My Battle with Orthorexia:Tricking Myself with Bananas

I keep saying "I'm going to write a blog about this." "This" being, the past year, my struggles with living in a new city, living alone, charges in my career, developing and pursuing my passions, battling my eating disorder, the ups, the downs, the in-betweens ...  I've just been bouncing words around in my head that barely form sentences. There is so much to say, so much I have learned, so much that has changed, so much that I want to share, so many feelings I want my readers to understand and so many messages that I wish convey. 

The year 2014 was by far the most challenging year thus far - in my life. Wait, didn't I feel that way about 2013? Certainly in 2012? Maybe even 2011? Perhaps the years do continue to get more challenging. Wouldn't one expect for life to get a little easier as you learn a little more each day on how to navigate through it? You're all LOL'ing right now I'm sure. Because yes, isn't there a popular saying "No one ever said life would be easy" or something like that?

Ah, yes.

life is hard.png

Is what we strive for in life ease? Does ease equate happiness? I'm sure you're all shaking your head 'no,' because of course ease does not equate happiness. Happiness is a state of mind - or a state of being - happiness can be embraced in the midst of struggle and when life is difficult. Or, not easy. In fact, there is another popular saying suggesting that easy is quite boring and that we should continuously challenge ourselves.

So you know what I mean when I say that it (2014) was a challenge? That it was a massive struggle? That it was difficult beyond comprehension? That is was hard?

What the !*$# happened?!? You may be wondering. Well, I'll tell you what happened. There were shifts in my life that I hadn't expected. In fact, just about everything in my life changed dramatically. My move from sunny Boulder, CO to the enlightened Bar Harbor, ME was a beautiful and transformative journey with many ups and downs. I met some of the most incredible people and embraced the sacred land of Mt. Desert Island. From there, I went to West Palm Beach, FL after falling deeply and madly in love (or so I thought)- and when that came to end, I started anew in not so sunny (but shockingly authentic and charming) Philadelphia, PA to take on a new career endeavor and start my 'new life.'

That is where my 2014 began. So, not only did I have a heart wrenching break-up from a man that I thought I would spend the rest of my life with, I was working in a new career and living in a new city. And, I was lonely (not be confused with being alone as I have come to find that we are never truly alone). Needless to say, there were times that I not only felt uneasy, but I felt unsafe, unloved and unworthy. That's a lot of un's. And un's weigh us down. Un's trigger all sorts of physical, spiritual and emotional responses.

What happens, when we are not at ease? Let's say, we are not at ease for an extended period of time. What happens? Disease.

When we simply examine the word, we can see how very true this concept is:

Dis• ease = disease.

Louise Hay, the great Metaphysical Teacher and motivational author, explains this concept at length.

There were moments through the changes in my life that I started to feel at ease -  comfortable, safe, confident, loved, and deserving. And it was during those times that I naturally took care of myself in all areas of my health. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially and so on. It was during the times that I felt uneasy or was at dis-ease, that I neglected each area of my health - some more than others and it was during those times that I began to feel particularly unwell (aka malaise) and unbalanced.

If you've been reading my blog over the years, you know that I have struggled with an eating disorder known as Orthorexia for quite some time. After my initial breakthrough in recovery, I was able to stay true to myself, listen to my intuition and my body and stay in recovery for many months. However, when certain things in life started to feel 'out of control,' I relapsed quite heavily. An eating disorder, like an addiction, does not simply go away. It is always with you and you have to learn how to overcome the antagonist (for lack of a better word) day-in and day-out. Some days, weeks, months and years may be better or easier  than others

In 2014, I relapsed a few different times throughout the year, with the latter part of the year being the most devastating. It was difficult for me to recognize when I fell back into old behaviors because I went about it differently than I had in the past. The obsessive compulsive and destructive behaviors and patterns were present but the methods were different. In other words, the what and why where the same, but the how was different.  I thought because I wasn't 94 lbs and starving myself that I didn't have a problem. 

In essence - I very strategically yet subconsciously tricked myself.

In fact, I actually gained weight and lost muscle with my new way of restricting. Instead of restricting carbohydrates and sugar, I restricted my intake of other foods like protein and fat and increased my carbohydrates and sugar (fruit) but the underlying pull was the same - a desire to be clean, pure and healthy. At a glance, these don't seem like bad things to desire. Doesn't everyone want to feel healthy? So, looking at it the other way, it is an obsession and feeling that you are dirty, impure and unhealthy and unwell. Now that...that feeling will not only bring you down but disturb any shred of peace and confidence you may have.

So when does this obsession fire a trigger in my brain? Well folks, as I have said in previous posts, it doesn't have anything to do with food. These thoughts and behaviors rear up on their hind legs when things in my life feel out of control and I am frightened or uncertain (aka fear of the unknown). Food is something I can control - of course this is a false sense of control because it actually ends up controlling me. I touched on this in my previous posts on Orthorexia.

Mind you, restricting is never a good idea, but restricting protein and fat is especially detrimental and the crux of it is that I would NEVER coach anyone to do what I was doing.

Red flag number one. I had gotten so wrapped up in this new style of eating (remember, desire to be pure and clean) that I had transitioned to Vegan then onto Raw Vegan and then nearly Fruitarian following an 80/10/10 lifestyle spear headed by Dr. Douglas Graham and his practices. In fact, I did actually try 'The Banana Diet.' What happened? Well, I truly felt like I had gone...bananas. All the while, I had this nagging thought in my head that I needed to heal my body. That there was something wrong with my body.

I'm not going to say that those styles of eating don't work for some people - I'm not them. But the simple fact of the matter is that these styles of eating were extremely detrimental to my health. In fact, I function very poorly on them and become very sick. I actually lost strength and energy and literally felt down-right loopy. Some people DO thrive on beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and very little or no animal protein. I on the other hand, do not. I actually have a true sensitivity to nuts and seeds especially sesame and flax and have a very difficult time digesting beans and legumes. But I ate them anyway.

I ate them because I wanted to be able to, I ate them because I was rebelling against my body and angry at my body for all of the food intolerances that I have (like gluten, dairy, sulfites). Let's back up a moment though, I wasn't only angry at my body for these food intolerances and allergies... I was angry at my body for much more than that. And this is deeply rooted to my past of sexual assaults, abusive relationships, body shaming, and low self-esteem. I was trying to design a diet for myself that screamed health to me - that let me know that I was OK - and in my mind, that was strictly plant-based.

