Monday, June 16, 2014

What I've Learned From Pregnancy

Oh, the places you'll go - and the things you'll hear, read, and respond to - during pregnancy.

During pregnancy (I'm now in my 9th month) I have learned quite a few things about myself and others. Other people, other moms, other parents, other families. I've spent a lot of time considering the dos and don'ts of parenting. And I've come to the realization that I know nothing more than anyone else does. We are all guessing and taking our best shot at parenting. But no one has it 100% perfected. If they did, they'd also be raising perfect children, and isn't the idea of "perfection" pretty subjective after all?

Let me preface this blog post by saying I definitely don't have all the answers. I probably don't have even 50% of them. I'm nervous, anxious, scared and upset at times that I'm bringing a new life into this world with little to no idea of how I will provide for this child and who he will turn out to be. All those unknowns raise doubts and defensiveness in my mind. But like anything else, I suppose I'll have to take it one day at a time.

Moving on to what I've learned during pregnancy. Shall we begin?

1) People will give you a shitton of advice

And you have to be able to filter out the bullshit. In actuality, when people are giving you advice, it's because whatever they have done or tried or told themselves or have been told by others has either worked for them or it hasn't. While I do believe that advice always comes from a caring place ("Don't make the same mistakes I did!"), I also believe that the sender (advice giver) is primarily talking about themselves when giving advice to the receiver (me, or Matt, or anyone else about to have a new baby). That's not meant to sound rude or condescending - but think about it. What may work for the sender will probably not 100% work for the receiver. While advice is helpful and entirely necessary for first time parents, I've struggled with intake of advice. Talking to too many people or reading too many books or forums (a piece of advice to new parents: NEVER READ FORUMS!!!) will just add stress to your life and your own decision making. Some people are naturally good at standing their ground and knowing exactly what they intend to do with any given situation. Me? Not so much. I may seem to be well versed in standing my ground, but in all honesty, I'm an insecure first time parent just as much as anyone else is. Bottom line? Know what advice will work for you, and consider the rest white noise.

2) People will say things that they think are helpful... but aren't

Along with the unsolicited advice you receive from extended family and friends, people will also say things that they think are helpful. People will say a lot of insensitive things, not realizing (or not caring) that said things may be perceived as hurtful, unnecessary, or fear-inducing. For example, most people who already had children felt compelled to tell me their birth story. In the beginning, I was like a dry sponge soaking up all this information - is natural birth better for me and baby? Are vaccines really that bad? Should I take the epidural or leave it? Is pain medication terrible for me? Breastfeeding or formula? Along the same lines of being bombarded with advice that left my head spinning, here are some of the most annoying comments I heard during pregnancy:

"How are you feeling?" 
Okay, admittedly that's not strange at all, but imagine that you were ill and everyone knew that (and could see it, visibly) and they asked you that every. single. day. You would certainly tire of hearing "How are you feeling?" and feeling compelled, yourself, to beat them with whatever seems like it would inflict the most pain while simultaneously answering "I feel GREAT!" and flash a fake, plastered grin just to get them to go away.

"You don't even LOOK pregnant!"
So you're insinuating that I just look fat then, right? Thank you - thank you for that. I was feeling pretty cute today until you came along.

"Let me tell you MY birth story."
Please, tell me how you were an emergency c-section after 24 hours of laboring in extreme pain, how all the nurses were awful to you in the hospital, or how you had to pull over to the side of the road and give birth to your baby on a major highway. I'm all ears!!!

"Are you planning to breastfeed?"
How is that any of your business? And are you going to judge me if I'm not? Or better yet, tell me a nightmarish story about how dry and cracked and infected your nipples got during feeding?

"You're planning to go back to work?? Who will watch the baby?"
I guess because I'm a woman, I shouldn't work, right? Because women have never returned to work and raised perfectly normal children.

"You're thinking about staying home? Watch out, you will get REALLY bored."
Thank you! Boredom sounds a lot better than pushing paper like I have been for the last 10 years!

"Ugh, I can't imagine going through that. I'm not sure I'll ever want kids for that reason."
Just keep it to yourself. Really.

In all honesty, these comments aren't really weird or strange in any way. They just... annoy the shit out of me. Let me clarify that those who have told me their birth stories, I most likely asked them - it's the ones who tell me because they feel compelled to share that really get on my nerves! Pregnancy is such a strange and special time in a woman's life (and the partner's, as well). It's an extremely delicate, uncomfortable, beautiful, scary, emotional, nerve-wracking and amazing time for anyone who is going through it - be it by yourself or with a partner. And unwarranted or thoughtless comments and advice can make that transition harder on anyone. 

3) There are some things about being pregnant that are enjoyable.

- Eating whatever you want. Yes, some foods are off limits, and yes, gestational diabetes or morning sickness may play a role in what you want to or can eat. But for the most part? Go for the extra slice of pizza or chocolate sundae. Pregnancy isn't a free pass to binge, but it certainly is a time to enjoy yourself and live it up. I'm a firm believer that no foods are ever "off limits" even when you aren't pregnant - but the quantity of those foods is more limited when you're not eating for two!

- People are nicer to you. After reading my first two blurbs about unsolicited advice and rude comments, you might be thinking "Wtf are you talking about, Becky?" BUT let me explain. Once you are very pregnant, around the third trimester when people can visibly see your baby bump, people ARE nicer to you! I was at a restaurant recently where a nice older gentleman offered me his seat. One of my coworkers brought me fresh fruit whenever she had it (delicious pears). Another coworker made me a delicious cake and brought in baked goods. Another bonus: men don't make cat calls or hit on you during pregnancy. I'm not saying I'm Kim Kardashian or anything, but it's nice to get no attention from men who otherwise don't know (or ignore) the fact that you're married. Also, both men and women hold the door open for you, and are generally more patient with you when you're shopping. I've had people help me lift heavy things in the grocery store, and offer to help carry almost anything.

