The hope of starting anew

You’re ready to take a leap of faith and embark on your wellness journey. Congratulations! Deciding to live is half the battle. So, where do you start? 

I could list tons of meal plans, workout schedules, and recipes, but until you uncover why you’re facing this mountain, the how won’t last very long. Truth be told, I’ve lost weight on many diets in my lifetime. The most bizarre? A black-eyed peas and boiled eggs diet. I lived in the bathroom for two weeks! Sure I lost a few pounds, but because I wasn’t doing the emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental work on my journey, the weight found its way back.

I want this blog to be a springboard for you to live a full, healthy life—not a quick fix diet and workout plan to lose a few pounds only to be right back on the same merry-go-round. I’ve been there, and I don’t want that for you. If you’re ready to take on your Goliath, I will share some of my slingshots—tools, facts, and theories—that have been extremely influential along my journey.

A disclaimer before you read any further—I was not paid by any of the following systems or programs. I’m also not a doctor, so you should consult with your physician before embarking on any plan. I’m simply sharing some tools that have helped me along my own journey.

MyFitnessPal

MyFitness Pal is a free app and online food and exercise diary. I started using it about a year into my journey, and it helped me understand nutrition better. The app keeps track of calories, fat, sugar, carbohydrates, and protein. Seeing the totals throughout the day is empowering and eye-opening. It also helps you calculate healthy calorie targets for your own wellness goals. They’ve even started sharing blogs and recipes, which helps it feel like a community is rallying behind you. I think this tool is perfect for anyone who is a little lost on where to start. A word of caution, though. Be careful that you don’t become too obsessed! This is a journey, and this diary is here to help you track patterns, not condemn you if you’re off course. If you have a bad day, log it anyway, learn the lesson, and move forward.

Mediterranean “Diet”  

The Mediterranean diet touts benefits for the body and the mind.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the Mediterranean diet is “typically high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and olive oil.” It also limits the use of added sugars and highly processed foods.

The American Heart Association also says the Mediterranean diet—which builds meals around plants, healthy fats like olive oil, fish, and small amounts of poultry and red meat—is good for your heart.

“This style of eating can play a big role in preventing heart disease and stroke and reducing risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. There is some evidence that a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil may help the body remove excess cholesterol from arteries and keep blood vessels open.” —  American Heart Association.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the Mediterranean diet may slow the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Weight Watchers

I once joined Weight Watchers in my late teens, long before I seriously committed to my journey. What I learned about portions sizes and healthy food choices from my time on the program stuck with me. The points system helped me grasp what a healthy amount of food really looked liked for me. I loved the support group meetings, too. It reminded me that I wasn’t the only one facing this mountain. I kept their book of points around for many years, and I even looked to it for guidance in the days and weeks after the high blood pressure scare that changed my life. I think Weight Watchers is a great resource for the person who needs guidance and doesn’t want to go at this alone.

Whole30®

I love the Whole30® approach because of its potential health benefits and its co-founder’s incredible story.

Melissa Urban was addicted to drugs in her 20s, but eventually found a love for health and wellness. She went on to co-create the Whole30® program. It instructs participants to focus on real, unprocessed foods for 30 days while eliminating added sugar (real or artificial), dairy, grains, legumes, baked goods, and junk food.

Once the 30 days have passed, Urban encourages people to “systematically reintroduce those foods you’ve been missing, again paying attention to any changes in your health, habits, or mindset.”

I’ve completed the Whole30® a few times, and it helped reignite a healthy discipline and focus on good, whole food choices. It helped me realized I was relying way too much on “healthy” but highly-processed protein bars and frozen meals.

Hydrate

Drink your water!

Water isn’t just a healthy chore to check off. Staying hydrated is critical to our health. The American Heart Association estimates the human body is between 55 percent to 78 percent water. When I understood just how vital water is to our health, I approached it with joy instead of disdain. I enjoy drinking water now, especially a glass at room temperature. If that sounds like a long shot for you, that’s okay, but you’ve got to drink it anyway.

The Harvard Medical School highlights the important role of water in our bodies by normalizing blood pressure, stabilizing the heartbeat, protecting organs and tissues, and carrying nutrients and oxygen to your cells.

