For over thirteen years I've been advocating intentional living through the lens of memory keeping - via this blog, my classes, my projects, my products and the general way in which I've tried to live my life. Embracing imperfection, going with the flow, stories matter, living the length and the width, progress not perfection - these have all been phrases that have been a part of my own personal story as well as what I've incorporated into the work that I do.
They have most often been the messages I personally needed to hear.
Memory keeping is a very big part of how I've tried to live an intentional life. Now I'm taking that same passion I've had towards memory keeping and putting some of that energy and intention into taking care of myself physically, mentally, and emotionally.
This post is the first of a two part series (part two can be found here) which will go deeper into some of my health history, document where I'm at in my wellness journey right now, and answer questions asked on my Instagram @ae_wellness account.
A couple disclaimers before I dive into sharing and responding to questions:
- I am not a doctor or a health care provider or a nutritionist. I wholeheartedly encourage you to have a conversation with your health team (this might include a traditional doctor, a functional medicine practitioner, naturopath, etc) about your own health before embarking on any changes since each of our stories are so different.
- I am just beginning this journey. I’m not an expert – I’m traveling this wellness road right along with everyone else. I’m learning as I go and what I’m sharing here is my own personal experience with food, exercise, and mental wellness.
- As you read this I’d love for you to just imagine we are two friends chatting about what’s working and not working for us on our wellness journey.
PS // If you don't see your question below it's likely I combined it with another one or someone else already asked something similar. I'm happy to address follow-up questions in the comments.
rebecca_farmer4 // What made you take your first steps towards wellness? Why did it
stick this time kind of thing? I love to hear stories of how people started
their wellness journey.
smultringunn // I would love to hear more about what made it click for you this time (if you even know - sometimes things just fall into place).
Aaron and I have been chatting about this quite a bit in an attempt to pinpoint why this time just feels different. I think it's totally possible that it's partly because I started taking Prozac earlier this year.
Before I tell you more about that I need to go back in time a bit:
A few years ago I found myself experiencing a dramatic increase in really intense mood swings that seemed to be following my monthly cycle. I had a conversation with my doctor about it (after Katie and I, and also Aaron and I, had multiple conversations about it where I was telling her that I felt like I was going crazy) and she changed my birth control prescription to one that other's had found to stop the intensity of those mood swings (Zarah was what was prescribed for me). Technically what she was treating is called PMDD: Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. PMDD is essentially when you have really extreme premenstrual symptoms which can include mood swings, depression, intense anger, fatigue, feeling out of control, anxiety, etc. Growing up and throughout my 20's and early-mid 30's I didn't experience this high level of intensity at all - I had some PMS symptoms but nothing at all like this. Changing my prescription made a major difference in my mood.
Fast forward a year or so to last fall when I ended up in the hospital with blood clots ( story about that here). Immediately upon being diagnosed with both a deep vein thrombosis (blood clot in my leg) and a pulmonary embolism (blood clots in my lungs) I was told to stop taking birth control pills and that I wouldn't be able to take them again due to having the blood clots. I quit the pills immediately and decided to "wait and see" if the mood swings would come back (because I still, from time to time, carry the fear that I'm making these things up) before talking to my doctor again.
A week after being in the hospital I had an appointment with my doctor for a follow-up and it was during that appointment that I learned that all these years I've actually had Hashimotos vs. just Hypothyroidism. There's a difference. I was diagnosed with Hypothyroidism after Simon was born and have been taking medication daily ever since. At the time I was diagnosed I was just told it was Hypothyroidism and to start taking medication and that was it. I have my levels checked regularly and adjusted as needed. But at this particular appointment I was actually seeing my regular doctor's partner and he was the one who was reviewing my chart and mentioned Hashimotos. The difference between Hashimotos and Hypothyroidism is this:
- Hashimotos (Chronic Lymphocytic Thyroiditis) is an autoimmune disease where the body's defense system is somehow tricked into thinking that healthy tissue is a threat (in this case the thyroid) and turns against it - essentially destroying it. Some people, like me, develop a goiter - which is when the thyroid is enlarged to the point that you can see it (makes your neck look swollen - this was actually how I originally even went to the doctor was because someone mentioned it to me at the store). Hashimotos is a disease. Common symptoms include fatigue, brain fog, weight gain, depression, anxiety, hair loss/thinning, constipation and insomnia.
