I struggled in deciding if I would share this story. It is personal and just writing it brought back so many emotions. This season was challenging and I spent a lot of time feeling misunderstood because of my condition.
Autoimmune diseases are complex and there is no one, clear way to diagnose and treat them. They can be absolutely devastating. I am not a medical professional and what I am sharing is not medical advice. I was able to reverse my symptoms while avoiding medicine. I recognize that not everyone is so lucky. I am sharing my story in the hopes that it helps someone else in their journey for answers.
Five years ago, I was depressed and scared. It felt like my body was shutting down. I had developed what we would refer to as a “sun allergy.” I had Lupus symptoms such as extreme sun sensitivity, reoccurring systemic rash, joint pain, and stiffness. I couldn’t even ride in a car without having to cover my skin with a blanket for protection from the sun. When my friends were enjoying days at the pool or park, I had to decline and attempt to explain something no one seemed to understand. At night, my joint stiffness was so bad I had to pry my fingers open from fists that had formed in my sleep. To say this was a difficult season is an understatement.
Unfortunately, my blood work was inconclusive to officially diagnose lupus. I was referred by my physician to an allergist who referred me to a rheumatologist. Rheumatoid arthritis is a form of autoimmune disease and I was recommended to begin a prescription for an immune-suppressant drug. I knew this was not an answer for me so I began to do my own research.
I already ate a vegan diet, but as I mentioned in my journey to a plant-based diet, vegan is not synonymous with healthy. I continued eating a diet centered on vegetables, beans, whole grains, and fruits, but I began to cut out sweets and bread. I also found that some sufferers of autoimmune disease used fasting to relieve joint pain. I began routinely fasting for 18-22 hours. I found that I felt immediate relief in my joints but as soon as I began to eat, the pain slowly returned. In my season of recovery, I fasted one day a week and cut out all sweets and breads. Slowly, I decreased my fasting until I no longer suffered from symptoms. I learned to read the signals in my body. The beginning signs of joint pain alerted me that I should reevaluate my consumption of sugar and ensure that I was not spending too much time in the sun.
Five years later, I can now spend all day outside (with sunscreen!) and enjoy a plant-based diet. I rarely fast for health reasons, though I do cut off evening eating/snacking at 6:30. This gives me a 13-14 hour fast before my next meal and helps my digestion and energy levels feel optimal. I know what worked for me may not work for someone else and certainly it wasn’t an overnight “cure all” BUT I also wished there were more personal accounts shared to help me navigate my path to remission. If it helps one person, then it was worth sharing!
If you struggle with stress, health, critical self talk, relationships, goal setting, or handling emotions, check out my new book!
Mind and Body Wellness
to manage stress,
create space for health,
and live with purpose.
Well-being isn’t a product of happenstance. No one can create it for you. YOU are the only one who can do the work of creating space for personal wellness. I will equip you with the practical tools you need to transform your mind and body so that you can have less stress, abundant wellness, and live purposefully. Click here to learn more and order your copy.
If any of your goals are related to building or deepening spiritual disciplines, I’m sharing my favorite resources and tools.
- I enjoy reading a chronological Bible to help me understand the sequence of historical events and build foundational knowledge. The Daily Bible with devotional insights by F. Lagard Smith is easily my favorite. I enjoy having a hardback copy but I also enjoy using the ebook which is downloadable on Amazon. The ebook allows me to squeeze in my daily Bible reading even when I’m not in the convenience of my home. I have done a lot of reading in waiting rooms!
- One tip I use to increase my Bible exposure is listening to an audio Bible podcast. ESV: Through the Bible in a Year by Crossway allows
you to read (technically listen!) to the Old Testament once and Psalms and New Testament twice each year. This makes it easy to squeeze in extra Bible while you are folding laundry, brushing your teeth, or getting ready for work in the morning. Pro tip: Listen to the audio at 1.5x speed to fit more Bible in a shorter amount of time. By both reading and listening through a large amount of scripture each day, you will accelerate your Bible knowledge. I cannot express how transformative the word of God can be in your life if you commit to this practice.
