Thursday, August 15, 2019

My Blog Has Moved...

My blog is now being published on my website at Please sign up for email notifications of new blog posts by visiting my website and filling out the request to follow box. Be sure to check your spam folder if you don't receive the confirmation email in your inbox. New blog posts will no longer be posted on this site. Thank you for following my journey. Be Bold. Eat Plants. Kara

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Overcoming Stinkin' Thinking

I’ve been on the most profound journey of my life for the past 15 months and it has been more than just about weight loss or disease reversal; however, I don’t believe I would have reached this point of self-discovery without shedding the weight and breaking the chains of illness that bound me for so long. I’ve been quiet for a few months because I’ve needed time to regroup and reflect and I decided to honor the urge I had to seek solace, but for the first time in my adult life that solace was not found in a bag of fast food or in the bottom of a bowl of ice cream. It was found in a healthy and life-affirming way. I sought the help of a counselor to dig deep and help me understand the myriad of emotions I was feeling as I shed the security blanket of ten, twenty, thirty, one hundred pounds. And while I’m taking a bit of a risk in making myself absolutely vulnerable by sharing this with the world wide web, my goal in doing so is to keep it real.

For much of my adult life I thought that losing weight would fix the feelings of angst that often plagued me. I worried that I wasn’t liked, that I said something wrong or said something to make someone angry or said something that made me look dumb. I beat myself up about not taking opportunities. If only I wasn’t overweight I could do that, I thought. If I looked differently, that opportunity would be open to me. If I was thin and beautiful, I would be treated better. I spent so much time telling myself that I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t worthy, that I actually believed it. And, you know what, losing weight changed the messaging but it didn’t change the process. Maybe I didn’t feel so badly about my weight anymore but believe me, I found other things to criticize about myself. You see, the problem wasn’t the excess pounds, the problem was in my thinking, or as someone once told me a very long time ago, my “stinkin’ thinking.” That still makes me smile. But it’s true. It stinks because I wouldn’t speak to my most ill-regarded enemy the way I spoke to myself, constantly berating myself about every crack in my veneer. Who can stand up to that kind of scrutiny and not go for the Big Mac or the Oreo Blizzard? I certainly couldn’t withstand the pressure for many, many years. But God smiled on me and sent me some angels (I’ll elaborate another time) and I was able to begin shedding the pounds, despite the stinkin’ thinking, and move beyond the self-sabotage that did me in during so many other attempts at losing weight and getting healthy. This is the point where I really must say that if I wasn’t able to eat until comfortably full and enjoy a diet of unprocessed, whole food plant-based no oil nutrition, I wouldn’t have been successful. I mean, I can eat potatoes! But I digress.

So I was skating along on this fantastic weight loss journey that began May 4, 2018 having lost 100 pounds, reversed type 2 Diabetes, eliminated hypertension, acid reflux, back pain, fatigue, you get the picture. I’m flying high with energy, self-confidence, and a new-found sense of fun and zest for life. I was featured on KSDK’s morning news show "Today in St. Louis" during a month-long feature in February 2019 called “Transformation Tuesday” and my local newspaper did a full page feature on me. And then I was asked to share my story at the local bookstore, not once but twice. All was going well. The attention was a bit uncomfortable at times. I felt a little “twitchy” to be sure. Every time someone called me an inspiration, alarm signals went off in my head and I wanted to run and hide but I tried to soldier on. But then in April, I shared my journey during an evening program at the library I manage. In the audience of about 30 or so people sat my supervisor and my employee, parents and grandparents of former students (I used to teach high school in the same town), patrons of the library I manage, long time friends with whom I had grown distant, new friends (Elaine) from my new whole food plant-based world, my husband (the only person’s presence I was 100 percent comfortable with that evening), folks who had heard me speak at the bookstore, and total strangers. I don’t get nervous speaking in public and I wasn’t nervous that evening. The talk itself went as planned. It wasn’t until the room was cleared and I got to my office to pack up for the evening that the self-flagellation started. I found every possible flaw in my presentation and I exploited it as a way to demean and belittle myself. I fretted and worried about how people perceived me. I had made myself 100 percent vulnerable in front of several of my worlds all in one room and it proved to be too much for me. It was the culmination of a few months of increasing discomfort with this “new” Kara and my inability to reconcile the old me with the new me. I no longer turned to food for comfort but I was clearly needing some comfort because I was treating myself horribly, so what was I to do? Fortunately, I had the good sense to call a counselor and fortunately I found the right one for me the first time around. And so I’ve been quiet because it’s hard work figuring out how not to beat yourself up, how to be as kind to yourself as you would be to a friend or a family member, how to love yourself and how not to do that with food. Because comfort via food was no longer an option for me and once that was off the table, I had no other choice but to start to figure out how to unlearn some self-destructive behaviors. And the journey continues.

