Time for Artichokes

artichoke.JPG

It was a picture-perfect day on the Northern Coast of California.  Paul and I were so excited to experience California for the first time as a couple. We both had visited on separate occasions but never together.

 While one of my very dear friends subscribes to the travel mantra “pack light, travel slow, connect deep”, Paul and I tend to always over-reach on trips. We sometimes adopt a toddler-like energy approach to travel where we go super hard, run out of steam and energy, then fall into a heap of exhaustion at the end of the day. Enthusiasm over reason.

We started our morning out a bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge.  There was something more bucket-list worthy in biking over that iconic bridge than driving.  It felt more brave and significant.  Perhaps it would win me a stamp of approval by my children. “Hey, look at my mom.  She rode a bike over that bridge instead of photographing it from her car in her velour sweat pants.”

After checking our rental bikes in, we began the drive from the Bay area towards our destination that night in Big Sur.  The drive is just impossibly vast and beautiful.  At first, we stopped at every beach.  We looked for whales. Some of the whales were actually whale shaped rocks.  We marveled at surfers out in the choppy water.  We found a little roadside farmer’s market and I chatted with the local farmers selling just-picked carrots, tomatoes of every color and the most whimsical sunflowers. We took twice as long as we got distracted over and over again by scenery.

carrots.JPG

As we headed towards traveled through Monterey, we had miles and mile of farmland on either side of us. Suddenly it was like the zoo of produce everywhere: groves of almond trees, fields of Brussel sprouts, acres of lettuce.  Back in North Carolina, lettuce lasts for just a few short spring weeks and is all but gone by May once temperatures climb. Here it was September and yet lettuce grew lush and green due to the cooling winds off the ocean water and the amazing soils that the coast allows.

Food has always fascinated me.  My love affair with it must have been part baked into my DNA and part exposure from my Greek heritage.  For as long as I can remember, the case of bakery, the aisles of grocery store, the bins of a candy store, the display of fish at a fish market, orchards full of apples have captured my imagination and curiosity.  It’s a thread that has followed me all my life, as I find both my solace and my inspiration in cookbooks, ethnic markets, farm stands and seeing how food connects us all.

As I looked out the window I realized, we were passing through fields and fields of artichokes. While many vegetables are bi-coastal artichokes are not.  They only grow on the West Coast and here they were by the acre. I started laughing and looked at Paul and said, “I think I want to pull over and take pictures.” For a moment my dysfunctional-time brain took over and thought, we have places to go.  Don’t stop for artichokes. We’ll be late.”  Paul looked at me and said, “It’s our time, Mary.  We aren’t on anyone else’s schedule.  If this makes you happy then do it.”

A second marriage gives you a chance to renegotiate everything.  To de-program yourself of your relationship to things like time and self-expression as it had been dictated to you. It’s OK if you think artichokes are art. Sometimes the gift of patience especially when you’ve been previously malnourished is the softest gift. 

Artichokes are hilarious creatures: all spikey and grown on top of impossible stalks.  They are the aardvark of the vegetable world.  And I took all the pictures I wanted, breathing in the coastal air, enjoying something rare outside of my intended destination. It’s OK for me to wonder. To delight again. To not believe the things that make me me are dumb, dull and not worth stopping for. I love that photograph because it captures so much of what I really crave: delight in little things, permission to seek joy. 

We don’t really know when we will pass this way again. 

sunflowers.JPG
Posted on September 11, 2018 .

Why I don't talk about weight more.

Why it’s more than a conversation about weight.

 

Recently I got in a heated discussion with a colleague about my brand.  In short she told me, “You talk about everything except weight.  Why don’t you talk about weight?  You should sell people on what they want, not what you think they need.”

I suffer from a condition I call over-thinking.  Also, I have an overdeveloped center of my brain called “Let’s be hard on Mary.”

Those comments made me think about why it’s not the first word in my messaging.

While I do not struggle a bit in my ability to help clients.  I struggle with my messaging.

I went to a couple of clients and I wrote this blog post.  I would love to know your reactions.

If you want to lose weight, I can write your ticket.   I am probably one of the best people in the business.  I helped a 45-year-old CEO achieve a physique and body that makes him look and feel younger and fitter than he did in high school.  I’ve worked with a client who once weighed over 300 lbs. He no longer needed the plastic surgery he came to me for in the first place.  I helped a woman with a 3 decade long metabolic condition lose weight, gain muscle and hit PR’s in her sport.  I’ve helped multiple triathletes get on the podium: personal finishes and world class finishes.

Everyone of those people still has those results a year or more after our coaching.  That’s unheard of in my industry.  So, I must be doing something different.

I believe that I am needed for SO MUCH MORE than a change to your waistline. I also believe that there is groundwork in our world that is sacred and neglected.  If I think that work needs to come first. I will stand by that.

I have always made my business not about me. 

I also believe that had I known what I know now about human physiology, had I not followed crummy diet advice and had I done the deep work I do now, I wouldn’t have gotten thyroid cancer.