- Feeling your baby kick, roll and tumble! Seriously, it's probably the most fun thing about pregnancy. Although, towards the end, it loses it's appeal somewhat. This ecard sums it up pretty well:

- Creating a life inside of you. It's just pretty cool when you think about it. A woman's body is designed for it. No offense guys, but... what can your bodies do that's THAT incredible?!

I've learned a lot more than what I mentioned in this post. I've learned more than I ever wanted to know about female anatomy. I've watched birth videos, both natural and medicated, on YouTube. I've exposed myself to things I probably shouldn't have or didn't need to. I've read far too many blogs, websites, books, articles, and forums that only really exacerbated my anxiety about birth and parenting. 

All in all, pregnancy has been a pretty incredible experience. I think back on the days when I wasn't pregnant, when I was single and "carefree"... and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Although pregnancy has its ups and downs, literally and figuratively, I am excited to meet my son and bring him into the world - even if it means he pees, poops, farts, burps, and spits-up all over me. If it means rearranging my career or education goals or putting certain plans on hold, so be it. I couldn't be happier to be starting a family with my loving and adoring husband. We joke a lot about being peed and/or pooped on, never getting any sleep, and how our son will drive us to the brink of insanity by asking questions that we won't know how to answer or waking us in the middle of the night because he had a bad dream. We already laugh at the thing we think he will say, or whose personality he will have more of.

I think just having an open mind, being able to joke about the absurdity of it all, is really the key to making peace with all the stress to come. To quote the philosopher Albert Camus (who my husband recently made me aware of...)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Pregnancy & Personal Life Update

I feel like I start out every blog by saying "OMG, it's been SOOO long since I've blogged!!" Well, that may change in the future (or may not...) since I just started my maternity leave today!!! Which will leave me with much more time to do things I love, like writing.

I have been majorly MIA for the last 6 months because, well, I have been very pregnant and preoccupied with everything baby related! Working full time while pregnant is no easy feat. I really admire women who are not only pregnant and working, but on their feet most of the day. I was lucky enough to have an office job where I sat at a desk about 80% of the time. I can't imagine being in a busy retail environment or even working as a cashier somewhere with all that belly weight pressing on your bladder, legs, feet...

Anyway, I'm super excited to be spending these next few weeks before baby comes (I'm hoping he gives me at least a couple weeks!) at home finishing all the little details that have been in the back of my mind. This morning I slept in until 11:00 and plan to do that as MUCH as humanly possible until he gets here. Since yes, I know, I won't get any sleep once the baby comes - thank you to everyone who has informed me of that MULTIPLE times...

So, what projects am I working on before baby comes? Well, our nursery is still a huge disorganized mess! Matt's sister just brought us a beautiful crib, armoire and dresser/changing table as a gift that she used with her kids (thank you Kelly!) last night. I'm sure Matt is eager to put that crib together. ;) The armoire and dresser are absolutely gorgeous! Ignore the messes!

This is my temporary breastfeeding/pumping area. Under the pillow is a small stool since I didn't have an ottoman that worked very well in this space.

Notice the new breast pump - I got it for free through my insurance!! I actually tested it out today and didn't mind it too much at all. Our doula recommended having a designated area for beastfeeding and/or pumping. She also suggested keeping snacks and drinks closeby, which I think is a great idea. We are going to use that second shelf to store some energy bars, cookies, etc.

OMG what a mess!! Can't wait to have this fully functioning and organized. But I absolutely love the furniture.

We found that monkey swing in almost brand new condition at a garage sale for super cheap. Just needs new batteries! The rocking chair is a family heirloom from Matt's grandparents. Pretty cool!

Here is the accent wall Matt painted - didn't he do an amazing job? And there's the crib to be assembled resting against the door. Oh - the C stands for baby's first name, which is still a secret!

SO that's my baby/nursery/personal life update for now!! As for me? I'm hanging in there. I won't lie, there are some very uncomfortable days in the home stretch of being pregnant. Last night I slept on a mountain of pillows (literally, I had about 8 pillows around me) and that helped a ton! It's not totally impossible to be comfortable during pregnancy. Just takes a little more work.

It's almost 2:00 so I'm off to "get ready" for the day. Which won't include much more than mundane chores, like laundry, more organizing and setting up the nursery. 

Talk soon!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

My Goals for 2014

I love the new year. Not just for resolutions, but because it's a fresh start... a chance to reflect on last year's highs and lows, what I learned, what did and didn't work, what I did and didn't accomplish.  Even though I can set goals anytime of the year, the new year brings a fresh perspective to my hopes and dreams, both new and old.

As most people know by now, my husband and I are expecting our first child - he/she is due in June 2014! And while we are excited and amazed that it's really happening, the reality of having a baby of course comes with some anxiety as well as a huge learning curve. Don't worry, friends and family, I've already been extensively reading up on parenting techniques, overlooking current and future budgets, and researching childcare. But in the meantime, I'm also trying to live in the moment and enjoy each moment of this pregnancy.

My husband and I also just moved into a new rental house - our first house together! We were tiring of the apartment lifestyle and wanted more space and privacy. The great thing about living in the suburbs of the Pacific Northwest is that you can find decent housing out here at a totally reasonable price. Some of the apartments we looked at prior to moving were MORE expensive than our house - how is that even possible!? I'm so happy we made this decision, although we have had a few minor qualms in the new place. It's so worth it to have our own space and privacy.

Anyway, with that mini update I'll share some of my goals for this year. I would love to read what you guys are dreaming of for 2014!