- Hashimotos is the leading cause of Hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is when your body lacks sufficient thyroid hormones - the main purpose of those hormones is to regulate your body's metabolism. Hypothyroidism is a condition. It's most commonly caused by Hashimotos but the two terms are not interchangeable.
Here's the deal - most likely my doctor didn't talk more about it being Hashimotos because from her perspective in terms of what she was going to prescribe it didn't make a difference. Either way she was going to prescribe thyroid medication because my thyroid was damaged enough to need the medication. But for me personally, finding out that I actually had an autoimmune disease vs. just a condition sprang me to action initially last fall. I came home from that appointment and started googling Hashimotos and found Autoimmune Wellness and The Paleo Mom. Both sites encourage a more wholistic approach to dealing with autoimmune diseases, including dietary interventions. I ordered their cookbooks (The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook, The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook, and The Paleo Approach) and decided to jump into the AIP (Autoimmune Protocol) cold turkey. I highly recommend checking them out if you want to learn more about AIP (a fairly strict elimination diet to help you actually figure out how you react to different kinds of foods).
I followed a fairly strict AIP for most of September and October last year before stopping and going back to my normal eating habits around the holidays. I felt great eating that way (some of my earliest posts on my @ae_wellness account are from this time period - I started it initially just as a private account sharing with a few friends) and was doing some walking and yoga during that time but nothing consistent. Even after stopping AIP I still listened to their podcasts and read blog posts and followed them on Instagram but was back to my regular ways of not moving my body and eating whatever and whenever I wanted.
Back to the PMDD.
After the blood clot experience I went for a couple months and the PMDD didn't got back to the same intensity as it was previously, but my anxiety seemed to definitely be amping up. I take Xanax from time to time - most often for airplane travel - but what started happening was I felt like I needed it more in my everyday life to do some everyday things. That wasn't normal.
During my yearly physical with my doctor in the spring the conversation about not taking birth control came up again and I reminded her that I had mainly been taking it for the PMDD (that was actually originally prescribed by my OBGYN vs. my internal medicine doctor). She asked how things were going and I told her about the increasing anxiety and she said there were definitely other options for dealing with my symptoms (both the PMDD and the anxiety) and recommended I try taking Prozac. I was willing to try.
Fast foward to today. I've been taking it for a few months now and I am significantly more calm and more clear and more even.
I think it's totally possible that part of the reason I'm sticking with the journey this time is because the chemicals in my brain are actually level.
I am also about 10-15 pounds heavier.
I knew that weight gain was a side effect of antidepressants (I've taken others during the course of my life) but I was willing to try it because there have definitely been times when I wondered if the chemicals in my brain are simply not working how they are supposed to. Maybe it was really as simple as I needed more serotonin.
My hope in sharing my recent health history is to give you an understanding of where I'm coming from.
Here are a few other things that have happened in the last few months that are also likely contributing to my commitment to this wellness journey:
- I reached a weight I didn’t want to be at - a number on the scale that I didn't and don't want to see. Some of that is definitely due to the Prozac but it's also due to my own personal unwillingness to take care of myself in an more intentional way (and probably Hashimotos).
- I came across the book Body Love and I was ready to learn and the information made sense to me. It has given me a path forward and a foundation to build my meals around. More about this below.
- At the beginning of the year I empowered Katie to take charge of some work responsibilities. This is probably a big piece of this whole conversation about why this time is different. I'll talk more about this below. It has taken me years and years to let go of some of those pieces. Aaron called this "Katie relieving you of your unrelenting sense of work responsibility." I call it letting go of control.
- Making my wellness IG account public for accountability and simply to share my story. I'm so glad I made that choice
- It's summer. The summer schedule in my house is a lot more flexible which has enabled me to have quite a few more choices for times of day to exercise.
- My home-life has stabilized. Aaron brought that one up too.
- Making this whole journey about a wellness lifestyle vs. fitness and/or diet. I want to be how I live my life. I want to include moving my body each day. I want to eat foods that fuel me. Learning more about how foods impact our overall wellbeing and beginning to learn how that works in my own body is making a difference.
