safely incorporated into your diet, whereas any foods that cause problems can be either moderated or eliminated altogether.

So the long and short of it is that Josh and I spent 30 days eating a steady diet of meat, vegetables, fruit, and healthy fat sources. Despite the fact that we were eating the exact same thing, our experiences with the 30 days of the program were very different.

I felt good on day one. Day two, I ended up with a migraine-caliber headache about halfway through the day. My energy also crashed, since my body had become used to a steady diet of sugar and caffeine and refined carbohydrates as its main energy sources. Day three, I woke up feeling pretty good, and throughout the rest of the 30 days, I felt increasingly good.

I noticed several changes, health-wise. Some immediate, and some over the course of the month.

Immediately, my cystic acne began subsiding. I had one major outbreak right before I started Whole30, and it cleared up quickly, with no outbreaks to follow. By day three, I was no longer having energy crashes in the afternoons. Within about five days, I began noticing that bloating in my face, legs, and midsection was beginning to go down. Sometime in week two, I started noticing that I was falling asleep easier, sleeping more soundly, and waking up before my alarm. Overall, my energy just kept getting better and better.

One of the things I noticed the most, though, was the fact that food no longer consumed my mind. I have struggled for several years with binge eating tendencies, and I have never been in as good a mental place with food as I was during the Whole30. I didn’t restrict my calories, I ate a ton of delicious food, I wasn’t hungry, I didn’t feel deprived, I didn’t struggle with cravings often. Food just did not take up a big a space in my mind as it always has previously, because I knew exactly what I would and would not eat. It took all the decision making out of the equation. So I just mostly didn’t think about it.

Josh, however, had a slightly different experience. He didn’t notice a lot of the changes in how he was feeling until we started reintroducing. The biggest thing he noticed during the month itself was that his digestive system was a WRECK. For a solid three weeks, his body was slowly detoxifying himself, and his stomach was a mess. His cravings for sweets were also still very strong until about three weeks in. Somewhere around the last week, he started feeling a little bit better, and then a lot better.

Reintroduction, for both of us, has been a HUGE eye-opener, in different ways. Josh’s reactions to reintroduction were more extreme and much quicker than mine, 

About a week after we finished Whole30, Josh and I went to our favorite little breakfast place, where they make these incredible buttermilk pancakes. The first thing we noticed was that neither of us could finish our pancakes. They were too sweet, too heavy, too much. So we stopped eating about halfway through, paid, and left.

About halfway home from breakfast, Josh’s acid reflux recurred. When his acid reflux flares up, he has these burps that literally sound like they are incinerating his esophagus on the way out. They are awful. They used to happen all the time; literally, several times a day. He’s been taking OTC medication for acid reflux since we got married five years ago.

When the first burp popped out in the car, we just looked at each other with this blank stare. Neither of us had realized it until it started happening again, but he hadn’t had an acid reflux attack since we started Whole30. Hadn’t needed to take his medicine once.

That was the first of many shock and awe moments for us, following Whole30.

By the time we made it home, both Josh and I were ready to crash and take a nap. At 10am. We both felt lethargic and foggy, and I could feel a headache coming on.

Today, about three weeks after the challenge ended, we have fully reintroduced, and have basically gone back to our old diet.

And we are going back to Whole30 style eating. Because we both feel like crap. My acne is back, Josh’s acid reflux is back, he has pain in his joints again, another thing he didn’t realize had gone away until we reintroduced. We’re both back to struggling with fatigue and brain fog, digestive issues aplenty. The bloating that had so quickly disappeared for me is back, full force.

In all honesty? I wish we’d never reintroduced. It was a great experience in that it taught us in a very specific way how much better we feel when we’re eating whole foods, but I don’t want to waste more minutes of my life feeling like hell.

There are a lot of people who talk about how a lifestyle like this isn’t sustainable.

I beg to differ. I’ve reached the conclusion that,for me, what’s not sustainable is constantly feeling heavy, exhausted, and sick. That’s not the life I want to live. I want to live an abundant life, one I can enjoy and participate in fully.

So please. Please, let me encourage you. If that’s you, if you feel like you’re stuck in a cycle of feeling physically and mentally terrible? This is not normal. It’s common, but common and normal are two very different things. You CAN do better. You CAN feel better. And you CAN change your life. 