1) Paint the house (interior)

We are renting this house on a lease for 18 months - the longest I will have ever lived in one place other than my Mom's house! It's the first place that I really want to make my own. It's also the first place our baby will experience, even though she won't remember anything about it - babies can definitely sense the energy in a home and in their environment, and I want this to be as special and homey as I can make it. My goal is to paint each room before the baby gets here. Oh and of course, I have some special ideas for the nursery, too!

I've been thinking about a nice neutral grey for the living room walls.

2) Plant a garden

Well, to be honest, our garden needs a LOT of work. Our "garden" is nothing more than a few unkempt bushes out front, some scattered grass here and there, and a giant back yard - of dirt. My first goal for our yard is to plant grass seed in the spring, and hope that it sprouts and grows by summer. Not to mention, Penny gets horrendously dirty paws from running around in the dirt. It'd be much nicer if she could just run out and potty on the grass, instead of Matt having to lift her back into the house to avoid staining our carpet! So, once we get the grass seed down in spring, I also want to start a small vegetable garden bed either in the front or backyard.

In addition to being able to grow our own vegetables and eat them for free, I want our kids to have the experience of planting, growing, and "harvesting" their own vegetables. I never thought I'd say that, because I hated gardening when I was younger (we also weren't gardening for food... it was to pull weeds!) but it's interesting how becoming a parent changes you. I also feel that we are so disconnected from the food we eat and buy at the grocery store.. I'd like to at least be able to show my children how food is actually grown and consumed.
An example of the gardening I'd like to start in our backyard

3) Establish a sizable savings

To be perfectly transparent, my husband and I have had financial struggles ever since our wedding planning days. I've had quite a few job changes, from the job market being somewhat inconsistent (I had a lot of temp work off and on before finding a full time job). Thankfully, my husband and I are in a much better situation now with regard to jobs and income - he even got a brand new job he will be starting in January! So, things are definitely lining up for us, but it's still going to take a lot of work on our part to establish a good size savings and stick to a pretty tight budget.

I've read quite a few books on debt management and budgeting, but I find what works best for me is just to map out each payday before I'm paid. I'm not salaried, I'm hourly, but most of my paychecks are the same amount. I usually send Matt an email which shows how much is coming in, and how many expenses we have. Sometimes we don't have enough to pay all of our bills (that's the reality of most young newlyweds) so we sometimes have to adjust or move things around. It's been a struggle integrating our spending styles and budgeting techniques into our marriage - that's probably the biggest struggle we've had since getting married! We wanted to implement as much trust as possible in our relationship, though, and have thorough transparency with regard to spending. If he's spending a little too much on coffees or if I'm overspending on cosmetics (bad habit...) we make sure to hold each other accountable for that.

Another thing that's helped us is to always budget money for savings and for spending. Although we've had to exhaust our savings in recent months (big security deposit on the house, a few household items we couldn't live without, etc) we are always working to build back up into that savings and leave it untouched - emergencies only. With a baby on the way, it becomes even more crucial to put smaller needs aside and keep an emergency fund available, should we run low on diapers or need emergency child care for any reason.

4) Put myself first

I've gradually gotten better at putting myself first. I've learned to set boundaries with family, friends, my husband, even my pets (seriously!) and at work. I can't stress enough how important it is to set boundaries with people. When people upset you, talk to them. Tell them it's not okay with you. You don't have to abrasive, but it's incredibly important to say "I really can't talk right now" or "I really need this amount of time/space to get this done" and so on and so forth.

I encountered an "interesting" situation at work recently where I was told I wasn't performing at a high enough standard. Specifically, I was told, "You set the bar really high, and now your performance has slipped." I quickly came to my own defense, outlining everything I was working on, and said, "This is what I can do right now. If it's not enough, I'm sorry, but I'm doing my absolute best." Even when you are told that your work performance needs improvement, it's an important time to say "I'm sorry, but I'm already stretched thin. I can get 'x' done if you give me 'y' resources to do it; otherwise, I'm going to continue at the pace I'm working."

Setting boundaries with bosses, no matter how high pressure your job, is vitally important to your physical and mental well being. Also - take those "feedback" situations as an opportunity for growth. Explain what you've already accomplished and ask your boss for reasonable suggestions on how they think you should be managing your time or resources. If the suggestions are unreasonable, such as "work as much overtime as needed to get this done" or "work harder" it's especially important to put your foot down and tell them what you need. If they are being harsh just to be in control, ask for specific suggestions, such as "How do you manage your time? What works for you?" If you don't bother communicating, who is the one who ends up miserable? You, or your boss?

Never assume that because you are reporting to a boss (or anyone with authority, including parents, elders, older siblings) that you can't set boundaries. If you don't, you will get walked on for the rest of your life and people will come to know you as someone who works hard but is always frustrated or someone they can walk on to do their bidding.

Not only in work, but also at home is where I've struggled to put myself first. My pregnancy has slowed me down! Your body talks to you when you're pregnant, and if you listen, you'll know when you've had too much - too much stress, too much food, the wrong kind of food, not enough oxygen, anything really. I think women are incredibly blessed to be able to experience such a connection with their own body during pregnancy. Being pregnant has certainly raised my awareness about what I can handle on a daily basis. And wow, was I handling a TON before this baby came along!!

Bottom line, my goal for 2014 is to continue standing up for myself in any situation, no matter how awkward or uncomfortable, and to take more time for myself to do things like take long baths, put on makeup for no reason, listen to music, paint, write whenever I feel the inkling, watch TV all day if that makes me happy, and ask others for help with things like chores and errands.

5) Complete at least one DIY project

I love looking through Pinterest and reading DIY books or blogs like YoungHouseLove and watching Property Brothers for hours on end. But how often do I actually complete one of those projects? Never! My goal this year is to complete at least one DIY project - whether it be re-purposing a coffee table from a thrift store, or creating a makeshift frame from an old lampshade (you never know!)

