Hero Habit 001: For the love of a happy belly, start a food journal.

I’m watching you.

Hi fellow foodie! Do you know what you ate for breakfast yesterday? What about lunch or dinner? How many snacks did you eat yesterday?  If you are anything like me, you may be able to answer a couple of these questions after pondering for a minute or two.  If you are able to answer all the above questions, props to you! It sounds like you are mindful of what you eat and when you eat it.  And I would even venture to guess that you have a pretty good diet and do not have many digestive issues.  

However, for the rest of us, the pace of everyday life is so fast-moving that not only do we easily forget what we eat but often we don’t have time to properly digest our meals.  Enter the food journal.  I apologize if those two words initiated a trigger response in you that looks a lot like bitter beer face. Before my sugar detox journey, I had tried and failed many times, over many years to keep a food journal successfully. I would read books or hear speakers recommend mindful eating and food journaling but I was always so busy and did not have the right system in place to be successful at this Hero Habit (A Hero Habit is one that supports your optimal health and wellness).  I am nearing the end of my fourth week of my sugar detox and I can happily say that not only have I learned to successfully maintain a food journal but I am also learning very important information about my eating habits.  The latter is the most surprising and potentially the most important reason for you to consider keeping a food journal.

After several attempts using Google Docs I have created a food journal that is easy to maintain and provides important information regarding eating habits, I can tell you exactly what I have eaten for the last three weeks!  No, I do not have a photographic memory, I only know because it is all written down.  I have titled my food journal, “From Sugar Belly to Happy Belly…Food Journal”, and in this 3rd draft of my journal I have added categories like, water intake, exercise, feelings and thoughts and even BMs!  If you do not know what a BM stands for…go ahead and google it. I am not prepared at this moment to get graphic. All digestive drama aside, this kind of data is absolutely crucial for those of us who seek to make drastic dietary changes for the pursuit of a happy belly.  As I have shared previously, it took lab work revealing a Candida overgrowth in my gut (a very unhappy belly) to fuel a passion in me for radical change. I have always been a lover of food and having an upset and bloated stomach after nearly every meal for months, was so discouraging because I was not able to enjoy food in the way God meant it to be enjoyed.

Speaking of enjoyment, have you ever eaten for pleasure? For the sole purpose of crunching food in between your teeth, savoring the saltiness on your taste buds and smelling the aroma of your salty and crunchy snack? My hand is raised too. Have you ever eaten late at night because you felt bored, sad, lonely, angry, depressed or restless? Hand raised. According to the Mayo Clinic, emotional eating can be defined as, “a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness and loneliness.” My arm is getting tired of holding my hand up this long. As someone who comes from a few generations of women who battle/d eating disorders and/or food addiction, I am a chip off the old block.  I have struggled with emotional eating for decades.  I have always been aware of the way I get the munchies when my emotions start getting loud, but this sugar detox process and consequential food journaling, has moved my awareness to empirical data. Cold, hard facts. It is impossible to hide from ink on a page.  In my past life where sugar abounded in my home like the oxygen I breathe, I could pretend I didn’t understand why my pants didn’t fit so well anymore, but nowadays, my pants fit great and I can tell you exactly why.

I would love to share just a few key points I have learned so far.  For example, I have learned that there are certain people that trigger an anxiety response in me and my body’s automatic response is to eat or drink out of anxiety.  I have also learned that if I prepare myself for these moments with what I call a “clean conscience” snack (a snack that keeps my belly happy and not upset), I can soothe myself without eating something that will hurt my belly and it also prevents overeating. Preparedness saves the gut!  My food journal has a space for feelings and thoughts throughout the day so I can easily connect a negative emotion with a hunger/craving response. This is not a cure for emotional eating but at this stage of my sugar detox journey, it is good enough for the moment. Good enough is good enough.

