My Health Journey
One of the main inspirations to starting this blog was to specifically document my health journey. I've struggled with it all, weight loss and weight maintenance, hormonal imbalance, food sensitivities, to destructive eating habits. Believe me when I say I've done it all when it comes to dieting. My journey has led me from a disastrous path of yo-yo dieting, to gaining insights & knowledge of how my body was designed to look and function in the first place. Growing up
When we were young, Mom began ridding our home of sugared cereal and "cows milk" along with other processed foods much to our dismay! Despite the sudden absence of processed food I learned quickly my sweet tooth was easily satisfied at friend's sugar laden food pantries, or their frozen pizza and ice cream sandwich stacked freezers! A sugar rush was all too powerful for my little brain to reject. I was the girl who would ask for seconds, had a hearty appetite and ate whatever sweet or starchy delicacy was set before me. I remember going around the lunch table in elementary school asking for buttered biscuits the other kids didn't eat! I will note I was (and still am) an active little bugger, and was never overweight as a child. However that does not mean that my body still wasn't reaping the consequences of processed foods.
When I entered high school I began to appreciate my Mom's healthy choices for our family. Our cupboards were filled with oats, rice, and beans. Our refrigerator was stocked with fresh veggies and fruit, meat, eggs, nut butters, milk alternatives. My taste buds began to actually crave "real food", I loved coming home from school to home-made bread, garden salsa, and healthy dinners. It was then I began to drastically limit most junk foods in my diet. I like the way I felt and began to look by eating this way. I even began my own research on "healthy diets". Sounds great right? Well...yes, in essence it's a great gift to understand how our bodies function and how they crave to be nourished. What was the problem then Brooke? I was researching in all the wrong places like fashion and woman's health magazines, TV commercials, and unqualified peers. Along with eating better, I ramped up my physical activity, continued team sports, and began working out at a gym I was employed part-time. My driven and competitive nature harnessed my curiosity of health and fitness and transformed me into a "closet" diet and exercise maniac.
Although I had goon intentions, I took the wrong approach by limiting and controlling my food intake and beating my body into submission by working out like a crazy woman. Give me a break...I was only following "mainstream" advice I'd learned! It made sense. Burn more calories than I consume, and I will be skinny and healthy. I remember running on the treadmill one afternoon for 13 miles! I would wake up at 5am go to the gym every day before school started.
The Sugar Monster
The second problem and most harmful was a raging "sugar monster" that seemed to plague me. I knew sugary treats were bad for me, but there was times where I could not control my sugar cravings and would give in by eating far too many cookies, ridiculous amounts of ice cream, or licking the brownie batter bowl to discover after baking them...I realized I ate a butt-ton of brownies.
After the "sugar monster" occasionally paid me a visit I would restrict and over exercise even more the following week. Leaving me weak , tired, exhausted, depressed and even more susceptible from sugar monster. Remember the time I ran 13 miles on a treadmill...it was not because I was training for a marathon. Did I mention the toll my destructive habits took a toll on my family and other relationships? My parents suffered from my over compulsive habits. They didn't know how to help me, and I didn't know how to communicate widening the gap between us. Having deep relationships were difficult for me at that point because this area of my life went unchecked.
I graduated high school silently praying and hoping I had this thing under control. I was at a weight I was pretty content with (other than trying to lose just 5 more pounds...). I thought to myself, "Adults don't struggle with this stuff, I'll grow out of it." BOY WAS I WRONG! Cosmetology school started two weeks after high school graduation. For the next two years I continued this roller coaster during my stint in the beauty industry. What a great place to be struggle with body image!
Two years into styling, which I loved, I had an opportunity to move South for a ministry based leadership program. My one year internship commitment turned into three wonderful, life changing, INTENSIVE, years. It was a phenomenal experience, except for that one area of my life I couldn't quite surrender.
Adrenal Fatigue and Weight Gain
My first year of my internship I was still eating flour, grains, and some refined sugar. The stress of the first year was more than I ever encountered previous. The program was designed to be challenging both physically, we had 6am workouts every day that included sprinting up hills, endurance running, and intense body weight exercise. Mentally, we lived with host families and our schedules were not our own for a full year. Think Marines. Spiritually, we had a heavy focus on prayer, worship and the Bible which ended up being my saving grace throughout my journey. On top of everything I had just moved across the country not knowing anyone.
I came home for the summer after the heaviest I had ever been, bloated, depressed, tired, fatigued, "puffy", foggy, and majorly DISCOURAGED! At that time I had no idea what adrenals were, or that stress contributed to weight gain. I had no idea there were such a thing as food sensitivities or intolerance. I just thought if I work out enough and eat less most of the time, I'll be okay.