So how much is enough? According to the American Heart Association’s article “We all need water for a healthy life—but how much?”—research suggests “men have about 3.7 liters daily. That’s about 15, 8-ounce glasses. Women should have about 2.7 liters or 11 glasses.”

Get moving

The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of heart-pumping physical activity a week. You can spread that out over however many days or sessions you’d like! You don’t have to run a marathon, but start where you are, and choose something you enjoy. I love Zumba® and MixxedFit® classes. I get to shake my booty so hard I often forget I’m working out, ha! You can try walking around your neighborhood or start an online fitness routine. Start somewhere—anywhere—and each step will give you a shot at a longer life.

Gratitude

Every morning, before you think about the long road to wellness ahead of you, write down three things you’re grateful for in your life. Here’s a good way to start.

  1. I am grateful to be alive!
  2. I am grateful for another chance to get it right!
  3. I am grateful for the breath in my lungs!

Gratitude is the best medicine. The fuel of this powerful emotion helps frame your vision, and will likely lead to more positive decisions throughout the day. Many studies suggest people who focus on their blessings or do their best to find the silver lining in their lives are generally happier, healthier, and live longer. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D. studied gratitude and its impact on our health. The psychology professor and author found people who consistently practiced gratitude had stronger immune systems. His study of nearly 1,000 people also found people who practiced gratitude were “more alert, alive, and awake.”

Therapy

Therapy is normal, needed, and it changed the course of my life.

By now, you know how much of a life-changing, positive impact therapy has had on my wellness journey. I credit my therapist’s guidance with helping me confront the root of my relationship with food and providing the tools to replace it with healthier soothing mechanisms and strategies.

So where do you begin? Most health insurance plans will cover mental health therapy, requiring only a co-pay for your visits. Other insurance companies may require a bit more. I suggest you reach out to your insurance provider and ask for in-network therapists that could be a great fit for you. You can ask your primary care physician for referrals, too.

I’ll admit, I got very lucky with Dr. Nottingham. She’s the first and only therapist I’ve had. However, it could take a few sessions for you to find the right therapist for you.

If you are experiencing a mental health crisis and need help immediately, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.

Spirituality

God is my guiding light, and without my spiritual foundation, I would have lost hope. As you’ve read throughout this book, God’s promises have been my North Star.

For me, Jesus Christ’s display of unconditional love – no matter who we are or what we’ve done – gives me peace along an imperfect journey. Love is the glue of life. I suggest you seek a belief system that serves as both an anchor and a life raft.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

1 Corinthians 13: 7-8.

A note about weight loss surgery

While I did not undergo any weight loss surgeries like gastric bypass or the sleeve, I support anyone who feels this may be the best option for their own health. Making the decision to undergo surgery to save your life is not an easy one, and it’s quite infuriating when people suggest it’s “the easy way out.” There is nothing easy about putting your life on the line to save it. People who have chosen weight loss surgery still have to do the work to unearth the roots of their relationship with food. Surgery is not a one-and-done-forever fix, and anyone suggesting otherwise just doesn’t understand. This is your journey, and you have to come to the best decision for your life.

The miracle of new beginnings

There’s no “one-size-fits-all” plan, so take it one day at a time and find what’s right for you. At the very least, you know you can’t go wrong with veggies, water, exercise, therapy, and a “Hallelujah” to help you through it.

I know that feeling you have right now. You’re equally inspired and terrified to take the first steps along your journey. The idea of slaying the Goliath in your life feels exhilarating, but the fear of failure seeps with the question – what if my hands shake when I reach for that slingshot?

I can tell you from experience, your hands will shake, you may lose your footing along the way too, but what matters most is that you keep going. Move forward in the face of fear. Even your missteps and mistakes will work in your favor if you just keep going. Marathons aren’t finished in one big leap. You get to the finish line, one step at a time. So friend, take a deep breath. Place your hand over your heart. Let its rhythm remind you that life happens one heartbeat at a time. One moment at a time. One decision at a time.

If you ever find yourself in a dark place along the way, I encourage you to wake up early one morning and watch the sunrise. Witnessing God light up the world is a reminder of the miracle of new beginnings. We get a fresh start every 24 hours. Just like the sun rises to greet every new day, you have the power to rise and face the challenges that will come your way. All you have to do – is decide.