If you missed it, here’s Part 1 – it will probably help to read these posts chronologically.
A big part of my journey as a whole is the spiritual aspect. I mean, a couple years ago I didn’t even believe in a God never mind practice any kind of spirituality. Spirituality, not to be confused with religion, is a relationship between a person, their true self, and god… some would say all 3 are the same thing but that’s a whole different blog post. If you want to read more about my journey in realizing “there is a God” check out my memoir, Until Recently. For now, all you really need to know is that building on my spirituality and my relationship with God has made healing from the traumas of my past a whole lot easier. So when I had the opportunity to take a Shamanic journey and meet my spirit guides, I took it. If you don’t roll with this type of thing, i am probably going to lose you here, if i havent lost you already. Feel free to rejoin us later in Part 2 when i talk about intuitive eating, or skip this post entirely and wait for part 3 lol
Before taking the journey we were told to think about some areas we were looking for clarity in and of course one of the first on my list was figuring out this weight thing. As i mentioned in Part 1- i was already at the point of knowing there is no way it HAS to be this hard. There’s no way a life of counting and number obsession is the ONLY way to maintain a healthy weight and body fat percentage. I was excited about what kind of clarity this journey might bring me.
A shamanic journey is an experience where a person or group of people listen to rhythmic, ancestral sounding music and practice special breathing techniques that allow their soul to escape to a higher level of consciousness. The closest thing i can compare it to is to magic mushrooms, minus the drugs. You are literally out of your body, like I can see myself, from outside of myself. My experience was freaking mind blowing and enlightening in so many ways, but for the sake of this post we’re going to focus on two specific parts, meeting my spirit guide and birthing knowledge.
First came birth. What i experienced was swimming underwater in a crystal clear spring, nude. When my face emerged from the water for a breath I realized i was no longer in a spring, but in a birthing pool. Instantly i began to feel the physical pains of labor. My physical body was shaking and sweating and I was literally screaming. It felt like I was birthing a baby, but to my surprise when it was finally over, i did not receive a baby, but rather, wisdom. I have yet to find the right words to describe the feeling of unwavering knowledge that suddenly filled my brain. I knew that my body is a vessel simply provided to me for learning lessons. If i have yet to learn the lesson I need, it doesn’t matter what I do in the physical world to change my body. It will not change or if it does, the results will be short lived. I knew that this information was pertaining to my weight and as much as i thought I had mastered major weight loss, I was wrong. My circumstances were not just a product of my mindset or reality, but of the lesson i had missed on my way down from 300lbs. I had become obsessed with numbers and willpower and completely missed the ideas of unconditional body love (aka loving your body exactly as it is, for no reason, vs loving your body because you’re proud it lost weight or changed its shape or ran a race, etc.) I had also missed the train on intuitive eating, but at this point I still didn’t have a clue what that was so i didn’t understand or recognize it.
Next i met my spirit guide. She called me on my shit. She told me that I use veganism and nutrition as means to restrict & that restriction of any kind is not the answer I seek. She said “Nothing you eat is going to kill you. Nothing you eat is going to save you. You can’t possibly exercise enough to save you; you can’t possibly be dormant enough to kill you.” Now obviously we all know food and exercise DO have health benefits, but i knew her point was that i didnt need to analyze every little tiny thing. I didn’t need to aim for a completely clean diet in order to be healthy. It wasnt necessary to keep up a crazy workout routine to be healthy. I dont need ANY EXTREMES to be healthy. It felt like she gave me permission to stop beating myself up every time any morsel of what I had deemed “poison” entered my body. I had been battling with whether veganism was still my best option, but ignoring those feelings for months due to ethics, ego, and fear of judgement. I also didnt trust that if i dropped veganism I wouldnt kill myself with all of the diseases prevalent in meat eaters (more on this topic to come in part 3.) She told me over and over, to the point it seemed like it was the theme of my entire workshop that weekend, to “follow your intuition.” I thought this advice was intended for me to follow for business or life in general, not weight loss and food, but sooner or later I would realize she WAS talking about food.
I left my workshop that weekend feeling a sense of calm, relief, and enlightenment. I had faith and trusted that i would continue to be guided along this journey, and I was. The next day I was inspired to pull a book off the shelf that i had purchased nearly two years prior, but never got around to reading. The book Visualization For Weight Loss by John Gabriel, was about the authors experience using visualizations to lose over 200lbs. He perfectly explained how visualizing your body in a certain way will allow it to easily achieve its ideal weight without the fight we had all become accustomed to. I loved his outlook and wisdom about visualizations, but the chapter about Leptin resistance resonated with me even more.
Leptin is the hormone in our bodies that tells us when to stop eating. It helps the brain and the stomach connect to understand “I am satisfied. You can stop now.” If you are like me and rarely ever experience that feeling, to the point sometimes you wonder if youre actually a bottomless pit, you probably have leptin resistance. This happens when the body is in a state of restriction. Whether it be restricting calories (I was down to 1100 calories a day, while also working out, thanks for My Fitness Pal) or fasting regularly, essentially not honoring the hunger ques makes it so the body believes me are starving and in a state of famine. We lose our sensitivity to this hormone so that we can eat our faces off so the body can store sugar and fat until our next period of restriction. If we have enough will power, we will not give in to those cravings and we will lose weight. For many of us, that works. But the problem is eventually the will WILL run out and then what? You’re left with the inability to tell when you’re full and cravings that set you into a tailspin of eating junk. The vicious yo-yo cycle begins. John suggests that while you begin practicing the visualizations you stop restricting entirely. Yes, he says, you may gain a bit more weight, but in the long run it will be worth it once the brain is retrained that it is not actually in a state of famine and following the bodies natural hunger and full ques becomes much easier- or as John calls it, effortless.
This is where I was at when the May 2018 Belize Retreat rolled around. I knew that like my guide had said, it was my duty to share my new lessons, but I worried about judgement. How can I tell anyone the key to their weight is to stop restricting, as i stand before them 40lbs heavier, with no physical proof to show them yet? I was so worried, in fact, that i manifested a physical panic attack the day before my participants arrived. However, when i woke up and headed to breakfast on the first day of the retreat, a giant blue butterfly fluttered past me. I should mention that a blue butterfly was one of the forms my guide told me she would visit me in. I knew right away that it was my sign and the segment of the retreat that had formerly been dedicated to nutrition was shifted to no longer restricting. The portion previously dedicated to creating your own fitness routine shifted to self love and body positivity. The segment about excuse busting and willpower would now be replaced with visualization and meditation. It was time to share the side of myself I had resisted sharing for so long. I finally understand and trusted that my lessons were meant to be shared, regardless of how those they’re not meant for may judge me.
My spirit guide in butterfly form!
To my surprise, the participants received the new messages SO WELL. The ladies finished off that week exclaiming they had never felt better about themselves before and they looked forward to applying these new things when they got home. One of the participants said in 20 years of attending workshop after workshop for her nursing career, she had never been to a retreat that had impacted her on the level this one did. Another participant called her experience “soul shaking.” I am sure these ladies came with the idea that we were going to spend the week beating into their heads what they already knew- that they needed more willpower and their lack of it was their problem. Now they knew that wasn’t the case and I knew I was on the right track. My guide was right, I did have to share.
Upon my return from Belize I was not quite ready to spill my beans to the world, yet. I took a few more weeks to feel out and analyze my own feelings behind my new mindset and plan before I subjected myself to anyone else’s opinion of it. But then finally, i felt brave enough to share what I was going through and did so over several days in a series of instagram posts:
Again, to my surprise and delight, they were very well received. Even better, someone reached out with a book recommendation that she said really lined up with the way I was thinking and what I was going through. I checked out the book, Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. I got the book right away and my mind was BLOWN. Not only did the book cosign what I had learned on a soul level during my journey, it also cosigned Gabriel’s argument against any kind of restriction and made perfect sense of my exact experience with major weight loss. I also couldn’t help but notice the title was perfectly aligned with what my guide had been stressing to me: follow your intuition.
This book is about the idea that humans, just like animals, know what and how to eat on an intuitive level. Through different circumstances we have learned to restrict our food and eat according to rules vs hunger that our bodies have fought back, attempting to keep us safe from the famine its become so used to experiencing. This book helps to explain how the very things that have brought people who’ve lost weight success, are the very things that set them up to regain their weight. This is why even people who have had weight loss surgery will usually gain their weight back within 5 years. I thought because I did not have weight loss surgery I would escape those odds. But here I am, 6 years later, having the same experience. This book talks about how in every other industry, if we buy or use a product or idea and it doesnt end successfully, we blame the product. But in the world of weight loss when we are not successfull, we blame ourselves and our lack of willpower.
But its not about willpower. There are tons of people, children especially, that maintain a healthy weight who are not obsessed with food or numbers. They people us dieters watch eat and think “if i ate like that i would be 400lbs.” Yea, metabolism and genetics do play a roll, but most of us have slowed our metabolisms down with years of dieting and no ones genetics require them to be obese or severely overweight. On the contrary, the way their brain thinks about food, whether they’re eating healthily or not, has the biggest effect on how their body will react to food.
I never considered myself a restricter or a dieter, but this book helped me to realize i was soooo wrong. Because I wasn’t following a fad diet and i counted calories according to an app i thought was trustworthy, I did not consider myself to be on a diet. But I had an arsenal of food and eating and lifestyle rules much larger than i even realized. Many of these rules I didnt even realize, until i committed to not following any rules and would catch myself in the act.