The last few months I’ve focused on the mental and emotional aspects of my journey. My weight loss has stayed right at 103 pounds. My diet has stayed true. I haven’t been exercising with any regularity and I know that if I did, the remaining weight would come off rather easily but I’ve got some things to work out in my head and my heart before I finish. When I’m ready and not before, I will finish the weight loss part of my journey. What I’ve learned, though, is that the weight was really just a symptom not only of the processed “food” that caused the weight gain that caused the diabetes but it was also a way for me to avoid a lot of uncomfortable topics that I’m grappling with for the first time in my adult life and you know what, I’m ready. This blog post has been ruminating for quite some time and tonight was the night. I’m keeping it real because it’s okay to admit when you need the advice of an expert. I see my optometrist for an exam so he can write me a prescription for eyeglasses and contacts. I saw a gastroenterologist recently for a routine colonoscopy because it’s recommended at my age. I have an appointment with my physician next month for an annual physical because it’s time to check my cholesterol and blood pressure and all of my other physical markers for health. And it’s not taboo to talk about those things so it shouldn’t be taboo to talk about mental health either. After all, our brains govern our entire body and it is the most complex organ we have so why wouldn’t we take care of it with as much care as we do our eyes or our heart? Obviously, there is no solid reason to ignore one’s mental health. In my case, doing so led to decades of excess weight and a host of health problems that wreaked havoc on my body. But no more. I’m feeling strong and I’m feeling bold. This journey is three-fold; mind, body, and spirit and I must attend to all three to honor the whole me. In the meantime, I’m still eating broccoli for breakfast.

Be Bold. Eat Plants. Kara

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Getting a Move On

It's been a long, cold, dark, and dreary winter and much of it, I'll be honest, I didn't want to move a whole lot. I did really well walking through the late fall and then transitioning to working out at the Y, primarily using the bike for a cardio workout and walking the track, through all of January, but then in February, I started to slowly but surely find reasons to not go to the Y for this reason or that. My work schedule was legitimately difficult in February and March, my "free" time, well, let's just say the phrase "free time" was a bit of an oxymoron. My husband became unemployed and our routine was seriously rocked. And, as I mentioned, it was dark and cold and I just didn't want to leave the house when I got home from work. And so I didn't. True confession time. However, I did some things differently than I had done in the past when the winter doldrums had set in. This last winter's strategy was entirely different from that of winter's past and I believe it is a testament to my new lifestyle and my new way of thinking.

First, I continued to eat a wonderfully vibrant and healthful whole food plant-based diet 100 percent of the time without fail. That's just not negotiable. It's my food now. It never even occurred to me eat anything differently. No drive thrus. No pizza runs. No processed junk from the store. Just the fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes that have served me so well over the last 11 months.

Second, while I wasn't consistently going to the Y to have a proper workout (I did go occasionally and once in a while I caught a yoga class), I kept moving each and every day. A wise doctor once told me that the longest lived people in the world, those that live in the Blue Zones (check out Dan Buettner's book of the same title) don't spend copious, or maybe even any, hours at the gym, they just move and move a lot. They walk or ride a bike to their destination, they work the land, they garden, do physical labor. In other words, they don't sit on their rears looking at TV or their devices, they get out and enjoy the fresh air and do it while moving "about the cabin." So, I remembered that nugget of wisdom and I got a move on each and every day. I used my Fitbit to track my steps and I held myself accountable. I parked farther from the store door not closer. I made the effort to get up from my desk more often than not. I did tasks like going downstairs to do the laundry or vacuuming maybe a little less efficiently so that it required me to take more steps. And it felt good. Last winter I sat in my recliner and was stiff and tired when I got out of it to walk to another room. That's no longer the case. The pain that I had from just sitting is a thing of the past. Movement, it turns out, is one of the anecdotes for pain. That and a whole food plant-based diet that nourishes every part of being and reduces inflammation.

Third, I didn't beat myself up about it. I recognized that I was struggling to go to the gym for a few different reasons: the weather was gross, my schedule was awful,  and I had recently changed my workout routine at just the wrong time and I did not adjust to it well. Beating myself up wouldn't have served any productive purpose. I recognized I was struggling and focused on other positive aspects of my life. I was eating really, really well (my weight continued to drop, albeit more slowly). I was journaling, which was one of my goals for 2019. I was working on sharing the message about WFPB living, another goal. I was accomplishing a lot of really great things and I knew that in due time I would get back to movement. For everything there is a season.

Finally, I made a plan for how I would get myself out of this workout slump. Because while moving like the Blue Zone folks was great, it wasn't going to get me to the finish line of my weight loss goal. I knew that my next fitness goal included cycling. Walking had ceased to be a true fitness challenge for me and I still need to build core strength before I can give running a real go. In order to build that core strength, I need to drop the final 30 or 40 pounds and I think cycling is going to help me do that. So I started shopping for my bike, making decisions from what kind of bike I wanted (did I want to ride on the road, on trails, or both?) to what color I wanted. Tangerine, please. Budgeting commenced and finally I was able to order the bike and purchase all of the accoutrements that I decided I "needed."