I have also learned that my forty-two year old body requires a lot of time, four weeks to be exact, to get used to my happy belly way of eating. I experienced some frustration between week two and week three because I would have seemingly random bouts of sluggish digestion and bloating.  I could look at my food journal and see that my diet was not to blame, but in a way it was. I have radically changed my food intake over the last four weeks and overeating has become virtually nonexistent. This is partially due to the accountability my food journal provides.  It is also true that because the quality of my meals and snacks has dramatically improved, I would venture to guess that my belly is happy and satisfied ninety-seven percent of the day. Can I just say that I wish this for everyone?  This is why I am developing a six-week sugar detox program that will be available for purchase by July 7th. Having a sugar belly is no fun. Making drastic dietary changes is not for the faint of heart, but a happy belly is worth it.  Even if it meant that while my body got used to more happy fats, more protein, less carbs, more fibers, zero added sugars, etc., I had to endure some discomfort to arrive at a satisfied appetite. Some of you youngins may not have to wait as long for your bodies to accept dietary changes. Happy for you.

Lastly, without going into graphic detail I have included BMs in my food journal because the honest truth is that how your food comes out is your body’s communication system with you that all is good in Bellyville or Bellyville is NOT happy with you and your diet.  I will have to share more about this in a future post. I credit Dr. Sears for having taught me this stinky truth a couple of years ago in his charming little book that he is kind enough to post online in PDF format so I do not have to be the bearer of crappy news.  If this area of your life is not easy breezy, your body is sending you an SOS and I implore you to respond ASAP for the love of your belly & co.

I hope that you will consider food journaling for yourself and I would love to hear what you begin to learn about your eating habits. One of the benefits of this practice is that I am modeling it for my daughters and my wish is that by the end of summer they will have started this Hero Habit for themselves. I cannot begin to imagine how different my life would be today if I had been taught this practice as a child.  

My food journal will be one of the several resources included in my six-week sugar detox program.  If you would like a free copy of my food journal in PDF format emailed to you, you may either share this post with five of your loved ones and email me at susysmith08@gmail.com or you may DM me on Instagram @107livin to let me know who you shared it with. I will happily share this resource with you. It is helping me tremendously to take back control of my dietary choices and consequently, my body. Owning one’s body is such an empowering and life-giving state of existing that I wish it for everyone!

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Filed under Candida, Food, Sugar addiction

Dear Sugar, it’s over.

It was a long and torrid affair.

My love of food has been a driving force my entire life. My maternal grandmother, Haydee, was a devoted baker and my paternal grandmother, Panchita, is a phenomenal homemaker and cook. Her tamales are the best I have ever tasted and she can make a late-night quesadilla taste like what quesadillas must taste like in Heaven. Clearly, I struck gold when I inherited both a passion for baking, cooking and homemaking from both my abuelitas.  Passion for food is written in my genetic code!

However, there is a dark side to most virtues and a love for food is no exception.  Haydeé was an obese Mexican lady and struggled with food addiction. This is also written in my DNA and it has been a life-long struggle to establish a good relationship with food. Food addiction is uniquely challenging because food is necessary to live, and for those who struggle with overeating, every day and every meal is a battle. Very often, a battle that feels impossible to have victory over. There is no escaping food and for that reason our relationship with food is one that deserves our close examination, attention and time. 

I cannot remember the moment I fell in love with sugar, but I do know that no one I know loves sugar as much as I do.  How many people do you know can put away three large cotton candy puffs back to back? Oh let’s be honest, it was four. Yup, that would be me.  My parents began to notice that I loved preparing food since I was about 5 years old. My mom has always maintained that she hates to cook so it was out of her realm of understanding how her child could be interested in spending all day in the kitchen.  I started baking around 9 years old. I would bake chocolate chip cookies using the recipe on the back of that yellow bag of chocolatey goodness and I also started to use box recipes for cake. I can accurately say that I have been making chocolate chip cookies for 33 years.  Everyone that knows me has tasted my baked goods. I don’t just love to eat. I love to make grocery lists, grocery trips, make recipes and experiment, prep food, cook, bake, taste, take pictures of my food, talk about food, read about food…can you begin to see my obsession with all things food? Spending hours in the kitchen feels like playtime.  I love to feed myself well and those I love.

Somewhere along the way, my relationship with food became toxic. Literally toxic. I cannot tell you how old I was exactly but at some point, eating became more than just nourishment. I ate if I was sad, lonely, upset, angry, depressed, happy, excited, bored, etc. You get the idea. According to the Reno Diet Heart Study mentioned in The End of Overeating by Dr. David A. Kessler, 50 % of obese people and 30% of overweight people struggle with what he calls “conditioned overeating”, as do 17% of lean people. I belong to the 17%.  However, I also possess an obsession with fitness and optimal wellness. This love of exercise and wellness has kept me from ever becoming obese like my grandmother Haydeé was for most of her adult life.  

