In 2013, I retired from my Executive Director job to stay home and raise our children. After 13 years in Executive level career work, my family needed me most. The decision to come home to help them be successful was easy even though it meant leaving a job I loved and that was very rewarding. The first year home was like a happy honeymoon. We were all just so glad that our family was a priority, and I was spending lots of time with everybody. We ate supper together every night. We always had clean laundry. We made lots of cookies and brownies together to make up for all of the fun family times that we’d missed out on with my busy schedule before. Life was good.
However, after the first year, the honeymoon faded away and I was left thinking through some hard realities. I had given up a career I loved to stay home and fold socks, teach my children, keep the house clean, and help my husband. I felt like I had gotten swallowed up in everybody else’s life and had left doing the “important” work to everyone else. It was a hard time emotionally, even though I was so glad to be home with my family.
That transitional period also revealed the truth about my relationship with food that had been able to be hidden away and “managed” over the years because of the busyness of our family’s schedule. By the end of that first year at home, after dealing with all of my emotions my old normal way…through food…I forced myself to step on the scale. That didn’t help me feel any better. Over the years…little by little…the scale had been inching higher, but I had refused to ever pay attention to it. I just bought bigger clothes. I had just assumed that getting heavier and sicker was an inevitable part of growing older.
That fall was a considerable low point in my life. I was carrying a lot of extra weight in a lot of areas of life…bitterness about an old work situation, self-identity questions, relationship difficulties, lack of friendships with other women, feeling overwhelmed by parenting challenges, and real true physical obesity to top it off. It was kind of hard to see how life was going to all work out.
In August of 2014, at a significantly low point mentally and emotionally, I made the decision to take responsibility for all of the issues that had bubbled to the surface, to quit blaming them on anybody else, and to deal with them one by one. I resolved the old work issue and let it rest in peace. With help from the Bible and wise women in my church, I started studying through the identity and relationship issues I had discovered. I began working on building real friendships, and we continued to work out the kinks in parenting. The only thing left to resolve was my health, and even though it was miserable, I decided to try to deal with that too.
I am often overwhelmed by insurmountable tasks. I have lots of energy to start something new as long as it won’t take a long time to accomplish, but looking at a 120+ pound weight loss was defeating. I decided that I had nothing to lose by trying to work on it, and everything to suffer if I didn’t do something. So I made the quiet decision to give myself one year to see what I could accomplish trying to deal with my weight and health problems. If, after an honest year of work, nothing had improved I would just accept the fact that I was destined to be an obese, sick woman.
I was so afraid of failing that I decided I would not tell anyone except my immediate family, and I swore them to secrecy. They needed to know though, because changes I made would directly affect them too.
What started out as a quiet one-year commitment has turned into a 5-year journey toward discovering more about health and wellness than I ever expected. The first year included me trying whatever extreme thing I could to drop weight….hours of exercise and calorie counting. My mind had definitely changed about no longer just doing whatever I felt like doing, and year one was all about WILLPOWER. I just tried to strong-arm my way into fitness. And it did work…I lost a good amount of weight in that first year. I felt much better about myself and my body started responding to diet and exercise. However, I still lusted after food and used it for emotional support. And willpower can only last so long. I was really, really hungry and really, really tired of counting, weighing, and measuring food. And then I sustained a repetitive-use injury from overexercise.
Years two and three I started questioning a lot of the things that I knew about health and wellness. Who told us to eat the things we eat? Why do we eat the amount we eat? Who decided certain things are “healthy”? Why does every church event, family reunion, and friend-gathering center on food, especially celebration food? I discovered that food wasn’t only the solution to my every emotion, but it also seemed to be everyone else’s solution too in society around me. The observations my family made as we worked on fitness together helped us realize that we had kind of mindlessly fallen into cultural patterns without questioning any of the accepted norms.
Because we are not people who are cool with the status quo we started educating ourselves about food, fitness, emotional health, and relationships. What started out as a losing weight assignment really turned into a 5-year long journey of holistic healing. One of the things I learned on this journey is that anyone who is at least 50 pounds overweight is most likely using emotional eating to deal with life problems. That was certainly true for me, and I didn’t even realize it. By using the different books, videos, and apps that I had found I was able to think through the why behind my reasons for eating throughout the day. By using my faith and trust in Jesus to sort through that data, I was able to resolve a variety of issues and rebuild my habits using truth that doesn’t ever change.
