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Back from the Edge - Here's My Postcard. (Or, Novel.)


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February 2013 was the worst month of my life, in recent memory.

February was not a self-contained little month of Awful, but by the time the giant snowball of Suck was rolling down the mountain last month, it finally triggered an avalanche and I just…lost it.

I'm going to back up and tell a longer story. Because my journey to health began a few years ago, and it's been a bumpy ride to March 31, 2013.

Before I ever started working out or eating healthy, I weighed almost 230 pounds, and was busting out of a size 16. In January of 2009 – six months before my 30th birthday - I got serious about losing weight and getting in shape. Over the next two years, I dropped almost 75 pounds and started lifting weights. In May 2011 I finished a half marathon and ran nine minute miles the entire way. I was in the best shape of my life.

But things for me started heading south in 2011, when I let things slide after my half. I had recently watched somebody I really cared for move away from Chicago, and I was depressed. I started eating to make myself feel better, and I lost track of how much progress I had made over two years, and long before that relationship even became a factor. I just lost myself.

Since then, it's been a mixed bag of healthy lifestyle opportunities and poor choices. I started playing roller derby last year, and fell in love with a sport I never dreamed I would play. I've continued to eat clean in fits and starts over the years, but so many unacceptable habits started to creep back in over time – French fries, Coke, pastries, burritos as a regular dinner option – and finally it reached a tipping point in February, when I was in the corner store buying smokes and Cokes. I was a smoker before I got into shape, and I knew if smokes and Cokes were back, that things were in a dire place. Smokes and Cokes were an indication that I wasn't coping, at all, with other things in my life – that my depression and anxiety had reached such alarming levels that I was relying on old coping mechanisms to manage it. I doused an entire pack of cigarettes in water that night, and tossed them in the trash, crying.

For the last year, everyone has been saying “oh, your pants aren't fitting because of roller derbyâ€. Uh, no. My pants weren't fitting because I was going out with teammates for burritos at 10:00 at night, or swinging through Wendy's alone, after late practices. Photos were the clearest indicator, to me, that things were going south - people in my family gain in our faces first, and there was no denying that I was packing the pounds back on. I looked ashen, and bloated. My chin and jawline had melded into one.

The laundry list of maladies that accompanied my poor nutritional choices is full of your usual poor health behaviors - I wasn't sleeping well, I was irritable, and I was depressed because I could see the progress I had worked so hard to make slowly slipping away. The depression started to infiltrate everything – I felt incapable, in every area of my life. When you stop to contemplate all of this, I guess it's no wonder I spent two weeks on my couch last month, barely able to put on a pair of pants, much less be a productive, functioning member of society.

I knew something had to change.

A teammate of mine had been tossing around the notion of doing a Whole30 on Facebook, so I looked into the program, and asked her about it. I've been curious about the Paleo trend for the last few years, and this sounded like an opportunity to try it out – it was only 30 days, and I could get a sense for what doing this in the long-term would entail.

And – for me – the discussion had shifted to whether it was time to go on medication for anxiety, but I wanted to try and right my ship on my own, before I investigated those measures. The Whole30 sounded like an opportunity to detoxify, and see if it helped with any of the issues plaguing me. For the Whole30 I set two major goals - eat breakfast every morning, and monitor my moods and note where/when/why I began feeling stressed or anxious.

So I joined two of my teammates – another girl decided to give this a go, too – and we started on March 1. The three of us joined a Facebook group comprised mostly of roller derby girls from all over the country who were doing Whole30, and instantly became part of a community sharing resources to support each other. I found Juli Bauer's hilarious website, and her Meat Crust Quiche. Accomplishing Goal #1 instantly felt easier.

The first few days were rough. I felt like I had gone out drinking every night, when I first woke up during that initial week. I had terrible hangover headaches. I was irritable. I had no energy. I took a whole week off from roller derby and the gym – there was no way I could sustain the level of intensity derby demanded (imagine playing full contact football on roller skates), and lifting a weight sounded about as appealing as running into a wall face first.

The food dreams were un-real, and kept up almost throughout my Whole30. Those – while oftentimes pretty funny because they were so absurd – were a clear indicator to me how entrenched my emotional eating issues were, and how unwilling my brain was to let go of old habits.

But slowly, things started to feel easier. I got all my cooking done on Sundays, and actually ate my meals throughout the week. I started sleeping better. Sometimes, I still woke up a little groggy, but once I ate breakfast it was like someone had plugged me into an electrical outlet. I had so much energy. I was much more productive at work. The 3:00PM “fog†was gone. I had incredible scrimmages all month, where I was just ON IT, and days in the gym where my lifting was hitting new levels. And just generally, I got so much more done – one weekend I did so many errands and tasks on my ever-growing To Do List, that I just sat on Sunday night for a moment and marveled at how the same amount of work pre-Whole30 would have taken me two weekends to complete.

My non-Whole30 teammates started commenting on how good I looked, and asking me how much weight I had lost, so far. When I would tell them I had not stepped on a scale since February 28th, they would gape at me. I think they may have a bet going on how much I've lost, but for me, the weight was the least of it. (For the record, I went from 179.8 pounds to 166.6 during the Whole30.)