After a just a few months on a strict vegan diet, along with the loss of muscle and disruptive cognitive function, I also developed cystic acne, my eyes become very bloodshot surrounded by dark circles, extreme fatigue, headaches, my hair dry, I become more depressed and increasingly irritable. And, because I was consuming foods that didn't agree with with me and perpetuated inflammation while depriving myself of the foods that I thrive on (like properly sourced animal protein), I started a cycle of binging; which I had never experienced before. I would be floating along 'just fine' and then I would find myself out and about or invited to a dinner and my hunger and cravings would be so extreme and out of control that I felt like I could eat through the night. And then I would leave feeling bloated, with heartburn and full of guilt and shame for eating so much and being that out of control. 

I had this picture perfect image in my head on what health would look like in my life. 

Smoothies every morning! Wheatgrass shots! Green juice and salad for lunch and dinner! Plant-based! Cleanse, cleanse, cleanse! Detox! Alkalize! Doesn't paint a picture of health in your mind?

healthy greens.png

Now, some advocates from those types of food lifestyles (aka diets) may argue that I wasn't doing it right or that I didn't give myself enough to heal. That I still had toxins in my body or that the feelings I was having and physical difficulties like fatigue and trouble concentrating were just the side-effects of detox and that I needed to push through.

Some "Food" for thought: This Will Change Your Mind About Hunting

This 21st century notion that we are walking toxins and need to constantly detox is part of what is wrong with the world (I'd say mostly in America). If we go about thinking everything that we eat is going to have a negative impact on our health - well it probably will just by detrimental emotional impact of fearing the food that you are putting into your body. Don't get me wrong, I will always lean toward buying organic and I will do my best to always by properly sourced animal meat and fish but that apple at the airport that surely had pesticides at one point is NOT going to kill me - in the scheme of things, I am better off eating the apple than: a) Starving or b) Eating some gluten-free vegan processed junk. This constant 'oh, I need to detox' or 'oh, I need to cleanse,' is a vicious cycle in our society.

We need to eat a diverse selection of real whole foods as close to their natural state as possible. And we need to be grateful for our food while honoring our body and our hunger. That's it. It's really not that much more complicated. The human body is well equip to take care of any toxins that we encounter and if we are eating real whole foods that are nutrient dense, then we are giving our body's what they need to naturally and continuously cleanse and detox.  

I was not honoring my body and I certainly wasn't honoring my hunger. I lost all sense of when I was hungry and when I was full. I had to get real honest with myself. Smoothies generally make me feel sick, I'm not sure if it's the concentration of fruit and vegetables all once or what but smoothies off all kinds will usually hurt my stomach no matter how slowly I drink them. I seem to be able to tolerate them better during the hot summer days and in the morning. And juice (you know the Cold-Pressed, Fresh-Pressed, High-Pressured, Organic, Non-GMO, Enzyme-rich, Juice Frenzy of the decade) unless it's mostly vegetables spikes my blood sugar - even green juice I need to be careful and drink sparingly. And most nuts and seeds cause digestive distress if I have a lot them.

So, what is this desire to be clean and pure really about it?

Well, I already told you that it really doesn't have anything to do with food and is more about control. Yes, this true but that only grazes the surface. The desire to be clean and pure doesn't even have anything to do with the physical body at all. This desire is deeply rooted on a spiritual and emotional level. This past relapse has shown me that while I made great progress uncovering old wounds that need to be healed and made strides in my recovery, I still have a lot of work and healing to do. This type of emotional healing is a continuous process - though sometimes... we need to go back further to points and times in our lives that may have been too difficult or painful for us to deal with it when it happened.

There comes a time when your soul has to let your mind know that you the issue can no longer be pushed aside - the memories can no longer be suppressed. And that in order to fully heal on a physical level, you need to heal on the emotional and spiritual level first.

Those of you that know me on a personal level, know that I have a tendency to build walls. OK - THICK HEAVY walls. And I tend to keep things inside - only opening up to a few if that - and have a very difficult time reaching out to others for help. I don't even like writing that word. Help. Ah, yes, "I Am a Rock," by Simon & Garfunkel comes to mind.

A winter's day
In a deep and dark December;
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I've built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
Don't talk of love,
But I've heard the words before;
It's sleeping in my memory.
I won't disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.

Transformation is a funny thing. A year goes by and at first I think, "Wow, that went fast." And then, I really think about... and I'm like "Wow... I feel like I've changed so much in last 12 months. Certainly 24 months. And 36 months? I feel like I was a completely different person. Actually, I take that back. I was not completely different but my life was different, the way I lived my life was different, my thoughts were different and my surroundings were different. But the core of me has remained the same - my roots - my values  - my morals. Yet there were moments... moments where I lost grasp of that core. I fell away from my Authentic Self and lived my life according to how I thought I should rather than how I wanted. Out of FEAR, I separated myself - from myself. 

Music is one of the elements that can bring me back to my Authentic Self - that core - and that bring ME back. In fact, sometimes, it is the only thing that will. I have a playlist that I have titled 'Authentic.' When I have that feeling that I have lost my roots and I don't feel like I can trust myself and have lost that connection with my intuition - I put on that playlist, sometimes for hours and slowly but surely, I come back around. I have quite a bit of Simon & Garfunkel on that list. I highly recommend creating our own Authentic playlist to tune into when you are feeling out of sorts - or otherwise 'not yourself.' 

"Just as one must not attempt to cure the eyes without the head or the head without the body, so neither the body without the soul. In fact, one must care 'first and foremost' for the soul if one intends the body to be healthy. If the soul is moderate and sensible, it will not be difficult to effect health in the body; if not, health be difficult to procure..." 

Ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates.

Most people think of health as one dimension: Physical. I tend to think of it as three dimensions: PhysicalEmotional, and Spiritual. Though, truly, it is more accurately six dimensions: Physical, Mental, Emotional, Spiritual, Social, and Environmental.

Where I get into trouble is when I focus too much on one of those dimensions and for me, that is typically too much focus on the physical. Then what happens and when I really get into trouble is that ALL six of my dimensions of health fall out of whack.

The first step for me in cure my 'dimensional upset' is to get grounded. Get back to my roots. I mentioned music as one way that I start that process. There are many others.

Things that I do to get ME back (aka Embracing my Authentic Self) and connect to my Higher Power:

1) Get out in nature
2) Do yoga
3) Listen to my Authentic Playlist
4) Talk to my family and/or close friends
5) Meditate
6) Get some perspective and read some books (books of all kinds!)
7) Write (non-fiction, fiction, free-form and all of the above!)
8) Play! Do something FUN like swinging on swings
9) Drive - anywhere
10) Indulge in something that I have deprived myself from (like a decadent piece of chocolate cake - yep gluten/dairy free chocolate cake does exist ;) )

Hiking may trump all others on my Authentic list

Hiking may trump all others on my Authentic list

Coming to the realization that I wasn't taking care of myself and that I had relapsed was somewhat devastating. How could I possibly help others if I was neglecting myself?  How could I, as a Health & Lifestyle Coach, create these beautifully healthy and balanced programs for other people and do the exact opposite and place extreme restrictions on myself? But then I had to remember something. I had to remember to love myself through it. To forgive myself and love myself. To honor my Eating Disorder Demon for serving a very important purpose of giving me a sense of comfort and protection in a time that I was uncomfortable and scared. 

forgiveness.jpeg

Once again, I am so very grateful for the people that I have in my life. Some of you are dear old friends, some of you teachers and mentors and some of you are wonderful new friends - I lovingly embrace all of you and thank you for being along side me as I go through the many adventures that life has to offer. 