This is just the tip of the ice burg but here are a couple of things missing when you only focus on weight:

1.      Trauma: Many of us have had trauma, personal setbacks or a loss that triggered weight gain.  I think having whole people who figure out how to fully heal first is important.

Recently I worked with the wife of vet injured in Iraq.  Before we ever talked about food, we dealt with the long-held trauma and fear.  After we fixed her digestion, her weight dropped.

 

2.      Thyroid issues: Almost 80 percent of my clients have thyroid issues.  Suggesting that they eat less and exercise more will almost guarantee a further attack on their thyroid resulting in a metabolic slow down and causing them to feel worse.

 

3.      Cynicism and false claims:  We have never lived in a time when there have been more exaggerations, more marketing, more advertisements and more claims about nutrition and health.  The number one thing I don’t want to do is add more disbelief to the pile. I will get you to weight loss but only if we do things that make you better not worse.

 

4.      Gut issues: Between 50 to 70 percent of all people with auto-immune conditions have long standing gut issues.  Weight gain is one of the most common symptoms of auto-immunity. I won’t the person who slaps another band aid on someone only for them to get worse when I had a chance to help them.   *Gut issues no doubt were at play in my own health crisis.  Thus, my belief that this comes first.

 

 

5.       Shame, Guilt and Perfectionism:  This is the three-legged stool that the weight industry was built upon.  It’s the platform of my childhood and much of my adult existence. It leads to an unhealthy and unrealistic relationship with ourselves and with food.  I want to be a part of changing that conversation not to be a servant of it.

Before I sound like I am blowing sunshine up your you know what….  Excess weight isn’t any kind of party bus.  It’s not good for our hormones, our longevity and our resistance to illness. 

I personally do not feel good with 20 more pounds on me.  I feel achy, anxious and less confident.

Could I lead with statements about how much weight I think you could lose and how quickly?  Sure, I could. 

 

I know you want that.  I get it.

 

 But the deep work is where the success is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on May 30, 2018 .

Is stress the Big Mac in your life

Is stress the Big Mac in your life?

We all talk about how busy we are and how stressful life is.  But do we really make the connection to what it’s doing to our bodies, our energy and our weight?  To be honest with you, I really did not until I went back and thought about what might have caused me to develop a thyroid condition.

The hardest and yet most profound impact on my health was getting a hold of my stress.

We all understand that a certain amount of stress is good and even necessary.  But it also alters our body. It’s destructive. And our current stress has out-paced our ability to adapt.

When your body is under stress, the brain drives your pituitary gland to prompt your adrenal gland to release stress hormones: adrenaline and cortisol.  Your neural pathways then whip up your immune response. This response sends cascades of stress hormones through our body and gets us ready for the big bad thing that’s coming our way right now.

Your body was designed to deal with stress but here’s the critical difference in the modern world.  Nature intended for us to release the stress by physical exertion.  If you were really chased by that Saber-Tooth Cat or performed a heroic act like lifting a car, you would release all that energy and your body would return to normal.  Your muscles would relax. Oxygen would return to your digestive tract. Blood pressure would normalize. The toxic chemical response would turn off.

But today’s stresses: A pink slip, a toxic work environment, dissatisfaction with our body, a crumbling marriage, financial problems, strife in our home last much longer and are not accompanied by any sort of physical release.

We internalize that stress. We suppress our feelings. We experience arousal without any sort of recovery phase. And we experience one danger-feeling threat over and over again.

There is no elimination diet or protocol that will help you if you are chronically stressed. But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Simple practices like mindfulness, managing your self-talk, eliminating toxicity from your life, deep-breathing can bring you relief and release.  And to kick out the Big Mac that has been sneaking in and thwarting your efforts.

Once you figure out how you got where you are, it’s easy to start making little changes that produce massive results. Stress can have major implications on your health and happiness, but setting yourself up with the right tools will help you recover faster when life throws curveballs.

On July 9th, my 23 Day Whole Foods program will begin with 4 days of mindfulness to help you begin to understand and unravel stressful thinking.  You can get a peak at it here:

https://sustainablenutrition.lpages.co/summer-ize-me-new/
 
How do you feel that stress might be impacting your overall health? Reply with your answer and I’ll give you a personalized tip!

I hope you will follow me on Facebook: Sustainable Nutrition, Mary Brooks, on Instagram @mmbfoodie
 

Posted on July 2, 2017 .

A look at 2016: the good, the hard and the grateful

A look at 2016: The good, the hard and the grateful.

There are a few more days left in December of 2016.  What a great year it has been!  I have been looking ahead to 2017 for a while.  I have some cool new programs and concepts that I am working on, but I am sifting through my lessons of 2016 so I can  learn.  I can’t fully move forward without learning from the past.   I can’t want more of something if I am not fully appreciative of what I have. While my “what”  is food and nutrition, my specialty is figuring things out and helping people connect the dots and eventually getting my clients to higher ground. I always ask:  “Where did it get off the track?”  “What’s missing?” “What could be the bigger lesson from not feeling well or burned out. ” My own wrestling match with fatigue, insomnia and a thyroid condition,  took me on a personal quest to peel back the layers that modern medicine could not help me solve.