- Both places where I take classes - Hard Core Yoga and Barre3 use an app called MINDBODY which makes registering for classes (and cancelling them - because it happens) super easy. They also both offer a variety of classes throughout the day so I can mix it up based on what I've got going on during my day. You can use this app to discover new places in your own town as well - they have sections for "places to try" and "deals near me" for fitness, wellness, and beauty.
SO WHAT AM I DOING RIGHT NOW
A couple months ago now I began this journey (you can read more in my first post here) and I've been consistently and regularly moving my body and changing my diet. I just decided it was time. Here are a few things I'm focusing on right now:
- Moving my body. I'm doing a combination of yoga classes, Barre3 classes and walking. Aiming for one activity per day.
- Daily smoothie for breakfast using recipes from Body Love. This has been awesome and I highly recommend this - I've never been much of a breakfast fan but drinking these really set me up for success because I'm managing my hunger hormones by having a combination of fat, protein, greens and fiber (the book is awesome and goes into detail).
- Gluten free/dairy free and eating a whole lot more plants. This has significantly reduced the bloating I was experiencing and is likely most contributing to the way I'm feeling better overall.
- Prioritizing rest. I've long been fairly protective of my sleep and generally go to bed fairly early in order to get close to 8 hours a night.
- Learning. Reading a lot about wellness (resources will be included in the next Q&A post) and generally soaking up information - and then re-reading it again in an attempt to really learn it.
- Self care. Taking things off my list vs. adding things on. Being kind to myself. Putting myself first when possible to make sure that I'm actually taking care of myself vs. waiting until the end of the day and being too tired to care.
- Simplifying. Letting go of literal stuff and figurative stuff.
It seems like a long list when I type it up here. My main focus right now is on diet, movement, and self care.
smwy.86 // For me it has always been about the physical side but as I grow older I am more aware that mental health is just as important. Was there a certain time or event that it clicked with you that the mental is as important or did they come hand in hand for you?
I have struggled for a long time with low-medium levels of depression and anxiety so mental health has always been a part of my story. I think I'm one of those people who has lived with it for so long that it feels more "normal" than it necessarily should. One of the reasons I absolutely love going to yoga is because it feeds me mentally as well as working my body physically. The yoga studio I go to here is awesome particularly because all of the teachers incorporate words into their practices - the words are about letting go, surrendering, strength, setting intentions, etc. I go as much for the mental piece as the physical piece.
I also think that I learned a lot about myself through the process of getting a divorce (wanting to live the length and width and not stuff my feelings away - giving myself permission when I wanted/needed to be sad or angry or happy) and then meeting Aaron and having totally different conversations about my mental health with him. Things that had felt "normal" for a long time to me weren't normal for him. Having a new person to "check in with" impacted the story I was telling myself about my own mental health in really positive ways.
tamihackbarth // What's been the hardest part of learning to advocate for yourself?
It has been super hard for me to let go of some of my work responsibilities. If you know anything about enneagram, I'm a 1 and I take my responsibilities very seriously and tend towards being perfectionist (I've been working on that for years). It has taken me years to give myself permission to work out during work hours and to let go of some of my responsibilites. Aaron has encouraged me, Katie has encouraged me, but I had to finally encourage myself. Once I did I learned that the world didn't end if I wasn't sitting at my desk for an hour a day when I could be moving my body if that was the best time for that day. It has literally taken me years to get to this point. That gives me that much more flexibility for making it happen.
// What is motivating you to keep on keeping on. The challenges and
mbradtke // How do you keep motivated, especially with all the other things going on in your life?
Feeling good overall is definitely motivating me. I feel lighter, happier, and more mentally clear and calm ( some of that might absolutely be the Prozac - whatever it is, I'll take it). I really like this version of myself and I really want to take care of myself. I am a better mom, boss, partner, lover, friend, etc when I am taking care of myself.
Another thing that's motivating me is that I have so far to go in yoga. I don't see that as a negative at all - I'm super excited about learning more and growing into my own personal practice and simply being able to do more advanced poses (so not even close to being there yet). I love that I have that journey ahead of me. That one is both a challenge and a win for sure.
