I woke up this morning, on January 1, 2019, and guess what!? I didn’t feel any different than I did yesterday on December 31, 2018. I used to buy into the fact that the start of a new year meant big changes. I envisioned everything improving for the better. I set resolutions like, “will exercise more,” “won’t sweat the small stuff,” and you know what? It lasted for about a month. Suddenly, I was back to my old habits, whether they were bad or good, and I felt dejected and annoyed with myself for not pushing harder. I’ve vowed to workout, to write, to read, to take better care of myself, to yell less, to love more, etc. The list can go on and on, but it’s irrelevant. The bottom line is that the pressure to change on one specific day because it’s supposed to be the day of resolutions isn’t a good, sustainable reason for change to occur and continue.
This year was filled with a lot of emotional downs. It really was. I started the year still in the throes of grief over losing my grandpa suddenly in August of 2017. I was continuing doing weekly, which turned to bi-weekly infusions to bolster my immune system. Can someone say perpetual swollen, black and blue stomach? I tried a torturous low-histamine diet. I went through ups and downs within my relationship. I lost my light, the brightness that shined from within me. It was noticeable to me in photos. I seemed detached from reality and from situations. I’m owning all of this. I believe my heart and mind were clouded with too much hurt, too much loss, too much emotional and physical pain, too much unknown, too much worry. I turned thirty-five and suddenly felt overwhelmed by the fact that life is passing too quickly and I wasn’t enjoying it the way I had planned. That’s a scary realization.
Looking back, I believe I was lost in the haze of grief. I was grieving the loss of loved ones, the loss of a younger version of myself, the loss of dreams yet to be achieved, the loss of my babies being babies. Everything was changing and I couldn’t get a handle on it.
And yet, there were bright spots. Watching my middle shine on-stage as a performer, a fantastic weekend of 35th birthday celebrations, a girl’s trip to Cali with my family, seeing my oldest win a STEAM contest in school, welcoming a beautiful new cousin, forming a true bond with my niece, seeing my baby graduate pre-K, owning decisions I made and understanding that my gut never leads me in the wrong direction, enjoying the summer air and a road trip with my children, welcoming a new nephew, celebrating birthdays and holidays. All love, all light, all mine.
In early fall, I decided my life needed a little changing. Actually, my life still needs a bit more changing, but I started slow and exactly in the place that’s weighed me down mentally for years. I’ve always had a contentious relationship with my body and food. Maybe it stems from growing up in 90s culture. Maybe it stems from my Barbies always looking super skinny (nah just kidding about that one… I’m all for shapely Barbies, but I NEVER felt like I was less than because I didn’t look like one of my hundreds of Barbies). Whatever the reasons, I looked at food for comfort, food as the enemy, food as the answers. I was a chubby little girl and I eventually grew out of it as I blossomed into a mother in my twenties and gained a deeper understanding of my body post a traumatic health scare. But even so, I still had an unhealthy body image and an unhealthy guilt by association with whatever I ate.
So, I decided to start small and I declared that I no longer needed to eat a snack every night just because I thought I needed one. Since I was young, I looked forward to a nightly snack. It actually became a bit of an obsession in adulthood, convincing myself that if I made it through the day and held it all together or if it was a particularly stressful day, I deserved a bowl of ice cream or a brownie or whatever. Some of my friends found comfort in wine. I found comfort in a brownie sundae. It wasn’t as easy once I quit eating dairy and gluten, but I devised ways to make it work. I indulged in organic candies and convinced myself it was okay because they were “healthy.” I baked a lot more so that I would have sweets to eat.
Now, before I continue, let me caveat by saying that I wasn’t overeating and I usually limited what I ate earlier in the day so that I could have my snack. And often my snack was made with flax seeds and coconut sugar, but still. Nonetheless, I had this irrational idea that I deserved the snack and every night, I would bring something upstairs to my bed and I would eat my dessert while watching TV. Every. Single. Night. My kids started noticing and they claimed it wasn’t fair that I was allowed to eat snack in bed. It was like crack. If I didn’t have my dessert, I would get twitchy. Give me the cake, dammit! And then I would eat the cake and my belly would be full, but my conscience would feel heavy with the weight of guilt over even the slightest indulgence. Talk about body shaming and an unhealthy relationship with food.