I find great comfort in knowing that I have a strong support system and I have great knowledge and resources around me to help me through this and keep me strong on my road to recovery once again. Part of this recovery includes abstaining from alcohol as well. Alcohol has a very negative effect on my body and my find and consequently, the other dimensions of my health. It is one thing that will very quickly disrupt the connection and communication with myself and my higher power. 

My Book 'stash' 

My Book 'stash' 

I will be spending time reading through amazing and inspiring books. Some I have read before like Eating in the Light of the Moon by Dr. Anita Johnston and some of them are new to my collection. I've also been spending time on my creating a new Vision Board and tapping into my creativity.  

What's the moral to my long story?

Always, always listen to your body. Trust your intuition. Trust yourself.

Always, listen to The Wind of Your Soul.

I listen to the wind
To the wind of my soul
Where I'll end up, well, I think
Only God really knows
I've sat upon the setting sun
But never, never, never, never
I never wanted water once
No, never, never, never
I listen to my words
But they fall far below
I let my music take me where
My heart wants to go
I swam upon the devil's lake
But never, never, never, never
I'll never make the same mistake
No, never, never, never

With Love,

-AEB 

My Battle with Orthorexia: Living in Maine, Restoration

Sideways, upside down, inside out, whatever terminology you'd like to insert here, my life has had quite a shuffle over the past month. And to tell you the truth, it feels as though it has been a year. Not in time, no. In the way that feel.

I feel different. I feel calm. I feel at ease. I feel happy.

There has been a shift.

I won't delve into the details of what exactly went on over the past month, but I am now in a new home here in Maine. And, it is perfect for me right now. While a bit challenging at first, in the end, I am so very glad that this move happened. Not only because I'm in love with where I am now, but because there were some important lessons learned and growth had along the way.

My view

My view

Nestled in the lush woods, with views of rolling green hills, unique barns, sheep, and deer, I am resting easy and enjoying the sunrise and sunset like never before. My first night there, I stepped out onto the deck above the budding blueberry bushes to checkout the night sky. My roommate and I shut off all the lights so that we can see the stars more easily.

What we saw immediately went onto my informal list of the 'top most incredible things that I have seen.' The sky was clear, stars bright and appeared closer than I can ever recall seeing them. I was awestruck and then I shifted my gaze below and saw hundreds of fireflies sparkling beneath us. It was magical. Purely magical.

So here I am, going on my fourth month living in Maine. Wow, how very different my life is today than this time last year. Maine is serving a great purpose in my life. I believe wholeheartedly that this move was exactly what I needed. It has not all been beautiful, in the traditional sense of the word and it has not been all 'roses' and 'peaches,' nor has it been easy. There have been some struggles, some tears and some restless nights. Though through that, I have shown myself the strength that I embody, exercised the tools within me to carry me through some rough winds and came out stronger and more focused than I was before.

change.jpeg

While there were some struggles, there were also great breakthroughs. And where there were tears, there were also deep soul-baring laughs. And now I sleep, sometimes for nine hours at a time.

There were two paths laid before me:

One was rocky, dark, cold, damp and full of cobwebs.

The other...

Clear, a bit sandy, some turns, subtle hills and full of sunshine.

I chose the latter, and it was just that simple.

change2.jpeg

Many of you know that I have been in recovery from an Orthorexia, a lesser known eating disorder, since March of this year; and near the end of April I made my move to Bar Harbor, ME from Boulder, CO.

The harvest of my pain was its own peace and remedy.

As low as I had sunk, I rose, faith restored from blasphemy.

Body, heart, and soul obscured the path, until

Body melted into heart, heart in soul, and soul in love itself.
— Rumi
Where I like to practice my yoga

Where I like to practice my yoga

I work daily in maintaining a healthy recovery from Orthorexia. Yesterday was the first time that I weighed myself since mid-March. I am up 13 pounds and at a 'healthy/normal' BMI of 18.7 (according to the Centers of Disease Control).

While emotional, this number ultimately makes me very proud. My yoga poses are becoming stronger, the muscles in my arms and legs are surprising the heck out of me and earlier this week I ran my longest run (non-stop running) of 5.7 miles. Think I could have been able to that a year ago? No.

The list of those that I am grateful for continues to grow. You all know who you are, and I thank you each day. Looking forward to seeing how this chapter unfolds.

With Love,

-AEB

My Battle with Orthorexia: Recovery, Balance & Moderation

If you missed my two previous posts on my battle with orthorexia, you may view them here: My Battle with Orthorexia (first post), My Battle with Orthorexia: Epiphanies & Recovery, The move to Maine brought on a shift in gears for me. A healthy shift. Driving out here and now being here, I've been looking at food a bit differently. Nutritional therapy that I received before hand, helped with my new mindset. This has been a shift from thinking about food as a way to sustain me throughout the day, to food as FUEL.

foodisfuel.png

Just as I had to stop to put fuel in Europa (aka my Jetta), I have to continuously put fuel into my body as well. Seems quite simple doesn't it? It is. Instead of obsessing over the amount that I was eating or the specific ingredients, I just ate when I was hungry and  didn't worry about the exercise that I was not getting. In all reality, driving in and of itself sucked the energy out of me and my body NEEDED and DESERVED the time off from cardio and lifting. Not only that, but the day that I moved out of my apartment, in a hurry, I slipped and fell on black ice, pulling a ligament in the back of my right (driving) leg. Coincidence? "Slooooooooow down Ashley," says the Universe.

I had boxes of food with me for my cross-country drive as well as a cooler for berries, meat, hard boiled eggs etc. There was one that that I knew and that was that I didn't want to be caught without food. Looking back on it, it saddens me to know that in my restrictive food behaviors, I was not only restricting the intake of fuel for my body on a 'weight' level but on a holistic level. My nutritionist helped to bring this to light for me. When we are not giving our bodies the proper fuel (from ALL healthy food groups), we are not only effecting our physical appearance but our organs (including our brain), muscles, hormone levels, and a slew of other parts of anatomy that allow for us to properly FUNCTION. When that took hold in my brain, after I welled up with tears, I knew that my behaviors had to change for the safety and comfort of my LIFE.

