My Triathlon Story

My husband is a triathlon junky. He loves swimming in the early morning, he loves going for fast bike rides and he loves going for long runs. And when you put those three things together, he feels like a superhero. He gets all the endorphins. I, on the other hand, never learned to swim as a kid, I prefer leisurely rides on my bike, and I would rather reserve running for the zombie apocalypse. So how did I end up doing two triathlon events this year?

It goes back to September 2017. My husband had just wrapped up his tri season, and I was tri-curious. I was reading books like, “Slow Fat Triathlete” and “Triathlon for the Every Woman.” I had my sister over for dinner, and she asked me, “Anything new?” So I told her about the books I had been reading, and said, “I’m kind of thinking about tri-ing. I’d have to learn to swim, though.” Her face lit up, and she said, “Oh yeah! Totally do it. You should.” The next day, my sister died.

For the next few weeks, I didn’t think about triathlon at. all. I was just coping. But near Christmas 2017, I began to think about tri-ing again. My husband had started to talk to me about his training schedule for the 2018 season, and it got my wheels turning. I did a quick Google search for Indiana sprint triathlon events, and the first one I found took place on April 28, 2018 at Ball State University. Three days after what should have been my sister’s next birthday, on her college campus. I felt like God was telling me in no uncertain terms, that I needed to do this event, no excuses.

I signed up (my awesome in-laws actually paid for it as part of my Christmas gift that year). But little problem . . . I didn’t know how to swim. So my husband bought me 6 swim lessons at our local YMCA (another Christmas gift). God was removing all the excuses as they arose, with a little help from my support system.

The next few months were a blur of early mornings and late evenings swimming with my friend, Emma. Emma had agreed to tri with me, even though she didn’t really know how to swim, either. (Thanks, girl. You da best!) I did a few rounds of Whole 30 to support my grief and training, kept reading books, tried on a ton of compression, and joined an online triathlon group. (Check out http://www.swimbikemom.com/triclub if you’re interested.) I rode my bike as often as the weather allowed, I did indoor cycling when it was gross out, I drug my butt out for runs and the dreadmill.

April 28 was upon me before I was really ready, but no excuses. My husband and I made the hike up to Muncie for my first sprint triathlon. I grabbed a purple Sharpie marker and wrote my sister’s name on my arm, to remind myself the reason I was there. Purple was her favorite color. The transition area was on the green directly in front of my sister’s first dormitory. I visited her on campus while she was a freshman, and she and I sat on the same spot, chatting and dreaming like young sisters do together. I thanked God for bringing me that memory in that moment. A memory from when my sister was happy and healthy and safe and in her chosen home.

The actual event was . . . uneventful. I finished the swim in my projected time, I did (slightly) better than expected on my bike, and I crawled in the run portion. Overall, it went totally fine, if you ignore the fact that my tri shorts rolled down a few times while I was swimming (thanks to my weight loss while training). But the feelings I had while doing the event and looking down at my sister’s name were incredible. Meditative. Peaceful. Empowering.

My mom-in-law, my husband, my kids, and my friend Robyn all came to cheer me on and take me to lunch afterward. They were nothing but supportive and I couldn’t have done this event without their love. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

But my sister was there that day, too. She swam with me, laughed at my shorts falling down, biked alongside me, and pushed me through the run. I envisioned her at the finish with a sign saying, “You did it, seester! Love always, Ashley.”IMG_2648

 

My First Whole 30

It was December 2015. One of my best friends had just gotten married, and I hated the photos. I didn’t recognize myself. Three years of postpartum depression and binge eating disorder had morphed me into a woman I no longer liked to be around.

I loved many parts of my life. I loved my husband, I loved my kids, I loved my church, and I loved my friends. I know they all loved me back. But I just didn’t like the woman I had become. I had become a woman who swallowed her feelings with popcorn, cookies and fast food. I required sugar-laden coffee to get myself awake each morning. I hung out on my phone all day browsing social media apps, wondering why everyone else looked so happy. I let the TV babysit my kids way too often. I didn’t cook dinner most nights, even though I really enjoy cooking. After the kids were in bed, I ate more junk food and watched TV. I spent my life on the couch, disconnected and gaining weight at the rate of 20 lbs per year.