As a cardio junkie, I progressively became more and more frustrated with my body.  I trained and ran 3 half-marathons a couple of years ago and was in great cardiovascular shape but I couldn’t quite control my waist line, my appetite for snacks and my emotional eating. I have also been an avid yogi for over 9 years.  However, I did not possess the muscle tone that I longed to have in my abdominals and other important areas of my body. I have struggled with lower back issues for years. If I stand too long or if I sit too long my lower back flares up. Going on long walks made my lower back hurt also.  I also could not control my sugar intake.  

I went through a significant life transition in 2018 when I divorced my husband.  That kind of life change can trigger a lot of emotional challenges and guess who was there to console me? The dynamic duo of sugar and carbs. Cookies, cupcakes, muffins, pancakes, waffles, bread, bowls and bowls of homemade popcorn, tortilla chips, colorful cereal in round shapes, vodka, tequila, prosecco, champagne…this is beginning to sound like a nursery rhyme gone awry. This is my list of bingeable foods.  One of the reasons that controlling one’s reasonable intake of food is so difficult is that eating is a highly satisfactory and sensory experience.  For me salty and crunchy feels very satisfying, hence the bowls and bowls of popcorn.

One of the problems with having an unexamined relationship with food is that when a crisis strikes in life, (and they always do, see John 16:33) it is easy to turn to sugar and carbs for consolation.  But sugar and carbs are neither interested nor able to be good crisis partners.  They simply don’t add lasting value. Sugar and carbs give a short-lived dopamine hit while negatively affecting the body, including the brain.  I made these eating behaviors habitual and became entangled in a toxic sugar and carb dependency.  The stress of adapting to being a single mother, working a very stressful job, navigating the dating world, maintaining friendships, finances, was simply too much to carry for me. Sugar and carbs were always there pretending to be my friends but nothing could be further from the truth.

Until very recently, I was never willing to stop consuming sugar.  I believed that sugar was a large part of my identity. I love to bake, how could I ever give that up? Who would I be if I didn’t make my legendary chocolate chip cookies?  It wasn’t until I started to experience digestive discomforts for months and months and despite my best efforts, I felt bloated, tired, hungry all the time, frustrated and defeated. I had a very sad belly.

Through some very difficult but God-sent circumstances, I found myself with a very precious gift: time. I was not working and didn’t know where I would work next, my boyfriend moved out and I was feeling worse than I had ever felt before. I was in the worst crisis of my life and anyone that knows me well, knows that is saying a lot.  I decided to finally go to the doctor and get bloodwork done. Sadly, this is a part of self-care that I had neglected for many years. These kinds of appointments require time and with my busy single mom life, I simply neglected this part of self-care for myself.  When I received my lab results I was devastated. My cholesterol, cortisol and insulin levels were not great but these numbers provided insight as to why I was having trouble sleeping, digesting and feeling fit.  From that day, I decided to reduce my animal fat consumption and stop putting sugar in my coffee and oatmeal. This was a huge step for me but I had not spoken with my healthcare provider about my results yet.  When I met with my healthcare provider several days later, the news was worse than I imagined. She had new results for me that showed a Candida overgrowth in my gut. 

Learning that I had eaten myself sick was sobering to say the least.  How could I have Candida overgrowth? I used to see myself as a health nut and enjoyed eating homemade food and eating lots of fruits and vegetables.  How could I let this happen? Even though I ate good organic foods, I overate foods with sugar and too many carbohydrates.   Have you ever gotten news so bad that you just felt like death? That’s how I felt and it was a death; a death of my old relationship with food and this is where this happy belly journey begins.  My purpose is to walk alongside you as you take back control of your health and body, put sugar and carbs in their rightful place and recover the shape God masterfully created you with. This isn’t a “get in shape” journey, it is a “recover your very own unique and beautiful God-made shape” journey.  Fill up your water glass, which in my case is my mason jar, you’re gonna need it for this life-giving adventure!

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Filed under Blogroll, Candida, Food, Sugar, Sugar addiction, YouTurn

Reset…Renew…YouTurn..MeTurn

Reset…Renew…YouTurn..MeTurn

(Pre) Me: Hello Me. How are you? How have you been?