- Memorize scripture regularly and review it. Having God’s word in our hearts is an amazing tool and gift from God. I have a terrible memory.
I have difficulty remembering past events, never know song lyrics, forget the name of someone I just met, and I almost failed history class because I couldn’t keep all those dates straight! However, my excuses are not a waiver to throw in the towel on this spiritual discipline. Seven years ago, I agreed to a challenge to memorize 100 verses in 100 days. It was my first committed attempt at memorizing scripture. It was intense but also life-giving. To have God’s word in my heart and treasure it at any moment, was and is a gift. All these years later I have maintained my recall of the 100 scriptures and added a couple hundred more. I have a few sets of notecards on binder rings with verses I have memorized along with new ones I am working towards memorizing. When I go to the gym, I spend 15 minutes going through as many verses as I can while I get my cardio on the elliptical. I keep a set in my purse for times that I may be waiting for a meet-up with a friend, sitting in a waiting room, or riding in the car. I just purchased this set on Amazon.
- Keep a prayer list to ensure you pray intentionally each day. Val Marie
Paper has some useful downloads for building this spiritual discipline and many of them are free if you go to her website http://www.valmariepaper.com. You will also find prayer journals like this one. Of course, you could also create your own journal for this practice.
- Meditate on scripture and encourage others. There is a time for reading large chunks of scripture in one setting and there is a time to spend in meditation on one verse or passage. I use the YouVersion Bible app on my phone to read various translations of a verse that I am meditating on. It is also easy to copy and paste verses and send them in a text. You can even download images with the verse you select or create your own to use on social media or to text to a friend. Sending scripture in text messages is a quick and easy way to encourage and challenge others in their walk.
- Read self-growth books. There are books on every topic out there! Even non-religious books can be helpful to hone skills in our faith. I read books on leadership and relationships in order to supplement my faith and help me put my Bible reading into practice. Habits of Grace by David Mathis is a book I recently started. It goes through various spiritual disciplines that Mathis refers to as “habits of grace.” I love that terminology and I am really enjoying his writing style. My book Mind and Body Wellness: Transformative tools to manage stress, create space for health, and live with purpose includes a chapter on prayer, meditation, and living with purpose. The interconnection of mind and body means that our thoughts, actions, and feelings affect how we approach life and, more specifically, spiritual disciplines.
- If you are still unsure how you are going to make these spiritual disciplines “stick”, check out my post on How to create your own daily habit and task journal. This technique costs nothing and has helped me build life-changing habits. How do I maintain daily Bible reading, prayer time, family spiritual growth? I put it on my daily task list. I built these habits one day at a time. Even though they are now a routine part of my day, I still write them down each day. This helps me maintain intentionality in my spiritual growth and keep my habits strong.
For over three years I have been using my highly effective daily habit and task journal. I’m going to teach you how to make one too and the best part is, there is absolutely no cost.
For years, I truly believed I couldn’t simultaneously achieve success in different facets of my life. If I was rocking motherhood, my spiritual disciplines suffered. If I focused on exercise and healthy lifestyle, everything else seemed to slip through the cracks. All of this changed three years ago when I stopped believing this lie, learned how to set goals correctly, and created a system to hold me accountable.
The technique I use is a combination of bullet journaling, task lists, a daily planner, and goal check-ins. I tried all of these products on their own. I had a gratitude journal, a prayer notebook, a planner, a bullet journal, etc. There was absolutely no way I could keep up with all those notebooks and journals! So, I created my own system that works for me. It isn’t fancy and it won’t cost you a dime, assuming you have an old notebook lying around. The fact that this doesn’t cost a thing is part of the appeal. With brand new expensive notebooks, I feared ruining them with my unworthy notes and sloppy handwriting – anyone relate? With my approach, there is no guilt – just productivity. Each night, I evaluate the day and create a list of my non-negotiables for the following day. Then, I make a list of everything I need to accomplish in order to be intentional with my time.
