It Feels Good to Feel Good (My Health Journey, Part Two)

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Becoming a mother is the one and only thing I've always known I wanted. Hearing it may not be possible for me was devastating, to put it lightly. But as a single sophomore in college, I was able to push it out of my mind--until I started dating and quickly fell in love with one of my best friends the next summer. I told him what I had learned about myself a few months before, he said he was open to adoption so it was no big deal, and we moved forward from there. 

I continued getting sick after every meal--it was just a routine part of my life at this point. But after Daniel proposed, I started to picture our wedding day and fear I'd end up spending it in the restroom. I had suspected I was dairy intolerant for a while, so I began cutting it out of my diet. I started to hear more about the whole gluten free idea, too, and I figured that couldn't hurt. I cheated once or twice a week (Daniel and I were big Braum's fans), but tried to avoid gluten and dairy most days, and I saw an immediate improvement in my digestion as well as weight loss. I became more committed to it as we approached our wedding day, but I planned to go completely off and just enjoy myself on our honeymoon. I did just that, but got sick to my stomach every day again, which was the confirmation I needed to go all in when we returned home. 

Six weeks into marriage, I went to a new gynecologist here in NWA. My original doctor out of Tulsa had put me on a hormonal birth control pill a few months before our wedding, but I wanted a different opinion on it. My new doctor reviewed my chart and asked if we eventually wanted children. I, again, said, "Yes, definitely." He said with my complications, I might want to go off of birth control up to a year before we start trying to give my body time to regulate as well as it could. I went home and really researched what I was putting in my body daily for the first time. I never took another pill. 

 A few weeks later, we found out I was pregnant with Edie! 

This was when I first started viewing food as medicine, and it has only evolved from there. Edie was born and immediately had health issues, which pushed me to dig further into our lifestyle and make major changes quickly. We went all organic, I changed all of our cleaning and laundry products, threw out our candles, threw out my Covergirl makeup, completed my first Whole30. My body and skin completely changed, we fixed Edie's tongue tie and she began gaining weight, but I was still deep in the overwhelm of trauma. For an intense, postpartum hormone-filled season, I thought my baby was dying of some horrible disease the doctors couldn't pinpoint. I had to work through that, so I started counseling. 

In the thick of regular panic attacks, I became pregnant again. I felt more urgency to heal--Edie was getting older and understanding more of my feelings. My anxiety was rubbing off on her and it killed me. I trialed and errored herbs for depression and anxiety and became more dedicated to my yoga practice, which included me actually attending classes three times a week without Edie. Being in my own body, listening to my breath without interruption changed something. I visualized breathing out fear and breathing in joy. Self care became a real thing for me for the first time, and I made a plan to continue it after baby was born.

Reed came to us in the most peaceful way, a total contrast to her sister's chaotic, long birth. I focused on breathing and nothing else, and it taught me to trust and LOVE my body for the first time in my life. And then, for six weeks, I stayed in bed. I didn't cook, I didn't schedule, I didn't work out. I rested. I held my baby. I ate lots of vegetables and good, clean meats. I drank huge superfood smoothies in bed and nursed and read books and took naps. I told myself, "You did well. You are enough. This is enough." And again, something major shifted inside of me. I started to believe these things. Life felt light instead of terrifying. 

It felt good, so, so incredibly good.

This last year has been more or less an evolution of all of these things. I've weaned off of many of the supplements I once took, eaten more salads, and learned more about my body and what it likes and doesn't like. I'm approaching a year without a panic attack, praise the Lord. I'm looking back at my journey thus far and feeling so thankful I stuck with it back when I found out the whole gut-healing concept was not an overnight thing. I'm an immediate results kind of girl, so this process has humbled me to my core. Or my gut, I guess I should say :)