Another thing that's motivating me is being in my 40's. I'm tired of feeling tired and fatigued and I don't want that to be the story for the rest of my life. I have questions about whether my fatigue is related to Hashimotos or general life or diet. I'm also simply curious about how good I can actually feel.
lohersh // My struggle is that I have adult ADHD so it is a constant daily battle to not just do "what I feel like doing" and to stick to goals consistently. It's hard with food, tiredness, time spent, self-discipline...honestly it's like Groundhog Day, every day needing to wake up (after staying up too late yet again) and remind myself what I really care about and what my goals are. I have a lot of strategies that don't often work. Now I'm in the post-menopausal stage too where hormones and metabolism aren't what they used to be. Any guidance here? The struggle is real.
The struggle is totally real. Absolutely. I would suggest starting with one piece of the puzzle. Pick one thing to focus on for the next month and just work on that vs. feeling like you have to change everything all at once. Just one thing. Start small. Choose one meal to focus on or one habit to tackle.
Remember, there is no rule that says we have to do everything at once - most often that's probably a recipe for failure.
One thing that really helped me in the beginning was simply stating that I love myself enough to take better care of myself and then making choices that are in alignment with those values. Saying no in order to rest. Doing the things I like to do vs. what everyone else might be doing. Putting myself first. This is hard - especially for Mom's - but it's also so, so important. We can all come up with a bunch of reasons for why we aren't taking care of ourselves - start by loving yourself enough to make one change.
stephavela // I would like to know what your daily healthy minimums are? What is the least you have to accomplish daily on your wellness journey to feel like you are realizing your goals?
I thought about this one a little bit and decided that I tend to view things more from a weekly vs. a daily perspective for my "wins." I want to include movement (right now it's walking or Barre3 or yoga) more days than not. By having a weekly view I'm able to have a little more space for flexibility. I'm also looking at things from the perspective that I "get" to do something awesome for myself today: I get to eat foods that fuel me, I get to move my body in a variety of ways that makes my mind + heart + spirit super happy, I get to take a bath, etc.
I think I'm most satisfied at the end of the if I've moved my body.
yolandalockharthowe // I'm interested in how this evolved into something you were willing to share so much of (daily videos, non-private Instagram, etc). There can be a lot of shame surrounding having an imperfect relationship with food, wellness, and exercise. I'm interested in how you have navigated all those feels in order to invite us along to share the journey.
I basically decided that I needed a different kind of accountability. I know, through my years of memory keeping and sharing my stories, that it's one of the best ways for me to make sense of my life (and I've always advocating sharing and celebrating the imperfect parts of our lives). Also, as the topic of wellness started becoming more important to me I simply wanted to be able to talk about it publicly but didn't want to post all the photos of my food on my main Instagram account. Having a separate account has been awesome not only because it has given me a home to tell those stories but also because I'm only following health, wellness, yoga, and inspirational people on that account and simply scrolling through the people I'm following can get me out of bed and out the door. The community ( #aewellnesstribe) has also been awesome in supporting and sharing.
Also, I love being imperfect and have already shared so many of my imperfect stories over the years. I want people to know they are not alone and I would love to empower women to stop the shame cycle related to our imperfections.
I simply got to a point where I needed/wanted to talk about it vs. keeping it to myself.
kelsterjean // Okay I have another question, or rather request. Can you share some tips on working towards finding a healthy balance of it all? Like mental happiness + exercising and moving + eating well. Just finding a balance you are happy with.
Ah, balance. I have no idea. Ha.
Actually, what I've been working on is being in the season I'm in vs. some unattainable idea of "balance" or wishing it all away for the next one. Acceptance of "what is" is huge for me. When I gracefully accept and give myself love for the season I'm in I'm better able to see it for what it is and make adjustments within it based on what parts feel like they are working or not working.
What's been working for me in this season ( let's say the summer season of the last few months) is making time for moving my body + being flexible with when that happens (and then actually walking out the door through the process of giving myself permission to do it), filling my fridge with lots of vegetables and actually eating them, and really approaching all of it from the place of self-love. Some seasons are going to allow me to focus on all that stuff at the same time and other seasons are going to require me to adjust in order to make room for the other stuff of life (like way more kids activities when they go back to school which will create a completely different schedule and I will need to transition again). My hope is that the foundation I've laid this summer will be a solid jumping off point for me as we move into the fall.
Remember, balance isn't a solid state - it's actually fluid. It requires adjusting one end to level out another end - meaning it's almost always in flux and moving.
kpeveryday // Two questions- what non-scale victories are you noticing? Has your wellness routine improved other parts of your life bedside your mental/physical being?