The site of myself in a bridesmaid dress pushed me over the edge. I was finally ready to make a big change. Many of my friends had found some success through eating Paleo, but I had heard rumblings of something a little more structured than just eating Paleo. It was the Whole 30, and I was ready to go before I really even understood the program. I began on December 28, 2015, because I was too fed up with my life to wait until January 1. I am so glad I didn’t wait, because it set the tone for the next 30 days.

For the next 30 days, I committed to all the rules and recommendations of the Whole 30. I knew that if I gave myself even a little wiggle room, I wouldn’t fully benefit from the program (especially with my binging tendencies, I eliminated ALL snacking in my first round). I went through the typical detox, but I did enjoy (most) of the food. To my dismay, I realized I didn’t really like coffee. Back in early 2016, Nutpods wasn’t widely available, so I was drinking my coffee black (thankfully, in May 2016, they became a W30 approved partner!). For years, I had considered myself a coffee snob, but I was faced with the reality that I was drinking it for the sugar.

I stuck to all the rules, 100% of the time. I read every label, I stayed far away from the scale, I only ate at mealtimes. During the day, I began to take walks with my kids in our double stroller (they were 1 and 3 at the time). I read books to distract myself from eating, but sometimes I stood in the kitchen and cried, too. I was so angry with myself for getting to a place where the desire to eat for comfort was so strong, that I would actually be brought to tears. At night, I colored in adult coloring books to keep my hands busy, or I just went to bed early. I asked God repeatedly to take the desire for junk food away, but He never did. Sometimes God doesn’t take the burden away.

Around day 21, I finally got Tiger Blood. I woke up that morning feeling ready to GO. It was a Sunday, so we went to church that morning. I started getting compliments like, “Wow, your hair is super shiny today!” and “You look really happy today!” I even took a selfie and sent it to all my friends with text: “I finally got my Tiger Blood this morning! I feel AMAZING!” I wanted to stay on Whole 30 forever.

Day 31 came, and I stepped on the scale. I had released 17 pounds! I squealed so loudly that I scared the kids. I couldn’t believe that by eating real food and not tracking a single bite, I was able to lose 17 lbs in 30 days. I was sleeping better, my skin was clearing up, my hair was shinier, my moods were stabilized, I was more active, I was more productive during the day, and I was more confident. Plus, I had actually learned to enjoy the taste of black coffee.

After that first round, I was hooked. It’s not all roses, though. I still battle depression and anxiety, I still binge sometimes, and I still like the taste of sugar. Sometimes God doesn’t take the burden away. But I still sleep better, my skin is still clearer, my hair is still shinier, my moods are still more stable, I am more active, I am more productive, and I am more confident.

Last month, I was a bridesmaid for another friend, and I love the photos.

 

Talking about Mental Health with Kids (Part 2)

Yesterday, I talked about how my husband and I discussed my sister’s death with my kids. But that’s only part of how we discuss mental health issues in our home. Aunt Ashley was not alone in her struggles. I struggle, too.

I was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety when I was 12. I was in and out of counseling groups, psychiatrists offices and guidance counselors offices throughout middle and high school and college. I was medicated, I was hypnotized, I was prayed over. I tried everything except electro-shock therapy. (Side note: I truly believe in the efficacy and safety of electro-shock therapy when done properly, and I encourage you to discuss it with your physician if you’re curious.) At the time, nobody was talking about whole foods, exercise, herbs or essential oils. I can talk more about my experience with that in a future post.

Fast forward to 2012, right after the birth of my son. My depression and anxiety were out of control. I struggled with wanting to run away, questioning if having a baby was the right choice, suicidal thoughts, and obsessive thoughts of my son experiencing harm under my care. I tried to go back to work, but I had a panic attack and quit. My struggle lasted nearly a year. And then I got pregnant again.

Our daughter was born in 2014. I spiraled out of control almost immediately. On my first follow-up visit, my doctor wanted to admit me for psychiatric evaluation. I managed to avoid that, but only because my sister and her partner were both mental health professionals, and they took shifts watching me. I was referred for an outpatient evaluation, and I was diagnosed with severe postpartum depression and severe postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder. A dark time.

After much work, I am in a good place mentally. But there are bad days. Some researchers believe that postpartum symptoms can spike when the child is 4 years old, so I’m not out of the woods. And my depression and anxiety are chronic conditions, coupled with my family history of mental illness. So how do I talk to my children on these rough days? Lovingly, and only when I am able. Here are some things I’ve told my children on my bad days.

“I am feeling sad today. It’s okay to be sad.”