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1. Cut out inflammatory foods.
Eliminating gluten and dairy was just the beginning for me, but a huge step in the right direction. Cow's milk is for baby cows--it is very hard for us to digest! And gluten is super tough, too, especially in the amounts I was eating. I've also basically just eliminated processed food in general, and after several Whole30s and sugar fasts, I cut out refined sugar as well. I've had several seasons without coffee, too, to speed up healing, promote rest and lower my anxiety levels. I don't eat grains at all most days and if I have to label it, I basically try to stick to a Paleo-based diet.
For a while I thought I was too cool for the popular programs out there, but that's me being a dumb dumb. I encourage anyone in any phase of their quest for health to utilize the many resources we have available to us on programs like Whole30 and the 21 Day Sugar Detox. Having a starting place that doesn't require you to change your life all on your own is super helpful in breaking food addictions. I've done both of the above several times, and after completing these programs and feeling SO MUCH BETTER, it's hard to just totally go back to eating crap.
Family members have asked, "What CAN you eat, then?" And after almost five years of this lifestyle I am tempted to laugh, but then I'm humbled when I remember my old eating habits and how high school me would have been totally weirded out by current me. But, REAL FOOD! I can eat real food.  Look at the ingredient list on your bag of chips or box of cereal and think for two minutes about the human body and how it has functioned since the beginning of time. HOW are we putting this garbage in and expecting happy thoughts to come out? Happy skin? Happy poops? Seriously. Eating whole foods just makes sense.

2. Give your gut a friend (or several billion).
I could do a whole separate post on probiotics and supplements and my ever-changing views on them, but for now I will try to concisely share a few things I think have played big roles in my healing. I try to take a shot of apple cider vinegar before every meal to help my stomach acid break down food--usually mixed in a glass of water (but it does get easier and more palatable!). I take a quality multi-strain dose of probiotics every morning on an empty stomach, drink water kefir most days and eat sauerkraut with at least one meal. We are planning to start fermenting our own veggies soon, too. L Glutamine has been super helpful in healing my gut and I still take it daily, as well as cod liver oil, vitamin c, magnesium threonate, milk thistle, and turmeric for inflammation. I have taken papaya enzymes with every meal to aid digestion during my seasons of heavy healing. When I was deep in my depression and anxiety, I took ashwaghanda, SAMe, and a stress B complex daily and worked to up my vitamin D levels.  I did a lot of research on breastfeeding safe yeast and parasite cleansing and dedicated a lot of energy to that concept. I won't overhwhelm you with those details, because there is a lot of info out there. And please remember--this has been a five year process for me. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

3. Consider intermittent fasting.
Because I do my girls' bedtime routine and lie down with them and then typically don't eat breakfast until I've gotten them fed and happy, I usually go 14-16 hours without eating. I didn't even know this had a name until a few months back, but apparently it is becoming a pretty popular concept for gut regeneration and overall health. Giving your body a regular prolonged period to digest and then rests promotes quick healing, and I really believe it has played an important role for me. I used to be a nightime sweets snacker, but now I am usually done with dinner by 6pm and I don't eat breakfast until 9 or 10 am, after probiotics and half to a ful liter of room temperature water. Which brings me to my next point.

4. Drink lots of clean room temperature water.
In the last few years, Daniel and I have explored almost every option out there for filtering our water--sink contraptions to reverse osmosis full systems to pitchers to purchasing jugs of spring water and back again. Spring water is ideal because of its mineral content and lack of added chlorine and fluoride (which kill the good gut bacteria we are working so hard to build). Reverse osmosis with added fluoride filtration can be great, but minerals need to be added back in to prevent deficiencies. Either way, my research has convinced me that cold water can be hard on the body, and room temperature water is much friendlier for digestion. I leave our jug/pitcher out on the counter and drink from it all day--I never put it in the fridge.

5. Sweat.
If I've learned anything about myself, it's that I don't feel like my day is complete until I've moved my body to the point of sweating. This has changed a lot for me over the years--I used to think I needed to work out for hours or go for many-mile runs to feel satisfied. For the last year I've been focusing much more on short spurt cardio or HIIT (high intensity interval training) work outs with one hot yoga class a week and I am loving it! In 30-40 minutes I get much sweatier than I did in two hours doing whatever I used to do, and it fits in so much better with my stay-at-home mama job. I'm not sure what I believe about it in general, but according to the Blood Type Diet, different blood types require certain types of exercise. I am blood type O, and high intensity work outs seem to fit the bill here. I haven't been on a run since Reed was born and I don't miss it one bit.