Myself, and people like me, have been following rules about eating for so long that we actually believe we dont know how to eat. Instintcually, we know what our bodies need and how much they need of it. But because of my pattern of binge eating and having a taste for junk, i have never trusted myself to make my food choices. I have always looked for guidelines somewhere externally.
For many of us, this starts in our infancy when we are put on an eating schedule. X amount of ounces every X amount of hours. It doesn’t matter when you feel hungry or how hungary you feel, you eat according to the schedule your parents or caretakers have given you. As I got older I started to experience restriction. Certain foods in the house were only allowed to be eaten in certain amounts and certain foods were supposed to only be for my stepdad. They were off limits and forbidden to us kids, only making the desire to sneak and eat them that much more tempting (I talk about this in my memoir, Until Recently.) Growing up I continued to eat according to schedule, never honoring my true hunger. Breakfast when you wake up, lunch at school or at noon, snack when I got home. Dinner when it was ready. Snack before bed. I never considered whether I was actually hungry or not. And i was soothing my emotions with food since childhood. If it was time to eat, I ate. We also didn’t do food waste in our house. If it was on the plate, we ate it. As a little kid i remember stuffing myself to satisfy this rule at my grandparents house, but as i got older, it just became habit to always clean the plate regardless of my hunger level or how much i enjoyed the food.
By high school I had began dieting and really getting good at demonizing some foods as “bad” and glorifying others as “good.” I started to develop the diet mentality of “I’m good if i eat this, I’m bad if i eat that” I did weight watchers and low carb for the first times and quickly made good and bad associations with food according to the carbs or points. When I got out of high school i gave up on dieting and for the first time ate whatever I wanted, but i realized i was “out of control” when given that permission. I didn’t realize the diet mentality and restriction themselves were what made me so ravenous to begin with. I truly believed I didnt know how to eat intuitively and from then on I never stopped following some kind of eating rules whether it was veganism or vegetarianism or calorie counting or no gluten or whatever.
As i got a bit older and experienced homelessness (also in Until Recently) I only further removed myself from my ability to eat intuitively. When I had money i would find myself binging as i wanted to “fill up while I can” not knowing when i would have the opportunity to eat again. Once i had a home i continued to experience financial instability for years and the habit continued. I had so many weeks and months and years of eating what i could afford vs what i craved or was good for me, that i fell further out of touch with my ability to eat the way my ancestors had.
This book was a game changer for me because it gave me the confidence to do what my guide and John had suggested. It wasnt that i didn’t trust them, but i didnt fully trust them! I was terrified that in ditching my food rules i would experience nothing but weight gain and with time end up embarrassed and judging myself for eating my way back to 300lbs. When I got Intuitive Eating it not only broke down the entire science for me, but it also gave me more specific direction opposed to “just eat whatever you want and trust the process.”
Here are the stages of becoming an intuitive eater (in short.) To best understand this philosophy, i recommend getting your own copy of the book. 1- Hitting the diet bottom. This is where you realize you cannot possibly go on with the struggle of losing and maintaining weight for a day longer. You know there has to be a better, simpler way. You realize that the very same processes that you thought were to blame for your success are the very same processes that keep you in this rat race chasing a seemingly unachievable goal, or when you do reach that goal, its short lived. 2-Exploration. This is the stage where you eat whatever you want, whenever you want, as much as you want. Make peace with food, forget your rules, and allow yourself to eat unconditionally. There shouldn’t be any regard for nutrition, rules, judgement or ethics. In this phase you practice hyper-consciousnesses in that you will want to pay attention to all of the things we’ve buried when we traded our intuition for diet culture. You will want to pay attention to how much food it takes to feel full. You’ll eat when you are hungry regardless of what time it is or when you ate last. You’ll eat when you’re not hungry, but desire to eat, and instead of judging yourself, observing why it is you desire to eat now. You will discover which foods taste good and bring pleasure to you, likely noticing forbidden foods are often less appealing when they are not forbidden. You will pay attention to how eating different foods makes your body feel physically. You will experiment with foods you may not have eaten in years, to identify your true desires and tastes. You will practice honoring your hunger, respecting your fullness, and not judging yourself when you do not. This stage can take months to undo years of attachments to food rules and diet culture. 3- Crystallization. Hyper-consciousness is no longer needed. Your practice of honoring your hunger, respecting your fullness, and not judging or punishing yourself based of your food choices becomes easier and starts to feel like a behavior change. You no longer feel obsessed with food. You are beginning to trust yourself, your body, and your instincts. You’re beginning to feel more satisfied with your meals. You can now feel the difference between biological and emotional hunger. 4- The intuitive eater awakens. You consistently choose what you want to eat when you’re hungry. You’re unlikely to over eat because you trust that there is no fresh start tomorrow or reason to binge today, this food is available to you at all times. You’re choosing healthier foods not because you should, but because your body feels better when you do. The desire for previously forbidden foods has nearly diminished. You’re noncritical or your food choices as well as of your body. 5-Treasure the Pleasure. Your inner intuitive eater has been reclaimed. You feel no guilt related to food choices and respond to chocolate in the same way you’d respond to an apple, they’re both just food. The burden of exercise has been lifted and you desire to move your body because like eating nutrition rich foods, it makes you feel better. When you reach this stage your weight will have settled to what is naturally you, a place appropriate for your height and frame. (keep in mind nature does not create obese people- it only gives extra weight to those in a state of restriction or famine, and those days are over for you.) You do not have to fear that your natural body shape is an unhealthy weight. You will maintain this weight effortlessly.
I am currently in stage two, with glimpses of stage 3. Here are my most interesting observations and experiences so far:
I realized when i dont have to “start fresh” tomorrow there is no reason to binge or over eat to get it out of the house and enjoy one last taste, today. When you realize the food is not going anywhere and you can eat it any time without judgement or punishment, there is no need to overeat it today.
I realized I have no idea what i am hungry for. One of the suggestions in the book is to identify what youre actually craving so you can eat exactly that vs stuffing your face nonstop looking to satisfy a taste you cannot pinpoint. I used to do that ALL THE TIME. i knew i wanted something but didnt know what. So id just eat everything in sight hoping to kill the craving. Well, id have a bellyache im so full and still craving something i didnt identify. Ive been using my hyper conciousness to pinpoint what i am craving. I still dont have it but i am at the point where i atleast know whether i want sweet or salty or spicy. I had no idea that I didnt even recongnize my own cravings.
i realized just how many food rules I have. There were soooo many times in the first few weeks where i’d look in the mirror and think “Omg i have to DO SOMETHING.” Knowing i had committed to not restricting calories or food groups i would start considering other rules in my head “i could make a meal plan or start drinking shakes once a day. or stop eating after 7pm no matter what” NO ASHLEY. NO FOOD RULES.
i realizes there are situations where it is NORMAL and OKAY to over eat. For example, if youre on vacation or eating dinner at a friends house. If you actually cannot eat this food any time it is okay to honor that it will not be around and this “is your only chance.” the dieter in me would beat myself up for that (i didnt eat ANY true french cuisine while in france because my food rules did not allow) when in reality its super normal, healthy, and okay. I used to judge others for indulging on vacation too, thinking they were giving themselves and excuse to “be fat” and i would pride myself in having a “mess up free vacation” and coming home having lost weight. THANK GOD those days are over. I cant wait to eat a QUAHOG on my next trip to massachusetts!
i realized if dieting and restriction are what have inspired the problems i am having, there is no way they can also be the solution. I realized the very system i have been following and crediting with my success is the system that has gotten me to the weight i am. i realized i dont have to beat myself up for somehow losing my “willpower.” Scientifically and energetically this is EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENS TO ALL DIETERS NO MATTER HOW GOOD THEIR INTENTIONS. the ONLY way to get out of this cycle is to learn to eat intuitively.
i realized that diet culture puts all this weight on whether or not we have willpower. That is no fair. Naturally thin or average weight people are not using willpower. Their psychology and hormones are different than those of chronic dieters. Instead of blaming the dieters for not having willpower, which the naturally thin may not have either, why not change the psychology of the dieters to match that of the people who are not obsessed with food? THIS IS WHAT INTUITIVE EATING IS!
Some days i still want to stuff my face with everything possible. It is hard to honor these days without judgement. It is scary to honor these days at all. But i realize this HAS to be done. I have to relearn that forbidden foods are truly available to me and i can have them anytime i want. Yesterday i ate mostly junk (turkey bacon, egg and cheese bagel for breakfast [ive learned i prefer turkey bacon vs regular bacon- not a diet rule], sesame noodles with chives and egg rolls for lunch, macaroni and cheese for dinner) but then around 8pm I started thinking about celery and hummus. I wanted it sooo bad, so i ate some. It was super cool to see the proof that if i listen to my body, eventually it will direct me properly. My body knew i needed some clean nutrition by last night and it let me know. A couple days ago i ate a 16oz bag of kale over the course of 2 days, for no reason other than I craved it. I may not be out of the “i want to eat previously forbidden foods” stage, but i am definitely entering the “my body knows it needs nutrition” stage. That makes me feel hopeful!
I have used dieting as a means to avoid social situations. When i was on a roll with a diet i would skip going out to dinners or birthday parties because i didnt want to mess up my diet. I didnt want to drink the calories or be tempted by the food, so often times i just didnt go. I also used this as an excuse not to date. Nope, can’t meet you for a drink, its not cheat day. Sorry, can’t come to dinner, its not part of my meal plan. I am 30 years old and desire a family. I have spent so much time and energy and money working through my daddy issues and without even realizing, i have allowed food and dieting to continue to keep me from experiencing a healthy relationship with a man. I will tell u right now, that is over.