I've had my beautiful bike for a couple of weeks now and the rain has conspired to keep me off it for the most part but I'm getting to know her just the same. My first foray was a quick spin around the block, which is when I realized I really don't know how to work the gears. So after a few videos, I’m a little better off but that's still a definite work in progress. I have a plan for that, too. My next ride was just a quick two miles in town, the length of the ride thwarted by a hill I didn't know how to negotiate because I don't understand the gears. That's okay. It was still fun to get out for a bit.

But today the promised rain never came so I knew it was my chance to go for a longer ride. Still not knowing how to use the gears to my advantage to get up hills, I decided to try the Katy Trail. I'm so fortunate to live nearby. I told my husband I was going to get on the trail at Dutzow, not knowing which direction I would go or for how far I would ride. Remember, just 11 months ago I was doing my food prep sitting at the kitchen table because it hurt to stand so riding a bike for any length of time less than a year later seems a bit unbelievable to me. Once I got to the trail and looked at the distance markers between Dutzow and Marthasville, I set my sights on the 7.4 mile round trip ride. It's flat, or at least I figured it would be, and it wouldn't require me to use my gears. It's cool out today and really a perfect day for a beginner to take a ride. And so I did. I saw lots of scenery that I never saw from my recliner and I felt pretty darn proud of myself for getting back at it, for moving and pushing myself to do things just a little outside of my comfort zone. And to that end I have a goal to pursue with my tangerine bike so I need to stay persistent, which is why I set goals. I've learned that about myself over the last months. Identify the need, set the goal, go for it.

I'll keep riding the Katy Trail to just work on my stamina but I'm also getting some help with those gears so I can begin trying some road riding and working on learning how to get up those hills. There's a bit of a learning curve with this cycling hobby and that's okay. Learning is good. Challenge is good. Pushing boundaries is good. Feeling well enough to do all of these things is very, very good. Until next time. Be Bold. Eat Plants.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Not All Plant Foods Are Created Equal

Not all plant foods are created equal. I lost 100 pounds, reversed type 2 diabetes, and kicked hypertension to the curb eating plant foods but I didn't do it by eating faux meats, processed treats, condiments high in sodium and fat, or even otherwise healthy nuts, seeds, and avocados. If I had incorporated those foods into my regular diet, I wouldn't have lost weight or reversed my diseases. Why? Because I eat a whole food, plant-based (WFPB) diet and the whole food part is vital to restoring health and promoting weight loss. 

There was an interesting article in the February 15 issue of  The Washington Post that explored the current fascination with all things plant-based and "Forks Over Knives" film producer Brian Wendel was interviewed and talked about how the influx of faux meats and cheeses and other plant-based foods, but not whole foods, are muddying the waters of what a truly whole food plant-based diet is,  and I couldn't agree more. While it's great for the planet and for the animals that more people are adopting a plant-based diet, if they want to reap the health benefits, they need not forget the whole food part of the equation.

The less processed the food the better. On a regular basis, the most processed item I eat is old-fashioned oats. Before adopting a WFPB diet, I never even considered oats a processed food but now I realize that if it didn't come out of the ground looking like what it looks on my plate, then it's probably processed.  Occasionally, I will eat Mary's Gone crackers or Ezekiel bread, but not very often because they are most definitely processed and more calorically dense because of it and that doesn't serve my weight loss goal very well.

As for faux meats and other vegan or plant-based treats, I don't partake of them. They are highly processed and my rule of thumb is that if there is more than a few ingredients on a label, I'm steering clear of it. Also, while I've only made a cursory investigation into these items out of curiosity, I'm pretty certain they are high in fat and most likely sodium as well.

I'm careful of condiments, too. Tahini, or sesame seed paste, is fantastic added to the Forks Over Knives "No-Tuna" Chickpea Salad but it's high in fat and because of that, I use very little in that recipe. Tamari sauce is high in sodium so it's not conducive to keeping high blood pressure at bay so I've always been mindful of that when recipes have called for it. Even the reduced sodium versions are higher in sodium than I like, so I either use less or omit it all-together and you know what, my palate doesn't know the difference and my heart thanks me.

Nuts, seeds, and avocado are unprocessed, healthy fats in their whole food form but are still going to slow down my weight loss if I eat them very often. As Dr. John McDougall, one of the founding fathers of the WFPB movement, says, "The fat you eat is the fat you wear." I notice that when I add those roasted, unsalted sunflower seeds to my daily salad, my weight loss stalls. You might be wondering how some seemingly innocuous sunflower seeds could do me so wrong? Well,  a quarter of a cup of sunflower seeds, which, let's face it, isn't very much, may only be 186 calories (still more than I'm willing to give to something that isn't going to fill up much of my stomach), it's 16 grams of fat. Nuts are much the same story and yet they are so seductive because many WFPB recipes call for them to replace cheese and cream, but I am on a mission so I avoid them. Avocado, another healthy fat, is still fat and if you're trying to lose weight or reverse type 2 diabetes, you need to steer clear for the time being. Half of an average size avocado is 15 grams of fat. And, honestly, who can stop at half of an avocado?