My chronic desire for self-satisfaction has lead me to a lot of self-reflection as well as trial and error.  But as my wise husband told me after I came downstairs from doing a webinar riddled with technical errors that filled me with shame and discouragement,  “Just because you build something and it doesn’t work, doesn’t mean you don’t keep building.” And just because I am always striving for something, doesn’t mean that I am not content and appreciative of where I am now.  I think that’s a common misconception that we all need to understand more.  It’s OK for there to be some tension between where you are and what you want next.

I always say that I paid my tuition in both the university classroom and in the classroom of real life.  I am quite honest that I have made some mistakes and part of what I offer is a way to climb up the mountain more easily because I have wandered off on more than my fair share of trails.  I also learn immensely from my greatest teachers, my clients. 

So with that, I want to share a little of my highlight reel from 2016:

  • Helping a seventy-five year old client who was able to stop taking Pentasa after 20 years because her colonoscopy no longer showed any signs of ulcerative colitis.
  • Guiding a 40 year old professional who learned to tame her vicious attack-dog self-talk so that she no longer needed to ‘eat her feelings’.
  • Supporting a busy mother of three boys who found space in her life for more by doing less and fell in love with her life just as it is right now.
  • Seeing the peace in a client’s face as she was no longer chronically plagued by digestive issues she had since she was a teen.
  • Creating the new habits and patterns for two equestrian clients who made the connection between their daily mindset and the people and drama that used to surround them.  Now, they are firmly in control of their health and able to attract the kind of personal and professional lives and relationships that they truly desire.
  • Helping four Ironman athletes go from good to great this year by leveling up their gut health, and lowering the inflammatory process in their bodies so that they no longer suffered from chronic fatigue and low energy.  All four took turns picking up hardware and standing on the winner podium in their age categories.
  • Witnessing many clients gets relief from depression and anxiety from changing their food and learning how to shift their thinking and self-care practices.
  • Walking a client through a transition out of a toxic corporate job into a life that held more peace, joy, creativity and attention to health and self.
  • And just this week, one of my clients gave two other clients a gratitude journal to help them continue their morning routines.  (Whooo Hooooo) 

It’s hard to pick a favorite but let me just say that after 35 years as a professional, I have never done anything that lights my jets more than this.  

And it’s fair to say, that I have had to challenge myself to work on me more than ever.  One of my decisions was to not listen to all the voices and opinions to build a predominantly on-line business.  While a certain percentage of anyone’s work today has to be on-line since no one owns a yellow-pages anymore, I still chose to focus on  local, personal and off-line work as much as possible.  That has brought me joy and the satisfaction of understanding and listening to myself.  Sometimes you wait and hold out for what you want. Loneliness can be better than fitting in with the crowd.

As I close out 2016, I want to say thank you.  As I have encouraged you, you in turn encourage me immensely.

If you want more of anything that you see here, let’s talk about that.  If you have a friend or a colleague that would benefit from what I do, I encourage you to share this.  I really love working with people that my current clients know. 

And don’t worry if you aren’t all the way there.  I am not either.

 

Posted on January 3, 2017 .

What's Love Got To Do With It.

Last week I sat down with a new client.  He’s in his forties.  He is educated and successful.  He's a guys guy in every sense of the word. He is married.  He has three amazing children.  He is by his own account doing well in all phases of his life.  He even competes in the mother of all endurance competitions, the Ironman.  He knows how to lay out a big, intimidating goal and attain it. But there is this one thing that he hasn’t quite gotten right and that’s his relationship with food which is why we are working together.   So I did what I always do in these situations.  I got out my white board and I began to explain how the brain is wired, how it gets stuck in old patterns and how it can be rewired.  I explained how to put the science to work so we can begin to unravel those stories and beliefs in his head.   The first step in a challenge or any change for that matter is to understand, befriend and slowly reorient the internal narrator in our head.   My client was probably expecting an explanation of his macros or a list of low calorie snacks.    He might have been hoping for a recipe for a Superfood Smoothie. But after almost three decades in health and wellness education, this is the where the secret to all transformation lies.

Dan Harris in his book “10 Percent Happier” wrote about his experience with his own personal narrator.  He described it like this, “The voice comes braying in as soon as we open our eyes in the morning and heckles us all day long with an air horn.  It’s a fever swamp of urges, desires and judgments.  It’s fixated on the past and the future, to the detriment of the here and now.  It’s what has us reaching into the fridge when we aren’t hungry, losing our temper when we know it’s not really in our best interest, and pruning our inboxes when we’re ostensibly engaged in conversation with other human beings. Our inner chatter isn’t all bad of course.  Sometimes it’s creative, generous or funny.  But if we don’t play close attention which very few of us are taught to do –it can be a malevolent puppeteer.”   No wonder we are tired, stressed and overwhelmed.