I woke up wanting to exercise the other day and was about my hit the road when i realized i was hungry. My first thought was to ignore it becuase if i did cardio on an empty stomach id be more likely to burn stored calories. I caught myself though and honored my hunger. I had fruit, nuts and coffee before my workout.
I stopped eating my chipotle halfway through because i was full and knew i could finish it later if i wanted to. ive always heard people talk about how chipotle provides a serving size big enough for several meals, but i hadnt ever experienced that before! I decided i wanted to try the queso, having restricted all meat and dairy for the past 6 years. The queso was gross. I would take vegan cashew queso over that shit any day. Historically, if i had paid for it, already “broken my diet with it” and was planning to “get back on track tomorrow” i would finish eating something i didnt even like. I threw away the queso.
I’m getting in touch with how food makes me feel. The bacon egg and cheese bagel was amazing in taste, but my belly felt so heavy and churned up afterward. It feels better to have an egg with fruit and nuts for breakfast. it is cool to know i CAN have the bagel any time i want. That will make it easier to choose the lighter option more often.
so far, everything seems to be happening exactly as the book said it would. Some days i desire to eat healthy, some days i don’t. practicing not judging myself in the meantime is the biggest challenge. But i am reminding myself that how i am eating right now is not how i will be eating forever. this is simply part of the process i have to go through to break through the diet mindset.
Now, if tou’re thinking “Ashley, veganism is WAY MORE THAN A DIET. how can you just drop it because youre dropping your food rules and attachment to diet culture? especially after SIX YEARS a vegan, over a decade of vegetarian or pescetrianism, and not eating red meat in 18 years? HOW DO YOU JUSTIFY THIS?!!!” if you’re screaming this at me, you will love Part 3!
check back for:
Part 3: Vegan No More
Part 4: Diet Culture Drop Out
I feel like i have found freedom in the last few months. Freedom from food. Freedom from thinking about and obsessing over food. Freedom from dieting. Freedom from expectations and rules. I feel like I have discovered a new layer of trust within myself and my intuition. I feel like i have finally found the “answer” to maintaining a healthy weight and body, that I have been looking for, pretty much my entire life, but more diligently the better part of the past decade. But in order to explain this new found freedom, I have to fully explain what brought me to this point.
This is my fourth attempt at writing this post. All of the others have been scrapped because it felt like I was trying to cover so much and condense it to the length of a post someone might actually read. But in the process it became too too overwhelming. Too much to try to figure out and too much to try to explain. Hindsight is 20/20… it’s easy to look back at our lives and experiences and pinpoint exactly what happened that lead to a certain outcome and explain it in a condensed version. But its harder to pinpoint what is going on as it is happening. This is a process i’m still going through, so explaining it isn’t exactly my strong suit yet. But i know I am onto something and I am excited. For me, that means naturally, I want to share. So here I am trying again. I’m going to break it up into several parts in an attempts to not only help you understand whats going on, but to help me fully understand what’s going on. What I am experiencing is different that anything I have before and is completely opposite of what society suggests when it comes to weight and weight loss. It is so simple yet seems so bizarre, risky, or triggering for so many. I am ditching my food rules- but I am not giving up. How does this work?
Let’s start with the beginning. Not worrying so much about what I am doing now, but how i got to this point. This current leg of my weight loss journey started in the end of 2011. My blood pressure was rising and I decided it was time to do something about my weight. It had been about two years since I had dieted intentionally and by December of 2011 I was weighing in at 284 pounds. I was eating a pescetarian diet at the time (eggs, dairy and fish allowed) but didn’t know a whole lot about healthy eating in general, so I decided I would count calories this time around. My first food rule was born.
To my surprise, I had a lot of luck. I was losing 2-3lbs consistently week after week with nothing but calorie counting and a commitment to workout for at least 15 minutes, 5 days a week. Not quite a food rule, but it was the next rule I adapted into my life. I was eating all of the same foods I normally ate and loved, but I had cut back on portion sizes to fit my calorie allotment and slowly but surely I worked more low calorie foods into my diet because I’d always been a volume eater, and eating calorie dense food and calorie counting does not equate to the portion sizes I liked. I started following an at home workout program and the weight started coming off even faster. I was filled with so much pride and so much energy and enthusiasm. I wanted to share it with EVERYONE. I started my blog and instagram account and sooner or later fell down the rabbit hole of the next leg of my journey- Multi Level Marketing.
In this leg i had the idea that if this workout was working for me and i was recommending it to everyone who asked about my workouts, anyway, maybe I should start selling it and i can make some money. When i reached out to someone I already knew who worked for the company, she set me up with and account to sell the program and to also drink and sell their shakes. The shake was nutrient dense and intended to be drank once a day as a replacement for one meal. I also got more serious about my at home workouts and purchased a couple different options. However, unlike in the beginning I didn’t just do whatever workout i felt like, whenever i felt like it. I followed the suggested workout schedule, requiring me to workout 6 days a week. I added more rules to my arsenal: must drink one shake instead of food, per day. Must workout 6 days a week to keep up with my program and inspire everyone else on it, too. Must also keep up counting calories. Check!
Very shortly after I started with the shake company I decided to take the plunge into full on veganism. I had a corneal ulcer that was deemed incurable and when i found out the medicine to help the symptoms had side effects such as blindness and glaucoma, I decided to search for a natural option. The internet suggested giving up chemicals and all animal protein. This seemed like a great idea because I wanted to be healthier anyways, so cutting out artificial and nonorganic ingredients seemed smart, plus i was already eating mostly plants anyway, so getting rid of the dairy, eggs and fish didnt seem like a big deal. Within 6 months the symptoms of my ulcer had completely disappeared and i’d finally met my weight loss goal of 50%. I was 142lbs. The success lead me down the next leg of my jounrey- full time veganism.
I became obsessed with the idea that food could cure illness and documentaries were my new best friend. I spent hours and hours and hours watching any documentary i came across that promoted not only the health benefits but the ethical and environmental benefits of veganism. I became that much more inspired to stick with it and also, share what I had learned with whoever was interested. I believed in this eating style and became interested in nutrition as a whole, now realizing how powerful food could be. My vegan research became general nutrition research and i tried to work as many superfoods as i could into my meals. I no longer worried only about whether I was in my calorie range and if the food was vegan and free of artificial additives, but now I judged my food based on its nutritional value too. Add a new set of food rules: eat food that is the healthiest you can possibly find. In the name of health, i slowly began to judge myself and beat myself up with a little internal dialogue whenever I ate something that wasn’t entirely clean. “You know better, Ashley. Don’t blame anyone else when you end up sick.”
About two years into my new nutrition obsession all of that judgement and negative self talk finally did catch up and I became sick. I was hospitalized twice for insane stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea. Seemingly, nothing was wrong with me and it was brushed off by the gastroenterologist as colitis- a fancy term for inflammation in the digestive tract. I went on with my life and eating rules, but things were never the same. I started experiencing extreme bloating my stool was no longer solid, ever. I would eat 100% clean, vegan, nutritious foods only to blow up and look 6 months pregnant by the end of the day, anyhow. I figured I must have a food allergy so I got tested and came back with 40 food sensitivities. How could i be sensitive to so many foods when i’d never even had any type of allergies besides the occasional seasonal during a new england pollen bloom? I tried to find a way to eat that avoided all of my new sensitivities but the list included basically everything i was accustomed to eating daily- kale, lentils, nuts, pea protein from my shakes, etc. I became frustrated and started to research what could possibly be going on, and found information about Leaky Gut. This is a condition where the gut has increased permeability and food enzymes that wouldnt normally be found in the blood are able to escape into the blood stream. It causes an inflammatory autoimmune response and the body fights the enzymes, causing the body to develop sensitivities and allergies to the foods it’s most commonly fighting against. AKA my every day foods.
I got very angry at wondering how i could develop such a condition eating the way I was eating. I learned that it could be caused by the chemicals we spray on our produce, the chemicals we add to our food for color and stabilizers, sugar and alcohol. It could also be genetic, due to stress, or the result of a bad bacteria the ravaged all healthy guy bacteria (most likely what happened to me when i ended up in the hospital.) I barely drank alcohol and only “cheated” with sugary and artificial foods from time to time, so i saw this as my sign to tighten up the ropes and cut back on treats even more. I cut out all added sugars and added a handful of supplements to my daily intake. I followed the leaky gut diet but ignored the part that suggested taking collagen or adding bone broth to my diet as a healing ailment. Bone broth broke my food rule about veganism and I was in the habit of adding food rules, not breaking them.
After 109 days of following my veganized leaky gut diet I was feeling pretty good. My sugar cravings had been intense the first few weeks but had nearly subsided. I was no longer bloated and getting used to eating such clean food 100% of the time. I had just finished training for and running a half marathon and decided I was going to treat myself with a vegan protein cookie- my first treat in more than 3 months. The cookie was no where near as good as i imagined it was going to be. But that didn’t matter. I had had a taste of sugar and my body wouldnt stop screaming MOREEEEEEEEE!!!!
I went on a week long “bender” if you will. I desired and ate everything in my sight, provided it was vegan. Vegan junk food tends to be just as or even more processed than the original stuff, so i basically shocked my system. I felt like complete crap, but not enough to stop eating. I told myself that every treat was “the last one” and fully indulged in the entire pack of oreos or the entire bag of chips.”tomorrow I am starting right back on track” but then when tomorrow came, I had no desire to start back up. My cravings were worse than ever and I felt like i couldnt say no to them. This went on for an entire week, stuffing my face, beating myself up and feeling guilty for having “no control” and then eating some more to try to suppress those feelings of guilt and shame and lack of control. Eventually I got it together and got back on track, but it was short lived.