If you have questions or concerns or thoughts, contact me. Please. I will support you, I will encourage you, I will share our recipes and resources and tips. I can’t tell you how much I wish I could get everyone I know to try this whole thing, just for a month. Just to see what happens. Just to see how they feel. 

Because what if?

born hungry

I think I was born hungry.

Hungry for a thousand different things.

I have always been a person who lives from a place that is wildly desirous, constantly aware of all these blank and open places inside me, trying to fill them up with all the things I find beautiful. I know this to be a futile pursuit, since the only thing that is everything enough to fill those spaces is the God who made me.

But this…this is the story of the relentless and ugly trying. This is one of the small ways in which I attempt, in a very tangible way, to fill myself up. To curb the ache that comes with being human, with being made for a place not here.

Here’s my ugly truth.

I have a really terrible relationship with food.

I don’t talk about this often. In fact, to my knowledge, I’ve only ever talked about this to my friend Darlena, who I met last year when I hired her as a personal trainer. I think she’s maybe the only person I’ve ever said the word “binge” to in a context that was both in relation to my own personal eating patterns and not-at-all joking.

But that’s my ugly truth. I am a binge eater.

It started young. I hit a growth spurt young, and by the time I hit high school, I was very nearly six feet tall. At that point, I was thin as a rail, despite the fact that I ate three square meals a day and plenty of snacks. I was constantly hungry, like my body couldn’t keep up with the rate at which I was growing and the speed of my metabolism.

I remember coming home from school often and sitting down with a bag of chips in one hand and a box of fudge rounds in the other. That salty-sweet combination is still my kryptonite, by the way. With one real difference. I’m thirty now, not fifteen; I have the metabolism of a grown woman, not a teenager in the middle of a massive growth spurt. So it fuels and affects my body and my weight and my energy in a very different way now.

But habits, you know? Habits are such a real thing, and such a hard thing to break.

And over the years, the motivations behind the habits start to evolve. When I was a kid, it was because I was hungry, and I could have eaten anything in sight. As I grew up, it was because it tasted good. At some point, it started to become a comfort thing. A stress release. Relief from boredom. Numbing from the loneliness that is part of the package deal of being human.

And these past few months, I’ve started to notice, really notice, how truly out of control it is. I’ll take a perfectly healthy lunch to school, and then buy two small bags of chips, a couple candy bars, and a soda and literally eat just that for lunch. Order a family-sized order of cheese-covered breadsticks for lunch, and eat it in a sitting. Curl up with chips and dip and eat until I feel sick. I don’t even think about it. I don’t let myself think about it. It’s impulse and action, impulse and action. I don’t let myself think about it because I am a smart girl, and I know what this is doing to my health. Because I will talk myself out of it, and I don’t want a chance to talk myself out of it.

And I hide it. I’m so good at hiding it that, if it weren’t for the thirty pounds I’ve added to my frame in the past three years, I don’t think anyone would know. I think I’m most disturbed by that, you know? By the great lengths I go to, hiding it from Josh. I toss my healthy lunch in the trash can and take my Pyrex home empty so he doesn’t notice I didn’t eat it. I get cash back from time to time when I buy groceries so I have it lying around to purchase snacks without any record of it in our bank account. I have lied to him on multiple occasions about buying a fast-food lunch for a friend or coworker when I really just bought lunch for me. Not because he would shame me for any of it (although he would be concerned because my emotional and physical health is always his biggest priority), but because I’m ashamed. I’m so damn ashamed of my habits, of how bad it’s gotten.

My mom makes this joke, and has since I was a kid; she laughs about how she doesn’t eat to live, she lives to eat. And I hate that. I hate it because in so many ways, I see it in myself. I see the way my habits run me. I see the direction I want to go, and I see my habits dragging me in the opposite direction, and sometimes I feel absolutely powerless.

My relationship with food feels like the heaviest of chains wrapped around my body, rooting me to where I am. I know how this ends. I have countless examples of how this ends. In people I share DNA and a bloodline with, and in people I share life with. I have watched, and seen firsthand the havoc their eating habits have wreaked on their bodies and minds and hearts and overall personhood. I get so upset with myself because I know where I am going if I don’t change things.