The number one reason that people seek me out is for food advice.  I have been doing food in some way since I was about 5.   Those were the years I was obstinately trying to cook pasta in my room and begging for an Easy Bake Oven.  Since then I have moved up a little. I have become known around town as the digestive whisperer.  I pretty much can solve almost every digestive dilemma.  And almost every adult I know has one.  People expect that much.  But the whole piece on the brain and the power of your thinking isn’t one they necessarily bargain for.

But here’s where it gets really interesting.  The gut and the brain are directly connected.  There is a direct pathway between the hypothalamus, the pituitary and the digestive system.  The vagus nerve also directly impacts the digestive system.  When this isn’t working well people experience more anxiety, mood issues and hormonal disruption.  While we all recognize this at some level, everything we’ve ever done in life, or everything we ever will do depends on the brain.  That means everything you are doing now from enjoying your coffee, to listening to music, to feeling the wind on your face depends on your brain.  And if the brain’s not functioning well, nothing else in the body will function well, period.  It’s one of those really obvious things that’s so obvious maybe that we overlook it.  And I can tell you in all the times I perched on the edge of an exam table with crinkly paper underneath me or as an employee of large hospital where we discussed patient outcomes, this was never discussed.  But maybe it should be.

So not only is it necessary to rewire your thinking to create change, it’s also required if you want to lose weight or improve how you feel physically. Your brain is directly tied to your digestion and consequently all the vital components of your emotional and mental well being: neurons, peptides, neurotransmitters and hormones.  And doesn’t it make you think about how food can make you happy but also protect you from things like the deterioration of your brain cells? 

This is where the Reluctant Woo Woo Person in me meets the Nerdy Science Person in me and together we do a happy, awkward dance thingy.

What I explained to my smart, successful client is that the war that is being waged in his head is not sustainable.  It’s as responsible for weight gain as the food on his plate.  Chronic stress and chronic personal flogging work themselves out like this: you have decreased activity in the brain, and that decreases the activation of the vagal motor nuclei, which in turns suppresses the intestinal immune system and decreases intestinal blood flow.  This means increased growth in pathogenic yeast and bacteria, that cause intestinal permeability or leaky gut. Leaky gut creates a state of chronic low level inflammation. Then the inflammatory cytokines produced in the gut travel through the blood and they cross the blood-brain barrier. One of the problems with inflammation is that it makes the blood-brain barrier leaky so you get leaky brain. And then those inflammatory cytokines once they get into the brain activate the microglial cells. The microglial cells are the immune cells of the brain and once they’re activated by these inflammatory cytokines this is basically inflammation of the brain. So your brain gets inflamed, you get a leaky brain and then you get inflamed brain. 

And that’s no fun, definitely.  Definitely. No fun.

So it all begins with rewiring the mind to be at more peace with itself.  War with yourself cannot last. The voice that tells you that you are no good must be softened and toned down.  It starts with being curious.  It’s met with acceptance, because as long as there is a rejecting of self, there cannot be peace.  And the antidote to the disharmony is love.   My client raised his eyebrows at me and asked me if I was asking him to love what he found unlovable about himself?  And I said yes.   I know that’s hard because I struggle with it myself.  The love we so easily direct at others must be poured into our own wounds so the story and the voice lose their power.

My client emailed me on day one and said he had a break through.  He got up with a commitment to tame the negative and destructive monologue.  He anchored himself in with a new morning routine. When an old memory came up, he recognized the voice of judgment, shame and blame.  He looked at it with curiosity.  He looked at himself with love and acceptance.  He voiced the acceptance and love. And the voice went away.

What’s love got to do with it?  Every freaking thing.

If this was helpful to you, please share it.  If you are tired of the diets and being at war with food, let's chat.  Send me an email at marybrookshealthcoach@gmail.com.  In the meantime, stay connected. On Instagram I am @mmbfoodie.  On Facebook, I am Sustainable Nutrition, Mary Brooks.

Looking Through The Keyhole

Sometimes I find myself aware of life milestones as they are occurring.  I put on my turn signal, change lanes and adjust nicely.  These are the lane changes we can deal with gracefully: birthdays, graduations, job changes. Sometimes the shifts are more subtle and I find myself in a new place without  realizing that the destination has changed. This experience is like a gate change announcement that happened while the water was running in the airport bathroom. Everyone else gets it except for me. I scramble breathlessly to my seat while the rest of the passengers roll their eyes. Sweat drips down my back for the rest of the flight and I make small talk.

Lately, I have had these realizations about things changing when I just didn't understand how fleeting the present was. It’s like a coming to the end of a really good book and wanting to go back to re-read all your favorite passages, dog ear certain pages and  underline the passages you want to remember. But the book is overdue at the library and it’s time to turn it in. In the early days of parenting, especially with three children under the age of two and a half, I didn’t have a lot of time for reflection.  Those are the days, when going to the Post Office has the physical significance of an Olympic event.   I call that the “keeping your head above water stage".

