The Strong Girl Survives

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor  the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to  change. ~Charles Darwin

Changes in my life have changed me for what seems a million times.  I’d like to think it’s eased up by now and definitely getting better.  Most changes that I’ve endured have also changed my body, looks and self-esteem over the years…for the good and many for the bad.  And for those reasons I thought I would go more in-depth to some of the occurrences in my life that have made positive or negative changes.  Back at the beginning of my blog I gave you my health and fitness journey for the past couple years, but I think the body and mind affect each other over time.  I can’t go into the “why’s” of it all…because I just really don’t know why…I think change (shit) happens and I guess the strong girl survived.

Let’s dip back in time to early teens…yes the awkward stage for most girls and boys and geez was I ever awkward.  I was overweight, had bad acne, glasses until the 9th grade, not “popular” and add in that it was the early 80’s…not a good image!  Eating at home wasn’t that bad, but there was a corner store across the street that was full of candy bars and chips just for me!  The poor self-esteem started to develop.  My best thing going for me was my artwork. By the 11th grade in high school being able to draw Prince, Michael Jackson and Simon LeBon made me a hit for a while.  And my weight fluctuated of course because I was feeling good.  That is until  September 26th, 1984 when my mom passed away from leukemia at age 39.  I’m sure I do not need to go into how devastating it was for me and my family.  I was 16, starting my senior year in high school…life was not good.  I remember my art teacher telling me I needed to snap out of it…not to be harsh, but I was becoming comatose.  I did a little, but starting college my funk grew worse on the inside and for the next few years and I gained and gained and gained weight.  I would cope on the outside trying to stay happy and focused (at least I think that’s the game I played), but my insides needed hot fudge sundaes and big plates of whatever I could shove in.

Then I saw the photos of my drunken 19th birthday at the bar (yes in Canada the drinking age is 19) and I was horrified!  Had I not looked in a mirror for a few years?!  What happened to me?!  The oversized baggy clothes covered me up.  I stepped on a scale and it tipped at 180lbs for my little 5’0″ frame.  BOOM…Change!  I went on a “health” kick or what I would call now a starvation diet.  I kept track of every single calorie that went in my body.  If it was low-calorie, low-fat, low portion then I was in.  I kept myself to 500 calories a day during the week and on Saturdays and Sundays I would splurge a little, but on going out/drinking nights I wouldn’t eat so I could drink.  Nice.  I also exercised a lot…whatever excercise video I could fit in. In a year I lost 81 lbs…down to weighing 99 lbs!  Sounds good…uh no…someone actually told me I had a big head.  I learned some good exercises, but I had no muscle at all (because it weighed more so why do that!) and I was skinny.

The next 20 years, and boy have they flown by, can be considered a roller coaster of life events that would affect me mentally and physically over time…some of it literally a blur; a whirlwind of depression to happiness and seemingly going nowhere in-between…from marriage/divorce to moving adventures to owning a restaurant to a hurricane to this, that and the other.  The final “blow” per se, would be the day my Dad passed away suddenly in 2006…rolling about life, doing pretty well, the phone call comes in.  Back to that numb feeling.  Yes, it affected my weight again and put me in a sad state, but after a year of that I knew something in me had to change.  It sounds corny to say I had to “find myself”, but I think everyone does at some point in their life…and since it didn’t take overnight to get myself into this rut, it wouldn’t happen overnight to get out of it.  My dad had a huge change in his life when my mom passed away…he could have withered away, but decided to take life by the horns and live it to the fullest…knowing there is only one life to live and it’s pretty short, relatively speaking.  I would say he was, all in all, having a happy, fun life up until the day he died.  Hmm…something to learn from this man.

Since that day, the changes kept coming…trying to figure out how life is supposed to work…I still stumbled and I think earlier this year the lightbulb went off, which lead to my current journey.

A few months ago, when I started my blog, my cousin sent me a message on Facebook: “Congratulations, I’m really impressed with your transformation.  You should feel proud.  I’m only sending these so you can gloat.”  And attached was three photos, which I thought were from my worst moment at 19 years old, but looking closer, it was only about 10 years ago.  I was shocked because I didn’t recognize that lost, overweight woman.

And then I received another message from him that really touched me and means so much to me…I would have been hesitant to include this, but support like this keeps the journey going : “Hi Denise, First off, congrats again on the tremendous transformation.  Unreal.  I want to say though your greatest accomplishment is the mental toughness that it took to see it through.  Your determination is remarkable.  Even more though, good for you finding your solid ground of independence.  I know you’re a victim of mental abuse for at least a period of time.  I heard it myself.  Your breakthrough should be a celebration of self-confidence, determination and belief.  A lot of people spend a lot of time believing in something else, but you’ve shown a wonderful belief in yourself.  I’m happy for you.”