I eat when I'm hungry, I listen to my body and I try very hard to not dwell on things like why I am hungry when I ate just an hour ago, or why I am hungry before bedtime. I just listen, and respond to my bodies signals. This requires both balance and moderation. 

Balance & Moderation

I  constantly check-in with myself on my eating behaviors to gauge whether I am being obsessive or restrictive and WHY.  Am I afraid of something? Is it a rational thought? Is it a replace in thinking? Is it 'My Eating Disorder Demon' talking? 

These check-ins are subtle. Keeping a food log, journal, counting calories or weighing oneself is generally NOT a good idea for a person struggling with or recovering from an eating disorder. This is true for me. I do not do any of those things.

Eating foods in all food groups is something that have come to embrace (aside from dairy). In my past I have been quite an extremist. Oh, grains aren't good for you? OK, I will eliminate every single grain for the rest of my life. Oh, cinnamon is good for you? Great, I will start taking cinnamon every day until it makes me sick (even though I was indeed taking the 'recommended' dose). Oh nuts and seeds are amazing for you? Awesome! I will chow down on nuts and seeds all day long until those too make me sick.

I did all of those things. And more. Not quite that casually, no, as I did do my research but that's just it. Instead of researching within myself, listening to what I needed; I acted upon outside research based on others experience whom may or may not have had any sort of credentials.

My diet has been consisting of some non-glutenious grains (mostly rice), starches (like squash and sweet potatoes), meats (mainly fish, poultry, eggs and some red meat), all sorts of fruits and vegetables, some legumes and a few nuts/seeds (significantly less that I was). My diet is still clean, yet it is a healthy clean. A balanced clean.

Aaaah yes... and coffee... in moderation... 

Aaaah yes... and coffee... in moderation... 

While I sincerely thought that I was embodying health before, what I was doing was actually depriving myself of the fuel that it needed to truly be healthy. Healthy for my mind, body, and soul.

jogging.jpeg

And I've returned to my jogging ;) Food = FUEL = ENERGY

Where I once believed firmly that health began with nutrition, followed by physical exercise, I now believe that health in fact, begins with our state of mind.

With Love,

-AEB

Maine Life & More Epiphanies

You know when you hear a quote, phrase, saying or what-have-you, over and over and you nod, appreciate it and then go on your merry way? Or maybe you really ponder it and try to allow it to sink into your being. Or perhaps you even say it aloud to yourself or others. Yet it isn't until that moment, that opening in the air where it really and truly resonates. Where the air feels less heavy, appears less hazy and suddenly you have found yourself stopped in your tracks.

All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experience.
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German writer, artist and politician

At least, that is how epiphanies usually feel for me. Especially these recent ones. And the timing of the following quote that my lovely brother-in-law sent couldn't have come to me at a more perfect time because it is exactly how I felt.

That quote gives my goosebumps, even now. We can hear something for years and think that we understand the meaning, and perhaps we do understand yet the words are not truly integrated in the way in which we lead our lives.

While hiking up to Cadillac Mountain and back last week, I had a few of these moments.

Epiphany #1

If you truly focus your energy  into something, you can and will achieve it.

Epiphany #2

You are the only person that owns you and the life you lead.

Epiphany #3

Your thoughts will dictate your life path.
Top of Cadillac

Top of Cadillac

When these 'epiphanies' came to me, it was as if I had never heard anything like it before in my life. I literally stopped mid-carriage road, looked out over the serene landscape around me, furrowed my brow and thought, "Wow..."If you (I) truly focus your energy into something, you can and will achieve it....huh.... so that 'saying' IS true."

I continued to repeat the words over and over as I ascended up to the top of Cadillac. And it made me smile.

Mid-Trek

Mid-Trek

It's like someone telling you your entire life that blueberries are a very tasty fruit. You understand what they are telling you, you may believe their words and you may even smell some blueberry jam and think "sure, yes, blueberries I think would be a tasty fruit," yet you never try them. And then one day, you taste them. You taste their subtle sweetness on your palate and feel a certain sense of refreshment that you hadn't felt with other fruits. Suddenly, you get it. You understand fully the essence of the blueberry.

The other two epiphanies came to me in a similar fashion, and all in that one day (oh yes, I'll be hiking as much as I can on the island this summer ;))

As part of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's quote entails: 

"...but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experience."

"Till they take root in our personal experience."

That my  friends, is the key. And perhaps the only way to have that happen is to act upon them - either consciously or unconsciously.

Carrying them out in our lives Living them. Integrating them into our life. Rooting them.

Now that I have written a novel on my experience on epiphanies, I'll give you all a little update on how life in Maine is going thus far.

First of all, "the people" are genuinely nice. Everyone that I have come into contact with has been not only nice, but completely selfless. Not that "hey let me know if you need anything," but the "You be sure to let me know if you need anything at all whether you have questions about the Island, the town, a personal problem, you call me..." And this hasn't been from one person. This has been from just about every single personal that I have met here.

Many have that 'Mainer' accent that some perceive as cold or harsh. On the contrary, they are gentle and sincere people. How very comforting it is to be immersed in a community that cares so deeply for others and for their island.

I continue to be amazed by the expanse of scenery that can be seen on the island. Roads that I drive on almost daily, will still have me pulling over on the side of the road to run out and snap photos. 

Hadley Point

Hadley Point

The Inn that I am working with for the season officially opens tomorrow (May 17th). I've been in training the past few weeks, learning the 'ins-and-outs' of how they operate; which has been both humbling and fascinating. When I attempt to explain what I did as a 'Product Marketing Analyst' at my previous work, I have to laugh at the sheer vast difference in the work that I will be doing over the next several months compared to my previous work. There is no good or bad in that statement- it is simply wildly different. And it has been inspiring to learn and experience the change in my environment.

View on my jog

View on my jog

Oh how I love my morning jogs with views of the sunrise shining upon the ocean, afternoon strolls and the space and time to focus on ME

With Love,

-AEB

The Question & My Move to Maine

The question is always the same:

"Why Maine?" And specifically, "why Bar Harbor?"

Frenchman's Bay, Downtown Bar Harbo r

Frenchman's Bay, Downtown Bar Harbor

Why after 15 years living along the Front Range of sunny Colorado did I decide to go to a small town on and island off the coast of Maine over 2000 miles away?

In summer of 2011, I wanted to take a trip by myself. Somewhere that I could "reset" in the midst of my chaotic and confusing life. During this time I was writing a novel (one in which I may or may not still be writing...). In the novel, I have a couple of the characters from Maine. I decided then, that I would go there for my vacation. Not to research, no, it more or less just helped me decide where I would vacation.

So, I pulled up google maps and with the index finger of my right hand, I circled around the state of Maine, zoomed in and then stopped and said "There, that's it. Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island. That is where they (the characters in my novel) will be from and that is where I shall go."