 

I feel lucky that my children were born pre-cell phones and smart phones and pre social-media. I didn’t have a lot of the distractions I see parents just a few years younger than me having.  Until my children were in grade school, we only had a landline.  No one saw any pictures of my children until the film was sent off to a photo lab and then put in the mail.  Girls’ night out wasn’t in fashion. My evenings consisted of dinner, baths and bedtime routines. One of my children recently observed while watching a home video that I hadn’t really developed “a sense of style” in those days.  That would be correct and I own that one.  Now new moms wear makeup in the delivery room. And parents are already crafting their Facebook posts instead of simply being there, as if this were a normal part of parenting

 

When my children were little, they drew endless pictures of me.  It was always me in my without-style fashions of the day.  Or both of us holding hands.  I especially like the ones where my legs came directly out of my head and my arms were fastened to my head right about where my ears should have been. I guess a mom’s arms are more useful than her ears. I wondered if they really saw me as Mrs. Potato Head or not.   Those were the days that I truly was the center of someone’s universe.

 

I think you develop a certain kind of hypersensitivity as a parent during those years.  Warm foreheads mean fevers, pulling ears mean earaches, and clinginess indicates worry: you look for signs and do your best to read them.  I never needed a baby monitor. I could hear a fingernail on a crib sheet or a diaper rustling all the way down a hallway.  Years later I still don’t sleep very well.  Learning to be on alert has its downsides.  Sometimes we infuse fear into innocent situations.   When my husband  was a boy,  he spent hours gathering supplies and purchasing things from the hobby store so he could build rockets… a euphemism for things that explode, make noise and blow up.  Today, those ingredients would be characterized in the light of school bombings and other acts of violence that weren’t even implied just a few years ago. Yesterdays’ rocket has implications of pipe bombs today. Over vigilance is paranoia, under vigilance is neglect.  It’s really hard to get it right.

 

But all children come of age.  And our days of being the only person in the picture are limited. As the parent of a three half-adults, I am pretty sure if my children were to draw a picture (aside from the fact that they would probably call social services if I made them draw one), I wouldn’t be in it.  

I might be in the film credits appearing somewhere between the catering company and the 4th key grip.   I mentally get the importance of stepping back and letting them make decisions including ones I don’t like.  However, it’s bewildering to go from holding your child’s hand as you bravely walk them into Kindergarten and bawl in the parking lot, to being on the receiving end of the stiff, please-let-go- you-are-embarrassing-me courtesy hug.  

 

So for the past few years I am paddling my parenting canoe into unfamiliar water but it’s my belief that these are the days for them to figure it out, develop their own style and make their own contributions.  And for me to become CEO of my own life once again.  My term for this phase of letting go but still wanting some insight without being intrusive is what I call “peering through the key-hole.”  I used to try to get to know everything in my children's life because that's what we do.  Ever hear the words "Where were the parents?"  Try doing that in the bubbling turmoil of a high school girls’ life and you will end up feeling like someone left you in a washing machine with an endless spin cycle.  And yet you want to know that those days of tea parties, finger painting, sidewalk chalk and sandwiches cut into cookie cutter shapes aren’t completely lost.

 

Recently, I overheard one of my girl's babysitting.  The tone of the two voices I heard (a teen and a toddler) mingling was so gentle and reassuring. They were funny and serious and then serious and funny.  I miss the sound of a little person's voice. I really wanted to hang out, but I stepped out of the way to let them have their own time. I came home to a spilled box of crayons and lots and lots of pictures drawn by both of them.  I got enough insight through that scene to know that while the passage of time has come and gone without warning, some of remnants of Mrs. Potato Head and those days of innocence still exist.

And while I am changing lanes, trying not to trample over anyone in the airport, knowing that I am lucky to have had less distraction in those days of innocence, I am bringing that attention back on the work I think I was always meant to do.

 

 

 

Posted on July 19, 2016 .

How I Got My Energy Back After Thyroid Cancer and What I Wish I Knew

In 2007, I was a recently divorced, single working mom with three children.  I worked for the custom publishing division of a large city magazine developing magazines for the health and financial services industries.  I worked from home, but traveled periodically to my home office in Dallas or to see clients. One night when getting off of a plane from a business trip to Dallas, my neck became painfully stiff and tight from falling asleep awkwardly on the airplane.  The stiff neck turned into a numb arm and some tingling in my fingers.  When it didn’t resolve itself, I eventually went to have it checked out by my doctor.  I probably developed some neck issues that surfaced after lugging my laptop and luggage through the airport.