I have had so many friends ask the past few weeks why I became a distributor for Advocare, why I’m doing the 24 Day Challenge when I’m generally not a “product” kind of person.

THIS.

This is my reason for Advocare. This is my why. Because it’s not just the products. It’s the people. The structure, the support, the community.

The first time I did the 24 Day Challenge, in 2013, was because I wanted to lose some weight. Which isn’t a bad goal, but that was the end of it at that point. Just lose a couple pounds, which I did; and put it right back on because I never addressed the underlying issues that got me there in the first place.

I need help. I need help putting some space between me and my habits. I need structure and support and community. I see myself so clearly right now, more clearly than I ever have. And it’s an incredibly difficult picture to look at. Not because I don’t look the way I want to, but because I WAS MADE FOR MORE THAN THIS. I was made for more than to be a slave to my habits, than to watch my health slip away from me. I was made for more than hiding. Mentally, emotionally, physically…I am worth so much more than this. I know I am.

I am so hungry for so many things, and I was built with that hunger. I believe that. I believe the God who created me made me with a wildly expansive spirit and heart for a reason. But it aches so bad sometimes, this being a wide open space. So I just keep trying to fill it up with what does not satisfy. I could write a novel on all the things I’ve tried to fill it up with, and a whole other novel on all the ways those things have never worked. I have to stop trying to fill up spaces that are wild and untamed and open for a divine reason.

I need to find a better way, and I need help getting there. I cannot do this on my own. I have tried for a really long time, and it’s taken my body and my soul to ugly places.

I’m finally coming to a place where I’m okay with saying where I am and saying that it’s not okay and saying that I can’t get away from where I am on my own.

This. This is my why.

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from the dust

I love the last day of the year.

New Year’s Eve has always been one of my favorite days. Because it feels like one last chance to breathe deep before the canvas is drenched in white again. One last chance to sit in the quiet with myself, contemplating all the remarkable possibilities that are held inside the walls of a new thing.

This year, the inhale of possibility and the exhale of a year feels more like relief than it has in many years. So much so that I’m starting my own quiet festivities early. Husband and puppy tucked into bed, I take to the kitchen to make some vegetable soup. Because chopping vegetables feels a little like liturgy, and God knows 2014 has needed more than its fair share of that. So I stand at the stove, and I chop, and I breathe in the smells of things that have risen from the ground, that have been brought up from the dust, and sometimes everything I need to know is in a pot of vegetable soup.

God’s best things are the things raised from the dust. The things that have been buried. The things that have been made into something new, the things brought low and destroyed in the process.

This year has been so very hard. Is it okay to say that? I hope so, because it has been.

Hear me when I tell you that I don’t say that for pity. I don’t say it to open up a public forum for me to air my personal grievances with life

I say it because I know, to the depths of my soul, that I’m not the only one.

I’m not the only one burying dreams.

I’m not the only one desperate for the clean oxygen of a fresh start.

I’m not the only one thinking, “Is it okay to say this year has been REALLY damn hard?”

I’m not the only one who needs a pot of vegetable soup and a reminder.

A reminder that God’s best things are the things raised from the dust.

You have not been left buried, dear one.

You’re being raised from the dust.

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on ferguson and the edge of hell

Because some days I can’t even string words together except in the form of letters. And even then, they’re mostly word vomit that may or may not make sense. But words, for me, cannot be left unsaid.

I just want to have coffee with you today, and have a safe place to fall completely apart.

My heart is so broken. I don’t even know how to explain it. I cannot stop crying. Ferguson is ripping me apart. I feel like we are standing on the edge of hell, and so many of the people I have known and loved and respected for most of my life are just sitting back and fanning the flames, rather than running to the center of the mess with water and a rescue. And I don’t know how to be a decent person in the face of that. I don’t know how to be a decent person in the face of the fact that if many of those same people knew how deeply and intensely I feel about all of these things in the “wrong” direction, they would have nothing to do with me.