This bench was reupholstered from a thrift store and looks brand new!

6) Start a YouTube Channel

I have been addicted to a variety of YouTube channels for almost 2 years now. It's like watching my favorite TV shows - I wait in anticipation for my favorite "vloggers" to post a new video. The channels out there range from beauty to cooking to inspiration - all offering a different perspective from the unique individuals who are willing to talk to a camera. There's something about that person talking to the camera that makes for this unique experience that is so unlike a TV show - it seems more personal, as if you really know these people.

I have a lot of great advice and experiences that I'd like to share, and as much as I hate being on camera (I'm my own worst critic) I want to face that fear and start doing something that will reach other people. Something I've noticed about successful bloggers and YouTubers is that they are both fearless and creative - willing to put themselves out there and risk the criticism that comes from having a public audience.

I want my channel to focus on the same principles of my blog - Beauty/Life/Project. What that means to me is focusing some time and energy on beauty (cosmetics, skincare, health, exercise) some time on life (marriage advice, family advice, health and well being) and some time on projects - crafts, DIY, cooking, anything hands on. I love writing, but there's something different about connecting with an audience through speech and demonstration.

Is that all...?

Those are pretty hefty goals, but all of them are totally achievable! I used to set huge goals for myself - get into college by X date, graduate in this by X date, lose this many pounds, run 7 times a week. But as I get into my late twenties, I've just begun to realize that expectations need to be realistic. If I aim to paint my house and grow a garden by February, I will be sorely disappointed when my grass doesn't sprout and my tomatoes are dying before they were even planted. I've learned not to set goals that are so high that they become impractical to achieve.

Besides, I'm having a freakin' baby next year - isn't that a big enough achievement as is!?

I would love to hear your goals for 2014!! If you have any you'd like to share, leave them in the comments below or link me to your blog!

lots of love,

Monday, August 5, 2013

5 Mobile Apps To Help You Stay Healthy

Hello again everyone! Thanks for stopping by today! 

I don't know about you, but I have an obsession with lists. Yes, lists. I love making them, I love reading them - I just love how they get to the point so quickly and easily. A lot of my blog posts are list-based for that exact reason (top 5, top 10, etc). If I'm crunched for time to write, I'm sure my readers are short on time, too. No use in writing something people get bored of and stop reading!

Today's post is about the top 5 mobile apps that have helped me stay on track with health and weight loss. Some of these you may already know about - some you may not! Keep reading for more info, and maybe one of these apps can help you get a little closer to your goal.

1) Tumblr (Free)
Tumblr is a cross between Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. Tumblr is essentially made up of short blog posts, informal Q&As with the people you follow and those who follow you, and the pictures and gifs (moving images that loop over and over) that people share with one another. Tumblr has hashtag capability and a search functionality to help find specific pictures or blogs with hashtags or labels associated with them, which helps users connect with others who share similar interests.

So what makes Tumblr such a great place to find health inspiration? You might check out this account, aptly titled Beautiful Pictures of Healthy Food. Or, for all the fitness lovers out there, pour over this "Fitspo" (fitness and inspiration) account run by personal trainer Cassey Howhich is chock full of everything from yoga gifs and YouTube workout videos to full recipes and blog topics such as women's wellness and self-care. You can even find entire workout plans laid out in a picture small enough to save to your phone. 

For those who like using inspirational quotes as their iPhone wallpaper (me me me!) take a look through this motivational Tumblr account. Nothing gives me a new perspective like reading a few of these catchy sayings and quotes.

Download Tumblr for iPhone
Download Tumblr for Android

2) MyFitnessPal (Free)
MyFitnessPal, oh how you've changed my life! I will start out by saying that tracking every morsel of food just isn't for everyone. (For those with an eating disorder, it is not recommended.) I am confident that I know the caloric value of practically any food on the planet (14 years of experience tracking sort of burns those numbers into your brain). But, I still track my calories, because I am still sometimes surprised by the meals I make at home. 

One of my favorite parts of MyFitnessPal is the recipe builder. It allows you to build a recipe from the ground up, adding each ingredient individually. You then have the option of changing the amount of servings in a recipe, which will fluctuate depending on the number of servings the recipe yields. For example, say your favorite lasagna recipe comes out to 2400 calories for the entire pan. Divided into 12 servings, and the recipe builder automatically populates 200 calories per serving. Change the recipe to yield 6 servings, and it updates to 400 calories a serving. (Good luck finding a 200 calorie-per-serving lasagna!)

Because MFP's database is made up of entries from its users (users submit the nutritional breakdown of the foods they eat) you can build a food that isn't in the database already, as long as you have access to the nutritional information for your favorite product. Unlike Weight Watchers, MFP doesn't discriminate against brands in its database - because it isn't trying to promote specific brands over another, which I appreciate. Just be weary of the fact that since most items are entered manually, there is room for human error (if you input a slice of large pepperoni pizza and it tells you you've eaten 150 calories, chances are that's not an accurate entry.) 

I highly recommend this app out of all the weight loss apps I've tried. In addition to what's noted above, MFP keeps your weight history and food journals stored for years. I love being able to look back and see my progress from week to week, or go back go 2011 to see what crazy diet I was on at the time. :)

Download MyFitnessPal for iPhone
Download MyFitnessPal for Android

3) Food Gawker (Free)
What is a Food Gawker? It's anyone who has ever actually drooled over pictures of delectable looking food. It's a person who is visual, and likes their food to both look delicious and taste even better. Food Gawkers and stalkers everywhere will appreciate this app, which is filled with just that: pictures of FOOD!