Over the next year I found myself in a cycle of gaining and losing the same 10lbs over and over and had fully accepted that this is just what maintenance mode is, after major weight loss. I didn’t know how to hold a steady weight, but i was great at gaining and great at losing so I just alternated between the two. I avoided processed and sugary foods for as long as i possibly could because I knew once i opened the flood gates, i couldnt stop. Eventually I would give in and eat some kind of treat and then continue to stuff my face for the rest of the day, week, or weeks, depending on how long it took me to “snap out of it.” Each time I binged I would make up for it by drinking detox tea to help with the bloating and get it out of my system as fast as possible. Then I would commit to a 1-3 day shake cleanse. If i got through the 3 days I was usually freed of my cravings for at least a few days, during which i would work out extra hard to “undo the damage” I had done in the days prior. No matter how hard i tried to undo the damage though, I would always find myself back in binge mode.
My binging was done in secret, adding more shame to the equation. Sometimes i would talk about them briefly saying i had fallen off track, but i never full disclosed how insane they became because I was so embarrassed about it. I wasn’t too worried about the cycle though because I knew plenty of other people from the internet and real life who ate clean almost all the time and then binged at least one day of the weekend for treat day. It was normalized by the fitness and weight loss community and i thought “this is just what its like to be a fit person” and was completely oblivious to the fact that i was developing a type of disordered eating, and that the industry i credited with motivating me to be healthy was also the industry that was normalizing a full fledged eating disorder.
By 2017 i found myself at 185lbs and although still 100lbs down, constantly beating myself up for having put on weight. I felt a constant need to do SOMETHING so i found myself going over the food rules i would instill and follow “tomorrow” on a regular basis. No meat or dairy or animal products. Nothing with more than 3g added sugar. No gluten. No fried food. Nutrition rich food, only. Eat between noon and 8pm only. Drink half my body weight in water. Workout for an hour, 5-6 days a week. Drink one shake in place of a meal daily. Drink tea in the morning and before bed. Make a meal plan. Eat only whats on the meal plan. Don’t go out to eat unless its your scheduled weekly treat. Eat one portion size only. No alcohol, ever. Although my intentions were good, there were just SO MANY RULES. And with that many rules, some are bound to be broken. When I broke them I was not kind to myself. On the contrary, i would beat myself up. “You managed to lose 140lbs naturally and you’re telling me you cant stay on track for an entire week straight? People are looking up to you, you need to be an example. You know better- DO BETTER. You cannot let yourself gain much more weight Ashley. Why did you skip your workout today? Now two days in a row? WTF you better cut your calories down the next few days to make up for that.” It was a vicious cycle of wonderful, but impossible intentions, and horrible, destructive self talk and actions.
But it didn’t get easier. The more i focused on “Omg i am gaining weight, this is out of control, i need to stop” the more out of control it seemed i became. During that year my emotions were tested big time and i went through some very trying experiences and adjustments. I published my tell all memoir, exposing my truth and experiences of working in the sex industry, to the whole world. The vulnerability was necessary and healing in a sense, but it brought on a lot of stress and fear of judgement. As a result, I had to end a long term toxic friendship with someone i love dearly. But the drama didn’t end with that. Someone i was dating casually, but had real feelings for, got someone else pregnant, ending our time together. I started a long distance relationship with someone else who never made me a priority and after months of empty promises, it had started to effect my self worth. My mother moved in next door, after having living 1400+ miles apart for the better part of the last decade. Adjusting to having her so close and feeling a sense of responsibility to look after her was not easy. I met my biological father after 27 years of no contact. I lived through the traumatizing experience of Hurricane Irma- although it could’ve been worse the week without water or electricity in the south Florida summer heat was emotionally exhausting. The financial burden and depression that lingered for weeks while we got things back to normal, was more than I could handle at the time too. I began to feel so out of wack i missed a period and requested my doctor check my hormones. I found out I had nodules on my thyroid and a thickened endometrium. My stomach sank at the idea there’s even a possibility that i may struggle to have children and that being so set on waiting until i was ready for them may have worked against me, after all. Add all of these triggering experiences to the fact that the only part of my physical body that i focused on was the fact that I was gaining weight, and it was a perfect storm to gain more weight.
Through the last year i just COULDNT STOP EATING. I knew part of it was trying to soothe some of the emotional turmoil i was going through, but there was something bigger going on, too. I understood the health benefits of eating well and the dangers of eating poorly, yet i couldnt bring myself to just do it anymore. I had also foregone veganism for the sake of binging. I managed to binge as a vegetarian but the guilt of not only breaking my food rules but also dishonoring my ethics and not living up to my internet given label of “vegan” brought me immense guilt and shame. My binges had become so extreme they could last for days or weeks on end. In a single day I could eat an entire family sized bag of chips, two large fast food french fries with an ice cream cone and a sundae, a large pineapple and jalepeno pizza, half a pack of oreos and 12 fun size candy bars. My stomach would feel so stuffed i would experience actual pain and sometimes even pass out on the couch from a dreaded food coma. It seemed like all i could think about was food. Every time i got in the car I wanted to stop at a convenience store or a drive through. On the days I worked from home my work was broken up at least hourly by snack breaks. Even if I only had healthy food in the house, i would stuff my face with it. I would count down until I finished my tasks for the day so i could run out and grab something to eat. Whenever I met with friends for a get together or party I’d eat on my way to and from the gathering to satisfy my desires but without showing my shame-filled habits to anyone. Food was the forefront of all my thoughts and plans.
I began to feel completely powerless. I tried so hard to fight what was happening. For every time i “messed up” i planned the next week extra clean and on point and always had a plan or a set of rules ready to “Undo the damage.” but no matter how many times i undid the damage, the weight just kept creeping on. Sooner or later i found myself at the point where i could follow all my rules all week and STILL the scale didn’t move. Everything i knew about calorie counting and healthy eating and weight loss was being challenged big time. I thought it was supposed to become easier with time and if i checked myself fast enough and got back to following my rules, I was supposed to start losing weight again. This was no longer the case. I had slowly put on the pounds since 2014, but between May 2017- May 2018, the same time period of all the emotional turmoil previously mentioned, I had put on 40lbs. I was back up to 220 and blaming myself, my “food addiction” and my “lack of will power” for it 100%.
I didn’t want to give up, but i knew i had to do something different. What had always worked for me was no longer working. I hadn’t yet realized that the exact cycle and habits that i thought were helping me were the exact habits and cycles that were causing these issues, though. I did know, that there was no way in hell maintaining a healthy weight had to be this hard, though. I became so sick of the struggle and vowed I would find an easier way to do this. I thought about my ancestors and considered they had never counted a single calories or considered nutrition. They just ate what they wanted according to what was available when they were hungry. I dreamed of being able to do that. I dreamed of being able to “eat like a normal person” but i had sworn this idea off so long ago, accepting that i had no idea how to eat properly if i wasn’t counting something or following some set of food rules. I didn’t trust myself to make good food choices and felt like i needed some set of rules to follow outside of myself in order to be healthy and ultimately, get back to a comfortable weight. I felt like an imposter in my life and career for not being able to uphold the practices i had been preaching for the past 6 years. I felt like a failure and stopped wanting to be social out of sheer embarrassment of how much weight I gained.
i saw this meme and for some reason, felt offended. First thoughts “that’s not true!” I felt so triggered. But i knew enough to know that you cant feel triggered by something that has no truth for you, so i decided to look a little deeper. Why would that bother me so much? Well probably because it’s suggesting that if you can’t control what you eat, you’re missing a very base and key element to personal growth and self control. I knew that recently I had fallen wayyy off the wagon I’ve been on for the past 6 years and I was eating very much like the “old me.” If i was honest with myself i knew that my eating was out of control. (i was going to explain here but decided it probably needs its own blog post, so look out for that.) But at the same time my eating was out of control, i was making huge leaps and healing major issues that I’d buried deeply for many many years. This made me feel like i did have a grasp on things, and in some sense, i was doing great. but in another sense I was a had lost complete control of my eating and i knew it was effecting my emotions and energy and more importantly, allowing me to continue masking some of the feelings that were coming up. My new favorite saying is “you cannot heal what you do note feel” (came up with it myself! *pats self on back*) and if i am suppressing an emotion with food, I am not getting any closer to healing it.
I want to eat for nourishment again. I want to eat for energy again. I want to relearn my relationship with food, with hunger, and with “dieting.” I have avoided fad diets for so long but what has been true for me is that if i am not counting calories or macros or SOMETHING, i stop losing or start gaining. It’s like i need to record every single thing i eat for accountability so i know when to stop. My gut instinct tells me this is not the way it has to be though. My ancestors didn’t do this. They ate real food simply when they were hungry and avoided obesity related disease as simple as that. I want to be able to do that SO BAD.
Why i decided to fast: In the past i had considered fasting for the healing benefits. The body uses so much energy and resources digesting food and when it doesn’t have to worry about the constant break down (and often times, toxin removal with the kind of foods we eat today) of food, it can use those resources to repair other areas of the body. In nature, there are no animals that eat when they are sick. They all fast to get well. I had also briefly considered fasting for the spiritual benefit. I had also read about people who fasted and meditated for days on end and had all of these epiphanies and awakenings along the way. I read this one post about a woman who literally dreamed about herself breaking up with her binge eating disorder on the 9th day of her fast. I had lots of reasons to want to try out a fast, but realizing i was triggered by a meme was definitely the straw that broke my back.