The Shore Path

The Shore Path

I didn't research the island before I went though I knew that I wanted to stay at a Bed & Breakfast on the ocean. I chose the Shore Path Cottage. I booked my stay and then booked my flight (yes, in that order). And off I went for 7 days that July. Epiphanies came, clarity sparkled and I felt at peace. Perhaps those were the aspects that I couldn't shake.

When I left, there were no thoughts that I would ever move to Bar Harbor, but I knew one thing: I would be back.

February of this year, I found myself in a crossroads I had never experienced before. I knew that I needed a shift. A major, life altering, mind bending shift. Anyone that knows me, knows that I am generally a very happy, optimistic, lovin' life person. But, I was exhausted. Exhausted from pretending that I loved my life when I was struggling emotionally, physically, spiritually, and financially. Every aspect of my 'healthy' was...Broken. And, I wasn't asking for help.

I had to not only admit this, but allow myself to feel it. And accept it. I then had to also acknowledge that happiness is a choice. Just as our thoughts are a choice.

Working at a software company in Boulder, Colorado is dream to many. And it in many aspects, it was for me too. My time there was well spent. I learned, I grew and I met some amazing people that I still hold very dear to me. But after three years, my soul was telling me that there was something I needed to feed. Something I needed to explore. Or as I like to say, "feed the rat," an expression I picked up in Australia years ago.

There were thoughts of going back to Los Angeles, exploring San Francisco, New York City, or Washington D.C. And even some job applications that went out. But nothing resonated with me and the thought of actually moving seemed so HARD. Daunting. It came to me one day that what I truly wanted, was to just be. I can't explain that element so I will leave it up to your interpretation. Once I let go of the fear of not having money and the pressure of making other people proud and doing what I thought I should be doing, the decision was simple. I needed a place where I could just be and I needed to stop searching.

So I did. I stopped searching, stopped stressing about where I was working, what I was doing, my résumé, jobs, and what the next year of my life would hold. Soon thereafter, in my yoga session, it came to me. In hot yoga (triangle pose), "Bar Harbor. That is where I need to go. That's it." It was more clear than anything that had ever come to me before. In fact I saw a golden yellow aura around myself. That may be to out there for some of you. Anyway, that night, I began to put things in motion. That was in February. I made my way here the end of April. It took me 4 days and a total of 38 hours of driving to get here.

Below you will find 12 YouTube links to video clips that I posted along the way.

Part 1(Intro)
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11
Part 12 (Finale)

In the three months prior to my move, I found movers, secured a temporary place to live, secured a job, and the various other odds and ends that moving entails. And although the time of my life was stressful and painful due to other circumstances, the move itself came quite easily. About a week after my move-in, the movers arrived with the rest of my belongings. My oh my, how I adore my own bed.

The view just down the hill from where I'm staying

The view just down the hill from where I'm staying

So, here I am in Bar Harbor. From an apartment (living solo, sans pets), in South Boulder, to a house in the woods on the ocean with three other people, a dog, two goats, and chickens. Three weeks ago, I was sipping my coffee-house Americano whilst checking my countless emails at the office, surrounded by technology. And this morning I was sipping my homemade coffee, outside in the sun whilst a goat attempted to eat my hair and then proceeded to climb into my lap, and spill my coffee.

A typical morning

A typical morning

My how the times have changed. As they always will. But I am me. And in ME, I will be. 

Just me, blowin' in the wind...

Just me, blowin' in the wind...

My gratitude goes out to many for helping me along in this journey. They know who they are.

I have no idea what the next chapter will be.

I'll let you know.

With love,

-AEB

My Battle With Orthorexia: Epiphanies and Recovery

Since my initial post on My Battle With Orthorexia last month,  I've had quite a few epiphanies and breakthroughs that I would like to share with you. I will warn you now that this post will be a bit stream of conscious as I attempt to explain things. 
 

Thank you sweet sister of mine for sharing this one with me

Thank you sweet sister of mine for sharing this one with me

Allow me to first start off by saying, that this is not an easy battle. I've had highs, lows and everything in-between with a few 'relapses' in thoughts and behaviors along the way. What one must recognize about an eating disorder, whether they are personally struggling with one or know someone that is, is that it is NOT about food. 

I know, right?

Just as an alcoholic uses and abuses alcohol as a coping mechanism, a person with an eating disorder uses food whether it be overeating, under-eating/restricting, and/or obsessing as a coping mechanism for circumstances and emotions things that are occurring or have occurred in their lives. The actual reasons behind the need for a coping mechanism will naturally vary from person-to-person. 

This disorder is powerful and strong. And it can indeed, kill you. Recovery from an eating disorder has one of the highest chances for relapse (or lowest recovery rate depending on how you look it) out of many other disorders/diseases and the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder. Why is this so?

I have a theory on one of the reasons why this may be true... 

We cannot live without food. We all know this. An eating disorder is a type of an addiction. And when you are in the thick of any addiction whether it be mental (obsessive/compulsive) or physical (substance abuse etc.), you are in fact, under the influence.  

Imagine if you will, that for an alcoholic to 'recover' they had to learn how to drink 'normally.' Not quit drinking entirelyThey had to stop their drinking in excess yet still frequent bars and only have a drink or two. And go to liquor stores on a regular basis but get a couple of beers instead of a bottle of whiskey and a case of beer. 

Now, I am NOT saying that recovering from alcoholism is not a feat. Wow, it is an enormous life-altering feat! Though it may explain why recovery rates for those with eating disorders are not as promising. Those of us that have found ourselves battling an eating disorder, are surrounded by food all of the time, from culture-to-culture, day-in-day-out, and we must learn how to eat 'normally' again. 

My Demon, my Friend

My Demon, my Friend

I've named my eating disorder, 'my eating disorder Demon.' But don't get me wrong. This Demon has actually protected me in many ways, has been there for me and provided me comfort throughout a very difficult time. So while I am actively battling this Demon, I am honoring it at the same time. And understand that it served a purpose.

I lovingly release and honor the past and joyously welcome the new.

The past is our past but that's just it, it's OUR past. We lived it. We made it through. We learned from it. And we should love it. Honor it. And be at peace with it. Whatever 'it' may be.

I spent a lot of time and energy pushing my past away. The "I've got this," "I'm fine," "Don't worry about me," "I'm tough," "I'm past that," "It could have been worse," "I don't need help, I don't need you, I don't need anyone..."

miracle.jpeg

The reality, is that with a BMI of about 16.5, I was not only classified as underweight, but severely underweight. Now, I am grateful that this had not gone on for years, but it did go on long enough to where the consequences of being at such a low BMI effected me. And the consequences are not only physical but mental as well. I won't delve deep into that topic but the mental implications can also be vast; such as the inability to focus and extreme obsessive compulsive behaviors. You are indeed, under the influence

So, I came upon some epiphanies over the past week.