Similar to Pinterest and Tumblr, the app shows you pictures of food and recipes based on a keyword search. You can input basic searches like "dinner" "vegetarian" "soup" "snacks" or keywords such as "gluten free" "dairy free" and so on. It's a great way to find inspiration through visuals - personally, I can't find a recipe all that appetizing without pictures. Also, a picture can help inspire an idea you may already have about a recipe, or it can get you to try new foods.

All you have to do is search a keyword - from there, you can click individual pictures to be linked to the original recipe. 

Download FoodGawker for iPhone
FoodGawker if not yet available for Android - view the website here

4) Runkeeper (Free)
"I think we need to talk. I really think you're good for me, and I really care about you. I hate to break it to you like this, but... you're just not very popular! I've heard people saying things about you. I don't think anyone really enjoys spending time with you... You're just, really... I don't know, you're just EXHAUSTING! And when I'm already tired after a long day, the last thing I want to do is feel MORE exhausted! I don't mean to make you feel bad or anything... It's so weird, though. Even though I feel exhausted while we are hanging out, afterward I feel so GOOD! I can't really explain it, but... I guess we should still see each other, but you'll have to call me - you know, since I'm bad at keeping in touch and everything..."

If you are like me and play hard to get with Exercise, an app that reminds you to work out might help you stay active. I really like using Runkeeper to track my activity because its so user friendly. It also has a "fun" feel to it - you can connect with friends, set reminders, beat your own best record, compete with others, train for a 5k, and brag to all your Facebook and Twitter friends about how many calories you burned hiking, walking, or jogging. Runkeeper is pretty much the Facebook for physical activity. Think of it as both a personal cheerleader and a scoreboard for every activity you do.

When I turned on the reminders in my Runkeeper app, it actually remembered the last time I went running, and sent me a little pop up notification that said "Hey! Last time you went for a run, you thought this was the perfect time to go. How about beating your last record?"

Download Runkeeper for iPhone
Download Runkeeper for Android

5) Podcasts (Free)
I only recently found out about the podcasts app! If you have an iPod or an iPhone (you can also download iTunes software on a PC, if you don't have a smartphone) you can download original podcasts from thousands of individual contributors. I've found every kind of podcast on iTunes, from meditation practices to hypnosis to weight loss. Some are hit or miss, since they are produced individually, but it's always worth a try because they are free to download. 

My favorite podcast is the Jillian Michaels show, which she updates weekly. Her podcasts usually last 1-2 hours, but I find it really helpful when I'm in a funk or if I just need to pass the time and don't feel like listening to music. Her topics are actually somewhat offbeat - I've been moved to tears by some of the stories she's shared on her show. (It reveals a softer side of Jillian, which most people aren't accustomed to.) Jillian shares insightful methods for handling conflict, facing your own demons, and challenging excuses at their core. Get ready for some tough (but down to earth) love. If you're not a Jillian fan, there are SO many other health and weight loss podcasts full of useful information. 

Download Podcasts for iPhone
Download Podcast Manager for Android

A final word of advice and disclaimer

I am not a health professional in any capacity. I have not received any formal training on the subject, but my expertise comes from many years of research and learning by my own trial and error. Always make sure to research for credible sources of health related information, if you happen to run across information you don't agree with or that seems a little far fetched. 

There are SO many conflicting arguments out there about the healthiest way to live. The healthiest way to live is however you feel your absolute best - not what anyone else tells you to eat or not eat! When you listen to your body, it will always tell you what it needs.

This post is not sponsored by any of the aforementioned companies. All opinions are my own.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Top 5 Tips for Healthy Body Image

Hey Everyone! Thanks for visiting my blog again! After yesterday's post about some of my struggles with weight and life in general, I thought of another hot topic that seems to come up so frequently in every day conversation: body image.

Most people are probably not aware of how they come across, or what things they say about themselves to negate their own accomplishments or appearance. Especially in groups of women, weight and appearance seem to be the dominating topics of conversation between family members, friends, and coworkers. Women bond over their flaws, rather than their fabulousness.
Most of us learn to talk negatively about ourselves from our parents. People who grow up in a household that feeds the criticism of self and others will, by nature, pick up the same bad habits of their parents or siblings. It's an ongoing cycle that is normally carried out through each generation, until someone decides not to participate in negative self talk any longer.

Throughout the past few years, I've worked steadily on obtaining a positive body image, regardless of my size. At my heaviest weight, I was incredibly sad. I may have appeared happy or funny to my friends, but in actuality, I was immensely depressed. It wasn't until my husband encouraged me to seek the help of a professional that I began working toward a healthier body image. 

I started seeing a counselor (who was also a nurse) who had worked in a weight loss surgery clinic. She told me that she was inspired to further her education and become a counselor throughout her time as a nurse. She realized that obesity is an internal issue - not an external issue, how society likes to label it. As she was patiently chipping away at finishing her hours to obtain her counseling license, she became my go to mentor during a very troubling time. 

In our weekly sessions, which I attended for 9 months (without a break!) here are some of the things she taught me that still stand out to me to this day. 

1) Intuitive Eating - the Anti Diet Book
After an initial intake session, including a full history of my life, background, and weight struggles, Michelle introduced me to a book titled "Intuitive Eating". I was skeptical, assuming it was another "diet" plan that I would fail miserably. To my surprise, Intuitive Eating is quite the anti-diet book. Intuitive Eating focuses on a few key points, which I've outlined below.
2) Dichotomizing Food
Who decided that food is either "good" or "bad"? Who thought of that?! One of the first things I learned in my sessions and in this book was to stop dichotomizing food. (Dichotomizing is just a fancy term for labeling something as good or bad.) Here's why we should stop labeling food.