Years 4 and 5 of our health journey was all about building new habits based on Biblical truth and evidence based scientific research. While those new habits were being formed, weight did continue to come off, but it was much less painful because my focus had changed a lot. A full five years into my health and wellness journey has passed and I am excited to share that I have been able to lose nearly 100 pounds, by the grace of God and the application of many hours of research. And even though I rejoice at this significant accomplishment, it is tempered by the fact that I am not even yet in the medical professional’s height/weight ratio as “normal,” so there is still work to do.
In these 5 years here are a few important things I learned:
1. Be correctly motivated. I started working on my weight because I just wanted to get into the normal height/weight ratio. My focus was on losing. But the weight had accumulated for a reason…mostly because food was my friend that never disappointed me, left me, or betrayed me. It was the answer to every need I had, especially emotional and relational troubles. After learning about health from a huge number of angles, my focus became on gaining… gaining health instead of losing weight. I realize that I was focused on hurrying up and losing weight so I could go back to being “normal.” But being “normal” in our relationship with food was what had gotten me in that bad place to begin with. What we needed was to start being “extra” with our food choices, not normal. I realized in year three and four that being overweight was causing me to have health issues and those health issues were costing our family (now on one income) a lot of unnecessary expenses. I also realized that it wasn’t very loving toward my family to be in a place where I was more likely to get sick, be a burden, and die earlier than all of them. Over the years my motivation changed from something purely physical to something spiritual, emotional, mental, physical, and relational. I wanted true lasting health in every area of my life, and that true health was reflected in the way I cared for my physical body.
2. Make changes that are lifetime sustainable. After retiring from my job, I was asked to prepare a lecture on Burnout for a women’s retreat. In the research for that presentation I discovered 7 key steps that will always lead to burnout. It was very revealing. I lived in that burnout cycle in many areas of life. One of the quotes that stood out to me was “If something becomes a way of life and is not sustainable, then it is not “good,” no matter how “necessary” it may be."(1) I realized that meant that the changes I was making to our family’s eating and fitness regimes had to be made with a view of what could be sustained over our lifetime. Around year 4 a substantial shift in our thinking happened when we realized that we were giving up any definition of our old “normal,” and we were creating a new “normal” as a family. We were never going back to those old normals, and honestly, that brought a bit of sadness and grief. Pigging out as a family was the old us. Doughnut stops were in the past. Cookies and brownie recipe making nights were the old us. We knew every fun food pit stop along every road we traveled, but now snacking on every trip or errand was the old us. Every family tradition around celebration food was the old us. Refined sugar and grains and processed foods used to be an everyday occurrence, but now they are a rare treat. We have had lots of fun creating new family patterns that do follow good health habits and support scientifically proven evidence. Who would ever have imagined how Tiny Tofu Pizza night could become our new Friday night family fun night craving? How could any of us have imagined how much fun we’d have running 5K’s together or being stoked that we’re strong enough to run a farm together?
3. Schedule your life in a balanced way. In addition to the many food and movement changes made over the past 5 years, we’ve also evolved in our understanding and application of medical care. We found a great Lifestyle Medicine Doctor that helped us see the importance of not only food and movement but also of sleep, schedule, stress management, and relationship health. We have learned to schedule in the things that are important to us…family time, sleep time, unwinding time, couple time. We’ve also seen a lot of benefit in double scheduling as much as we can. We’ve tried to discover ways that family time can include movement time, and couple time can include unwinding time. There are so many things you can do at the same time that accomplish two goals. In the last year I realized that I hate working out so much, but I LOVE walking with a friend. I can get my movement time in while building a friendship with someone I’ve been wanting to get to know. And if a friend is waiting for me at the park to walk, I’m much less likely to flake out and just not work out. I’ve also been willing to give up the “perfect” workout goal for a more realistic view of muscle strength by allowing our farm chores and garden work to count as squats, lifts, presses, and core strengthening. It doesn’t have to be what someone else considers “perfect” for it to be “good enough.” Perfect workouts at a gym somewhere just didn’t fit into our family’s schedule, but farm chores are the perfect workout if you use good form.