In order to explain this whole idea a little better, I made a video tutorial. Feel free to comment below with any questions. If you want to learn more about setting goals, determining your “why” and so much more, check out my book Mind and Body Wellness.
There is nothing more you can do with your diet.
You exercise enough.
It may be time to try a statin drug.
Would you like me to write you a prescription?
These are all things I have heard from healthcare professionals regarding my cholesterol levels. I have battled alarmingly high cholesterol since I first had it tested as a teenager. Although I cleaned up my diet over the years, the numbers weren’t budging. By all standards, my vegan, plant-based diet was healthy. You can read more about my food journey here. Although my physician and dietitian didn’t believe my diet could be improved upon, I wasn’t convinced. I felt there had to be something more I could do. I knew I wasn’t ready to give up, so I had to find the answers myself.
I researched high cholesterol and how to lower it naturally. In the process, I came across Dr. Esselstyn’s 20 year study proving changes in diet and nutrition can actually cure heart disease. The studies showed amazing reductions in cholesterol levels compared to the minuscule change statin drugs boast. You can read the studies for yourself and check out his book here.
I want to make it clear that what I am about to share is what worked for me. I’m not a medical professional. I had plenty of critics when I started this journey, and still do. However, it worked! My cholesterol is in a healthy range and I did it naturally.
Inherited high cholesterol doesn’t budge easily; simple diet adjustments just don’t make enough of a change. This process would require a drastic change. Based on Dr. Esselstyn’s studies and his book How to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, I was already on the right track eating a whole food, plant-based diet. However, now I would need to cut out all major sources of fats. Avoiding fats means I cook without butter and oil. It also means I limit plant-based sources like avocado, nuts, and coconut. I have found that I get sufficient fat from naturally occurring sources in plant foods.
I have found so many amazing ways to sub oil and butter for baking and cooking. It’s shocking how many foods we impulsively add oil or butter to because we assume that is the only method of preparation.
Here are some of my favorite substitutions:
egg: Use flax “egg”
saute vegetables: Saute dry and add water if they start to stick to the pan.
baking (muffins, cakes, cookies, etc.): To replace fat in a recipe, I usually try to use a combination of at least two substitutes. Examples are applesauce, banana, nut butters, and simply adding water or nut milk to desired consistency.
The possibilities are truly endless! Thanks for letting me share my story with you.
I still cringe when I see the word diet. As a noun, diet is simply the foods we eat. As a verb, diet entails the restrictive approach to losing weight. Today, I’m sharing with you my eating lifestyle and approach to food.
Over the past decade, I’ve slowly transitioned from a standard American diet to a whole foods plant-based diet. A whole foods plant-based diet refers to a diet centered around unprocessed food from plant sources. This means eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. I focus on eating little to no processed foods. That means you won’t find boxes of cereal, granola bars, pop tarts, or chips in our pantry.
It isn’t about restricting foods to meet an end goal, though this diet has in fact allowed me to lose weight and feel better. In some cases “feel better” can’t be quantified but here are my victories:
- Decreased cholesterol
Alarmingly high cholesterol that I have battled since I first had it tested as a teenager, was drastically lowered by a plant-based diet. A vegetarian or even vegan diet didn’t cause my cholesterol levels to budge. My physician and dietitian suggested statin drugs. They were sure I was doing all I could based on my “healthy” vegetarian diet. I was not convinced that this was the case. It took a drastic change in diet. You can read more here.
- Reversed auto-immune inflammation
Several years ago, I had an autoimmune reaction that could not clearly be diagnosed. I was referred to a rheumatologist whose plan of action was to put me on immune-suppressing drugs with some pretty serious side effects. I opted out and through a long journey of learning what foods truly nourish and heal my body, I no longer have any of those frightening symptoms.