6. Take a deep breath/Practice yoga/meditation.
Practicing deep, audible breathing in yoga class has given me a priceless gift for my everyday life. I've learned that no matter what is going on, I can always come back to my breath. I can stop, breathe deep down in my throat to the point where I can hear it, and turn my focus there. This carried me through the pain of childbirth, looming panic attacks, and extremely frustrating moments with my children. It controls my stress every day, and it's no secret that stress levels greatly impact our overall health. 

7. Detox your home.
There is SO MUCH information out there right now about this topic, I don't want to beat a dead horse. So, to make a long story short--your dryer sheets may be making you sick. Those Bath and Bodyworks candles and sugar scrubs and whatever else they carry now--those are terrible for you. This goes for household cleaners and personal care soaps and shampoos and makeup, too. The ThinkDirty app has been really helpful for me in choosing what I bring into my home, and I make most of our cleaners at this point. And if you are a candle lover, beeswax is wonderful!


8. Don't be afraid to get dirty.
For the first year plus of Edie's life, I oversanitized everything. Us, our house, my car, everything. I was terrified of exposing her to germs (to be fair, I thought she had a terrible disease or something for the first five months), so I went crazy with the clorox and hand sanitizer. I believe this seriously hurt my physical and mental health by killing off any good bacteria I may have had. Once I learned more about the different types of bacteria, I switched household products like I discussed above and we started playing in the dirt outside every day. I worked out barefoot in our backyard and added organic soil to Edie's sandbox. I let hide in store shopping carts for the first time. And Reed's babyhood was COMPLETELY different than Edie's. In the last year, I've focused more on boosting their immune systems with healthy food and herbs instead of shielding them from the outside world. 

9. Talk to someone who won't judge you.
I went to therapy every week for two years, and then every other week for another year plus. My counselor has seen and heard me in my ugliest season and provided me with unbiased support. Sometimes that just meant listening to me weep at the hopelessness I felt in adequately protecting my children from the world. Sometimes it included my husband, and provided us with tools on finding one another in the dark. I literally felt weight leave my body at the end of these hours. I believe I needed to work through emotional trauma to heal--all of our systems are intimately connected. I was never going to get better under the stress I felt. 
Seeking help is NOT a weakness. I think it's quite the opposite. Everyone has room to grow--we are human. I foresee myself utilizing counseling in all types of seasons for the rest of my life.

10. When it comes to sleep, think maximum, not minimum.
This one should probably be first, but since it is currently my weakest area in this season of motherhood, I had to be honest and put it at the bottom of my list. But seriously, for the majority of my young adult life I have tried to avoid sleep at all costs--there always seemed to be something better to do. In highschool I stayed up way too late on the phone with boyfriends and in college I was at IHOP half-writing papers with classmates at 2am most nights. Since I became a mama, I've gone through seasons of the poorest sleep and seasons of lots of sleep (which I believe contributed greatly to my overall healing--I recently read that the immune system needs a consistent NINE hours of sleep nightly to regenerate). A couple of months after my first daughter was born, I gave in to the fact that she would not nap or sleep without me, so I began taking the whole, "Sleep when the baby sleeps" idea seriously. I napped with her every day and went to bed with her at night, and on the nights I opted out of Netflix, that meant I had a 12-13 hour window to get at least 8-9 hours of sleep between nursing sessions. Now, this all changed with the birth of my second. Early on, Edie still took naps and I did nap with both girls when it lined up, but that only lasted the first couple of months. Most nights I do still lie down with them and lately I am trying to turn off the TV by 9 (10 at the latest) so I give myself a 10-11 hour window before wake up in the morning. But, Reed has been nursing every 20-30 minutes through the night for the last couple of months now and Edie has night terrors multiple times a night as well, so I still wake up feeling pretty crappy most days. I cling to the idea that this is only a season, and health is not a concrete achievement but a never-ending journey. It helps! I also have a no phone rule in the bedroom and have been consistent with it for over a year now. I fall asleep SO much quicker than I used to when I filled my head with worries and comparisons and new tempting toys or outfits right before I tried to close my eyes. I highly recommend this practice.

And wow, do I feel like I need a little nap after writing all of this out. 