30 Days without Sugar
That summer I stumbled across Dr. Olson's facebook page who claimed "30 days without sugar could change your life". At that point I was willing to do whatever it took to feel normal again. When I learned more about the program I thought, what in the world will I eat?? With the support of my family, I dove in. After 30 days of crankiness, mood swings, and victory, I lost about 10 pounds, had a clear mind, more energy, and more hope than ever!
Afterwards I really began to think differently about the quality and substance of food I ingested. I identified that gluten in wheat and flour made me feel foggy, tired, and bloated. I understood that sugar had similar effects especially effecting my moods in a negative way. I completed my second and third year in ministry school a bit more confident understanding that gluten and sugar were not the best and continued without them for the most part.
You mean I can't have dairy either?
Although I started to feel better by cutting out gluten and refined sugar. I still was not at my normal weight, felt fatigued and had sinus congestion frequently. At this point I began doing more research on food sensitivities. I knew I had to go an alternate route besides the my family practitioner to get these tests done. I took an at home test from EnteroLab in Dallas,TX and sent in my samples. Lone behold I tested positive for food intolerance from, gluten, dairy, soy, and chicken eggs! I'll admit I was a little heart-broken! I had to say goodbye to ice cream, greek yogurt, protein powder and my yummy morning oatmeal. All these are not inherently bad. After the years of gut damage, and inflammation due to grains and stress, it's no wonder my body was rejecting these common food allergens. I became more interested in truly nourishing MY body than depriving it. So I cut out soy, diary and chicken eggs for about six months completely.
What did I eat? Lots of good fats, which by the way in the past I was so scared to eat! Almonds, nut butter, avocados, olive oil, meats, veggies, bacon and fruit. I dropped some more weight without actively trying, my sinuses and my overall energy improved.
Insatiable Appetite for Knowledge
My passion for real wellness and real food nutrition has only intensified in the last two years since getting married. My focus has almost completely shifted from weight loss and body image to a nourished, properly functioning body. What does that mean? A body that is hormonally balanced, free from poor digestion, inflammation, illness, and fatigue. Since we live in a world filled with synthetic estrogen from our food, to cleaning products, it's critical to take steps to normalize estrogen levels. Especially because myself along with many others are estrogen dominant. I'm in awe of the delicate science of hormonal balance which constitutes lifestyle, exercise and diet. I quit contraceptive birth control in the last year cold turkey because of the devastating hormone altering effects. I've realized the importance for reducing stressors which lead to adrenal fatigue, and/or thyroid imbalance. I'm learning the importance for proper supplementation based on my stage of life, and physical needs. I am obsessed with going back to "the garden" and implementing ancient traditions that we've mostly discarded in our modern culture. I love learning benefits of good fat in my diet and the health and freedom it brings. I'm not scared of egg yolks, heaps of coconut oil, avocados and properly prepared nuts. I have also limited "healthy" foods that tend to be inflammatory like beans, peanuts, and all grains like oats, and rice. I am putting lots of focus on healing my gut and poor digestion through good nutrition. I also practice routine detox methods to rid harmful chemicals from my body due to living in a toxic environment.
I no longer calorie count or spend hours of cardio at the gym. Being fit is a passion of mine, who doesn't like fitting into their favorite pair of pants?! However, my motivation now is strength, to care for a growing family versus trying to imitate the cover of a fitness magazine. I am inspired by at-home fitness. We still do belong to a gym that offers free weights, etc. I spend my time at the gym primarily lifting weights. I enjoy challenging my body with short intense bursts of cardio, and basic body weight strength training like pull ups, push ups, and lunges. I believe being fit is more of a lifestyle, which included cleaning, mowing the lawn, taking frequent walks or hikes. Carving out time to get intentionally stronger, quicker, or increased endurance is also important. However, like diet, each person is so unique with different needs. I'm finally understanding where I seem to feel the best. Comparison is the killer of joy.
Can you relate?
My prayer is that if you can relate to some or all of my journey, you would gain knowledge to help reclaim your life that has been robbed by illness, fatigue, imbalance or an eating disorder. I don't know you, your background, your struggles, or your body. I do know that I'm not the only one. By no means do I think I have all the answers or that "my way" is the magic bullet. My intent in sharing is simply to have a place to keep record and share practices that have helped me live a better life.
Despite failing a lot, I have always been somewhat of an inspiration for others it seems. Whether I displayed unusual discipline with my diet, or set a standard for physical fitness, people always ask me "What are you eating now? How do you work out? Why do/don't you eat this or that?". I used to be ashamed and would hate to be noticed for my "unusually" healthy eating habits. I'm finally ready to be open about my journey, but most of all to be a resource for others. I would be thrilled to hear your story and celebrate your wins along the way. Just for the record, I don't think I've "arrived" or ever will for that matter. All I can do is live each day with a thankful heart, and enjoy the twists and turns on my health journey.