As I worked on the neck and shoulder problems, we did an MRI to look at my spine for deterioration or other matters that would explain the pain and numbness.  The radiologist noticed that my thyroid was enlarged in the radiology report.   I assumed it was just a genetic anomaly in my anatomy or a shadow on the film, but I nevertheless went through the motions of having an endocrinologist take a look. I was going to physical therapy daily to deal with the nerve pain and numbness.  By the time I got to the endocrinologist, I had already done several studies, all of which showed a normally functioning thyroid.  I felt that I just needed another stamp in my healthcare passbook. I took it in stride when the endocrinologist did a needle biopsy that morning and said that the way my thyroid gland presented was unusual.  When he told me that 9 out of 10 people are perfectly fine, I knew I was among the 9. One side of my nose is smaller than the other; one leg is slightly longer than the other, and when I was nursing one breast was fuller.  As I hopped off of the table, I figured it was just another physical oddity.

The next day, they called me into the office to go over the results.  As a 44-year-old mother of three children with a home office, I just felt anxious to get back to what or who most needed my immediate attention.  

The biopsy showed cancer.  

That September 11th, I walked out of the office in shock, stood aimlessly in the sunlight, called my fiancée and cried. The next step was surgery and then radiation. If you ever get a serious diagnosis like that, everything kind of shifts and suddenly you are headed down a series of tunnels not really knowing where they end.   I don’t know if I can remember all the stages, but I felt low grade fear to total terror the entire time. I had been avid and consistent about exercise since I was in college.  I had eaten healthy my whole life and had not had a weight problem.  My two pregnancies, one of which was with twins, had been smooth and uncomplicated.  Other than some colds and bronchitis, I thought that I had been living well. 

My divorce had come after a lot of quietly unhappy years and was much more bitter and lengthy than I had thought it would be.  But I have always been grateful for my health.   The strongest emotion I remember was a betrayal... by my body.  I had dealt with other difficult hurdles, obstacles and even disappointments, but I did not see this one coming.   If cancer could grow without me knowing it, then what else couldn’t I foresee or prevent?

My surgery went fine and I was home the next day with a mid-neck scar that healed pretty quickly.  The sense of vulnerability seemed quieted.  They didn’t find other cancers and the margins were clear but thin.  But there were not just one, but two kinds of cancer on both sides of my thyroid. In typical fashion, I wanted to be the ideal patient, and so I hoped that if my surgery went well, I wouldn’t have to accept or face any other treatment.  But it was not to be.  I had to have a course of radiation to make sure cancer did not recur.   I remember asking my endocrinologist if the high dose of radiation would cause other cancers or illnesses, and he looked at me as if I was crazy.  It hit me then that the limitations of medicine come from the over-specialization and myopic, the un-holistic viewpoint of the medical field.  I think he saw me as “thyroid cancer patient Y.”  And as long as “thyroid patient Y” never got cancer again, his job was done. 

Those questions about the quality of my life, my ability to care for my children, and what other issues I might encounter weren’t really in his scope of practice.  To say he just didn’t care is perhaps unfair, but the other aspects of my life wouldn't be his problem professionally.  In medicine, the object and target of focus are the diseases itself: you find the disease, you name the disease, quarantine the disease and destroy the disease, in true militaristic fashion.   Destruction of disease equals “success.” The patient (the person who struggles with illness) is really just a carrier for the disease, not the author or the influence of the disease.    Healing is really what happens after the surgery.

My father flew out to be with me during radiation.  The most awkwardly difficult part of the day was having my treatment delayed until I could provide a negative pregnancy test.  The idea that I would actually be pregnant with three children of my own while I was newly diagnosed with cancer, but still had to prove it to the tune of a $120 pregnancy test was decidedly un-funny that day.  I swallowed my radiation pill in an isolation chamber and then spent the next 5 days unable to eat, sleep or share bathrooms with any family members until the radiation did its magic.

Many people will tell you that thyroid cancer is the “good cancer.”  I don’t know who sits on the cancer naming panel, but I wouldn’t say that it or any other cancer is one that any person would want. Although the differences between thyroid loss and the loss of a breast, liver complications, orpancreatic cancer are evident to me,  I still wouldn’t call it “good.”

The real journey toward healing took place after the cancer was out and after the scar healed.  The truth is that the thyroid controls most metabolic processes in the body and its malfunction can compromise every single cell in the body - something no one ever explained to me.   A low performing thyroid can result in weight gain, even thinning hair.  It can mean complete and total exhaustion.  It can mean insomnia.  It can create anxiety and depression.  It can mean sensitivity to cold, heat, and poor body temperature regulation.  It can mean food sensitivity and the need to eliminate foods that make the body function poorly.  The thyroid is very susceptible to environmental toxicity.  Proper treatment administered by the right physician in the right dose over time is complicated and can take months and months of trial and error.  And only about 50 percent of how you actually feel is induced by the medication.

The rest you figure out on your own.  Trial and error.  Trial and error.   Error. Error. Error.  And in the meantime, your hair falls out and you pick it up in clumps from the shower and your hair brush.  You gain weight. You make mistakes trying to eat low fat foods and maintain your weight through intense exercise.  You have days of super low energy and crave sleep like it’s a drug.  There were days when my thoughts would race and a single disappointment would trigger a mountain of sorrow.  I could always rebound emotionally through projects, remembering gratitude, exercise, and gardening, but sometimes the journey back to feeling resilient and happy took days.  And it probably took a toll on everyone around me as well.  And chronic insomnia took a toll.  I spent 6 years not being able to fall asleep, stay asleep or wake up feeling rested.