Happy health to you!

It Feels Bad to Feel Bad (My Health Journey, Part One)

The summer following eighth grade, I attended a five day church camp and ended up spending most of the week sitting on the toilet, missing activities and feeling super embarrassed and uncomfortable. I remember telling my youth minister's wife that getting sick after eating had become pretty normal for me, but usually I was at home so it didn't feel like that big of a deal. My father had always said I "just have a sensitive stomach," but it was never considered a reason for further investigation.

Aside from emergency trips to the restroom after eating, I was a pretty sick kid in general. I was on antibiotics for strep throat at least twice a year throughout elementary and middle school, had frequent migraines and chronic UTIs that started when I was just a toddler. And based on what I know now, I believe my poor health started even earlier. I was diagnosed with severe colic as an infant and the doctors told my parents I just needed to outgrow it. But I was formula fed and already displaying all of the signs of severe gastrointestinal distress. No blame on my mother--I know what it's like to be a first time mama trusting the doctor who so confidently claims he knows what is best for your new baby. For newborn me, that meant continuing the conventional formula and doing a lot of back arching and screaming.

I also grew up thinking vegetables came from cans and salad was just thing you had to have on the side of your plate at Thanksgiving dinner. I ate a happy meal a day until third grade, when my appetite outgrew that little cardboard box. It was a big day when I started ordering the same thing as my dad--a big mac with fries and a large pop. I remember finishing it off and thinking to myself that I could easily eat more. I never really felt hunger because our cabinets were full of every type of sugary cereal and box of Little Debbie's treat the grocery store sold, and I had access to them whenever I wanted. I also never felt satisfied. Eating this way had manipulated my body's ability to feel my real needs when it came to food and drink.

Because I played soccer daily and always felt the need for high intensity exercise, I was never classified as obese. But there were seasons I was pretty darn close. Toward the end of elementary school I experimented with making myself throw up after every meal because my new club soccer coach told me I needed to lose 15 pounds before the season started. I was 11 years old. I lost 30 pounds doing this (plus a lot of meal-skipping altogether and obsessive exercise when I really felt the pressure), but most of it eventually came back and what I actually lost in the process was much greater. My mental and emotional health, my relationship with my body and the food meant to nourish and energize it became very confusing. My body apparently was just for other people. It felt like my teammates were constantly finding ways to bring up their size zero jeans and I wondered if I could ever get there. I bought clothes that were too small hoping it would motivate me, but every time I would try and fail to pull them up over my huge thighs I'd end up just lying on the floor alongside them crying. Surely there was more to life than this, but it didn't feel like it. 

I felt a lot of pressure to perform and so much isolation as an introvert playing a competitive team sport. I grew to hate soccer because of how it made me feel and the lack of a safe space to process those feelings. There was a lot of angry yelling, "Get up, you're fine!" and "You can do better than that!" and "Don't let her outrun you!" and no encouragement to balance it out. I left every practice and game feeling too big and too slow, whether we had won or lost. 

And it carried over into my academics, too, this fear of failing. I never raised my hand in class to offer insight or ask a question no matter how confident I was that I knew the answer, because I was terrified to sound stupid. But, I had to get the best grade on the test. I learned information for that end alone--I never felt a real interest in anything in school because I had to focus all of my energy on the A. I went on this way in college for the most part--even declaring a major in something like English felt too scary because I thought it made it seem like I was claiming to be good at it, and what if I didn't do well in a class? Looking back, I wasted a lot of time in my head, unable to process and express my feelings. I wish I had just said, "I hated this book!" or "Oh, that poem! I am feeling all the feelings and I don't even know how to talk about them."

I suffered a back injury in high school that ended my soccer career (for which I was EXTREMELY relieved, but I never told anyone that), so I gained quite a bit of weight. But, I played most of the intramural sports my university offered because I continued to feel pressure from my past to prove myself an athlete. I went to the campus gym every morning and most evenings and worked out for up to three hours most days, but saw little change in my body. I still ate a standard diet and didn't shy away from middle of the night trips to Ihop or Taco Bell.