I am not who I was, Mel. I am so, so very much not who I was. I got tossed into the African-American community five years ago, and God broke me over it, and my heart beats for it. But I still have one foot in both worlds. And I have SO much anger at people who can’t even see a need to extend empathy or compassion, except to those who have their shit together enough to earn it. Who read people who resort to violence as just a maniacal, animalistic group of people who deserve every terrible thing they’re dealt; because it’s much easier to see that than it is to see a group of people who are so hurt and grieving and DESPERATE to have a voice that’s loud enough to be heard. We have so little ability to sit with grief. We have little ability to hear pain. 

I get so angry with people who can’t see it, and yet I know how silly that is. I know that the only reason I see it is because God gave me that blessing. He dropped me in it and took away my option of NOT seeing it. The reason I see it is because I have spent every day for years witnessing it all first hand.

But man. Having one foot in two worlds feels like it’s pulling my chest apart some days.

I cannot get ahold of myself right now, and usually that’s a sign that God’s prepping me to do something nuts. Pray? I could sure use it.

I miss you. Let’s run a rescue mission on the edge of hell.

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fear and flying

Dearest one,

It’s a rare day when I genuinely feel like I have some thoughts worth offering, thoughts that might be worth adding to the noise of your already crowded mind. But today, the stars align and the words just keep falling out of my mouth, and I feel like maybe I do. 

You think me this brilliant, amazing creature. And I love that you see that in me. But here’s the truth, a truth that’s not far from your own.

I can’t get myself to commit to a practice of writing every day. 

The reason I can’t get myself to commit to a practice of writing every day isn’t because I don’t have things to say. I do. It isn’t because I don’t have a decent command over the English language. I do.

The reason I can’t get myself to commit to a practice of writing every day is because in my mind, I’m already thinking about writing a book. And none of my thoughts are connected enough for that. I have so many thoughts about a million different things, but I don’t have enough thoughts about ONE thing to justify writing a book.

And so I don’t write. Because I’m so busy thinking about the end product that I am paralyzed. I feel like none of it matters until I know exactly what it’s going to look like in the end. I feel like none of it matters until I have a plan. Until I can nail down what it’s going to look like. Until I feel safe and secure and like its all something I can control.

I am a walking, talking definition of missing the beauty of the forest because I can’t see past the trees.

And so it is with you. 

See, for all the credit you give me and all the shame you so effortlessly give yourself, you and I are not that different. Not at all. Steps without an endgame feel pointless to you. And I know that feeling. They feel pointless to me, too. But the thing I’ve been thinking about today is how there is no endgame until you take steps. If I don’t start taking some steps without knowing where I’m going, the endgame is RIGHT HERE. This is it. The endgame is me, sitting around and wanting to say something worth hearing, but not saying anything because I want a roadmap first. If I don’t start taking some steps, I will still be this person in forty years, only with a whole lot more regret and a lot more untold stories and a lot more unlived life.

And so it is with you.

I remember his words to you one day, months ago, about how the greatest enemy of the next step is the fear of what’s across the room.

You and I, dearest one. We are one and the same. We are both so focused on what may or may not be across the room that were frozen in place. Stuck. Afraid to take a step for fear that it might be the wrong one.

But grace, man. Of all the things I’m unsure of, and there are many, Grace doesn’t make the list. Not even close. Grace may, in fact, be the one thing I know like I know my own name. Mostly because of the frequency with which I’ve had nothing else to fall on.

I believe that our steps will be messy, and some of them will be the wrong ones, because we are nothing if not fully human and prone to being and creating disasters. But I also believe they’re all important, every last one of the steps. All necessary. All growth. All Grace.

Some of my biggest missteps have turned out to be my biggest graces.

And so it is with you.

And so it will be.

Breathe. Crawl. Step. Leap, even. Jump off a cliff knowing that your wings get built while you fly. Growth and movement and purpose doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Doesn’t happen at a standstill. It only happens in midair. In discomfort. In dirty soil. 

All you can do is this one moment. You can’t handle the overwhelm of a lifetime, all at once. All you can do is this one moment. One moment that looks like crawling, but is really more like flying, when you’ve spent all this time standing still, rooted to your fear. 

Fly, mine. Don’t stand rooted to your fear. There is nothing worth fearing more than that.

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words are sharp and shiny things

Words are sharp and shiny things, and I am good with them. I always have been. I can twist and shape them into whatever form I wish. I can take you places and bring you back; I can make you feel things and ask questions and draw pictures and crave adventures.