I took myself shopping, a few nights before my Whole30 ended, and put on a pair of size 6 jeans, no problem. I bought a size 6 skirt, and might have been able to pull off a 4, if perhaps my hips were a bit smaller – but my waist was definitely smaller. Before Whole30, squeezing into my size 10's – my “fat jeans†as I had taken to calling them over the past few years – had become a dicey proposition. A few nights ago, we got our new uniform jerseys, which are white spandex racerback tanks. Before Whole30, I was dreading having to wear that in public for our games – but I tried it on the other night, and – despite white spandex not being an ideal look on anyone – it looks pretty damn good.

My muscle tone is incredible. I've suspected for a few years now that my body particularly thrives on a high-protein, low starchy carb diet. Whole30 has totally reaffirmed that for me. The definition in my arms, shoulders, and even my legs, where it's often been hardest for me to see the results of my work, is exciting to see. Bring on warm weather clothes!

My skin looks great. I have struggled with acne since adolescence – there hasn't been a day since the age of 11 that I haven't had a blemish on my face, in fact. But my skin is the clearest it has ever been, and feels incredible. My nails are stronger – the woman who gives me manicures commented yesterday on how much less ragged they look – and my hair is shiny and healthy. I got a hair cut yesterday, and spent the rest of the day flipping my hair like a model in a Jhirmack shampoo commercial from the 80's. (If you remember those you know what I'm talking about.) :)

But most importantly to me, my anxiety and mood issues are greatly improved. I still have moments of anxiety, but I successfully tracked over the last month what triggers my anxiety, and how I can cope with it without reaching for cookies, or Cokes. And I haven't thought once about smoking, since dousing that pack in the sink. (Ugh. That was so hard to confess to, on here, btw.) I actually realized that I need to cut back on the caffeine, because I noticed I would have anxiety on those afternoons when I was still drinking coffee at 2:00. Now, I finish my coffee by 11:00AM, and limit myself to 2 cups. If I want something hot in the afternoon, I'll have some green tea. I definitely do not have the same reactions from the green tea, so I'm thankful for that, because I love the Yogi Skin Detox tea.

My general sense of well-being is in such a different place. I just feel…better and, frankly, more motivated to do things. I started going to my Baptiste Vinyasa yoga class again regularly, and I think that has helped me tremendously, as well. Even my boss told me that my attitude seemed much brighter – that I didn't seem as stressed and nowhere near as wiped out as I had been on February 7th, when I had walked into her office and told her I was taking two weeks of sick leave because I was so depressed. (Yep. That totally happened.)

As I sit here writing this recap, I'm feeling a little nervous about what comes next, but honestly, now that my 30 days are over, I'm not planning on changing much. I think my own plan is a hybrid of Whole30 with occasional off-roading for special occasions. Whole30 was the roadmap I needed to find my way back to health, and I see no reason to jump off the track now that these 30 days are up. I grocery shopped yesterday the same way I have been shopping all month. I do have a date with my best friend tonight to watch the season premiere of Game of Thrones. Before I decided to do the Whole30 we had plans to make it a feast night of Indian takeout and Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies. We are still going to order Indian, and I'm looking forward to eating a little Saag Paneer and Tandoori Chicken, (which will involve reintroducing a bit of dairy into my diet), but I am in no way interested in having the binge-fest we originally planned. I was a little bit afraid that she was going to be upset with me for not wanting to do that anymore, but she has been super supportive of this, actually, and even emailed me earlier this week to see if there were special snacks I would want for our big night of TV. I really appreciated that, and her response makes me feel like my friends' reactions aren't going to be the hardest hurdle to clear.

(If anything, I think it will be the eating out – which I found to be next to IMPOSSIBLE to do, on this plan. I had to eat out five times this month, for work or social engagements, and each time was a trial. It's sad, how hard it is to find things to eat that do not have a ton of junk added to them. Even navigating the Whole Foods food court involved running a gauntlet of junk to find a protein source that was Whole30-approved. When did we decide we needed to add canola oil to grilled chicken to make it appealing?)

The Whole30 teammates and I are planning another Paleo Potluck for next weekend. We got together once during the Whole30 to eat and exchange recipes, and it was a very supportive evening. I'm looking forward to doing that again, so that we can all continue to encourage each other to stick with it for the long haul. I recently purchased Melissa Joulwan's Well Fed, and I am excited to try a few new things out of that. (But honestly, that book is worth every penny you spend, if only for her Shepherds Pie recipe. O.M.G.)

I didn't think, when I started this, that I could do anything for 30 days, but this Program definitely dispelled that notion for me. I'm looking forward, actually, to incorporating what I have done successfully with the Whole30 into modifying other habits. I have really appreciated what I have learned on the Whole9 and through the forums during this Program. (Thanks Dallas and Melissa!)

In the film Whip It, Ellen Page's character walks up to the roller derby girls after their game and tells one of them “you're my heroâ€. The character, played by Kristen Wiig, tells her to put on a pair of skates and to be her own hero. If you're contemplating the Whole30, or you're just starting out, and you're reading my story, I hope it inspires you to be your own hero. It's totally worth it, and totally within your reach. Good luck!

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One of the things I love about the Whole30 is people taking charge of their own lives and their own actions. You have so done this and you sound like you are now living on your terms, not getting pushed around by life.

Congrats! Keep on and enjoy! Roller Derby sounds awesome!

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I love your story!! very inspiring. I am currently on day 54. I started out only wanting to do a whole30 but I knew I needed to extend to continue my healthy ways before it became a habit and today I decided to just do a whole100. Stories like this make me want to extend and keep dedicated to this lifestyle. Thanks for sharing:)

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