(Now) Me: Oh gosh girl, don’t even ask.

(Pre) Me: No really. Tell me. I want to know everything! How are the kids? The job?! The new place?? The love of your life??

(Now) Me: Lost my job. Boyfriend moved out. My place looks better than ever before and I am rediscovering who I am at 42 years of age and loving it.

(Pre) Me: What the holy crap?! You guys broke up? You lost your job? Wait. Your apartment looks better than ever before?! What the hell happened?

Do you talk to yourself? Don’t lie. Everyone has voices in their head, just admit it. If my old self from a few months ago could talk to me today, my old self would crap her pants. I have been crawling out of the worst shitstorm of my life for about 30 days now. I cut out social media (too depressed to post), I cut out balanced eating (hello emotional eating), I cut out moderate Hulu watching (hello binging), I cut out men (they are all evil), I cut out positive thinking (the world is shit) and thought I wouldn’t survive this one. Have you ever had a crisis in your life that felt like it would be your last? That’s what my “unemployed, broken-up with” state of mind felt like. I thought I didn’t have the strength to pull through. And I was right, my own strength ran out. I needed a crisis, a rock bottom, not to start again, but to look at myself with fresh eyes.

Have you ever heard someone say, “Treat yourself like you would treat your best friend”, or “Would you talk that way to your best friend?” What about the old adage, “With age comes wisdom.” (Sorry I can’t help but pun.) It is incredible to me when I hear the impatience of 20 somethings. They want everything right this minute. They want a great career, a perfect marriage, happy children and a social media following all before they turn 30. Because life ends at 30? I recently heard of a 29 year old woman having a funeral themed birthday party. I hope you are laughing out loud as I am.

I agree that wisdom comes with time, but how we use our time and what we do about our experiences ultimately decides how much wisdom we acquire. Is there actually a way to help a woman in her 20s or 30s fully understand that it is ok to wait for the right thing? Is it possible for her to understand that she can have a child after 40 years of age? My guess is that there are some truths we can only learn when we experience them in our own skin. For example, my jobless/boyfriend-less crisis forced me to look at myself in the most honest way I have ever looked at myself before. And it was scary. My self-talk was killing my hope, joy and energy.

I spent many hours with the Father in the privacy and seclusion of my (newly organized) walk-in closet. Initially, affirming my faith, praising Him for the provision that was sure to come and confessing how I doubted. After 8 weeks of this and no viable employment offers, my resolve that my financial and love crisis would end became anorexic. After Love of my Life (LOML) moved out, my faith went to hell…hmmm…this may be a literal assertion.

Yes. You heard that correctly. LOML broke-up with me and moved out of my apartment whilst I was unemployed. Don’t worry, I have removed the dagger, it has been wiped and has been returned to its sheath.  I have chosen to forgive him but I still have to fend off resentment when certain thoughts pop into my head. LOML knows that I have struggled with resentment but I have not yet outlined the reasons why. I am waiting for a good time to share that with him.

When he left, he took the last of my hope with him. I’m sure that sounds super dramatic but one thing I know about myself is that at my core I am a lover; a romantic at heart. LOML has been in my life for over 3 years. We met and dated on and off for that period of time and this last time was the most serious and committed that we had ever been with anyone romantically. With the exception of my first marriage that is. More on that later.  

It felt like I was being violently attacked by two very dangerous and untrue beliefs.  If I could personify these beliefs they would be heinous creatures because they were relentless, brutal and out for my blood. The first belief is that without a job, I am useless, irrelevant and pitiful. The second belief is that without LOML, I am unlovable, alone and without hope for romantic love.

My relief from these wrong beliefs did not come suddenly. Notice I said relief. The inner work I have been doing has not magically zapped these joy killers but I am developing my mental muscle to stop them before they lead me back into a pit of despair.

Losing my job was not my choice and the feelings of rejection I felt were so heavy that I carried them with me into every job application I completed and every interview I had.  The fact that I was not being selected by my interviewers only magnified my feelings of rejection and as a result, worthlessness.  LOML was not able to truly support me emotionally during this time and I got so intertwined with my worthless feelings that I only sunk deeper and deeper into hopelessness.

You are probably beginning to get a picture of what happened when he moved out. The final wheelbarrow of dirt was dumped on my dying sense of self-worth. The rejection I felt increased exponentially because now the inner voice sounded like, “Not even your boyfriend wants you. No one wants to hire you or love you.”  