Writing this today, I have most certainly almost come full circle.  Even I have realized health, fitness, food, love, positivity and doing what you enjoy are the keys to happiness.  It’s not just one thing.  Coming full circle means connecting each of those rings of life.  Making it happen.  And still as I’m typing, I am still trying to figure part of it out.  I want my art to be a bigger part of my life, some way some how.  That will connect the rings.  I guess the changes will keep coming, but now I know to just adapt to the change and not just react by grabbing the first box of cookies and hiding in my cave.

I know my story pales in comparison to some and similar to many.  If you have a life story of overcoming the many obstacles you faced, let me know and possibly write a post about it.

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Stop the Holiday Bulge

So you’ve finished gobbling down pounds of turkey with gravy, sugary cranberry sauce, hoards of stuffing, marshmallowy sweet potatoes and ooey gooey pies and cakes.  And probably couldn’t move….but today you barely lifted your ass out of the bed or away from the TV to hit the sales at the stores. Well, this is just the beginning of 6 weeks of holiday fun, or should I say: don’t buy that holiday outfit yet because at this rate you wont fit in it!  And in New Orleans we get another 6 weeks of indulging with Mardi Gras, aka King Cake season. starting right after New Years.

I love the Christmas season…the lights, the trees, the music, the scents, the magical feeling, but last year I stood strong and did not give in to the holiday extra pounds.  It’s not that I didn’t or won’t have some fun in the way of food or drinks, but I’ve learned how to not let it control me.  Aren’t you tired of starting the New Year with another useless resolution to lose weight, get in shape and get healthy?  Well it’s okay to start now and still have some Holiday fun.  So, let’s put the Thanksgiving pig-out party aside and go ahead and buy yourself a new outfit for the holiday parties…and girls make it cute and sexy….this will be your first incentive to not gain any more weight this Christmas season.

No more jumping up and down trying to get your jeans on and laying down hoping they will button up…and no more having to wear sweat pants to Christmas dinner because you filled up on Holiday party goodies since Thanksgiving.  I’ve complied a few ideas to keep you on track and no, it won’t include forced vomiting after inhaling piles of cakes, cookies, breads and pies!

  • If you have a workout schedule now, don’t quit.  If you do 4 days a week, do 4 or at least 3.  If you don’t, then take up walking outdoors.  Winter, especially those of you with snow (or even sand) have a great advantage to keeping that heart rate up and staying fit.  Lift some weights!  Chop down your own tree.  Move all those boxes filled with decorations.  Holiday cleaning. Keep moving.
  • Before the holiday parties, eat at home.  Eat a meal or a good hearty snack.  I know you don’t want to cook, but having a good size portion of protein or even some nuts and healthy carbs like fruit or a big sweet potato will fill you up and keep you focused.  There is no worse decision (and I’ve done it before) than to starve yourself all day so you can eat and drink whatever you want that night at the party.  Not sure what is worse, the hangover from not eating all day or the misery of stuffing your face so much because you were starved when you arrived.
  • Choose not to bake this year.  I always felt obligated to bake numerous mounds of family cookie and pie recipes.  And although they bring great memories and taste oh so good, I would say I ate half of them! I’d give them away as gifts, bring them to work…bake and bake and bake and really would eat and eat and eat.  As you’ve read before I am addicted to sugar and most people are…so why put the crack in front of the crack addict?  I WAS a Christmas treat junkie and have put that aside.  Last year I only made meat pies and gave those away.  This year…I am making nothing.  Saving myself and my bank account.
  • If you do want to or need to bake for a party, then choose wisely.  Choose a cookie or treat that won’t make you weighted down, bloated and miserable for giving in.   I can’t go into enough why sugar and gluten (grains) are bad for your health and waistline, but instead of putting all that here, just believe me that using some recipes from many Paleo websites, blogs and cookbooks are definitely the way to go and you will be able to leave the guilt behind. (of course provided you don’t eat the whole pan of those too).  Choose coconut or almond flours instead of gluten filled flours.  Don’t use sugar, but if you must use extra dark chocolate without soy products added or a little local real honey. Nuts and dried fruit make a cookie or dessert hearty and sweet.  Don’t use vegetable shortenings, but instead use lard, grass-fed butter or coconut oil.  Keeping it full of good fats and nutrient filled ingredients instead of glutenous globs of gunk will make your new Christmas desserts a hit!
  • Go ahead and drink some adult beverages (if you are of age, of course).  Since I’ve discovered hard apple cider (or Pear) drafts, I’m hooked.  If that doesn’t suit you for a beer substitute, then just try to steer clear of gluten filled regular or light beer.  And try to steer clear of sugary liquors.  Opt for wine (red preferably) or clear liquor like vodka or tequila.  Egg nog is probably not a good choice because of the sugar and dairy, but if you do have some, and who can have much anyway, stick to the full fat egg nog made of egg and real cream…it’ll be so rich you will only have one.
  • When you hit the buffet, make good choices (as a friend of mine always says).  Go fill up your plate with the meat, seafood (not fried), veggies and fruit.  That will be the most satisfying and you probably won’t want much more. And stay away from the pastas, fried food, sauces, dips, crackers and breads. IF you still crave a “treat”, then go for it after you have filled up on the meat, fruit and veggies.  Just try to hit the non-bread or cake/non-gluten varieties…a piece of fudge is better than a piece of cake or cheesecake and don’t eat the crust or have homemade ice-cream.  Control yourself Sweet Cheeks…one treat is fine…

So, now you’re ready for the Holiday Season right? Let’s have some fun and start it off right with some good decisions we won’t feel guilty about and with a little Christmas cheer from New Orleans (the last time it snowed here in 2008)…

“That’s Not Paleo!”