My plan going in was that i would fast for only two days. I planned to drink water, continue to take my multivitamin and b12, and to allow myself 4oz of kombucha and a glass of tea each day. I’d also read it’s a good idea to take some sea salt so you don’t become mineral deficient, so i licked a bit off the back of my hand once or twice as well.
Day 1 My fast started at midnight either Tuesday night, or technically Wednesday morning. I woke up feeling fine Wednesday as I hadn’t fasted any longer than i normally do overnight. That morning I had to go to Walmart and as soon as i pulled into the parking lot i was stressed out. My first thought was “I’m going to buy chips.” This may not have even stood out to me the day before, but because I wasn’t taking in any food, it really stood out that at the first sign of stress my FIRST thought was chips? I did not buy any chips. Later that evening I had some really bad period cramps (i had started the night before) and again, my first thought was “i should probably eat something.” What?? Literally my belly is hurting me and i am thinking food is in the answer? Nothing about eating any type of food cures cramps…why would i be thinking like this? Well there’s not a single food that actually cures stress but I am also using food for that. I guess you could say this was my first epiphany of the fast. These weren’t thoughts i was having because I was fasting. They are thoughts I have often and more often than not recently, act on. The only difference was that I actually noticed and gave real thought to the idea before acting on impulse without thinking twice. In addition to this realization and the mental shift that came with it, I had a great day 1. I went for a two mile walk on the beach and honestly didn’t ever really feel very hungry. I drank a ton of water and when i sipped on kombucha in the evening it tasted better than it ever had before. (to be honest i am not in love with kombucha but i know how good it is for me so ive been trying to love it.)
Day 2 On the afternoon of day 2, when i hit the 36 hours of fasting mark, I was surprised I was still pooping. That was mind blowing to me, that 36 hours after consuming my last bite of food and my body is still pushing left over junk out of my intestines and colon. On the second day i had SUPER high energy- like as much energy as my best days eating food. I worked doing hair all day and sipped on my water every chance I got. For my workout I did yoga and was THRILLED to realize that when i saw a commercial for BUY ONE GET ONE FREE PIZZA (pizza is my weakness) I didn’t even consider breaking the fast or look deeper into the deal to find out how long it was going on for. It was just in one ear, out the other, with the exception of realizing what a huge deal it was that i wasn’t tempted by it. Historically, if i even see a picture of pizza, chips, french fries or sweets, i begin to crave it. This felt like MAJOR progress. I also began to realize that although i didnt actually feel any kind of weak or hungry, i did keep noticing my stomach was growling. I decided to look up WHY our stomachs growl and was blown away to learn that a growling stomach doesnt mean that we are hungry. It is the sound we hear when food or gas is being moved through our stomach and intestines. the sound echos in an empty stomach so we generally only hear it when our stomach is empty. However, and empty stomach does NOT mean the body is hungry. The body is hungry when it has depleted its nutrition sources. Hunger is not about food volume, its about nutritional value. This is why when we eat junk food we can feel like a bottomless pit that is never satisfied- why it makes it so easy for so many of us to binge. Eating nutritionally inadequate poison doesnt signal being full as much as ‘eat more!’ because the body is still missing the nutrients it needed before the meal was consumed. FASCINATING.
Day 3 On the morning of day 3 I decided to keep going. I didn’t feel like my body was telling me it NEEDED food yet, and i still managed to poop a tiny bit. I did not feel the energy i had felt on the two previous days and sometime after noon it finally happened, it could not stop thinking about food. Not unhealthy food, though. I wanted greens and sesame oil, oddly enough. I felt like i couldnt get anything done because my mind was so distracted so i decided to have a glass of almond milk finally, around 6pm. It really did not help as i continued to obsesses over whether my body was telling me to break the fast or not. At 8:30pm (68 hours into fasting) I broke the fast with a handful of baby carrots. They tasted amazing. I wondered if i should just eat a meal since i had “fucked up the fast anyways” but thats when i caught myself in an old familiar thought pattern again. How many times in life had i been eating “on track” and had one thing that was “off track” and decided fuck it! im just eating junk for the rest of the day! TOO MANY TIMES. no, i wasnt considering eating junk, i didnt even have the desire to eat junk, but why does it have to be all or nothing for me? I realized this is a theme in my life, especially with food. I give up sugar for 3 months, eat one item with sugar and say ‘fuck it’ and go on a sugar binge. i eat dairy free for 4 years and eat 1 piece of milk chocolate and say ‘fuck it’ and go on a milk chocolate binge. I can’t say i have ever fully realized this pattern in myself before, which is kind of odd since i am one to quote Bob Harper and say “throwing in the towel over one bad meal is like getting a flat tire so you slash the other three.” for a long time, i even lived by that quote. But somewhere in my struggle of the past year I had forgotten it. It felt good to finally be truly reminded. The good news is, i didn’t do that this time. I ate the carrots and felt a bit satisfied before i even finished them all, so get this. I STOPPED EATING. Not only did i not binge but i stopped eating when my stomach was full. I continued to fast overnight and began eating the next day.
The Day After The next day i started with a green juice and worked my way into a smoothie and eventually a salad with brussel sprouts for dinner. I can’t say I felt any more or less energy than my normal days and when i went for a run, my workout wasn’t more or less hard. However, I did see some amazing looking donuts on my instagram feed (thanks to Ads SMH- i dont follow any accounts that post junk food so that i can have a “safe space” on the internet) and again- no temptation! I thought for sure once i started eating again i would want to stuff my face with everyyyyything but it really wasn’t the case.
Here are my physical results of the fast:
According to my body analyzer (usecode SCALEGOALS to get it for $50) I lost 4.8lbs of my weight. My body fat decreased by .9 and my muscle mass increased by .5. However, what was really weird to me (and i got on and off 4x to make sure it was right) was that my bone mass went down by .2lbs….. I didn’t think it was healthy to lose bone mass during a fast and i wondered if there had ever been any research about it so i was relieved to see there has been: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ije/2015/628740/ In the future, when i fast again and for longer, I will be paying a LOT of attention to this, as well as seeing if that .2lbs returns when i start taking food again.
Reasons I Stopped Fasting The biggest reason i stopped was because I didn’t trust my body or the process. I had read that a person with adewuate body fat (trust me, i got it) can often fast safely for up to 40 days, but i kept wondering if my body was eating my muscles i worked so hard for or it was somehow and someway hurting me. I also did a lot more reading DURING the fast and found that it is best to eat super healthy to prep for a fast so that your body has reserves of nutrition to start with. I had been eating like junk for 2 months straight pretty much, i am sure i didnt have a ton of nutritional reserves. I also stopped because i am taking a plant medicine this weekend and was specifically instructed NOT to fast on those days, so i knew i needed to stop within the week.
Initially i thought i would just do it for two days, so i am thrilled that i lasted three! I am also thrilled with my lack of desire to junk and my ability to stop eating when i am full, so far. Yesterday was the 2nd day post fast and i met a friend for brunch. I had vegan chicken and waffles and thought i would be SCREAMING for sugar afterward and potentially have to battle the desire to binge. But i didnt. I ate the waffles and only used half of the syrup and half of the whipped cream! I didnt decide to do this as a diet choice, that was just all i needed. It felt SO GOOD to not use the extra syrup just because it was there or be tempted to lick the residue out of the whipped cream bowl. Not only was brunch a success but i had no desire to binge after. I didn’t eat until dinner time and was happy with a salad with some quinoa and beans. I FELT LIKE MY OLD SELF AGAIN!!! not like my old old self, who stuffed her face with poison to the point of crashing and literally needing a nap before i could do anything else, but like my old self that I have lost this past year. The self i have become over the last 7 years and was in LOVE with. The self that ran a marathon and felt healthy and strong and fit and wasnt controlled by food. I felt like HER again and it felt DAMN good.
With that said, i think it is pretty obvious i will fast again. Next time i will better prepare by eating clean and whole food beforehand. Next time i will not choose a length of the fast, but truly dive into listening to my body telling me when it is depleted. I can’t imagine what i could work through with a week or even weeks where i dont have food to mask my feelings or to occupy my mind. I can’t imagine what i could get to the root of or break free from without my food crutch.
At the end of this post i will share all of the sources i dove into to become educated about how to fast properly but first i want to make sure to point out what may be ovbvious to some but not so much to others, and is not something i want to be overlooked by anyone. Regularly binging and eating junk food, followed by fasting, is not a healthy habit but rather, the beginning of an eating disorder. Please use this information to heal your body. Please do not use this information to inspire a habit of binging and starving. Fasts are not punishments. We do not do this because we have “been bad.” Therefore, a fast should always be planned. Don’t decide “I am going to fast tomorrow because i ate like shit all weekend.” Fasting is NOT a punishment or consequence of binge eating. Please read up on the process, be honest with yourself, be self aware and journal your thoughts to notice patterns or unhealthy correlations, and always remember an eating disorder is never a healthy option to reach your goals.
“before” at a wedding & “after” at the Palace of Versailles
I recently traveled to France for two weeks. During my stay I had two major observations that seemed highly contradicting. The first was that everyone smokes cigarettes and it’s not uncommon for people to share a beer in the park in the middle of the afternoon. The second was that even so, Parisians still seemed so much healthier and in shape than what I am used to here in America.