After going back to school to update my education in nutrition, I began to study some of the functions of the thyroid from a functional medical perspective.  I started to understand the complexity of the thyroid as it relates to metabolism.  I emerged profoundly shocked by the lack of information my physician had given me about what foods interfere with proper thyroid function.  I understood the role of exercise.  I took a special interest in the health consequences of high cortisol and adrenal fatigue, which I had never learned in my earlier work in traditional clinical nutrition.  I began to understand that managing fatigue and stress and diet were critical components of my healing.   

But the hardest part was to unravel my thinking… my constant need to make everything OK, to never disappoint anyone, to overachieve and produce at any cost had impaired my ability to heal.  And yes, I was willing to go down the symbolic rabbit hole of believing that the thyroid represents creativity and voice and I had lost mine.  For me to heal, I had to become more authentic, discover my passions and believe that I was deserving of enjoyment.  I had to accept feeling worthy and confront deep feelings of not feeling good enough by giving all of my gifts away. I often gave those gifts to those who discarded them and devalued them.  But that was my own doing, and only I could rescue myself. If anyone ever told me that emotional and spiritual work was a necessary part of healing, I would not have believed them.  But when that heaviness was removed, I was able to heal.   The scar was nothing compared to the existential work that finally lifted me out of that painful place. 

Here are five things I would share with anyone living with low thyroid or no thyroid that I learned on my own:

1.       I steer clear of all things soy since soy is a phyto-estrogen and interferes with the function of the thyroid.  I previously consumed protein shakes and other soy based foods thinking they were healthy. *

2.      Aiming for a low body weight or low body fat physique causes the thyroid to slow down further and only creates more fatigue and low energy.  While I maintain a good body weight, I can’t tolerate excessive or exhaustive exercise.

3.      I used to go through periods of hyper-focus working on projects.  I now know to pace myself because one day like that can mean two days of exhaustion.  Mini breaks are prevention for big setbacks.

4.      My emotional state mimics my physical state. If the thyroid is the metabolic thermostat of the body, I have to look at everything that I put in my body that could be toxic. Creating a peaceful home, a non-chaotic environment in work, friendships and boundaries was so necessary.

5.      I guard my sleep carefully and have a wind-down approach to rest that includes turning off electronics and minimizing stress before bed.  I have finally achieved restful sleep again.

I know fully what that misery was like, and I hope never to go back there again.  The lack of helpful and comprehensive information about what leads to thyroid issues and how to address them thoroughly and holistically is my true passion and calling.  As a health coach, I provide mentoring, information, guidance and wisdom on how to get better care so you can avoid the mistakes I made.

* http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16571087

Posted on March 8, 2016 .

Why I Don't Kick Fear in the Face

My twenty-year old  and thirty-year old self bought into the concept that we should stand down our fears.  

I paid hard cash  for all the  marketing slogans of "Just Do It"  and "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and "No pain, no gain."  I subscribed to "Never Let Them See You Sweat." channel.

However, after a few years ripe with fear-facing of my own and several hundreds of clients working through their own fears, I don't see that denouncing your fears or trying to kick their proverbial ass works. It doesn't work at all.

What  I know now, is that when I say no to something it tends to stick around.  Persist.  Perseverate.  Which is a big word for keeping me up at night.  The late night infomercial with my own voice as the annoying announcer with reprimanding remorse that plays over and over in my head....

Now,  when I see someone saying they are going to kick cancer's ass or punch fear in the face, I wince a little.

 Whenever I decide to kick to  punch something in the face, that thing comes back at me with a vengeance. I cannot tell you the avalanches I have pulled down on me  myself as the result of that kind of thinking and behavior.

We all act like if we admit that we have fear, everyone's going to turn on us and eat us alive.  If you are in a predatory environment or are surrounded by narcissists who tend to feed on vulnerability, then this might not be the right read for you today. 

 But this is what I have learned about fear lately.  Fear and creativity come as  a combo package -sort of an emotional Buy One Get One Free.  One rarely talks to me without the other one showing up.   I no longer try to act like I don't have any fear... I do.  I know that my fear sometimes has kept me out of bad situations.  I know when I try to crush it, I am trying to crush a real part of me.  Yes, my fear can be self-limiting at times but It seem like if I try to stomp on it, it just shows up like a giant tantrum.

Lately I am listening to my fear.  It has a story to tell me.  And if I am loving and accepting of it, it calms down.  I have found simply the act of admitting that I am afraid is helpful.  Sometimes I am not even truly afraid, just a bit anxious.  There is always a tiny bit of truth in the fear. So listen in.. unless of course your fear is the kind that tells you eating a whole cake in the car is a good idea.  Life does exist outside of our comfort zone for sure.  And it seems that right around the corner of my fear, is a big creative breakthrough.