You may be thinking that it doesn't sound all that pleasant to avoid these more calorically dense, higher fat plant foods and there is a sliver of truth to that but please don't feel sorry for me. I don't see myself ever throwing faux meats or vegan treats in my shopping cart. They're too processed, too pricey, and too much like what I used to eat to be attractive to me. When I'm at a comfortable weight and I am maintaining it, I'll allow myself some nuts, seeds, and avocado with the caveat that I know they are super palatable and it would be easy to over indulge and, thus, pack on weight while eating them. As for the condiments, again, they're highly processed, so I plan to continue to keep that in mind and proceed accordingly.

My husband is 6"5 and lean and eating WFPB as well. He does not need to keep his fat intake low so I prepare him WFPB foods that are higher in fat (nuts, seeds, avocado) but I stick to the whole foods and not the processed junk food because even though he's lean, I want him to remain healthy and I can't help but think that those foods aren't necessarily health promoting when consumed on a regular basis. I will stick with WHOLE foods for life more often than not.

Plant-based weight loss doesn't happen without the WHOLE FOOD part and it doesn't happen without following the principles of calorie density. See my August 15, 2018 blog post to learn more about the topic. Lately I've let sunflower seeds slip back into my salads and I need to evict them because they slow me down. The closer I get to my goal weight (whatever that is), the tighter ship I have to run, and sunflower seeds have no place on it.

       One of my enormous salads with those pesky sunflower seeds.

So if you want to lose weight and reverse disease on a WFPB diet, ratchet down your fat intake, follow the principles of calorie density, avoid processed foods, and keep it simple. I don't chase recipes. I usually eat very simply. While eating a whole food plant-based diet may not always be easy, it's simple. Brown rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans of any variety, starchy and non-starchy vegetables, fruit, lentils, they're all your friends. The recipes I use are for soups, stews, and chili, quite often. I steam or roast (sans oil) vegetables. I make enormous salads full of a huge variety of vegetables, and I enjoy fresh or frozen fruit. Eat the food, the whole food, and nothing but the whole food on most days and you will start to see weight loss.

About oil...this could and should be it's own post but I don't have time for it today so let me say this. Just say no to oil. It's high in fat and void of any nutritional value. It does nothing but make you fat. Watch this video by Dr. Michael Klaper and learn why. 

Suggested Reading: Whole by T. Colin Campbell PhD. 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Diabetes: A Single Decision Altered my "Destiny"

I received some amazing news this week but first the back story...

I remember very clearly walking through the crowded aisles of the Ben Franklin Five and Dime store with my dad while he picked up a package of balsa wood airplanes, pick up sticks, and a much-coveted bag of shiny marbles and told me that I could pick out other things that I wanted as well. I was a bit giddy as my six-year-old self combed the toy bins of one of my favorite stores in the small town in which we lived but I was also a bit confused. Buying toys, even seemingly inexpensive ones, with reckless abandon wasn't a normal occurrence and my dad was acting a bit odd. It wasn't until years later that I realized this shopping spree occurred right after my dad left the doctor's appointment where he got the news that he had type 2 diabetes. He thought it was his death sentence so he was spoiling his only child with some trinkets that he knew I would enjoy and that he could enjoy with me. Years later we would laugh about the day he thought he was going to die and the bag of marbles but really, it wasn't all that funny. Diabetes ravaged my dad's body for years to come after his diagnoses in 1973 until his death in 2015.

My dad was a big man. Physically he topped the scales at over 300 pounds most of my life and he had a larger than life personality that accompanied his big body. He loved to eat, he loved to talk, he loved to tell jokes and stories, and he loved people. What he didn't love was to follow the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommended diet and, quiet frankly, even when he did, it didn't help control his blood sugar significantly. He first developed diabetic peripheral nephropathy about seven years after his initial diagnosis, although I'm sure he was actually diabetic for much longer, and it wasn't but a few years later that the first diabetic ulcer appeared on one of his toes. He lived with an open, festering sore or multiple infections on his feet from 1984 until his death in 2015 because of his diabetes and those sores were only the outward manifestation of how the disease took its toll on his body.