I almost never saw an overweight person while in France. I don’t think I saw a single obese person who wasn’t an obvious tourist, the whole time I was there, either. It got me wondering who is actually healthier? How does life expectancy compare from France to the United States? Do Americans live longer because we are slowly cutting down on tobacco and we shame people who have a drink before 5’oclock? Or do the French live longer even though they drink like fish and smoke like chimneys, because they’re not facing the risks associated with obesity?
enjoying a beer with a new friend! This is in the park, around 3pm. When in Rome! I mean, Paris! lol
According to the World Health Organization, France has the 9th longest life expectancy. Hop down to number 31 on the list, and you’ve got the United States. How is it that a country who takes so much pride in their medical and technological advances has a shorter life expectancy?
My theory is lifestyle. It seems to me that a persons overall lifestyle can be healthy enough to almost counteract other bad habits, like smoking and drinking. I am by no means encouraging smoking or alcohol consumption, but rather, inviting you to just think about this. Consider if we adapted these lifestyle changes and didn’t drown in a bottle every night and suffocate ourselves with poisoned air. How healthy could we be then??? if a person can smoke cigarettes and drink booze and still live longer because their general lifestyle is so healthy, how healthy could we be by adapting to the positives only? It’s something worth considering!
Oh my STAIRS
The main transportation around Paris is by train or metro. Nearly every station involves a flight or two, but most stations involve much more than that. On the second day of my trip, my friend fell and sprained her knee, making us grossly aware of how many flights we were climbing each day. One station required us to climb 12 flights of stairs. The staircase was spiral, so the end was not in sight. I actually lied to my friend about being able to see the exit, to motivate her up the stairs, when in reality we weren’t even half way there. Most stations had more like 2-5 flights of stairs to take, but even they didn’t make it easy.
This was probably the 3rd or 4th staircase I got to tackle, with a 22kg suitcase and 13kg backpack!
Sometimes there were escalators, but often times they were out of service. I don’t know that I came across a single working escalator the first day I arrived, with 75lbs of luggage to transport. Due to my friend’s injury, we actually did keep an eye out for elevators, and only found them maybe 15% of the time. There’s a district in greater Paris called Montmartre, where we visited the Sacre Coeur. The church is on the top of a hill, with everything else built on the hill around it. In order to get from place to place, a person has no choice but to put in some work on stairs. I LOVE LEG DAY and still, my booty and thighs were sore the next day. (ok, so maybe i ran up and down a few extra flights for fun lol) Who needs a StairMaster with a city like that?
View courtesy of a million staircases in Montmartre! lol Imagine climbing that hill, but the entire climb is stairs!
Bicycles Are Legit Transportation
Most people aren’t traveling by car in France, and it was no different the few days I spent in the Netherlands. So many people ride bikes there, that they have entire parking lots dedicated to bicycles. I have never seen so many bicycles in my life as I saw in a 5 minute stroll through town, ironic having seen the Tour De France just a few days earlier.
A parking lot in Arnhem, Netherlands.
In addition to the parking lots, there are bike lanes on most of the streets. There are lanes for cars, a sidewalk for pedestrians and a lane (with a dotted line and everything!) for bicycles. I saw so few cars on the road there. The only time I even got in a car was for a grocery shopping trip where we were getting a case of beer, among other heavy things. People run their errands by foot or bike. We took the bus once and it was almost empty lol
Pedestrians can walk in the middle or far left or right. The right lanes are for cars, the left lanes are for bikes. It was a rainy day in Arnhem, so not many people were out.
My friends pointed out to me that a 12oz bottle of Coke cost about 3€ , close to $4. Meanwhile, I got a basket of about 15 fresh, juicy figs for 2€ at a train station! Which leads me to my next observation:
Fresh, Healthy Food Is Everywhere
This was one of the best parts of Paris. The mainstream grocery stores had plenty of good food, but there were also fresh veggies available in tons of little shops in the middle of the city and where I got my figs, in the train station.
Train station produce!
They also had fresh salads (tabbouleh and shredded carrot were the most common) among other healthy options at nearly every convenience or grocery store. I was surprised and excited to find a ton of vegan foods (faux meats, nut milks, etc) at the grocery stores too. I didn’t go to a single “grab and go” shop that had fried chicken or pizza or corn dogs. Of course there was junk available, but where our stores feel like 80% junk and 20% good food, theirs felt like maybe 70% good food and 30% junk. I saw a couple fast and fried food restaurants, but nothing compared to the saturation we’re used to in the United States. In my experience, it is more convenient to eat healthy food than junk food in Europe.
One of my favorite ‘grab and go’ places called Nostrum. Fresh salads and dishes in microwave safe containers. They provide utensils, plates, and microwaves. You warm it up yourself. Cheaper than McDonald’s and MUCH healthier.
Another option you could get anyhwhere, for as little as 85 cents, is a baguette. I ate one of those, or a croissant, every single day and never looked like I was delivering a gluten baby or had any kind of diarrhea, as I experience when I eat gluten regularly here in the states. If you read my blog post or saw the YouTube video about GMO wheat and gluten sensitivity, I am pretty sure this is because the wheat in France isn’t GMO. They allow the import of gmo products but not the cultivation, so this means if I buy french bread, made in France with french wheat, it isn’t genetically modified; in other words, its more easily recognized by the body and digested. At first I thought maybe it had something to do with the production of bread in small bakeries; maybe they allow the dough to ferment. But eventually I was eating corner store croissants and baguettes, you know, the cheap kind, and that didn’t make me sick or bloated either. I ate many a baguette with hummus as a meal, and had no discomfort!
The bread indulgence was REAL.
Clean Water, For Free
One of my favorite perks in Paris was that the tap water tastes amazing. Now, I didn’t actually test the chemical or bacterial count in this water myself, but I am a water snob, so if I liked it, it’s probably good. It tasted clean and was recommended to drink by locals who were very health conscious, so i decided to trust. water from every kitchen or bathroom sink I tasted, taste like it came right out of my Berkey filter. Once you leave the house or hotel, there are spickets available to fill water bottles, for free, at many of the parks. I wouldn’t have noticed this one my own if a local hadn’t shown me, and I am so glad he did! When we went to refill our bottles, I thought we were going to some kind of obvious drinking fountain, but it was a little different. They look just like the type of faucet you’re supposed to attach a hose to. I’d never have thought to fill up at one of those, but I did every time I passed one, after I learned this life hack!
An example of a place to fill your water! And random people just hanging out in the park at sunset.
People Hang Out Outside
My favorite part of Europe was being able to go for a walk in a park or just take a seat somewhere outside, knowing i would have interaction with other people. Sadly, in my experience in the USA, this is mostly common in the hood. You see lots of people outside in the hood. But once you’re out of the hood, people don’t really hang out, outside, without intention. Yes, we go outside to go to the beach or we go outside to have a garage sale, but do we go outside just to go outside? I know I don’t often. Do we go to the park just to enjoy a picnic or fresh air or a bottle of wine or a sunset? Not often enough. I loved that part of Europe. The constant immersion in people and vitamin D. Now, obviously just sitting outside isn’t really going to make a person healthier, but the vitamin D and the fresh air will. I have no way to measure the result of this lifestyle difference on their life expectancy, but it truly stood out to me that people spend more time outside and i would hypothesize that it’s not only good for the body, but for the soul.
Fresh Squeezed OJ
As a Floridian, I am ashamed to announce that fresh squeezed orange juice is easier to get in France than Florida. Here we have machines to fresh squeeze for us at Whole Foods and other specialty stores. In France they have them EVERYWHERE. Whether it was the only grocery store we had access to in the French country-side or the grocer in the middle of Paris, there was always fresh squeezed OJ for sale. And remember how 12oz of soda was costs nearly $4? It’s the same price for a LITER of 100% natural juice, squeezed in front of your face. This is how it should be.
SO fresh and delicious and cheap!
The average person’s lifestyle in France and Netherlands is just so much more active and healthy than anywhere I’ve ever lived in the United States. People don’t have to carve out an hour to go to the gym; they’re getting cardio just getting to and from work every day. They don’t have to burn so many extra calories because they’re not eating so much crap food. They’re an example of some of the habits we should embrace when making a lifestyle change.
I spent 26 days on vacation and only gained 1.6lbs. I didn’t meal plan, I didn’t meal prep, and I didn’t visit a gym even once. The second half of my vacation was spent in my home state, Massachusetts, and I will absolutely own up to binge eating nachos and drinking more in a week than I probably ever have in a 3 month period. I didn’t walk anywhere and my lifestyle was much more reflective of the average person on vacation. I am willing to bet I actually LOST weight (even while eating croissants) in Europe, and just gained it back plus 1.6 during my time in Massachusetts. I am planning to visit for about 2 months next summer and I cannot wait to see the difference the lifestyle makes in my body and mind when implemented for an extended period.
Don’t worry, I’ll share! 🙂
In the meantime I am getting back on track here in the states and holding myself accountable with a DietBet. Check it out or join us here– game starts September 4th!
Two months and 26 days until the next “best weekend ever!”
I didn’t realize that I hadn’t even blogged about Live Love Healthy Retreat yet. Kinda weird since when I am super enthusiastic about something, the first place I usually run is to the blog! But the event is a LOT of work, starting with planning for months prior and cleaning and unpacking and reorganizing for weeks after…. I guess I can easily see how writing a blog post about it could get overlooked!