I am really happy right now and that is one of the best victories for me personally. I honestly can not remember a time in many, many years where I've felt like this. I feel stronger and know that I am getting stronger simply by monitoring myself in the classes. I can hold a plank longer. I can make it through most of a Barre3 class with much less rest compared to when I started a few months ago.
Has my wellness routine improved other parts of my life? I'm not sure. My stress level feels manageable (ask me this one again in a few months and we'll see how I'm doing at that point) and I feel like I know what I need to do generally to stay on track. Those are definitely positives.
MOVING MY BODY
misererenobis // I've never done yoga - why is it hard; how is it a workout; why do you sweat? Isn't it just stretching?
Yoga is so, so much more than just stretching. It’s a workout because you are working on a variety of things: strength, balance, flexibility, breathing and mental fitness. The poses are physically demanding as is the mental willpower to keep breathing and stay in the poses (the intensity varies from class to class and style of yoga). Aaron thinks it’s the mental part of it that actually makes it hard. The studio I go to ( Hard Core Yoga) offers a variety of classes from restorative (slower paced, more stretching based) to Level One to Level Two to Power Flow (quicker movements back to back into a “flow” vs. holding the poses longer). There’s a wide range of abilities and body types and ages all practicing together. I love it because it totally grounds me in my body - so much goodness comes from just connecting with our own bodies in this way.
phug1 // Tips to get to bed early so I can get up and out early! I'm such a night owl as it's the only ME time! I'm a high school teacher and start early and after school, prep, planning, copies etc, get kids from daycare, kids sports. I have kids in soccer every night sept-march and to meal plan, dinner, marking etc., I just don't have time after work to get it in. I know us working moms are all stretched beyond and I think AM is only time to fit it in. I try to power walk around turf while kids practice but just not the same. How to turn my sleep click around and motivate in rainy fall mornings here in Vancouver BC!
You are in a very busy season.
I sometimes have a hard time with an "all or nothing" mentality - I have a picture in my head of what exercise should look like which then results in me doing nothing because I can't make time for what that looks like in my head. If you are a night owl, what about taking 30 mins at night to move your body? Make that "me" time and really make it "you" time. Break it down into smaller chunks of time that add up over the course of the day.
Also, maybe consider what little changes you could make? Maybe it's more food-related right now vs. exercise. Or maybe it's doing 15 mins of yoga before you get in bed. Or maybe it's meditating for 10 mins in the morning.
There might be some ideas for you here: 17 Tips from Fit Moms on Finding Time for Exercise
wholesomefamilykitchen// When you head out for an early-morning workout, do you eat breakfast first, or some sort of snack, or do you wait until after? When I head out for my morning walks (2-3 miles), I've been experimenting with either eating a small snack, or eating nothing; but I always have my full breakfast after my walk. I have been struggling to lose weight & I don't need the extra calories, but I don't know if it's better to work out/walk on an empty stomach or not. Just curious if you fuel up before your morning workout & how it has worked for you. Trying to figure out my routine....
For those early morning classes (5:45am and 6am) I generally have 1/2 cup of coffee and maybe a banana (depending on how hungry I feel and how early I got up). Then when I get home I have a #fabfour smoothie. Here are some suggestions: Eating Before A Morning Workout
shannonkruger // Your workouts are all gentle in nature (walking, barre and yoga.) Is that related to your Hashimoto or ??? I'm having to adopt a more gentle approach and some days feel it's not enough in this extreme world.
This is definitely a conscious choice on my part but I think it's more that I like doing all three of those things. Yoga and Barre3 can both be super challenging. It really depends on the classes you are going to and how hard you are working and your personal goals. I'm also all for throwing out the version of what we think we "should" be doing in terms of taking care of ourselves (based on what other people have said or stories you've been telling yourself about what constitutes a "good" workout) and doing what works best for each individual person. Everyone is going to have different experiences with different types of exercise.
But yes, I'm down with more "gentle" mind-body styles of movement because that's what's feeling really good for my body, mind and spirit right now. It might look different next month or next year and I'm okay with that too. As we move into the winter things will likely adjust for me and I might add swimming (indoors) and or something else. My main goal is to not get bored and to keep doing something vs. falling back into my old habits of being too tired to do anything at all.
Part Two is available here.