Epiphany #1: Control

Life.

Life happens. And for the most part, the majority of things in our lives, are out of our control. And generally, that is OK. Expected. And accepted. But, there are those times that things go completely awry. And then there or those times when go not only awry, but devastated by trauma. 

When an event takes place that derails you life to the point where you feel out of control, you latch on to things that make you feel in control.

I am writing this using 'you,' but I am in fact, talking about myself.

Back in fall of 2010, I had series of life events that left me feeling dis-empowered, helpless and completely out of control. I latched onto three main things that enabled me to feel in control. Hence the word feel, in the end, these things controlled me. I didn't actually have control. 

Sources of 'False Control'

    1) Exercise

    For all of my adult life, I've found great joy in exercise. Whether it be walking, hiking, jogging, lifting, yoga etc., it is, and will remain to be one my favorite things in life.

    Though, I started to use exercise in such a way that it actually stressed my body in times where I truly needed emotional support and rest. I exercised/worked-out twice a day 6-7 days a week for over two years. Even when I was sick. When I was tired. Exhausted. Stressed. In pain. And even shortly after my surgeries. It wasn't a release anymore - it was an addiction. An obsession. But it made me feel in control. Little did I know, it was in fact, controlling me.

    This mind you, happened gradually over a long period of time. And I have since then, toned the exercising down to allow my body to heal during this process. Which in-and-of-itself, has been difficult to let go and give myself and my body permission to rest. 
      
    2) Food/restriction/elimination diets

    I latched onto the idea that there was a 'perfect' diet out there for me in order to feel my best. I've been writing several posts on this so I won't go into great detail but in essence, I used restriction around ingredients and specific food groups as a way to feel more in control over my life. It was something that I could research, tweak, see, and feel results.

    Over the past month, I have slowly introduced specific foods that I had eliminated back into my diet. Some worked (grains such as white rice and corn, added sugar, added starches). Some did not. Gluten, did not. For the same reasons that I initially stopped eating gluten (vertigo, exhaustion, stomach rashes etc). Dairy, did not. And for the same reasons that I had initially stopped eating dairy over four years ago now (heartburn/indigestion, diarrhea).

    wellshit.jpeg

    This is how I feel about the gluten and dairy. 

    Most importantly, I branched out. I gave myself permission to eat things that I had not eaten in a long time, even years. And it was scary, but I am also very proud of myself for stepping outside of my comfort zone and I will continue to do so. It's a process. 

    3) Medicine/Doctors

      Similar to my diet, I felt that there was something in my body that needed 'fixed.' Something was wrong. What I failed to recognize, was that the something that was wrong was actually an internal cry for emotional help and support. The something that needed fixed, was on an emotional and spiritual level yet I stayed with the mindset for years that it was on a physical level. Yes, I did in fact have hernias. And I did in fact, have Endometriosis but those were not the sole source of my physical pain and symptoms. Not by a long shot.

      Countless visits to doctors, tests, procedures, herbs, medicines, supplements, and thousands of dollars. It's no wonder that my body was unable to recover and reset back to a state of 'normalcy' as it was constantly bombarded by things that it didn't need or couldn't absorb/breakdown as I was becoming malnourished due to lack of nourishment on both a diet and emotional level. As my nutritionist explains nourishment, there are two types: Nourishment with a capital (N) for food nourishment and nourishment with a lower case (n) for emotional/loving nourishment. 

      This fixation on 'fixing' something on a physical level also brought to me a false sense of control. 

      Epiphany #2: Fight or Flight

      Do you know what physically happens to animal (including humans) when they are in 'fight or flight' mode?

      Well, let me tell you, it's quite fascinating. Here is a website that explains the fight or flight response in more detail. Below are some highlights:

      • heart rate and blood pressure increase
      • pupils dilate to take in as much light as possible
      • veins in skin constrict to send more blood to major muscle groups (responsible for the "chill" sometimes associated with fear -- less blood in the skin to keep it warm)
      • blood-glucose level increases
      • muscles tense up, energized by adrenaline and glucose (responsible for goose bumps -- when tiny muscles attached to each hair on surface of skin tense up, the hairs are forced upright, pulling skin with them)
      • smooth muscle relaxes in order to allow more oxygen into the lungs
      • nonessential systems (like digestion and immune system) shut down to allow more energy for emergency functions
      • trouble focusing on small tasks (brain is directed to focus only on big picture in order to determine where threat is coming from)

      I can't even begin to tell you how much this resonates with with me. Bullet-by-bullet I nod my head. Yep, experienced that. Yep, experienced that. Dilated pupils, veins in the skin constricted, increased heart rate, low body temperature, trouble focusing... Though, I'd like to especially point the one on digestion and immune system shutting down to allow more energy for emergency functions. Wow, did it ever. Chronic diarrhea and various other immune related symptoms is the main thing that plagued me during this time.

      Bottom line, my body quit functioning properly. 

      To an outsider looking in, I had it pretty together. Living alone, working a full-time job, eating 'healthy' foods, exercising, and generally walking around with a smile on my face. But on the inside, I was full of fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the relationships that I was in and those that I had left. Fear of what could happen. And most of all, fear of what had already happened that I continuously ran from facing. 

      You see, for years, I was in a chronic state of 'fight or flight.' Why?' you may ask. I didn't feel safe. Simple as that. My sense of safety and security had completely deteriorated. I began to think about this 'fight or flight' situation combined with my lack of feeling safe and secure and as it really soaked in, I reflected back on the times over the past few years that I did feel safe. 

      I can count them on one hand. And all but one of those times were when I was with my Dad. It didn't matter where I was with him. But when I was with him whether it be on vacation or one of his homes, I was generally symptom free irregardless of what I was eating or drinking. I felt safe. My systems relaxed. There was one other time that I can recall and this was when I went on vacation by myself to Bar Harbor, ME (where I am now moving BTW, post to follow). I stayed at a Bed & Breakfast for seven days, right on the ocean, took myself out for meals, ate things I normally wouldn't have and indulged in more wine than I normally would have and I felt great. And was again, generally symptom free. There it is again. My flight or fight response subsided and I felt safe. I allowed myself to relax. To be

      Now, this doesn't mean that I need my dad wherever I go (although that would be kind of cool because he's pretty amazing), but what it does mean, is that I need a balanced life on an emotional, spiritual, and physical level in order to establish a sense of safety, security and peace. 

      fightorflight.jpeg

      I don't have a step-by-step guide on how I will do this, but I am getting there. By loving myself, by trusting myself, listening to my body, forgiving myself and forgiving others. I could go on and on, but those are some of the things that I am currently focusing on to help me in breaking free from 'fight or flight.' Here is another great site on fight or flight. 