I continued to catch every illness I was exposed to. I also started getting vaginal yeast infections, which I treated with drugstore suppositories until they went away, only to return a month later.  I had an embarrassing sweating issue that didn't change with clinical strength deoderants. My period had always been unusually heavy, but my emotional symptoms around it seemed to worsen. I ended up in the emergency room after a bout of severe cramping made me unable to stand upright. An ultrasound showed polycystic ovaries, and a visit to my gynecologist confirmed signs of endometriosis as well. He asked me if I thought I might want kids eventually. I told him yes, definitely. "Well, it might not happen naturally," he said. "I am broken," I remember thinking. Not good enough, not good enough, not good enough.

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(Age 19, ~155 pounds, Size 8 jeans that were too tight
but I was determined to not be a double digit)

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PART TWO COMING SOON!

Summer Rhythm

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It is HOT, you guys. So, so hot. I would say it's too hot to do anything, which is kind of how I feel when I look at the forecast every morning lately. Luckily (for my girls), we are nicely settled into a weekly rhythm that makes it much easier to press on and enjoy our time together since we are all already familiar with the flow of each week and day. I am pretty confident we'd be hermits and my girls would be miserable if we hadn't found our groove a month or two ago when the temperature varied a bit more. 

What does a weekly rhythm look like for you? Do you follow one? The concept may sound rigid and contradictory to the nature of children at first, but it is actually quite the opposite. My daughters thrive on feeling secure in their day-to-day and week-to-week routines. They can count on them and look forward to weekly events and outings as they come around again. This of course does not mean we are bound to our schedule, no questions asked--we open ourselves to appointments or unexpected playdates or road trips often, and illness can creep in and turn a field trip day into a day in bed with books. It just means that if nothing else comes up, this is how our week will look. Time is our most precious gift, and spending it stressing over what we should or should't do with it on a daily basis is kind of a waste! And a fun bonus--a weekly rhythm is a great teaching tool for learning days of the week. My oldest asks, "What day is tomorrow?" and I say, "Friday," and she now says, "Craft time and grocery day! Yay!"

Our Summer Rhythm:

Monday
Breakfast
Library Story Time
Lunch (usually with friends we run into at the library)
Reed naps/Mama works out and then Edie and Mama read books
Play outside
Pick up house, vacuum, steam tile
Dinner
Dance party/last hoorah before bed
Change into jams and brush teeth
Bedtime story
Sleep

Tuesday
Breakfast, slower morning
Splash pad or pool
Lunch (sometimes with Dada)
Reed naps/Mama works out and then reads books with Edie
Bake cookies/muffins for the week
Dinner
Dance party
Change and brush teeth
Bedtime story
Sleep

Wednesday
Breakfast
Children's Museum
Lunch out at our favorite local spot
Reed naps/Mama works out and reads with Edie
Play outside
Pick up house and vacuum
Dinner
Dance party
Brush teeth
Bedtime story
Sleep

Thursday
Breakfast, slow morning
Swim at river or lake
Lunch
Reed naps/Mama works out and reads with Edie
Catch up on dishes and laundry
Dinner
Dance party
Brush teeth
Bedtime story
Sleep

Friday
Breakfast
Craft time at Whole Foods
Grocery shop
Lunch
Reed naps/Mama works out and reads with Edie
Play outside
Pick up house, wash sheets and vacuum
Dinner
Dance party
Brush teeth
Bedtime story
Sleep


Weekends are bit less structured, but they usually include the Farmer's Market, yoga for me, more library time and swimming as a whole family as well as a home project or two. The heat may be rough, but we are having a really lovely summer!

For more information on establishing daily and weekly rhythms, I highly recommend looking into Waldorf philosophy :) Happy weekend!
 

Bedtime

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My girls really love our bedtime routine, and it starts with a little Children's Tranquility from Birthsong Botanicals. I give them each a full dropper about half an hour before we lie down, and they get so excited to take it every night! Birthsong products are super clean, organic and wildcrafted and I have been using them for years for basically EVERYTHING from milk supply help to immune boosting to diaper rash, so I figured it was time to try this little bottle of relaxation. 

Bare_mama gets you 10% off your purchase on the Birthsong website right now! Sweet dreams, friends.