Food is neither good nor bad. Food is energy. It is a source of energy, made up of a specific amount of calories, and calories are a unit of heat energy - essentially, calories are higher or lower depending on their unit of heat energy. Think of high quality gasoline as being potentially more caloric, but healthier for your engine  - low quality gas burns more quickly, and is harder on your engine.

Now that we have the basic science out of the way, we can see that neither gas is BAD gas - but one type of gasoline, or fuel, is harder on your engine. The engine has to work harder to use the low quality gasoline, whereas the high octane gasoline keeps your engine running smoothly. Your body is an empty tank, and the foods you eat (regardless of their caloric value or nutrient density) have an effect on the body's state of health. 

That being said, there are no food police. I love this! How liberating would it be to be able to eat ANYTHING you wanted - absolutely anything you were craving - with no limits, except the ones you place on yourself? To be able to enjoy a hefty appetizer at your favorite restaurant, or to have dessert anytime you please? This is one of the steps that really took time for me to understand fully. There are no food police, except the ones in your head, telling you food is good or bad. Let's leave "good" and "bad" up to God to decide. (I'm pretty sure God wants you to eat that cake. Eat it... EAT IT)

3) The Diet Rebel
Basic psychology has proven time and time again that humanity goes against what is forced upon them. It is in our human nature to "rebel" against what we are forced to do. (Who likes going to the dentist? Who puts it off for years at a time? Hey, don't look at me, I go every year!) Point being, we all have a little (or a lot) of the Diet Rebel in us. Here's how to challenge that voice.

The Diet Rebel is that little voice in your head that says, "But I don't WANNNNA lose weight." "I don't WAAANT to make healthy dinner tonight." "I want to be BAD today and eat dessert for dinner." (Which, by the way, isn't a bad thing.) "I don't WAAAAANNNT to exercise." "I don't actually want to lose weight; only other people want me to, so I will show them!" And so on and so forth. Either way, the diet rebel is what prevents you from achieving your goals. And how does that work, you're wondering?

Let me tell you a little secret about the Diet Rebel. The Diet Rebel is a little devil that sits on your shoulder poking you with a hot, red pitchfork. My own personal Diet Rebel (who shall not be named) is the lovely resounding voice that got me to 220 pounds right before my wedding day. I guess you could say, she and I don't really talk much anymore... but she does pop up occasionally.

Now before you write me off as a schizo, hear me out! The reason the Diet Rebel plays devil's advocate is because it knows how to turn your opportunities into fleeting moments of sabotage. It takes the simple thought of eating a healthy, fulfilling meal and turns it into a mind game: "You don't have to eat that. You can eat whatever you want - so why don't you go and eat something baaaddd? You know you've been craving a cheeseburger all week... So go get one! Screw the people who say you should be thinner. Who are they anyway? You don't really want that. That's just shallow anyway, if all you care about is being thin. Just eat it, you don't have to answer to anyone." 

The sad thing is that the Diet Rebel is partially right. What the Diet Rebel fails to do, though, is advocate for your needs. It only advocates for your feelings - not your true needs or desires. It's in our basic human nature to go against what we are forced to do. On a diet? Well, you had a doughnut, may as well give up now! Have 10 doughnuts! Who cares! It's a doughnut party now! Screw you, diet!!!! 

The best way to combat the Diet Rebel, I've learned, is to become your own Lifestyle Ally. Your Lifestyle Ally is the voice that says "Yeah, a cheeseburger sounds good, since you're really hungry and stressed out from a long day at work. You could absolutely go get one if you really want to, since there aren't any Food Police, it's totally up to you. But I seem to recall that you were feeling really bloated the other day after eating all those nachos - and you said to yourself you want to eat more wholesome, home cooked meals because you want to start feeling better physically." 

The Lifestyle Ally takes your overall goals and feelings into consideration - not just your fleeting moments of victimization, which the Diet Rebel clings to. Which voice will you feed?

4) Negative Self Talk & Judgment
One of the most difficult tasks in my counseling sessions was to revisit the week, and recount how I felt during the week. My counselor often asked me to remain mindful throughout each week. Mindfulness simply means being in the present moment as much as possible, and being aware. How are you feeling right this second? Are you anxious, happy, sad? Why or why not? Where in your body can you feel your state of mind? I was often asked to talk about my binge eating, which was sometimes emotionally difficult to recall. Admittedly, binges for me were equivalent to alcohol for an alcoholic or narcotics to an addict. 

Over time and through extensive internal progression, my counselor pointed out a recurrent theme: guilt, anger, and punishment. Binges were triggered by anxiety, which turned into avoidance (I ate to avoid responsibilities of adulthood and difficult situations) which turned into depression, which turned into guilt, sadness, and more anxiety. All of that internal dialogue stemmed from a pretty basic fear: worthlessness and acceptance. My counselor described how I could begin to break the cycle of feeling "not good enough". The first step? Stop judging myself in any and every capacity. 

This was THE most difficult habit to break. Whenever I feel myself slipping back into the judgment zone, I revert back to old habits, almost subconsciously - I tend to overeat and get lazy and avoidant. I spend hours doing nothing, yet complaining about my situation. I revert to a victim stance - a victim who is "too distraught" or "not good enough" to take care of myself. 

Women everywhere judge themselves harshly and especially judge other women as harshly, if not more so. So why are women (not all of them - but most, and men are not excluded from this) so judgmental? Well, why wouldn't we be judgmental of others when we are so incredibly hard on ourselves? 

So how do we stop judging ourselves, so we can stop judging others? 