“Sometimes I feel nervous, and I’m not sure why. Be patient with Mommy, please.”

“I am extra tired today. Can we snuggle with books?”

“I need some space. It’s okay to ask someone not to touch you. So can you not touch me, please?”

I try to be clear with my children that I am not a super hero, I have limits. I also try to be clear that they have valid feelings, whether positive or negative. They have the right to share those feelings in a helpful way, not by mistreating someone else. So I try to model that for them. They also have the right not to be comforted by touch, so I don’t let them touch me if I don’t want it. I want them to have autonomy over their own bodies.

As they grow older, I will tell them more and more about my mental health journey. I pray they won’t suffer like I have, or like my sister and father did, but there are no guarantees in this life.

If you need more support, please check out these resources:

The National Alliance on Mental Illness http://www.nami.org

Postpartum Support International http://www.postpartum.net

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

 

 

 

Talking about Mental Health with Kids (Part 1)

After yesterday’s Whole 30 takeover, I realized I had hit on something very sacred. I received dozens of messages from people who resonated with my story of loss. It was humbling and uplifting and affirming. Thank you for sharing your stories of grief and loss with me. Thank you for supporting me as I grieve. You’re my people.

As I was praying this morning, asking God, “What do I share now? What’s the most important thing today?” I felt Him answering, “The kids.” So I want to tell you how I’ve discussed mental health issues with my children.

My kids are 6 and 3 (at the time of my sister’s death, they were 5 and 2). My sister, Ashley, looked healthy from the outside, and when she was with my children, she was always in a stable mood. She suffered from bi-polar disorder, but she didn’t come over to play with the kids when she was in an extreme high or low. She and I would spend time together regardless of her swings, but she felt it important to only be around my kids when she was level. She never wanted my children to experience chaos. She and I experienced that growing up, with our father’s suicide. She wanted things to be different for her niece and nephew. I always appreciated that.

But when she left us suddenly, a day after playing with them, I had to decide what to say. My son understood that people get sick and die, or they get old and die, or they get hurt and die. How would I explain that Aunt Ashley was fine on Sunday, but she died on Monday? My husband and I came up with a plan of action, and it has worked very well. We told him this:

Sometimes people are sick on the outside, and you can see it. But sometimes, people are sick on the inside, and you can’t tell from just looking at them. Aunt Ashley had been sick on the inside for a while. She loved you so much. And she’s not sick anymore.

His response was absolutely beautiful. He asked me if Aunt Ashley loved God. “Yes,” I answered. “Great!” he said, “So she’s in Heaven now, which is way better than here.” He hugged me, and then went on to play with his sister. He still asks about her often, when he plays with a toy she gave him or reads a book she read to him. We have pictures of her all around the house. We don’t hide Aunt Ashley from them. Even though our daughter probably won’t remember anything about her, she will know Aunt Ashley through us.

As they get older, I know we’ll share more. It will be hard, just like it was hard for my mother to explain to Ashley and me what happened to our father and our uncle. They will have many questions about the morality of suicide, about the sacredness of life, about whether Aunt Ashley was brave or a coward, and whether God is just. We will answer them all, and pray for grace and guidance.

Where I shop in Indy

 

Hey Indianapolis Whole 30ers! Shopping in Indy is getting easier and easier, so I thought I would throw out a quick list of all the ways I fuel my Whole 30 lifestyle in Indy.

*Not everything I list may be Whole 30 compliant, but all fit in my food freedom.

Fresh Thyme Farmers Market

I do a lot of shopping here! They have several locations, which makes it easy for me to make quick trips while I’m out with my kids. Their weekly sales are fan-freakin-tastic, especially if you visit on a Thursday and take advantage of double ads. Some of my favorites to grab at Fresh Thyme are produce, animal proteins, Whole 30-approved bacon, RxBars, kombucha, non-dairy yogurt, Vital Proteins collagen, Siete chips and tortillas, nut butters, Nutpods, Tessemae’s, Primal Kitchens. I sometimes even order online through Amazon Prime Now.

Aldi

I can do a complete round of Whole 30 from my local Aldi! Maybe I will chronicle that in the future (let me know in the comments if you’d like to see that!) but for now, let me list what I stop in about once a week to get: pistachios, produce, canned tomatoes, jars of marinara, salsa, baby food packets, fruit leather, animal proteins (but watch out for carrageenan), and occasionally kombucha. I also buy my jasmine rice here, which is a staple for my family.