PS:  Since I learned this technique of listening to the fear and having a conversation with it, I sleep better than I ever have.  Might be something to it!

 

 

Posted on November 9, 2015 .

First day of school

School starts next week and like a lot of parents, I see it with a mix of emotions, hopes and expectations. 

This year is special so I wanted to write a note about my daughter. 

If you see her in the classroom, I hope you will notice what a one-of-a kind  she is.  Every person at school is special and important but I am her mom and I  especially want her to have a really good year at school.

If you think that she is small for her age, I hope you won’t say that to her.  Instead I hope you notice what a huge heart she has and how that exceeds the size of the rest of her body parts.   Ask what her favorite books are or what songs she knows.  She knows a bazillion.

You might think that she looks too young to be there but she isn’t.  She’s excited and hopeful but also terrified and nervous.  So I hope you will see how eager and earnest she is in how she goes about her day.

If she looks lost in the hallway, I hope you will give her a big smile and see if she needs any help.  She is so brave that she wouldn’t ask for help even if she needed it.

She isn’t entirely sure what to wear to school each day.  She wants to be able to play and interact with the other children but also look nice on her first day and every other day of school.

Don’t be surprised if she is the first one there every day and the last one to leave.  She just wants for every day to be good.

If you know someone who needs a word of encouragement or help overcoming an obstacle, you should introduce them to my child.  She will always see a positive outcome and a creative way out of a rough circumstance.  She is protective, resilient and trustworthy.  She is wise but full of wonder.

To all mommies, daddies and parents who have that hopeful and yet cautiously terrified feeling  about this year, we share the same goals.  I wish the same for your child.....The reason this year is special is because my 22 year old daughter will be teaching 2nd grade for the first year.   It is a special person with a deep sense of love and desire that becomes a teacher.  This year one of those people is my child and my heart soars to think that of all the choices, she chose this.

( I am a Health Coach, Nutrition Speaker, and lover of all things food.  Mostly I write about health, auto-immunity, thyroid issues and weight loss.  I am also a cancer survivor and mom of three.  Today, taking care of my health meant writing about this)

 

 

Posted on August 3, 2015 .

Intentions

Half if not more of the battle for your health or your weight is in your head. What we say to ourselves is incredibly powerful and yet we talk about that so little.  I once talked to a client after she had something of a frustration meltdown over her lack of progress towards her goals.  After talking about how she had felt about herself at that moment, we both agreed that she would never talk to her dog that way but somehow she was OK with unleashing those words upon herself. We talked about ways to break that cycle and one of them was to short circuit the process by calling a friend or me to help her get through the moment without doing such emotional damage.

When it comes to our bodies, we can speak kindly or badly.  When it comes to our health, we can speak of wellness or illness.  I am constantly reminded how we tend to own our diseases.  "I have allergies." "My mom has breast cancer." " I have Fibromyalgia."  Sometimes we talk more about what's wrong with us instead of what is right, and perfect and healthy about us.  It's the same thing with our bodies..." I have large thighs." "All the women in my family are big." " I can't find any clothes to fit me."

While we all know that we are supposed to consult our doctor before we make a diet change or start an exercise program, maybe we should check in with the voices in our head.  If you are like me, there's a constant dialog going on up there. In his book, "10 % Happier", Dan Harris describes our internal narrator as "The voice that comes braying in as soon as we open our eyes in the morning and then heckles us all day long with an air horn.  It's a fever swamp of urges, desires and judgements.  It's fixated on the past and the future to the detriment of here and now. "  If I am honest, my internal judge is mad that I don't write as well as Dan Harris did when I really should be focussed on the priviledge of writing at all and the joy of finding my own unique voice.

So before you start anything, you must begin with the idea of success... which means gratitude and self-love.  Your body is really perfectly healthy.  Instead of starting with how much you hate your shape, you must start with acknowledging all that your body has given you. Your body wants good food,  to be treated well, to experience all it's senses, to be in glorious harmony with nature, to have great sex and to be well rested. I promise you if you come from that place, you will make better choices.  The alternative sounds like this "Hey , you fat cow.  No one will ever love you when you look like that.  Heck, I don't love you when you look like that.  It's time for some drastic starvation, low calorie, fat-burning pill action."  And then your empty, self-hating thoughts back fire and you find yourself staring at a nearly empty package of Oreos.... day 403 of starting all over.

So see if you can shift those thoughts.  That's not to imply that you be complacent, give up, stay in a permanent comfy pajama state. Just put a picture in your head of where you really want to be.  Come up with a mantra to replace the negative thought. "I am on a journey to becoming my healthiest self." Write down your intentions for happiness and wellness for today. Breath in the glory of that perfectly healthy body.  I have written down my workout for today and laid out my workout clothes.... I already know that I am making progress.  Onward.

 

 

Posted on March 5, 2015 .