5) Take Action & Challenge Old Thought Patterns
Only after practicing mindfulness and awareness can we really take action in our lives. Another amazing part of my journey with Michelle is that she was so patient and thoughtful. She really took the time to listen and encouraged me to listen to my own thoughts, and to watch my own actions as if I were outside myself - to see myself through the eyes of a non judgmental person. She taught me to look upon myself with care and compassion. Trust me when I say that before I started therapy with her, I had very little compassion for myself or anyone else. 

If I can take away one of the most helpful pieces of knowledge from my time with her, it is to simply stop judging. Stop judging yourself and you will find more compassion for others along the way. Take the time this week to really listen to the thinking patterns in your mind, and without judging them, slowly start to challenge them. If you find yourself overeating, don't judge it. Learn from it and keep going. 

I truly hope these tips help you along the way in your own journey, whatever that may be. Food and weight and health are so interdependent. I feel it's best to explore internal dialogue before making external changes. If an old house is re-painted to look brand new, it doesn't stop termites from eating away at the house's foundation - Why would your body and mind be any different?

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Get to Know Me - Upbringing & Struggles With Weight


Hi Everyone!

If you've been following my blog for the last year or so, you already know that for some time now, I've been working to lose the extra weight I put on around 2 years ago due to stress. If you haven't been following my story, I'll give you a brief back story/history of my weight ups and downs throughout the years.

Here I am in the late 80's (right) about a year after I was born. My Mom had me later in her life - she was 40 when I was born! I guess you could say I was sort of a surprise. A cute surprise.

When I was about 4 years old, my parents were divorced. My Dad moved out shortly after the divorce.

Here I am with my cousins, around 8 years old. 

When I was 8 years old, I broke my right leg (femur - the biggest bone in your body) and was in a body cast for what felt like several months. I even had to learn to walk all over again! The stress of the accident definitely took a toll on my weight. I was a chubby, awkward kid. I was always called fat and picked on by other kids throughout grade school.

How cute is my cousin without her glasses!? She is all grown up now, and absolutely gorgeous!

In 4th grade, I began playing softball. Even though the girls on the team were horrible to me, playing softball and being active slowly helped me build my confidence. I reached a healthy weight by age 10 or 11, but shortly after I stopped playing altogether due to excessive bullying.

Fast forward about 5 years, here I am with my sisters and brother around age 14 (right). From age 8 - 15 or so, I struggled with my weight; it went up, then down, then back up. Various stressors at home and school were the main reasons for the constant fluctuations.

By age 14, I asked my Mom if I could accompany
her to a Weight Watchers meeting. 

Weight Watchers actually worked for me! It taught me the basics of tracking calories (points), and was a generally positive and encouraging environment to be in during the weekly meetings.

Around 1 year later, at 15 years old, I had lost about 30+ pounds through Weight Watchers. This picture (left) is me at my lowest recorded weight. I weighed 135 pounds. 

I had a rough upbringing, but managed to maintain a healthy weight for about a year, from age 15 to 16.

When I was a teenager, I unfortunately found myself in an abusive relationship that lasted throughout high school. My self esteem plummeted. Although people told me I was pretty, being with someone who physically and emotionally abused and manipulated me made it impossible to develop a strong sense of self. Once my relationship with this person became long term, I found myself turning to food more and more as an escape and a coping mechanism for the abuse.

Between 2001 (pictured above) and 2004 (right), I gained a total of 70 pounds. By my high school graduation, my weight reached its highest.

Although I accomplished a lot throughout high school, including working full time as a supervisor for a pizza parlor while attending full time running start courses at the local community college, I was probably at one of my lowest points when this picture was taken.

The relationship I was in had taken a turn for the worst; it was a miracle I survived high school without dropping out or turning to drugs to get by. The relationship continued off and on, while I struggled to try and get my life together. Most of my family and the few friends I had didn't know my boyfriend was physically abusive.

I remember weighing 204 pounds on graduation day.

In August 2004, not long after a lot of other changes took place, I landed a job at a Starbucks drive-thru not far from my soon-to-be new apartment. A few months after being hired, the night shift needed a supervisor - so I was promoted to manage the night shift.

It was at Starbucks that my future really started to look brighter. I met a really great group of people, some of whom are still my friends to this day. For the first time in my life, I was building a strong support system of good friends and learning how to have fun.

My 21st birthday was the last birthday I celebrated with my abusive ex-boyfriend. Around February of that year, I dumped him. It was to the credit of my Starbucks group of friends, who essentially took me out and gave me an intervention, urging me to leave this toxic relationship. I am forever indebted to them for that.

I quickly grew tired of retail management, and knew I was destined for something greater. I craved stability and independence, so I applied for a position at Starbucks headquarters - and I was hired!

I worked for the company for about a year, from 2007 to 2008. Because I was in a stable and supportive environment, I began losing weight slowly.

In June 2008, I was a happy, moderately healthy 165 pounds. I learned how to be fashionable, started to believe that I might actually be pretty, and really developed a true sense of self and of what I wanted out of life. I made more friends at my new job, and attended a friend's baby shower (right). I had a new love interest, and things felt like they were headed in the right direction.

Fast forward to 2008 - I moved in with my boyfriend at the time, and dropped another 15 pounds when I found out that I may be gluten and dairy intolerant. I continued to track calories, but didn't do anything special to lose the weight.

In the bathroom of my condo taking selfies
With an old friend, 2007-2008

In 2009, I suffered a major loss. I lost my job (not at Starbucks) unexpectedly. My relationship was starting to fall apart as well. I relocated to another city to be with my boyfriend at the time, but it wasn't long after I went into a very deep depression.

I continued to work on myself throughout the year, while I worked jobs off and on. In May 2010, I decided to leave my relationship and move back to my Mom's house. The transition took a huge emotional toll on me. I felt completely lost, was unemployed, had next to no money, and despised living at home, where I didn't get along very well with my Mom.