- Stronger immune system
This is an area where a difference won’t come over night but is more of a gradual shift. From adolescence, my immune system has always seemed weak and overworked. The chronic sinus infections I have had my entire teen and adult life are now gone and I feel great. I am rarely sick and my body functions optimally.
I do not say any of this to brag. I am incredibly thankful for the gift of health. However, we are all stewards of the body we have been given and I hope to encourage you to care for yours better by sharing my journey.
In the trendy world of food, diets come and go. You can choose to agree or disagree with my food choices. However, there is no denying the fat content and carcinogen risk of eating a meat-centered diet. What foods are most nutrient dense, providing loads of vitamins and fiber? Plant-based sources. It’s pretty much a no brainer decision for me but I haven’t always been so confident. With so many mixed messages in the media, I have done my research. I’ve read hundreds of diet and nutrition books, textbooks, taken courses, and listened to well-known speakers and experts in the field of nutrition. It’s easy to get confused with so much contradictory information. Now, when I read scientific studies and the latest “research”, I dig a little deeper. Who funded this study? What exactly are the amazing results compared to? There are lots of resources to help you but I recommend starting with www.nutritionfacts.org. Dr. Michael Greger runs this non-profit organization to share nutrition facts with the general public. His book, “How Not to Die” is a great resource as well. He, by the way, donates all of his book proceeds to charity.
Even though I have been a vegetarian the majority of my adult life, it wasn’t until five years ago that I began shifting to veganism. I had read enough studies to know the harm in red meat and animal protein in general. It wasn’t until two years ago that I considered the fact that my diet still needed cleaning up as I shifted into a whole food plant-based diet. I now choose not to eat any animal products including eggs and dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream).
It’s important to recognize that vegan eating is not synonomous with healthy. Vegans can still load up on processed foods. French fries? Vegan. Peanut butter brownies with coconut ice cream? Vegan. The real change comes when we shift our focus to a diet centered on plants. I want to eat life-giving foods. If all of this sounds a bit overwhelming, keep in mind that this was a gradual shift. Do not compare the beginning of your health journey with my middle. Instead, remember what success will look like for YOU. Choosing success isn’t one, grand decision but rather all the teeny tiny choices throughout our day. Success means choosing what you want most over what you want right now. For me, that meant radically changing my eating habits.
An important note about supplementation: I believe a well-rounded plant-based diet provides me with sufficient nutrition. Since many supplements are not FDA approved, I am weary of their effectiveness and safety. In fact, some supplements in isolation have actually been shown to cause harm in the body. However, since I do not eat any meat I take a vitamin B12 supplement. I also make sure to include 1 tablespoon of ground flax seed into my day as a source of omega-3s.
If you struggle with stress, health, critical self talk, relationships, goal setting, or handling emotions, check out my new book!
Mind and Body Wellness
to manage stress,
create space for health,
and live with purpose.
Well-being isn’t a product of happenstance. No one can create it for you. YOU are the only one who can do the work of creating space for personal wellness. I will equip you with the practical tools you need to transform your mind and body so that you can have less stress, abundant wellness, and live purposefully. Click here to read an excerpt and order.
- Decreased cholesterol
Call it irritation, frustration, despair, agitation, anxiousness, impatience…the list goes on. Anger masquerades as so many different emotions that it is sometimes hard to pinpoint exactly what we are experiencing. What we do know is it doesn’t actually feel good to be angry. It may manifest in subtleties like a clenched jaw, tightness in your chest, headache, a knot in your stomach, or rising blood pressure or heart rate. More times than not, we miss these warning signs until the external manifestation of irrational decision making, yelling, or unkind words slip from our lips. We have all been there.
When we can pinpoint the stressors in our life, we can better equip ourselves to handle them in a calm manner. I encourage you to open a notebook or journal and answer these questions to better understand your emotional triggers.
- What is my behavioral reaction?
What is the response you are wanting to change? Is it yelling at your children or speaking sharply towards a spouse or friend? If you haven’t considered this question before, brainstorm the various responses you have. Notice which ones are most harmful and if any are habitual.