So, you see, I thought this was my destiny.  I thought I couldn't escape type 2 diabetes. Having been overweight since age 10, and diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) at age 31, and symptomatic since my teen years, I figured it was only a matter of time before I too would be buying marbles in the five and dime. After all, PCOS is a form of insulin resistance and I had the darkened skin on my neck (acanthosis nigricans) since I was in my mid-twenties, a tell-tale sign of out of control blood glucose, and the belly fat associated with type 2 diabetes. The statistics at the time indicated that 80 percent of women who had PCOS would be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes by the age of 40. And, of course, I had a strong family history with a parent having the disease and let's not forget that I also loved to eat like my dad ate. So when I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at age 39 I was fairly nonplussed by the diagnosis. I had already been taking Metformin, an oral diabetes medication, for several years because it was considered standard treatment for PCOS at the time. But obviously the Metformin alone was not controlling the insulin resistance. I met with an ADA certified dietician and was instructed in the ADA diet. I was given a glucose monitor and test strips and told to test regularly. I may have been told to exercise; I don't recall. I tried sporadically to heed the advice but counting carbs left me hungry and unsatisfied and even when I was 100 percent faithful to the ADA diet, my blood glucose readings were not within range, even while on Metformin. For many years I tried a number of diets to control my diabetes to no avail.

If you've been reading my blog you know that I began eating a whole foods plant-based no oil (WFPBNO) diet in May 2018 and have taken off 98 pounds to date. Additionally, my previously high blood pressure has corrected itself and I no longer take two blood pressure medications, the acid reflux that plagued me and kept me up at nights left about three days after starting to eat the WFPBNO diet, my back pain, stiffness, and debilitating fatigue that rendered me sedentary is a thing of the past, and the list goes on. I was taken off insulin, which I had to begin in August of 2017 because the diabetes had gotten so out of control, several months ago and I was finally taken off of the last of the Metformin (my dosage had been lowered to the lowest dose as I had continued to lose weight while eating WFPBNO) in late October 2018. So since late October I've been controlling my type 2 diabetes with diet alone, which I have to admit was a little nerve-wracking. I was extremely diligent about testing my blood. The numbers always looked good, actually far better than they ever looked while I was taking the medications. I continued to eat WFPBNO and exercise and live my life. And this week I saw my doctor for my regular check up and for my A1C test, the test that indicates your average blood glucose levels for the last three months.

And the news is nothing less than remarkable. My doctor informed me that I have reversed my type 2 diabetes; I am no longer diabetic! I sat across from her as she gave me the news and I broke down in tears because I didn't know when I started this journey if it would be possible for me to reverse the disease that had I been battling for over a decade. But the A1C showed that diet alone had lowered my A1C even more than when I was taking medication, with a reading of 5, my blood glucose levels were firmly planted in the non-diabetic range and I had done it with whole foods plant-based nutrition alone. I didn't count calories, fat, or the dreaded carbs. In fact, about 80 percent of my calories come from unprocessed, complex carbohydrates. Yes, you heard that right. I eat a diet rich in complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, sweet potatoes, potatoes, squash, whole grains, lentils, peas, and beans. And, of course, I fill up on lots of other fruits and vegetables that are not calorically dense but fill my stomach. So the singular decision to eat real food, unprocessed plant foods, did for me what no fad diet and no carb or calorie counting ever did. It gave me back control of my life so that diabetes didn't have to be my destiny. If you would have told me a year ago I would be writing about having lost almost 100 pounds and, more importantly, kicked diabetes to the curb, I would have shaken my head at you in disbelief. I've said this before and I will continue to say it, I was not the poster child for success. If I can do this, others can do this.  There are considerable resources available for those who want to learn more about eating a WFPBNO diet and who are interested in taking control of their lives and shaping their own destiny. I'll share some of those resources below. It is my hope that my story will demonstrate that it's not too late to make a change and to take control of your own destiny. I didn't have to buy the bag of marbles and you don't either.

Be Bold. Eat Plants.

Resources that helped me...

Book--Dr. Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes

Podcast-The Exam Room

Podcast-The Mastering Diabetes Audio Experience 

Website-Forks Over Knives Watch "The Forks Over Knives" documentary first and then check out the resources on the website.

Book--The Kick Diabetes Cookbook

Free Program--21-Day Vegan Kickstart

Monday, January 21, 2019

Plateaus, Hills, and the Other Side

When I started my weight loss and health improvement journey nine months ago, I had no idea it would have such a profound impact on my entire life. Yes, I've lost 94 pounds so far and reversed chronic diseases, both of which I am incredibly grateful for and amazed by each and every day. Yet, what I didn't expect were the other little victories that have come along with the big, noticeable changes. And those little victories are every bit as sweet as the lost weight and discarded insulin.