Live Love Healthy Retreat is a women’s only, all inclusive, 3 night, fitness and wellness retreat for women who are working toward building a happier and healthy life. It was created for and inspired by YOU. Over 5 years ago I started my personal lifestyle change and transformation, losing over 100lbs and coming off depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder medications for the first time in 12 years. I took control of my diet, my body, my mind, and my life and started documenting it all and the love and support I received from the great people of the internet was life changing. So often my followers (and new friends!) would comment about how badly they wished they could just spend a couple days with me living in my shoes, or how they wished they could exercise on the beautiful beaches of Miami, or how they wished they just had the push to get started living a life by design.
While training for my first marathon, I started really thinking about how I could accommodate these desires. How could I actually help the people who’ve helped me? How could I share a piece of the amazing life I get to live, with them? How could i better inspire them to come on board than with a real life experience- not just with quotes, pictures, and blog posts on the internet.
I would run up and down Hollywood beach, dreaming of a way to be able to buy a boutique hotel to host fitness getaways at. My desire was so strong, but my finances were not. I don’t have millions of dollars to buy a beach front hotel (yet.) But fortunately for all of us, running is a moving meditation for me and I get some of my BEST ideas while in motion when I allow myself to just be in my own head. And that’s how the idea hit me. I could rent.
I knew I wanted the event to be in a price point that was do-able to the average person, so when I started inquiring about renting out entire boutique hotels, my hopes were sort of crushed in believing the average woman would not be able to afford my retreat. I wanted the event to be accessible, so that wasn’t going to work.
Then I learned about these adorable log cabins that are available at one of my favorite state parks in Miami. They were reasonably priced, super private, and only a short walk away from mangrove trails and a beautiful white sand, salty beach. It was the perfect location.
In August of 2016, I hosted the first ever Live Love Healthy Retreat. I had arranged to accommodate 9 women, but the event sold out so fast, I had to reserve the last available cabin to accommodate 3 more!
I will never forget that first retreat. I was so scared and nervous and so so so very overwhelmed. It was very hot and I worried about people passing out from dehydration or not enough to eat or over exertion. I didn’t have an official assistant so I had to go back and fourth to my apartment and the store for supplies and no part of it was relaxing for me at all lol (for the record, no one passed out or puked lol)
But still, great memories were made. The group was so diverse, we had 23 year olds all the way up to 56 year olds. We had plus size women just getting started, women who’d already lost nearly 100lbs, and even a former figure competitor. The blend couldn’t have been better. And since the retreat is designed for all sizes and levels, no one was “left behind.”
It was a very humid weekend, but I was so impressed by the attitude of these ladies. Most of them were first time kayakers and handled it like pros! No one quit at bootcamp and after our yoga class, I felt like we had become a cohesive group. By the time the last morning came, I was truly sad to see these ladies go and wished I could’ve spent more time with them. One of the ladies admitted she’d had a diet coke in her cabin all along, but never drank it. We giggled at her confession and celebrated her strength as she poured the soda out into the grass. After 4 days of healthy food, fitness, adventure, and self care, it was time to go home and apply the new found motivation to our daily lives.
The second retreat happened in March of 2017. This time we had a smaller group, but it ended up being a blessing in disguise. A smaller group is more intimate and I felt like we bonded as a group from day 1. It also helped that it was no longer my first rodeo and I was prepared with ice breaker activities for the first night. I was also prepared with an assistant who did all my running around and picture taking for me, so I could fully enjoy the experience and get to know the amazing women who’d joined me.
During the March 2017 retreat we had some rainy weather, typical of Miami, but it didn’t rain on our parade. A plus side to running a retreat where everyone is trying to become the best version of themselves is that everyone is trying to go with the flow and just enjoy the experience, so as a group it’s much less likely to have a bad attitude. This group was so enthusiastic; we went kayaking in what felt like a freaking hurricane! (this was a unanimous vote- wouldn’t have forced them.) What could’ve been the worst kayaking trip ever was filled with lots of laughter and lots of calories burned. We all made it out alive and everyone is a little better at kayaking after kicking ass in those kind of conditions!
Now that I have hosted the retreat twice, in two different seasons, I feel I am really well prepared for number three, which is happening September 28- October 1, 2017. I know how to accommodate a large group, I know how to accommodate a small group. I know how to handle the sticky humid heat and I know how to handle the rainy spring time. So many things I didn’t even think about, I am super prepared for at this point. Each retreat gives me new ideas for the next retreat, and the things that are brewing in my head for the upcoming dates are freaking AWESOME.
I know this event is only going to get better and better with time, and I believe it shows because we were even able to get businesses to sponsor the last retreat and the upcoming one. We are working on developing relationships with our sponsors that encourage long term sponsorship. This means more awesomeness for our guests, but no additional price tag for that awesomeness! I’m proud to say this retreat costs guests only $500, which is almost 40% more affordable than comparable getaways. Plus, we offer payment plans for those who need them.
I know it’s almost 3 months away, but I am already working on the meal plan for the next trip lol I love love love love planning healthy, fresh, plant based, meals and I love the challenge even more when most the people eating the food do not normally eat a vegan diet. I am also working on finding additional sponsors and maybe even guest speakers that align with our mission. Later this month I’ll be attending a personal development workshop, to learn new ways to help my guests grow and learn about themselves to make the most out of our time together.
As always, our upcoming retreats will focus on fitness, adventure, clean plant based eating, self care, sisterhood, relaxation and transformation. Having the opportunity to create this space and watch the event develop into what I know it is meant to be, has been incredible and is something I truly cannot be more grateful to be able to share with all of you!
A few weeks ago I completed my fourth Spartan Race and had the freaking time of my life, so of course, I want to tell you guys all about it!
I didn’t even realize the race was coming back to Miami until about 6 weeks before, but I knew immediately I had to sign up. I got my first taste of Spartan racing back in 2013 at the Biggest Loser Off Road Challenge, which was an opportunity to run just a 3 mile segment of a Spartan Race. You can read about it in my original blog, here. After that I ran a handful of “knock off” Spartans until I was ready to run my first full Spartan, the next year.
This year’s course map!
Because I found out so last minute and prices had already gone up to the max, I decided I was going to run this race for free vs come out of pocket. Yes, you read that right. You can run ANY Spartan Race for free if you sign up (and show up) to a volunteer shift. Of my 4 Spartans, I have raced 3 of them entirely free thanks to the volunteering opportunity. You can sign up for a shift the week before to help build and set up the festival area, or you can volunteer during race weekend. You then get to use your credit at that race or save it for a future race. I love volunteering because 1)obstacle racing gets expensive 2)you feel so much more appreciation for the race when you see the work that goes into setting it up 3)I always burn hella calories and get a nice tan during my volunteer shift 4) 9 times out of 10, the build crew is freaking awesome 5)you meet other local and awesome Spartans.
All of these experiences rang true for my volunteer shift this time around- but especially the meeting other awesome and local Spartans. One of my jobs during volunteering was to set up all the tents in the festival area and I was to do this with a Spartan employee named Henry and another volunteer named Chrissy and man did I luck out. Henry and Chrissy were both super funny and had great attitudes. Not only that, but Chrissy was planning to run the race with a team on Sunday and invited me to join them!
My awesome volunteer tshirt!
I was super stoked because although I have done a handful of races as part of a team, most of the time I am on my own. It’s kinda sad-ish not to have anyone cheering for you when you finish any race, but when you’re obstacle racing these things sometimes required a push or a hand and if you’re alone, you’re either going to do a ton of burpees (you’re supposed to do 30 for every challenge you dont complete on the first try) or you’re going to have to ask strangers for help. I have done both and honestly, there is always a stranger willing to throw you over a wall or push your ass up, but it’s just nice to know you’re in this with someone who isn’t going to leave you. But even teams often split up according to the pace different members are keeping, and it is still possible to end up on your own.
I wasn’t sure if Chrissy and I would actually stay together the whole race, but i was really excited to have a team to start with and meet at the finish line. And to my surprise- Chrissy was like my racing partner sent from heaven LOL The best part about running with Chrissy was that we kept a similar pace. Sometimes she pushed me to run further, sometimes I made the suggestion, but we were definitely on the same page. When it came to obstacles we were also a good team- we are both strong and could do the majority of them- but there were a few we were able to help each other out with, big time!
Chrissy and I at the Bucket Brigade!
There is this zigzag wall you have to use all your grip strength to hold on (like a rock wall with no place for your finger tips) and instead of climbing up, you are stepping sideways for about 20′. My body was not ready for this obstacle and neither was Chrissy’s. But because we have similar strength and weight we were able to support each other all the way across and skip the burpees! Seriously, she held on for dear life and planted her feet on the wall, i got in a slight squat behind her and put my chest right under her butt, and side stepped with her so she couldnt fall. After she completed, she did the same for me! Talk about team work!
The view from the top of the A Frame!
I trained for this race the whole 6 weeks, but if you’re prepping for you first Spartan, I would suggest doing their daily workouts for at least double the time first. In the past when I have run and didn’t actually train first, it was very hard and honestly, not as fun. But even with just the 6 weeks this time around, it definitely helped. I only had to skip the monkey bars, rope climb, and spear throw! I’d never gotten over the 7 foot wall or or done the rock wall thingy or hurdles without the help of my partner, but I was still proud that I was able to conquer all of the other obstacles on my own. Many of those obstacles are the same ones I have had to get help with in the past and now I can do them not quite effortlessly, but definitely without much struggle!
6 foot wall!