So as I was saying, a few months ago, I decided that this was all nonsense. Why did I need a snack so badly? Why did I have to have it at night, alone in my bed? Why did I feel so guilty eating it, even though I knew the ingredients were on the healthier side? Why did I shame myself? Why did I feel bloated and heavy every morning? So I decided to stop. Cold turkey. The first week wasn’t easy. I was feeling down on my luck as it was, but not having my sugary deliciousness at night was making it worse. After the first week, it got a little easier, and by the third week, I was flying high, so freaking proud of myself for breaking a very bad habit. When my husband asked me if I wanted my snack, I scoffed at him. When my kids asked me why I was allowed to eat upstairs, I said, “Haven’t you noticed? I don’t anymore.” I made an active decision to utilize the strong willpower my Grandma always said I had, and I quit bedtime snack. I woke up feeling less bloated.
What made the change bearable was that I didn’t say, “You’re done with snack forever.” Or, “No sugar or sweets allowed.” In fact, the total opposite. I decided that I would start making the things I ate during the day more enjoyable. I will eat granola for breakfast, often after the kids leave for school, so I can sit down and enjoy it rather than rushing through in order to take care of the kids. At lunch, I’ll sometimes add some chocolate chips to a paleo bagel with almond butter if I feel like I need a chocolate fix. And sometimes for dinner, I’ll make myself a flax seed, paleo waffle and top it with a little cashew milk ice cream. All healthier ingredients, but they are treats, and I use them when and where I need them to satisfy myself in moderation and not in indulgence or excess. And to add to that, if I am out on date night and I stumble across a vegan ice cream parlor, you better believe I’m going to get one (and probably a big size too!). I’ve found the only way that I can sustain a healthier relationship with food is to use quality ingredients with health benefits that make me feel good, while satisfying my cravings, knowing full-well that I am in control of why I am eating what I am eating. And in a way, this might be my biggest personal accomplishment of 2018.
To add to that change, I decided that I needed to start exercising again. I knew I had to. Earlier in the year, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and one of the possible pain alleviators is exercise. I was afraid though. I have a neck injury that causes radiating pain in my left arm and horrible migraines. In the past, even the smallest tweak could cause a flair up. I didn’t want to do a class where I had little control or join a gym solely for an elliptical. I wanted to weight train and work my muscles. I enlisted the help of a workout guru, my cousin’s best friend (follow her on Instagram at @strong_by_siegel). She’s a total inspiration and when I turned to her for advice, she took into account all of my concerns and designed three 30-40 minute workouts for me, focusing on arms, legs, and total body. She asked me to think realistically about how often I wanted to work out versus how often I could work out and we decided together that as long as I was following the circuit of three, I could work out two to three times per week. I held myself accountable by texting her after I completed a workout. For the first few weeks, I took it slow, using the lightest weights I could find, and I assessed if there were any exercises that didn’t work for me. There are a few that I am afraid to do, so I skip them, but I am pretty comfortable with most. I exercised in my sports bra and leggings, sans shirt, so that I could really form a bond with the changes in my body week to week. It sounds cheesy maybe, but this method actually worked for me. It’s now a few months later and I feel strong, I feel fit, and I feel PROUD of myself for slowly acclimating my body to exercise in a healthy, non-pressured way, and for making myself a priority. Now, my children see me exercising and they try to join in for a few minutes. Some days the workouts are more difficult than others, even though it’s the same circuit every week, and if I am in too much pain or not feeling well, I modify without the sense of disappointment. I’m learning to LISTEN to my body. And that feels great.
It’s my hope that these healthy habits will continue in 2019, not because it’s a new year, new me, but rather because I’m setting the intention to continue listening to what my body needs and why. If I indulge in a little extra chocolate or eat two bowls of granola or skip a workout, I’m going to quiet the voice of shame that will always try to sneak back in.
I am still a delicate work-in-progress. A lot of the doubts and grief and sense of confusion of 2018 still lingers. My health problems are still here and still need addressing. None of it has disappeared just because the calendar year has changed. I will continue to own that and work to find my light in my own way, at my own speed.
Maybe you woke up today ready to embrace a new year/new you. That’s great, but let’s ditch the term resolution. We all know that resolutions to eat better, sleep more, exercise more, eat less, always set us up to feel like we’ve let ourselves down. Instead, let’s set intentions, thinking about what we want for ourselves and what we hope to achieve, taking it day by day, step by step. This isn’t something we need to announce on Facebook or share with the world. This isn’t a race to see who can stick to it better or who can achieve more. Intentions should be personal. I have a few things I’d like to focus on this year. Some excite me, some make me nervous, some will force me to step outside of my comfort zone, and some scare the hell out of me, but all in all, I’m setting intentions to see how it all unfolds and comes together.
Cheers to a 2019 that brings you whatever it is that you need.