One of those victories is my ability to get up and move without pain and huffing and puffing and to have some endurance while walking around doing what others would consider normal everyday exercise. One of our family traditions is to go to a Christmas tree farm each year and cut down a fresh Christmas tree. We take a wagon ride out to a field on a hillside, trudge up and down uneven, steep terrain, walking back and forth, back and forth, multiple times until we inevitably return to the first tree we noticed favorably and decide to take that one home. Through the years this has become an ever-increasing exercise in exhaustion for me. Sometimes, I didn't journey on the back and forth between the multiple trees because I was just too tired to do it. The hills, the uneven ground, my heavy, cumbersome body, and my lethargy and fatigue, it just made for a very unpleasant experience for me. I did my best to smile and enjoy the tradition because I loved the tradition and I didn't want to miss out on making memories with my children. This year when we got to the farm, we took the wagon ride up to the field with the trees and started to walk around looking for a tree. They were few and far between because we were late in the season this year because my son is in college now and we had to wait for him to come home on break. This translated to lots and lots of walking. After a couple of passes through one field, we decided to go to an adjacent field. As we were walking around for a few minutes, it occurred to me that there was no huffing and puffing, no aches and pains, no stopping and resting, no lethargy and exhaustion. I had some get up and go. I felt great and was enjoying the walk through the farm. I looked at my husband and told him I thought it was great that they had flattened out the tree field this year. He smiled and agreed.  I even took a pass on the wagon ride back to the barn and walked back, enjoying each and every step. A little victory with a big impact.

Because of my newfound agility, an opportunity presented itself last week that I didn't even know I was missing out on until my husband suggested it. After a 10 inch plus snowfall, my husband suggested we take our now grown kids' plastic sleds and take them for a ride down a hill in town. I hadn't gone sledding since I was nine-years-old. Coincidentally, I moved from Michigan to Florida when I was ten-years-old, but my mom also put me on my first diet that same year. So the idea of sledding, while not on my bucket list, suddenly became a "why not?" A couple of days after the big snow, we bundled up, grabbed the sleds, and drove to a hill in town that my husband knew would give me a thrilling ride but wouldn't land me in the hospital, which was conveniently located across the street. I wasn't 100 percent sure which hill he was talking about because he always took our daughter and son sledding. I went a couple of times to take pictures but soon stopped going because I couldn't participate, which made me feel crummy. I framed it as, "I'll be home waiting with hot chocolate at the ready for you," but I was really pretty bummed that I couldn't snuggle up with my kids on a sled and zoom down a hill with them. But today was my day to go racing down the hill, and while my kids weren't there, I did text our now 26-year-old daughter to tell her what we were planning to do. Her response, "Oh gosh! Don't die! lol." This was definitely not the mom of her childhood.

We got to the sledding hill and trudged through some pretty deep snow to get to our starting point. My husband first went down the hill and made it look easy. I was pretty nervous at this point, but excited, too. I was most worried that my sled would take off without me before I was ready to go, but I had no such mishaps. I sat down on the sled, easily crisscrossed my legs, grabbed the handles and told my husband I loved him. I guess declarations of love are important before major or, in this case, minor milestones or nervous encounters with a slick patch of worn down icy snow that the town's youth had been easily traversing all day long. But, hey, for this 51-year-old, it was a big deal. And I was off! Screaming the whole way down the hill and loving it, I'm so glad my husband suggested it. And now I can't wait for another big snow. A short video clip of my maniacal screaming down the hill is below. It's dark, but I think you'll hear my enthusiasm for the experience.

A few days before the sledding, I had what I would consider a major milestone. For the first time in my adult life, I was able to buy clothing on "the other side" of the store...not the women's plus size clothing side. I was in Kohl's looking for something and automatically went to the plus size department but came up empty-handed. As I was walking away, I noticed across the aisle a pair of pants in the size that I had just "graduated" to (I'm down eight pant sizes), so I slowly walked up to the rack and looked at the pants but decided that while I thought they might actually fit me, I didn't like them. I started wondering if there were other things that might fit me in the department that I had wistfully glanced at while on my way to the plus size department for so many years. So I started to tentatively walk around, feeling a bit like an interloper. And then I saw a sweater dress, something I've always wanted but could never find in my size. So I found, not one, but two, in an extra large, which I was sure wouldn't fit but I reasoned that I would at least get an idea of how close they were to fitting so I could have a goal in mind. I realized I would need something to wear underneath so I found some extra large leggings too, but if I wasn't sure the dresses would fit, I was absolutely certain the leggings wouldn't fit. Still, I went to the fitting room for my exercise in goal making. As I slipped the leggings on one leg and then the other, it became apparent to me that they actually did fit. I kind of held my breath because this couldn't really be happening. I took one of the sweater dresses off the hanger and put it on and realized that it too fit and that it fit just right. I stood in that fitting room, looking in the mirror and began to sob. It was such an unexpected victory. I had hoped I would eventually be able to wear clothes from "the other side" but I figured it would be on a shopping expedition with a friend and that it would be a planned event. But here I was by myself on a cold January weeknight sitting on the bench of the Kohl's fitting room crying my eyes out while wearing a "regular size" outfit, something I've never done as an adult. I probably cried for five minutes before I was able to pull myself together and get dressed in my own clothes. But first I wanted to share this with someone who has helped me immensely these last months on this journey so I texted Caryn, STL VegGirl, and told her my news. Seconds later my phone rang while I was wandering through the ladies department looking at what the other side had to offer. She was crying and I was overwhelmed, my tears already spent. Before we hung up I told her that the clothes on the other side were much cuter...and they are. I'm looking forward to continued weight loss so I can enjoy the other side's offerings even more.