We finished the Spartan Sprint (just over 3 miles and 19 obstacles) in an hour and a half and stayed to enjoy the festival area for a bit, afterward. Chrissy mentioned she was planning to go for the Trifecta this year, and since that’s something I have on my own bucket list, I’ve decided to join her! (Trifecta is when you run one of each length Spartan Race in the same calendar year. Sprint 3-5 miles, Super 6-8 miles, Beast 11-13 miles)
Chrissy did her Super in central Florida this past weekend (get it girl!!) and I convinced my sister and some friends to do the Super in western Massachusetts this August. A Beast is coming to the Tampa area in December, and that is when Chrissy and I will finish our Beast together and become official Spartan Trifecta Racers!!! This has been on my bucketlist pretty much since 2013/14 but I had no intentions of getting it done this year, but the timing just feels so right!! AROOOOOOO!!!!
The U.S. women’s national soccer team won an Olympic Gold Medal in 2012 and were crowned world champions in 2015, yet this year they have won one of their hardest battles: equal pay. Think Progress reported that their persistence paid off and this April they were given a new deal that improves their pay. To honor the hard work done by the soccer team off the pitch, we look at how they became successful on the pitch.
To get into World Cup winning shape the team had to work hard both on their training and diet. In an interview with InStyle Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and Christen Press were asked how they dealt with the pressure of staying fit. Press told the site that she dealt with pressure by practicing mindfulness. This is a great way to keep yourself motivated through meditation. Often the pressures of life build up and we find ourselves running out of time and don’t take a step back and take stock. Mindfulness allows a person to focus on their goals.
Diet is vital to getting into shape. What you eat is as important as what you don’t eat. U.S. captain Becky Sauerbrunn informed Women’s Health that she always has mix of foods ready: “I always make sure I have three things: liquids, complex carbohydrates, and lean proteins.” However, she doesn’t let her strict diet get in the way of the more tasty foods and admitted that she loves limeade. Sauerbrunn led the U.S. to their World Cup victory in 2015. In the semi-finals she masterminded a victory against Germany, who according to soccer expert Michael Lintorn who has been writing for soccer analysis site Betfair for several years, were the favorites to win the tournament. Sauerbrunn’s mixed diet has helped her achieve success not only at the World Cup but also throughout her career.
According to U.S. striker Amy Rodriguez “time management, discipline and attitude” are the three important components of her preparation. In a feature article published by Success she stated that talent can only get you so far and that to be the best involves taking that extra step. She cites the example of when she gave birth to her son Ryan in 2013 and then had to fight to regain her place in the national team. After many disappointments she fought her way back into the team and became an important member of the 2015 World Cup wining squad.
What Rodriguez shows is that with hard work and determination you can still succeed. We all have career and fitness setbacks in life but we can overcome these by setting a goal for ourselves and following it through.
Hopefully the U.S. soccer team has inspired you to achieve your fitness goals. No matter where you are or what you want to achieve it can all be done through hard work and discipline. You may not be a world champion but you will definitely be a champion in your own right.
I just finished my 4th personal training session and I feel like I can’t decide if I feel so good i want to run a mile, or so exhausted i need a nap lol
I had no intentions of getting a personal trainer. I was in a fitness funk for the past year, struggling to be consistent and not let my emotions make decisions and excuses for me. But getting a trainer hadn’t even crossed my mind. I don’t normally work with a trainer. I visited one weekly for about 3-5 months, almost 5 years ago, right around the time I hit the 80lbs lost mark. She taught me so much about proper form and introduced me to foam rolling. She also was one of the most encouraging forces behind my transition to veganism. I had a great experience with her, but after a while I started working out on my own again and with the exception of my ex, who happened to be a trainer, I haven’t worked with one since.
and then a couple weeks ago YouFit gave me an opportunity to work with one of their trainers for a couple weeks. I’ve been a member there for years and I have a great relationship with them and this offer couldn’t have come at a better time.
Last Monday I started working out with my new trainer, Jaimes. This was the day I weighed in at 201lbs and got the reality check I didn’t even know I needed. I’ve never had to weigh in in front of someone before, besides when I did Weight Watchers in high school and of course at doctors appointments. I have used the internet to hold myself accountable for the bulk of my transformation, but I honestly have picked and chose when I shared my weight this past year or two. Still, I didn’t expect to feel momentarily mortified by my weigh in. I was surprised personally, I knew I’d gained weight but not that much. But also, this person doesn’t know me and I don’t feel like that weight was an accurate representation of what I really made of. More so, it’s the representation of my current struggle. I don’t want my body to represent my struggles, but rather, my strengths. Talk about motivation!
After I weighed in, we got to work and I was super impressed with the way Jaimes trains. It’s not that I didn’t think YouFit had great trainers, it’s just that I go to the gym around the same time in the late morning/early afternoon everyday. My gym is pretty diverse but in this time frame, there are a lot of senior citizens. I see the trainers working with them and although I know the client is getting a good workout, I also know that workout wouldn’t even make me break a sweat (and it doesn’t take much to make me sweat lol) What I now realize is these trainers are really good at tailoring the workouts to fit the client’s specific needs. We’ve had 4 sessions and every single time I feel like it’s my first day working out and i might die (in a good way.) We haven’t done anything twice yet and the time goes by sooooooooo fast. I am learning creative exercises (today we worked out in the parking lot!) that I catch myself trying again on our off days, because they’re different and fun and I want to get great at them.
I didn’t really feel like I needed a trainer because 5.5 years in, I know how to exercise. What I am realizing though, is even if you know how to exercise, it’s really hard to push yourself the way someone else will. I am not a quitter, I absolutely feel like I push hard. But when I am working out alone and the set starts to burn after 8 reps its real easy to say “ok, I’ll do 10.” That’s not how it works with a trainer. Jaimes doesn’t care if I feel the burn after 8 reps. He’ll let me catch my breath for a second, but if he said 12, I’m gonna do 12! And on the rare occasion where I kill the 12 and he can tell I could keep going- he keeps counting lmao It feels weird to say, because I really didn’t feel like I slack on my own, but I definitely push harder with a trainer. It also helps to have someone watching me because I can’t always work out in front of a mirror. My trainer corrects my form when it’s not right, and if it’s something where he has to physically assist, he is a professional unlike the trainers I call out in this video.
It’s been 12 days since my first workout with Jaimes and today I weighed in 6.6lbs lighter than day 1! Monday will make 2 full weeks, so I will probably weigh in again then and share it on instagram. (I like to weigh in on Mondays because it helps me to not make bad decisions over the weekend.)
This experience has been super eye opening to me. A few weeks before I was offered the sessions I was actually asked if I am a personal trainer or just certified in group exercise. I explained that I only have a group certification and I don’t really have the desire to be a “trainer” in a gym. But my mind is kinda working a little differently now. I offer virtual one on one sessions for meal planning, goal setting, and lifestyle change transitioning, but it might be kinda cool to be able to offer one on ones in the gym, too. One of the old managers of my gym used to always jokingly ask when I was going to start training for them and I never took it seriously. Now I kind of am! Will I be an official personal trainer some day, after all? Only time will tell, but the seed has definitely been planted!
Today was the day I have spent the last month counting down to- the Color Run!!! It was my second time running this 5k and I was not disappointed!
The race started at Huizenga Park in Fort Lauderdale and went around the Los Olas neighborhood, finishing with the beautiful paved path along the river. I got there a little later than expected so I had missed the warm up YouFit’s group exercise instructors taught, but I headed over to their tent for a warm up of my own, anyhow!
They had several bikes set up that you could spin on and your efforts would help store energy in the generator! You know I am all about the fact that they’re a green gym so this obviously. Add me happy! After my muscle loosened up, I gave the prize wheel a spin and won a pair of lime green YouFit sunglasses- perfect to keep the colored powder out of my eyes!
The first wave of participants started at 7:30, followed by a new wave every 10 minutes. While in the corral they had an MC encouraging us to jump and “do the wave” while he tossed prizes into the group. I knew this race was a “fun run” opposed to something you sign up for to compete or break records, but I forgot that this isn’t even a timed race. There is no time chip on your race bib and there is no clock ticking by the finish line. You can time yourself with an app or fitness tracking device but that’s just not what this race is about. Once just after mile 2, a cop actually had the racers stop for a moment to let some cars by. People would’ve lost their minds about losing that 20 seconds at most 5ks. Not this one! It truly is good vibes only.
During the just over 3 mile run, there were color stations where volunteers spray you with colored chalk as you run by. There were purple, pink, green and yellow color stations and just before the finish line, a huge pit of blue colored foam. I accidentally got some in my mouth and to my surprise it tasted like blue raspberry- with a little hint of soap!
After crossing the finish I was handed my awesome unicorn medal as well as a packet of colorful powder to toss in the air in the festival area. All of their sponsors had tents set up with tons of samples of snacks and drinks, plus YouFit was even offering a free week pass (you can download a free day pass on their website, anytime.) I stayed to enjoy the festival for a while and headed home for clean up.
I definitely have to note that I believe they changed the formula of the powder since the last time I did a color run. This powder came off my body much easier than I remember and I am hoping it does the same with my clothes. The Color Run does offer these helpful tips for getting cleaned up, if you find yourself struggling though.
It’s only 10am and I’ve already completed a 5k, did a little spinning & attended a unicorn dance party! Talk about a great way to start the day and weekend!
Ps: I was able to switch my Spartan Race to tomorrow so I can run with a team vs by myself! Check back for another update about the Miami Spartan Race, later this week! #aroo