      Epiphany #3: Deprivation

      Someone asked me not too long ago, not "What do you do for fun?" but rather, "When do you have fun?"

      I just looked at him blankly. There was really no answer that I had for him. I pondered this for a bit and came to the conclusion that the only time I really did have 'fun' was on the rare occasion that I was around my family or when I was alone hiking, writing or traveling. Alone. Mind you, I do rather enjoy being alone, but it had gotten to the point of isolation. Depriving myself.

      In learning more and more about restrictive eating disorders such as orthorexia, it's very common and almost always the case that the person also restricts (deprives) their lives in other ways.

      Why? To feel in control. Safe. Secure. 

      Like waves crashing in, there was a steady flow of realizations that hit me of other ways in my life that I deprived myself. Laughter, fun, socializing, love, indulgences such as alcohol, rest/relaxation, sleep... I started to write them all down and suddenly my life started to make a little more sense to me. Things became a bit more clear.

      Allowing myself to let go and release has been an invigorating experience. There has been fear, no doubt, but it's getting easier. And it makes me smile.

      letgo.jpeg

      As I am writing this, Sting's 'Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot,' just came on. How very fitting. I think I'll be listening to this song often ;)

      Aids in my Recovery Process

      Professional Guidance

      I've been seeing both a nutritionist and therapist that work solely with those recovering from eating disorders. They have both helped me immensely in getting to the why behind my eating disorder,  learning how to be gentle with myself, forgive myself, putting things into perspective, understanding what it takes to truly fuel and nourish the human body and much, much more. 


      Recovery Stories

      I am especially fond of this one

      Affirmations

      affirmations.jpeg
      fridge.jpeg
      eatingnutritiousfood.jpeg

      Books

      Eating In the Light of the Moon has been my favorite thus far. I recommend every female read this book whether they are struggling with an eating disorder or not. I also recommend that those supporting someone with an eating disorder read it to better understand their condition.

      Louise Hay and Crystal Alandrus' inspirational books (and audio recordings) have been a huge part of my recovery and although I have not met them in person- I feel like they are part of my life. You Can Heal Your Life, is another one of my favorites. 

      Others I am reading: The Passion TestThe Power of Myth and Healing From Trauma

      I adore books ;)

      Meditation, Yoga & Metaphysical Work

      Meditation, yoga and metaphysical work really could be an entire new post (as all of these could be). So rather than going in deep on this topic, I will simply let you know that all of these combined have not only helped me in my life path and recovery but have been part of a life transformation on a body, mind and spiritual level. 

      'Lifelines'
       

      When I am struggling with a relapse in behavior or struggling with my Demon in thoughts, I text, email or call one of my friends, my mom or my sister (if I am not actually with them). In other words, I TALK about it. I voice it. The support system that I have is truly a gift.

      shelter.png

      And with that, I will end this post and say thank you again to those that have helped me along the way and continue to support me. How very blessed I am to have you in my life.

      With Love, 

      -AEB

      My Battle with Orthorexia

      This is the most difficult post that I have written. In fact, it is one of the most difficult things that have ever written, period. 

      Has anyone ever told you that you are 'too close to the situation'? I had quite a few people in my life tell me this throughout the past couple of years. I thought: "Nah... look at all of this research I do. Look at all of this information I have found. Look at all the progress I have made. Look at all of these people that have healed themselves this way. Look at all of this groundbreaking literature to back it up. Look at all of this HEALTHY stuff I buy!"  

      Since 2010 I have been on an endless search to heal various physical ailments through food elimination and diets. In doing so, I became acutely aware of all the nasty things that get put into packaged and processed foods, the dangers of this food and that food and benefits of this food and that food. And countless diets. Paleo, Primal, Raw, Vegan, Vegetarian, Pescatarian, Anti-inflammatory, Macrobiotic... seeking that perfect combination that would allow me to feel my best. Be the healthiest. The cleanest. The Purest.

      During this same time, I continued to suffer from gastrointestinal issues (chronic diarrhea and bloating). So, in my mind, there was still something wrong. There was still something to fix.

      The search consumed me.

      The search consumed me.

      What I have is called, Orthorexia. It is much different than Anorexia though it can have similar side effects. While anorexia typically has a fixation of weight, orthorexia is a fixation on eating healthy. They do overlap. And I believe my struggle with orthorexia, obsession with healthy eating and having a clean body also morphed into anorexia. 

      "Orthorexia' is defined as an obsession with 'healthy or righteous eating'. The phrase was first created in 1997 by California doctor Steven Bratman, and refers to people who create severely limited diets in the name of healthy eating. It often begins with someone's simple and genuine desire to live a healthy lifestyle. The person may choose to stop eating red meat, but eventually cuts out all meat; then all processed foods, and will eventually eat only specific foods that are prepared in very specific ways.

      As with all eating disorders, the core issue is not about food. My struggle began at a time in my life when I was dealing with massive emotional stress.  In the fall of 2010 I was sexually assaulted and during that same time, had recently left a relationship and entered into another unhealthy relationship (both unrelated to the assault) quickly after. With my life in disarray, and my emotions crying for help, food was something that I could control. 

      Or so I thought.

      Note: This post is on MY battle. I do not believe that everyone on a restrictive diet has orthorexia.  Though, this post may raise awareness that 'diets' can become an obsession. And can be a 'gateway.' Most of all... listen to your BODY. Always.

      It was a slow progression. For much of 2011 I was 'tweaking' if you will, still maintaining a pretty 'healthy' diet and body weight but experimenting with elimination diets. And in 2012, I tweaked a bit more and become increasingly strict with what I allowed into my body. Following my hernia surgery in December of 2012, I became even more fixated on eating healthy, weighing in at 94 pounds at my doctor's appointment just a few weeks ago. 

      And then I got sick. Twice. And weighed 'who-knows-what' and then I landed myself in the ER with severe abdominal pain. This pain that I was feeling was on the surface, not dangerous. But the underlying cause - in sum, was that my body just did not have the reserves to sustain me while being sick nor did it have the strength to recover 'like a normal person.' 

      A healthy body is a guest-chamber for the soul; a sick body is a prison.
      — Francis Bacon – an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist and author
       

      No doctor has ever told me that I should not eat the foods that I have eliminated from my diet. I truly believed that I was doing the best and healthiest thing for my body. I eliminated entire food groups. No processed foods, no packaged foods aside from bars and sweet potato chips, no refined sugar, no corn, no beans, no grains at all except for oats and brown rice (so no gluten, millet, spelt etc), no yeast, no soy, no dairy, and very limited other starches.

      The consequences to this type of restrictive eating are massive.

      The side-effects listed below are side-effects that I experienced. These are not researched and therefore I do not know if they apply to others with orthorexia/restrictive dieting. 