Kroger

Ah, the trusty stand-by. This is another store I can use to do a complete round of Whole 30. There are a few things, however, I CANNOT get at my Kroger: compliant lard, compliant bacon, compliant BBQ sauces, “fancy” produce (like shaved brussel sprouts). I live outside the downtown area, but not in the suburbs,  so my Kroger isn’t one of the new market locations. I am aware that some newer stores carry a wider variety of compliant and approved products. My favorite part of Kroger, though, is Clicklist. I order online and pick it up without getting out of my car. All the praise hands.

Costco

I don’t shop here terribly often, because I don’t have a ton of pantry space to store the bulk items. Some things are just worth it, though, and I do have a small chest freezer in my basement. Here are my favorites: coffee, canned coconut milk, almond milk, olives, marinara, nuts, nut butters, Kerrygold butter, ghee, olive oil, avocado oil, frozen wild-caught fish, frozen vegetables, frozen berries, animal proteins (especially organic chicken), eggs, canned salmon and tuna, mayo. I know some locations carry RxBars and Vital Proteins, so I am looking forward to that at my store!

Whole Foods

My family absolutely adores our new downtown Whole Foods location! The hot bar makes eating out much easier for us. Plus, we enjoy wandering around finding what we call “splurge” items: new paleo treats, a funny produce item, or fish with their eyes (my toddler LOVES that!). We take advantage of sales each week, often scoring Whole 30 compliant chicken sausages, bacon, grass-fed and pastured animal proteins, and organic produce at really great prices. Just watch their ads, and only buy what you actually need.

Farmers Markets

I hope this one is obvious! We should all support our local farmers and producers as much as possible, and Indy has several markets to do just that. I frequent the Broad Ripple Farmers Market, and in the winter, the Indy Winter Farmers Market. My husband and I ride our bikes and pack up our baskets. Surrounding neighborhoods have other markets, like the Irvington market which runs once a month from June through October. I try to buy as much local, seasonal produce as possible here, plus grass-fed and pastured animal proteins, locally roasted coffees, and local Revival Foods almond butters. To make it even better, there’s often live music and great art to enjoy while you’re there. My husband and I like to make it a Saturday morning date.

Tyner Pond Market

If you’re ever on the eastside of Indy, stop by Tyner Pond! They are a small food market, catering to those of us who don’t follow the SAD (Standard American Diet) way of life. Their farm, Tyner Pond, raises cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys humanely. I’ve actually visited the farm in Greenfield, Indiana with my kids, and it was beautiful. You can order online, or visit the store to purchase their meats, sausages, bacon, eggs, and lard. We also love grabbing a meal at their restaurant, The Mug! I highly recommend a hamburger with bacon and a fried egg on a gluten-free bun with sweet potato fries. Amen. The store also carries local produce, coffee, sourdough bread, and gluten free bread. Plus plenty of non-local products that can help you live your best paleo/primal/vegan/pegan/locavore life.

Shipt

Just to make things more interesting, I also have a Shipt subscription. Right now, that means I can order through Meijer. I typically don’t have the best luck there, so I don’t make this a normal practice. When someone in the house is sick, though, it’s super helpful to order the basics, like animal protein and produce. I took advantage of the Mother’s Day sale for $49.

I think that sums up my food shopping life! Indianapolis friends, what did I miss?

 

Grief and Food

Copious amounts of literature, both scientifically sound and otherwise, exist regarding the grieving process. I am certainly no expert, but as an RN and person who has walked the way of grief, I would like to offer this short explanation on the grief-food connection. Someting incredibly important to mention is this: grief is not limited to losing a loved one to death, as I did. Grief can occur for reasons as varied as each of us, including divorce, job loss, chronic illness, miscarriage or infertility, or even failure to reach a goal that you have set for yourself. These are all valid reasons to be in a season of grieving.

In times of acute stress, our bodies go into the fight or flight response. We can trace this back to the beginning of humanity, when our ancestors were at the mercy of nature. A bear or something equally awesome and terrifying was in your camp — what will you do? You either need to fight him off, or run from him. Many things need to happen in your body for this to work, so it releases adrenaline and cortisol. Those two hormones cause the shaky hands, dilated pupils, increased pulse, flushed face, and slowed digestion, among other symptoms. When our ancestors experienced this rush of powerful hormones, they actually fought or ran. The increased pulse provided the blood flow they needed in their extremities to sustain the fighting or running, and the digestion process (requiring its own blood flow) would just need to wait until they were safe. We still experience the same stress response, but we are unlikely to be facing any bears. Our stress comes from our relationships or our jobs or our finances. Not exactly good times to literally fight or run. But the loss of appetite remains. Our guts do not have the blood flow to digest food in acute stress, so we don’t eat.