It was, however, during that extremely trying time that I reached my second lowest weight. Being single again, I started to spend more time working out - running was my fave - and throughout all those years, I continued to track calories.

2010 - 140 - 145 pounds

I was single, not working, and once again - I didn't know what to do with myself. This was in the middle of the economic downturn, and jobs were even more difficult to come by. I found myself contracting off and on, but I never really enjoyed my line of work. It was then that my Mom and I had a falling out, and I moved out without hesitation. I quickly found a roommate, who also happened to be an old friend from my first job at Starbucks.

Not long after moving in, my roommate must have noticed how down I was, and offered to set me up on a blind date. I wasn't ready to get into a relationship just yet, as I felt I really had nothing to offer at the time... I wasn't working and didn't have any specific goals for the future. I wondered how anyone could find me fun or attractive when I felt so depressed.

How wrong I was!!! Unbeknownst to me, I met my husband on August 21st, 2010, at a coffee shop in a Seattle neighborhood. Our first date lasted several hours, as we quickly connected over similar goals as well as struggles. We each shared stories about our struggles with weight (his weight fluctuated throughout his life, too) and how both of us had lost over 70 pounds. We started seeing each other, and it was only a few short months later that we were inseparable. I was in love, and I knew I'd met The One.

 Matt and I spent all of our time together. Probably too much time together - but what do you expect!? We had met our match - and we both knew it. 

Matt treated me with the utmost respect and kindness. He is patient, kind, funny, hard working, and generous. He is affectionate and loving. He knows me better than anyone, and I am so lucky to have met him.

Over the next few years, Matt and I began once again struggling with our weight. I was trying to juggle the stress of working odd jobs and not having a steady income, while he juggled the stress of working for a busy law firm full time and being in a brand new relationship. Both of us found our comfort in food.

I began working full time again in 2011,and  my job became increasingly demanding and stressful. I started to struggle financially. My car broke down, and I was working two jobs with no way to get around. I let the stress of my situation contribute to my weight gain. 

In November 2011, Matt and I got engaged! I was absolutely head over heels in love with him - I couldn't believe this person, this amazing person, wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. Matt showed me I was beautiful in a way no one ever had. 

Pictures from our engagement/Christmas photo shoot, December '11

The stress of my job and planning a wedding really got to me for the next 8 months. It was also during this time that I had a falling out with two old friends. Throughout the experience of planning and the actual wedding, I came to realize who my true friends were. 

Sadly, however, my weight skyrocketed to an all time high of 220 pounds. Unlike most brides, I didn't feel anywhere near beautiful on my wedding day. In hindsight, I did look beautiful, but I think it shows in my pictures that I didn't truly feel that way. I realized shortly after our wedding that I had an exceptionally difficult time handling adverse and stressful situations, and that it has always adversely affected my weight and my happiness. I knew I had to change that.

My bridesmaids and I (and my highest weight)

From the proposal to the wedding, I gained a total of 40 additional pounds. I am in no way writing this blog to shame myself, or to cast guilt upon myself of any sort. I don't think that gaining or losing weight is inherently wrong or bad. Weight gain is just the external circumstance of a person not caring for themselves in the ways they should.

I am happy to report that I have lost a total of 37 pounds since my wedding day. It's been almost one year since the day I married my best friend, and it really is a time of reflection for me. So much has changed since then - I've changed jobs, moved to a brand new city, and have looked deep within myself to find the reasons behind my continued struggle with weight.

Here are some recent pictures of me:

From left to right: 220 pounds, 195 pounds, 185 pounds
Taken June, 2013
At my friend's wedding, June 2013, -30+ pounds
As you can see from reading my story, I've let stress get to me in the worst way. I've used stress as a way to neglect myself, ignore myself, shut myself out - I am just now learning to have a voice! I've encountered several stressful situations and haven't had the easiest life, but even through all that, I kept finding a way. I kept finding a light and I kept following it. I've learned - especially in the past year - that I am the only one who has let the stress of life keep knocking me down - and I'm the only one who can get back up and do something about it.

I always hear people say that if only they could lose a certain amount of weight, their life would be "so much better". If they just had enough money to hire a personal trainer. If they could afford a gym. If they could buy organic produce every week. That's really not what it's about, though, is it? 

Living a fulfilling life comes down to one simple thing: Take care of yourself. One of my favorite bloggers always says "When you take care of your body, it will glow." Take care of yourself for heaven's sake! You (and I, and anyone else) can make a million excuses about why life is the way it is - it's stressful because I have kids, it's stressful because I have family problems, it's stressful because of my marriage, it's stressful because I can't make decisions about the future, it's stressful because I don't have money, etc...

You can also turn those stressors into excuses - or you can turn them into motivation for change. I've heard (and said) things like: Tracking calories is too tedious. I'm too tired to exercise.  My job is draining, therefore I am going to watch TV all night and 'do whatever I want'. I might get injured if I work out. I don't want to lose weight for other people (I used that one for years). 

What it really comes down to is this - are you first in your own life? Do you come before other people? Are your needs met every day? Do you feel fulfilled in your relationship and in your job? If not, why don't you? If not, can you change it? If you can't change it (right away), can you change your attitude about it? If you're not asking to be first in your own life, then who exactly is first in your life?

Weight loss is not life, and life is not weight loss. Life is real struggle. Life is annoying. Life is things getting in the way of your goals. Life is traffic jams and nine-to-five's and all day meetings. Life is screaming children and annoying coworkers. Life is sadness and depression and addiction and divorce. Life is loss. But life is also so much more than what most people make of it. 

In the end, life is never about weight. It's about what you do with yourself, how you care for yourself, and your attitude, while you are given this short amount of time on this planet. There's no reason to feel sad or sorry for yourself. Adversity can always be overcome.