Words are sharp and shiny things, and I am good with them. But I have learned to wield them reverently. I’m good with words in the same way I would imagine a sniper is good with his rifle, holding it with a healthy dose of both adrenaline and fear, because he knows that what he holds has the power to decimate anyone in its path.

Words are sharp and shiny things, and I am good with them. I am also terribly afraid of them. Because I know my words, the words close enough to my chest to be called mine. They aren’t easy ones, to write or to hear. They might be packaged neatly, but there is no resolution. I won’t ever give you a conclusion, and the loose ends don’t sit comfortably.

Because the words close enough to my chest to be called mine aren’t even completely mine. They are mine, but they’re also the words of at least five different people, from five separate conversations that have taken place in the past month. They’re also the words that I haven’t heard, but have seen in the eyes of more people than I can count. Words that don’t get a voice because they’re terrifying, and they can plunge a person into a rabbit hole that may cost more than they’re ready to pay.

If the North American church is a true reflection of who God is…

It feels a little bit like God doesn’t have space for messy people, for broken people, for lamenting people.

It feels a little bit like all God wants to hear when He asks how I am is “Great! How are you?” And then for me to be on my way.

It feels a little bit like God doesn’t want my love and affection as much as He does my blind and unquestioning acceptance.

It feels a little bit like I need to be successful and happy to belong to God. 

It feels a little bit like issues of race and poverty and slavery and gender and sexuality only matter to God so far as they can be dealt with as “issues” rather than dealing with the messiness of the real, vulnerable people behind the issues.

If the North American church is a true reflection of who God is…

…then I’m afraid that God maybe wants nothing to do with me. And I’m not positive I want anything to do with Him.

And if all of that isn’t true, if it’s my perception that’s flawed…

Who IS God? And what does He care about? And where do I find Him? And how do I reflect Him? What is my responsibility in this? How do I love like Jesus does, in real life and real time?

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my best adventures

I’m bored.

I hate saying that, because I usually think boredom is little more than a lack of imagination, and I don’t fancy myself a person who lacks imagination and natural curiosity.

But I’m bored.

I’m also a little bit intrigued by it, because when I poke at it, slide up close and tuck myself beneath its arm, I can’t help but notice that it comes from a really unexpected place.

See, I think it’s the introverted part of me. I spend 40+ hours a week, every week, playing the role of an extrovert out of necessity and some days I find myself wondering how they, the real ones, aren’t bored out of their minds.

Which is mildly hilarious, given that I was in bed by 6pm last night, happily reading a book written by a monk and drinking unsweetened hot tea. 

Still. In the same way my extroverted friends often wonder how I can be so satisfied with a night like that, I often wonder how they operate. Because people are like a treasure hunt for me. Every single person is an adventure. And when I know too many of them, when my days are filled with too many of them, it feels like I don’t get to REALLY go on any of the adventures. It feels a little bit like going to Europe and spending two hours each in a large number of cities. Two hours in Rome. Two hours in Paris. Two hours in Barcelona. Two hours in London. Two hours in Amsterdam. Two hours in Dublin. Two hours in Athens. Two hours in Edinburgh.

Two hours in, you’re just arriving. You’re barely even there.

Sometimes, teaching feels exactly like that. Like there’s all of this opportunity at my fingertips. There are all of these huge adventures. But I’m too busy trying to get from city to city to really experience any of them.

Then I get home, and I’m so absolutely exhausted from all the traveling and all the cities and all the disappointment over all the missed adventures.

So I miss out on a few more, because I’ve already given every ounce of energy I possess.

And some days, I simply don’t know if I’m built for it.

I’m built for digging deep into dirty soil. For long conversations and eye contact and noticing everything remembering small details. I’m built for holding space for people, for their messiness and madness and brilliance. I’m built for uncontrollable laughter and ugly crying and knowing that both are of equal value. Both are terrifying and both are sacred.

I was thinking earlier today about money, and how if I had enough of it, I would never stop getting on planes. I would never stop getting on planes that land at coffee shops, planes that drop me off at tables with uneven legs, across from the people who were and are and will become my favorite explorations. I would never stop showing up for anyone who needs to hear someone say, “You are one of my best adventures.”

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