4. Invest in the education you need. I realized in 2018 that I really needed some information that was scientifically based to help me understand food science and diet wisdom. I hate bandwagons and trends. After having tried Keto because I just wanted “to get done already with weight loss” I realized I just couldn’t sustain that kind of extreme diet. I don’t have a gallbladder, and I felt sick to my stomach that whole year on Keto. Taking a look at what kind of eating we could sustain brought us in line with a Salt, Oil, and Sugar Free Whole Food Plant Based lifestyle. I had been a vegetarian since 2010 (even on Keto), and transitioning to an SOS-free Whole Food Plant Based lifestyle was a comfortable move. There are lots of evidence-based, research-driven doctors, nutritionists, and lifestyles coaches with scientifically proven data to support their claims. I started buying books, studying websites, and watching YouTube Summits from people like Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. T Colin Campbell, Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. John MacDougall, Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. Michael Greger, Dr. Alan Goldhamer, Chef AJ, and the Plant Fit Summits. I also bought SOS-free Whole Food Plant Based cookbooks that would re-educate me how to cook for my family. It’s been super fun discovering an entirely different way of eating. And a pretty big bonus is that we can mostly feed ourselves for free from our huge organically grown garden. I have found that when your mind has changed about something, it is much easier for your actions to change as well. Health can never simply be a willpower-driven behavior modification plan. A renewed mind causes changed actions that actually last for a lifetime.(2)
5. Make decisions based on your values. My kids tease me about how much of a hippie I am, but I really do care about the health of our planet, the soil in our garden, and the resources we are using up with our standard American consumption focused lifestyles. But greater than that I really care about my faith and the relationship I have with God through Jesus’ death on the cross for my sins. My relationship with God has shaped by health and wellness journey more than anything else. I realized early on in my health journey that I was not caring for the physical body God had given me in a way that made me more useful to him. Additionally, I was not putting myself in a position to love my husband long term, make it easy to be in a relationship with me for many happy decades together, or be available in good health to my children and grandchildren. My faith in Jesus and my dedication to his truth in the Bible has helped me to both get rid of life patterns that were damaging and to also embrace lifestyle habits that were good for everyone…including the planet and our farm. Making decisions based on my values and not my emotions meant giving up things I never thought I could live without…like coffee all day every day, Code Red Mountain Dew, and Reese’s Peanut Butter cups and adding new wonderful things I thought I could never choke down before…like swiss chard, curly green kale, and zucchini.
6. Invest in long term health. Around year 4 I learned about this new term I had never heard of… "gut microbiome."Hearing that word in a YouTube Summit session featuring Dr. Angie Sadeghi led me into a world of knowledge about gut health, the gut microbiome, the skin microbiome, soil microbiome, and the whole microbiological world I knew nothing about. I learned that our health is much less dependent on short term changes but heavily dependent on changes that are made and sustained over the long term. Gut microbiome balance and health can start happening within days of making dietary changes, but the positive benefits also are time-accumulative. Changes I am making now to my overall health have the capacity to affect me in my later decades. As a family we have begun incorporating fermented foods into our daily eating to feed our gut microbiome. We have learned to “eat the rainbow” to get benefits from the many phytochemicals that are naturally found in plants. We’ve made changes to the amounts of chemicals we are willing to expose our bodies to, in order to support a healthy skin microbiome. I also learned about the importance of living a more calorie-restricted lifestyle over the long term and even began participating in regular water-only fasts for days at a time to benefit from apoptosis and autophagy for long-term cellular health. If I have a long- term view of health I am much less likely to put food in my body that will be harmful to it, and that automatically results in a more normal weight. I am also much more willing to say yes to practices that promote long-term health like making and eating ferments, using less soap and shampoo, scaling back on household cleaners, etc.
I would have never guessed that an initial one-year commitment to lose weight would have resulted in a 5-year total life and family transformation, but here we are….5 years later and nearly 100 pounds lighter…and never looking back. With this renewed health and energy, solved problems, and focused vision our family has never been more excited for the future. We have big goals for the next 5 years…expansion of our Organically Grown Produce Farm and Fermenting business in rural Clinton County, high school and college plans for our kids, partnerships with other local Organic farms, and greater involvement with our church family and community. If you’d like to benefit from adding Farm Fresh Ferments or granolas and dried meal kits into your diet, we’d welcome you to stop by our Farm to pick some up. Orders can be placed by texting 765.601.3870. Pickups are about 20 miles East of I-65 right off State Road 26.
 Quote from Burnout: Resting In God’s Fairness by Brad Hambrick, page 21
 Jesus said this first... Eph 4:22-24.