                                              From the "other side."

Finally, all of these wonderful milestones and unexpected victories have come while I'm sitting firmly on a weight is stable for now, not budging one way or the other. And that's okay. I'm in this for the long haul. I am not on a diet. This is truly a lifestyle for me. This is my food. This is the way I live now. Plateaus happen and this isn't the first one I've experienced. My response is to keep eating wonderful whole plant foods and to keep moving. I do evaluate my habits to see if I'm following the principles of calorie density, to determine if my fat intake is consistent with what I know is health promoting, and I make sure I'm moving on a regular basis, but other than that, I just stay the course. What I don't do is hop on the scale every day and fixate on a number. Those numbers are fleeting and can change based on a number of variables that aren't reliable. Persistence and patience pay off. And when my body is ready, it will begin to release pounds again. Until then, I'm hoping for more snow and exploring the other side.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

My Why

No one asks me why I am motivated to lose weight and stay the course while eating a whole foods plant-based diet, why I get up at 4:30 most mornings to do some cardio at the Y, why I am so hell-bent, laser-focused on getting off the excess weight and reversing diseases. I mean, it's kind of a no-brainer. Who doesn't want to feel better and look better, right? So when I visited the Barnard Medical Center in Washington D.C. in late October to meet with Dr. James Loomis for the first time, I wasn't prepared for the question his medical students posed to me, "Why did you finally decide to stick with it?" They were essentially asking me why I didn't give up on this way of eating, this attempt to get healthy, the way I had done countless of other times for the previous four decades. I wasn't prepared for the question but when I took a minute to ponder it, I knew immediately that the convergence of a few events and a few people made all the difference and a lifetime of frustration, fatigue, and most recently illness had set the stage for my why to catapult me into a brave new world of healthy and happy.

If you've been reading my blog you already know that I have struggled with my weight my entire adolescent and adult life and I lost the struggle and was defeated, down on the ground for the count, about 30 years ago. The ref had blown the whistle and I was just waiting to be hauled off the mat. Last April I really felt like I may be getting close to getting off the mat but not of my own volition. I was miserable, just miserable. Not quite the heaviest I had ever been but certainly the sickest I had ever been. My A1C was out of control even with insulin and Metformin. My blood pressure was too high even with two medications. Acid reflux was keeping me up most nights. I huffed and puffed every time I walked around if I got up and moved at all. I was constantly fatigued and lethargic. I missed out on so many life events that I lost friends and ruined relationships. I was depressed and anxiety-ridden. I was scared my heart was going to give out on me like it did on my mom. I had heart flutters and chest tightness. I cried all of the time. I hated myself. I hated my life. And I felt utterly helpless and powerless to do anything to change it. Cutting calories and exercising more didn't make any significant change for me the countless other times I had tried it. I needed big changes and I had all but given up.

So just as I thought I was going to be carried off the mat by the EMTs, a screening of "Eating You Alive" was scheduled for a showing at a theater in Des Peres. This is a WFPB film that was having a rerelease in theaters and several theaters in St. Louis were showing it one evening in April. I'm not sure who coordinated the showings but I'm grateful they did. I'm also not sure why two and a half years after first watching "Forks Over Knives" but not actually adopting the lifestyle, I decided I was going to buy a ticket to go watch "Eating You Alive" on a work night when I could barely function I was so tired, but I did. And, boy, am I glad I did.  I walked into the theater alone and nervous. I was self-conscious because I was so uncomfortable in my own skin and cognizant of how unhealthy I was, but I found the theater and took a seat in the very back row and tried to look small, which was quite the trick for someone my size. But someone very kind and very friendly came up to me and asked to sit by me. She turned out to be great, someone I became friends with and I know to this day. The first victory of the day unbeknownst to me at the time. Talking to her put me at ease and made the nervousness I was feeling go away. Then, just a few minutes later, a woman I recognized from her Facebook profile picture approached. Elaine, a woman I met on a national Engine 2 Facebook group the summer before but whom I hadn't met in person and hadn't actually chatted with recently, approached. She too was kind and gracious. She told me about Caryn, STL VegGirl, who was at the front of the theater, and who would be speaking before the film started. Oh, and there was a film crew there filming a vegan documentary. Woah. This was a lot for me to take in while I was trying to slink into my seat and look small but the excitement of the evening, of meeting new people who were kind, was hard not to absorb. The film started and I was engrossed. One woman's story in particular resonated with me. She lost over 100 pounds, reversed type 2 diabetes, and transformed her life. The tears poured down my face every time she was on the screen. I want to do that for myself I told myself. I even looked her up on Facebook. I don't know why. It's as if I thought she would have the magic sauce that would get me to my goal but I just poked around her public profile and then let it be but her story never left me.