Would you ever speak that way to your best friend after she lost her job and got dumped by the love of her life? I hope you would not!  The truth is that most humans with a beating heart would never speak that way to anyone, let alone a loved one and yet I found myself trapped in this sort of self-talk.

Being thrust into this crisis was even more painful than my divorce 4 years ago. More on that later.  It was such a dark experience for me and that is saying a lot. My first memories of depression and suicidal ideation date back to being in middle school and feeling alone in the world so when I say that it was dark, I’m a serious as a colonoscopy.  I think I became tired of hearing the same awful thoughts and voices in my head that I began to look outside of myself for other voices.  

I am a self-proclaimed vision boarder and decided to work on a vision board to help me visualize what “the other side” of my crisis would look like. As I looked through old magazines, I found a two-year old magazine article in a fitness magazine that introduced me to Dr. Stephanie Estima, a chiropractor turned podcaster and I began listening to her podcast.  Dr. Estima’s positivity, joy and wisdom began to speak life back into my dying hope.  She has guests on her show that match her quality and I began to go on rabbit trails chasing these other podcasters and learning from them too. One of these happy trails led me to Ashley Stahl, her life-giving podcast and her life-changing book, YouTurn. I read the book as fast as I could because every chapter gave me more and more hope and direction.

It is not easy to read it quickly because each chapter ends with independent work for the reader, but it is such important work for a person who is needing clarity and feels disconnected from her true purpose and calling.  Stahl’s own journey has inspired me and helped me tremendously and doing the inner-work of asking hard questions of myself and stepping out in faith to answer them honestly has been medicine to my heart and soul. That is so cheesy but it’s the truth. In the book, she talks about rock bottom moments and how powerful they are because we arrive at the end of ourselves and surrender.  Specifically, she says surrendering to “the Divine Unknown”.  It is a place of uncertainty and faith. I have been there many times in my life but this time I felt like Stahl was my personal tour guide or life coach through my rock bottom/Divine Unknown process.

Through her artful and profound writing, she guided me through exploring my core nature, core skill set, core values, core interests and core motivators with the goal of aligning my career/job search with my authentic self. She writes of “coming home to yourself.”  

I had brunch with LOML today. It had been nearly a month since we last saw each other and part of me wanted to cancel our brunch date because part of my reset/you turn is to guard my time jealously, but I decided to keep my commitment and meet him anyway.

We were not on the same page. There was a droopy energy to him and I did not care for it.  When the urge to fix him or help him came, I consciously told myself that I am  not responsible for him.  He is a great question asker and enjoys listening to others so I shared what my newly single journey has been like and some of what YouTurn has been helping me with.  He was not ready to receive it.  I made attempts at speaking truth and life into his challenges but he is not ready to receive truth and life. He is on his own journey and I will continue to pray for him but I refuse to worry about him.  I refuse to take responsibility for his wellness.  As I drove away, I said out loud to myself, “If he ever wants to get back together, he is going to have to step his game way up!”

Dr. Estima introduced me to Ashley Stahl and Stahl introduced me to Amy Landino and Ashley Feinstein Gerstley.  I am starting Gerstley’s book today, “The 30-Day Money Cleanse.”  These women have done the work and continue to do the hard work of loving and accepting themselves. As a result, they were able to step out into the Divine Unknown and create space for their uniqueness in the world.  “There’s always room for you, too, friend”, Stahl says and I believe her. I believe that each person has been created uniquely and with purpose and to hide oneself from the world is short-sighted and downright selfish! All sass aside, I am choosing to believe that I have a contribution to make and so do you. I am happy where I am today.  Not because I have already reached my financial goals for the remainder of 2022 or because my mind is healed from bad thoughts and mindsets or because LOML is ready to get back together but because by choosing better voices to fill my life with, I have increased my courage to trust in this season’s Divine Unknown.  Trusting that the Giver of Life truly is with me, He strongly supports the pursuit of truth and I dare say is proud of me for devoting myself to discovering the unique and loving way in which He designed me…that I may also find the purpose to which He called me.  

With gratitude.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;

I came so that they would have life, and have it abundantly.

John 10:10 NASB

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Filed under Depression, Divorce, Faith, YouTurn