If this stress continues, as in the case of grief, we get another series of issues. Cortisol helps your body keep a supply of sugar in your bloodstream, which is important if you’re actually running from a bear. But it’s really harmful if you are just going about your day-to-day (Type II Diabetes is no joke). It also increases your appetite in the long-term and causes you to deposit fat on your middle section. Abdominal fat is incredibly damaging to your internal organs, putting stress on nearly every body system.

Another compounding issue is decision fatigue. In the case of losing a loved one, we are forced to make dozens of choices almost immediately. What were their burial wishes? What kind of service would they have wanted? Who is going to take care of the kids while this is all sorted? It is exhausting after approximately 5 minutes. And the fight or flight response is in full swing, so we put eating off the agenda for a while. We are human, though, and eventually we must eat again. When that happens, we are often so tired of making decisions, that we will eat just about anything, no matter how it makes us feel physically. Because eating junk often makes us crave more of it, our intake increases, and so does our weight (especially around our middles).

Enter Whole 30

This weight gain is so common during times of grief, the Germans actually have a word for it: kummerspeck (literally translated “grief bacon”); however, I would like to offer you an alternative to this serving of grief bacon: The Whole 30. There is no reason a person must suffer physical health consequences while processing their grief.

The Whole 30 is simple. Focus on eating a good source of animal protein (beef, chicken, pork, etc), a good source of fat (coconut oil, olive oil, ghee, etc) and fill your plate with vegetables, throw in the occasional fruit. Avoid any additives, sugars, legumes, grains, alcohol, or dairy. Do not attempt to recreate junk food (no Whole 30 desserts!), and do not weigh or measure yourself. This last rule is incredibly important while you are grieving, as sometimes our weight can become a measurement of success or value. This is NOT true. Your weight measures your relationship to gravity — nothing else. These are your only rules for the Whole 30, but there are a few more recommendations to be aware of: Avoid snacking, avoid drinking your meals instead of chewing them (as in the case of a smoothie or paleo protein shake made with egg whites), and limit vegetable oils. That’s it. Simple.

Grief and the Whole 30

My Story

My sister and I were incredibly close. She was 31, only a year older than me. On a Sunday evening, she came to my house for dinner and played with my kids. They loved their aunt. On Monday, she ran away. On Friday, we found her. On Saturday, we planned her funeral. It was — is — impossible to understand.

The following weeks were a bit of a blur. Friends brought us meals, a sweet woman from our church cleaned my house, the other moms in our homeschool group helped teach my kids so we wouldn’t fall behind. There were countless phone calls, text messages, and random drop-ins. I slept a lot. I cried a lot. I prayed a lot.

The meals were so appreciated and needed, but they couldn’t last forever. I had to move forward with my life and begin to take care of my family again. Since January 2016, I had done 5 rounds of Whole 30 to get control of my health and beat my Binge Eating Disorder (diagnosed in 2014) so my family and friends knew to bring me nourishing meals. Now that those meals were over, though, my old dragons started calling to me. I felt the temptation to eat sugar, drink copious amounts of caffeine, gorge on popcorn . . . I needed to do something.

I decided to do a Whole 30. I ate incredibly simple meals, I drank a ton of water, I continued to pray and sleep a lot. Whenever the dragons came calling, I simply told them, “I realize I am really sad right now, but I don’t want food. I want my sister. I’m staying the Whole 30 course.” Mid-way through the round, I added in exercise. Even when my emotions were out of control, I could manage to eat well and do light exercise several times per week.

I don’t know if I lost any weight over the 30 days (I didn’t weigh myself before or after the round, because that wasn’t even close to the point). I do know that in the past, during times of stress or grief, I always gained weight and lost sleep, lost connections to my friends and family, and lost control of my habits. But this time was different. My clothes all still fit. My friends and family were closer than ever. My healthy habits were reinforced. Was this all because of the Whole 30? No. But could it have been possible without the Whole 30? Probably not, in my case.