So at work this week, we had our monthly birthday cake and ice-cream gathering in the kitchen.  All I can smell is the sugar from the cakes and it doesn’t even smell good to me anymore.  We sing Happy Birthday and leave to go back to my desk.  Someone asks me, “Aren’t you going to have a piece?”.  And I say with disgust, “No indeed!”…I want a huge grass-fed ribeye for my birthday!  I now realize I think I might be a health food snob!  Oh no!

But I’ve found I really want people to be healthy; know what I know!  I want to help, but is it coming across that way?  I find myself looking at people’s carts at the grocery, even Whole Foods, and judging what’s in their carts.  I somehow find it hard to believe people still buy things in a box!  Cereal? Yuck. Milk? Quinoa? Pasta?…now they know that’s not Paleo, right?  They don’t know about GMOs and why to buy grass-fed beef and pastured chickens and eggs?  How could they not, I talk about it all the time?  And why is anyone still drinking and eating out of BPA filled plastic bottles and containers? Eww.  Gluten and grains, really?…it will destroy you!  They don’t even know the difference between Omega 3 and Omega 6?  Don’t they know if they just do Paleo for 30 days they will feel great.  I say or think all this.  I think about these things while I’m listening to the Robb Wolf podcasts, cooking my pastured eggs and grass-fed burger in bacon fat, while rubbing coconut oil on my body after I cooked my broccoli in it! And I talk the foodie talk with other people I got to do Paleo, like they’ve been doing it forever too. We can’t figure out why everyone isn’t just jumping on our band wagon! We have a “language” now.

Oh and I’m the same at the gym.  Really, people who look like hamsters on wheels on those cardio machines for an hour are annoying.  I look at those wimpy guys who have been working out for months and I lift heavier than they do…makes me want to scream.  And the people who look the same after a year of working out 5 days a week when I have transformed in the same time…how have they not figured it out?…I’m not performing miracles!  I eat Paleo and weight train…it’s easy!

Or is it?

I can laugh at myself for what I say with no regret, but I realize I am never going to change the way people eat or exercise by judging them or making them feel guilty.  I truly do want to help and I want them to see my results and know they can be healthy and happy too.  I need to get people to be excited about food and health; bring them into my conversations and ask me questions.  So I will be patient and remember the long journey I had also; that it took a long time for that lightbulb to go off for me.  I will be ready to answer if they ask.

And I’m Feeling Good

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.” ― Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button screenplay

The fear of change is very real, but all it takes is believing in yourself and the movement of one step forward.  What do you have to lose? Even if you tell yourself you can’t make a change, you have to think past that; think past the heart pounding or the lump in your throat and just move forward.  Every time you make a decision to do something that makes you feel better about yourself or makes a beneficial change in your life, your whole experience will be great.

When you stick to your health and fitness goals the change may take a while but great things happen to you.  I am often asked about my change and my experience.  The first step was the decision to make the change in my life and these are the wonderful things that happened to me.

The first time I was able to buy a smaller clothing size.

Learning how to weight train properly and then managing my own training routine.

Deciding to eat clean and feeling proud of the change in how I felt and then quickly losing weight.

Meeting my first goal of losing 25 lbs.

The time I could fit in my skinny clothes, which were a size 4.

Reaching my next goal of losing 35 lbs and feeling confident and hungry for more.

The time I went to buy a pair of jeans and it was a size 0 and so happy I told everyone about it, even the girl at the store!

Going to a different store and verifying it really was a size 0.

The feeling that I could do anything!

Bringing all my former skinny clothes to the Salvation Army.

Noticing some muscle definition.

Reaching my next goal of 40 lbs lost.

Changing my eating and living plan again, deciding it is a life change to give up sugar, processed foods and grains.

Losing 2 more pounds for a total of 42 lbs and 2 more inches off my waist!

Being able to lift heavier weights easier.

Actually having muscle definition in my arms and legs and noticing stomach muscles for once in my life!

And others noticing too!

Being able to do 2 semi-assisted pull-ups.

At 44 years old I now look younger and feel 20 years younger.

Feeling super confident, sexy, healthy and alive!

I made the decision to step forward and change my life; to nourish myself and my well-being and I don’t mind patting myself on the back because I feel good!  And if you are looking to make that change…go ahead give yourself the push to take that step!

When people are ready to, they change. They never do it before then, and sometimes they die before they get around to it. You can’t make them change if they don’t want to, just like when they do want to, you can’t stop them.” ― Andy Warhol, Andy Warhol in His Own Words