- What physical sensations are involved?
If you are staying in stressed state, discerning normal function may be more challenging. Think about past incidents and try to recall your body’s physiological response to anger i.e. rapid heart rate, pain, muscle tension, etc. If you are having trouble processing this information, consider keeping a journal for a week and tracking your responses to stressors.
- When do I most often feel angry?
Is there a certain time of day that I am more likely to have an unwanted emotional response?
- Where does it take place? Is there a pattern here? (I’ll share my own below.)
- With whom? Do you see a reoccurring pattern of specific people that are involved?
- Why? Go back through questions number 3-5 and pose this question regarding your responses. This is a chance to dig a little deeper to understand what is going on underneath the surface of these situations, places, and relationships.
These questions should start to form a clear picture of what your specific emotional triggers are. When I first answered these questions, my kids were still attending public school. I realized that I was most often irritable in the afternoons when my daughters came home from school. Almost always it took place in the kitchen when I was trying to prepare dinner, help with homework, and answer all the questions from kids. They were out of sorts from being in a classroom all day, frustrated with homework, desiring my attention, and hungry. I was desiring perfect behavior, space, and quiet. Clearly, our expectations were not aligning and no one was getting what they wanted or needed. After I processed my answers to these questions, I created a plan to equip me better with my emotional triggers. Consider this the final question for you to answer:
How are you going to improve this situation and combat the triggers you face routinely?
In my personal example, I began by prepping dinner while the girls were at school. I had a snack and activity prepared for after school. This gave us some much needed quality time and a chance for them to unwind from their day. Sometimes this was as ambitious as getting out watercolors to paint together. Other times it meant playing dolls or taking a walk. Did this magically solve all our dysfunction? Of course not but it did marginally improve my habitual response by providing me with tools to help me be successful and better awareness of my stress triggers.
I truly hope this helps you to better self-regulate and identify your emotional triggers.
“Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” James 1:19-20
- What is my behavioral reaction?
Anger is an emotion that can quickly get out of control. I believe there are two main reasons for this. First, anger is a complex emotion. It is comprised of many layers of emotions and feelings like frustration, jealousy, sadness, loneliness, fatigue, and overwhelm. It is hard to discern our true feelings when they are a tangled up ball of emotions! Secondly, emotions have a primary life span of ninety seconds. However, when we cling to the emotion, unwilling to let it run its course, addicted to its story, we begin to strengthen a mind-body feedback loop. The more we feed the emotion, the more we reinforce neuropathways to respond this way again in the future.
When we feel anger, it is important to step back from the situation and draw ourselves into present moment awareness. A good way to do this is to stop, remove yourself from the situation (if possible), and take a few deep breaths. Take a moment to refresh your mind and perspective by praying, reciting a scripture you carry in your heart, or repeating a positive affirmation. If you would like a scripture guide for the verses I recommend, you can download the free PDF resource here. I encourage you to post them in easy to view places around your home or office. Even better, devote them to memory.
In my next post I’ll share some tips for understanding and handling your emotional triggers in the future. Hope this serves you well and free feel to email me if you have any questions!
Breaking bad habits can be very challenging. Why is it so much easier to continue doing what we don’t want to do rather than cultivating what we do want in our lives? Habitual patterns form deep grooves in our brain and reinforce neural pathways. In neuroscience, the phrase is often used “neurons that fire together, wire together.” By changing our experiences (our habits), we can literally change our brain. As we create new habits, it is incredibly important that we see the value in those changes. Taking time to appreciate a new habit or experience, helps to cultivate the positive behavior by getting those neurons firing together. Enjoyable experiences have the greatest impact on forming new neural pathways.
Unfortunately, there are several common mistakes that keep us from breaking bad habits.