Maybe two or three weeks later I was signed up to take a WFPB cooking class at Dierberg's with STL VegGirl. This would be the first one I would actually attend. I had actually signed up for others and paid for them but always bailed and never attended. I was an expert at backing out of commitments. But this time I went but not before making a stop along the way. I had just started yet another medication a day or two before. At this point, I was taking nine or 10 prescription medications a day for multiple maladies. I needed to eat with the medication and my stomach was upset. I stopped at fast food and got something to eat to take with the medicine. I felt awful before the food and even worse after.  I arrived at the class self-conscious, my perpetual state of being, and put on an apron (which didn't fit very well) and got ready to participate in the class. Elaine was there and she came right up to me and spoke to me like she had known me forever. She is a kind soul and is a big reason for my success although I'm not sure she realizes it. Her encouragement in the early days of my journey put me on the right path and helped me believe in myself.

During the class, I got paired up with someone to make a dish, I don't even remember what we were cooking, and all was going well but I was tired and felt pretty rough. Near the end of the recipe, I excused myself and went to the restroom because I was extremely warm and perspiring and felt nauseous. Once in the bathroom, I'm embarrassed to say I spent the next five minutes vomiting. Was it from the fast food or the medication or both, I don't know? But I was really, really sick and just wanted to crawl up in a ball on the floor and sleep but I had to go back into that kitchen classroom and face those people like nothing had happened and then I had to drive home. I had to do it. So I cleaned up myself, put my jacket over my clothes even though I was hot, and tried to not look like the basket case that I was. I went back into the kitchen and sat at the counter, excusing myself from the rest of the cooking. No one asked why too much. I said something about not feeling well. When the food was served everyone made a plate, myself included, and sat to eat. I couldn't eat, though. I was so sick. The irony was that this food wouldn't have made me sick in the first place but it was too late. Caryn noticed I wasn't eating and asked why. I vaguely told her I was taking a new medication that was making me nauseous and that I didn't want to eat and she said something to the effect of  "we need to get you fixed up." Those weren't her exact words but I knew she meant that the WFPB lifestyle would cure would ailed me and the 'we' kind of gave me hope.

At some point in the evening, Elaine came up to me and took my face in her hands and held me and said that I was worth taking care of and that I was worthy. She said it multiple times. She told me that she would be there to help me. She offered help in both concrete and spiritual ways. She brought tears to my eyes then just as the tears flow now while writing about it all of these months later. It was as if she was looking inside me and knew exactly what my deepest being needed to hear. I don't know how a virtual stranger could do this except that God sent an angel to me that night. I thank God for Elaine.

At the end of the class, Caryn stopped me as I was leaving the classroom. She talked to me about Dr. Scott Stoll's immersion retreats, she talked to me about her Forks Over Knives classes, she just talked to me. She offered me supportive words and comfort. I decided I would sign up for the Forks Over Knives class that was slated to start in July. I just had to do it. I did and it was a game changer. (You can too. Another one starts in a week.)

I left the kitchen classroom at Dierbergs that night sick and tired and loved and encouraged. And most of all, determined. As I drove the 45 minutes home, with the reminder of how sick I was on my shirt hidden underneath my jacket, I vowed that I would heal myself. I would make the change that would transform my life. So one dark night in the first few days of May 2018 as I drove down Highway 100 I made a promise to myself that I have kept. It hasn't always been easy, but it's always been simple. It's the food. I had known the answer for a couple of years but my why wasn't formulated yet. I was tired of missing out. I was tired of being sad, of being sick, of being lonely, of being angry. I was tired of being afraid I was going to die. I was tired of feeling ugly, of not fitting into my clothes, of being hot all of the time, of being in pain, of sleeping for hours on end. I was tired of missing out on social events. I was tired of missing work. I was tired of letting people down. I was tired of letting myself down. I was tired. I had my why finally. My angels were in my corner. The EMTs could back away from the mat. This girl was getting up on her own.

Fast forward to today, I've lost 94 pounds so far. I've reversed type 2 diabetes and hypertension. I move without pain and restriction. I am happy. I am energetic. I feel a sense of vitality and freedom that I have never felt before in my life. It hasn't come overnight and the journey is not done, but if you're reading this and you're struggling, let me tell you that you can do this. It is possible. I was not a poster child for success and I did it. You can do this. You can feel better. Love yourself enough to treat yourself with the love and care you would offer up someone else. You deserve it.

                                December 2017          December 2018

  Happy and healthy today
 but still in the midst of 
  my journey.