1. Trying to change too much at once
Often we try to change everything at once and we can’t stay focused. Studies show that if we focus on changing one habit at a time, we have an 80% success rate. However, the success rate drops to 35% when we try to change two behaviors. Trying to change three habits lowers our success to a measly five percent!
2. Unrealistic expectations
Are you trying to replace a bad habit with a new habit that doesn’t fit your season of life? Take your schedule and life circumstances into account.
3. Too vague
Sometimes the problem is simply that our goal is not clear. We haven’t specified exactly what we are trying to change, nor have we considered the steps required to make the change.
4. Focusing on “should” statements
We all know things we “should” do – but what do you REALLY want? Feelings of obligation are not strong motivators to change a habit.
5. No support system
Trying to change is hard. Doing it alone is even harder. Find an accountability partner that you can call, text, or even check in with through social media.
What would you add to this list? Comment below with your thoughts!
We all have stress in our lives. Stressful moments are part of the human experience. We are not alone in this. I’ve mentioned before that 80% of doctor visits are for stress-related problems. Obviously, it is a huge problem in our culture. Emotions only have a ninety second life span which means they run their course and are over within that time period. However, we tend to rev up our sympathetic nervous system and get stuck in an emotional holding pattern. The feedback loop keeps us on hyperalert and stress responses flare. If we want to get out of that loop, we have to learn how to flip the switch back to present moment awareness. One of the main components of well-being is self-regulation. These skills focus on attention, regulating emotions, reflecting on information and experiences, and executing willpower, discipline, and self-control. The bad news is self-regulation is the first thing to go when we get stressed. Stress hijacks the brain and puts us in a state of imbalance. In this state, we have little control over our actions which only increases our stress more. This cycle continues to perpetuate itself unless we use mindfulness techniques to intervene.
Yoga and meditation’s relevance is that they can serve as our first line of defense by providing awareness of body sensations and using breathing techniques to calm the nervous system. When we meditate, we are able to bring our mind to the present moment and put our feelings and thoughts into perspective. This mental exercise is an important support for self-regulation.
If you are curious how the nervous system relates to this whole process, I made an infographic to help break it down. I’ve even provided a simple mindfulness exercise to help you reinforce positive mind-body feedback next time you are feeling stressed. Check it out below and let me know how it works for you!
Eighty percent of doctor visits are for stress-related problems. Seriously, I think we can all agree that statistic is staggering and scary! So many of us live in a constant state of stress. This week Dr. Catherine Spann lectured on self-regulation. Spann explained that self-regulation includes skills like focusing and maintaining attention on a particular object, regulating emotions, reflecting on experiences, and engaging in positive social interactions. It also involves regulating our stress. The bad news is that self-regulation is one of the first things to go when we are stressed. Stress hijacks the brain and puts us in a state of imbalance. Without self-regulation, we have little control over our actions and responses to stressors (which basically turns into a vicious cycle).
But what does all this have to do with yoga?
Yoga and meditation heighten our awareness of body sensations and feelings. Once we realize something is out of balance (shortened breath cycles, tension throughout body, increased heart rate, etc.), we can use breathing techniques to calm the nervous system. Calming the nervous system is our first line of defense to helps us switch from the sympathetic (“fight or flight” emergency response) to the parasympathetic nervous system (relaxed, calm, energy conserving state). Yoga and meditation are mindfulness exercises that help us practice paying attention to what is going on in our body and mind while strengthening our self-regulating abilities.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to suggest a gratitude practice which will help with this process of calming the body and managing stress better. Simply take a minute or two to sit in a quiet place and recall the blessings in your life. I find this especially helpful when I am feeling stressed or frustrated. Focusing on the positive can really put our problems in perspective. A few quotes I’ve read this week on gratitude:
“The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.” -Eric Hoffer
“If a fellow isn’t thankful for what he’s got, he isn’t likely to be thankful for what he’s going to get.” -Frank A. Clark
“If you want to change your life around, try thankfulness. It will change your life mightily.” – Gerald Good
“God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say ‘thank you’?” -William Arther Ward