      Physical Side-Effects:

      • Insufficient nutrients/ malnourished
      • Insufficient calories
      • Dangerous weight-loss / unhealthy BMI
      • Decrease in energy 
      • Dangerously low blood pressure
      • Insomnia
      • Hormone inbalance
      • Loss of appetite

      Emotional Side-Effects:

      • Anxiety 
      • Obsessive-Compulsive behavior (measuring food, listing out meals, only eating at certain times)
      • Fear (of food/ingredients)
      • Depression
      The spirit cannot endure the body when overfed, but, if underfed, the body cannot endure the spirit.
      — St Frances de Sales

      There were many signs along the way that I chose to not recognize. For every sign, I had an answer. A rather good one, at that. 

      I had one woman I didn't even know straight up ask me: 'Do you eat?' I thought it was the rudest thing I had ever heard. And perhaps it was rude. But maybe it needed to be said.

      During this time, I was cooking, baking, blogging about food and my love of food, helping to guide others in their path to a healthy lifestyle and so the thought that I could have a problem was downright absurd to me. Ha! 

      I would NEVER EVER advise someone else to do the things that I was doing. I re-read what is on my website after acknowledging that I have a problem and thought "Wow, I'm pretty dang intelligent. Why didn't I just listen to myself?" 

      Simply put, I got caught up in my passion. As a friend stated to me: "You know, people take great pride getting taken by their passion. You simply did that."

      quote.jpeg

      I was being dishonest with myself. But most of all, I was not loving myself. I was not nurturing myself and I was not accepting myself. I was loving and accepting myself in ONE condition. I was not loving and accepting myself through thick and thin (pun intended). 

      Although, I was doing all of these wonderful things like reading several different self-help books, doing affirmations, connecting with my spirituality and becoming very aware of myself and my surroundings, I was not recognizing the thing that I needed to face the most.

      I hit bottom.

      Hard.  

      Through all of the deaths, break-ups, moves, sicknesses, and surgeries, this struggle, right here, right now, is by the far the hardest that I have fought. And I am honored and humbled to be able to share my experience.

      And the work begins...

      Some books that I purchased to help me in this journey.

      Some books that I purchased to help me in this journey.

      An eating disorder can be a dead end or a door opening to a life better than you can imagine.
      — Carolyn Jennings

      This Wednesday, I start an outpatient program and will be seeing both a nutritionist and psychologist. I am excited for this journey to begin!

      Rest assured, I am still very much in love with food, cooking, baking and all that it has to offer. I cannot predict how this will unfold, but I can tell you this: 

      My posts will change slightly and my recipes will evolve but I will be here. Learning, pushing forward and sharing my experiences.

      And I have an incredible support system. My family and friends have embraced me with loving arms and for that I am immensely grateful. Thank you.

      With love,

      -AEB 

      Listening to your Gut, Mind & Soul

      Allow me to tell you a little story.

      Over the past two years I have had an intimate relationship with food and yes, at times, a love-hate-relationship with food. Why you ask? In fall of 2010, in the midst of a significantly trying time in my life, I began to experience sudden and intense pain. This initially started as pelvic pain and continued to progress into something that I have now only come to describe as a true conundrum. From pelvic pain, abdominal pain and chronic gastrointestinal issues to joint pain, fatigue, nausea, loss of sleep, weight-loss and nerve pain. That type of pain, combined with emotional distress is downright taxing.

      Let me step back for a moment to address a question that may be lurking in the back of your mind. Prior to this, I was easy breezy when it came to health. I rarely got sick, had a pretty rock solid stomach aside from occasional heartburn when I had too much dairy and I maintained a consistent healthy weight and body-mass-index (BMI) for much of my late teens and early 20s. I ate what I considered a well-balanced diet (which did include gluten, some dairy, yeast, soy), indulged in pastries and candy every now-and-then and exercised regularly.

      So now I'll jump to fall of 2010, when the flow of my atypical symptoms began.

      symptoms.jpeg

      Ashley, meet Google.

      I had diagnosed myself with numerous conditions including Leukemia, HIV, Ovarian Cancer and Lupus to name a few. 

      Mind you, those are all seriously tough diagnosis and while I should have been jumping for joy when I was relieved of those concerns, I slumped into a deeper state of chronic worry. As you could imagine,  emotional distress is the arch nemesis to physical pain and vise-versa.

      I was loosely diagnosed with various conditions including Endometriosis, Interstitial cystitis and of course... neurophysological. Neurophysological came with a complex explanation that in summary, the theory was that my nerves were not firing properly and causing both direct and indirect pain. Hm. OK, I could accept that to a certain point. But I couldn't accept that explanation was the end-all-be-all.  

      So I dug. I dug and researched. And searched. Most importantly, I searched within myself. I knew that there was something more. So much more. When I laid my head down on my pillow at night and felt my body lie there, I felt what I describe as a heaviness. A pulling. I knew that sensation shouldn't be ignored.

      I had this 'gnawing' feeling that what was causing my physical pain was a hernia. I can't quite explain this definitive knowing. All I can say, is that I just new. The thought that it could be a hernia never escaped me and over the years a found several compelling articles that resonated with me.

      Hernias in women  often go undiagnosed because they are not only seen as a 'man' issue but they also tend to present themselves differently.  

      When a woman lies flat on the examining table, the signs and symptoms of a hernia disappear. And the usual exam, an ultrasound, rarely reveals the real problem. Lacking an accurate diagnosis, doctors often send patients to be drugged up by pain specialists and psychiatrists. 

      For many women with these occult, or hidden, hernias, it can take years, if ever, to get the right diagnosis and correct the problem. Women account for only 8 percent of the hernias diagnosed, and doctors simply ‘don’t think hernia’ when women complain of pelvic pain.
      — Dr. Metzger

      A New York Times article, In Women, Hernias May be a Hidden Source of Agony, was the first one that I came upon. I read it and I grew even more certain that this was what was causing the majority of my pain.

      Below are some other articles that I kept with me though the years and showed to various doctors:

      As the cliche goes, 'desperate times call for desperate measures.' I had tried every elimination diet that I had researched. Various herbs, medications, supplements, meditation and other self-help techniques. Not to mention thousands of dollars in medical bills and countless tests, procedures, doctor visits, time off of work and I was still symptomatic.

      While it's nice to have tests that come back 'normal,' there comes a point where you just want to hear someone say "Aha! We found it! You actually have ____ and that is what is causing your symptoms!" When that time doesn't come, you will do virtually anything to figure it out on your own.

      At least, I did.

      To me, the only route I saw in relieving symptoms was through food. Based on the triggers that I did find, my diet was already largely paleo/primal (no grains, no legumes, no unnatural sugar, limited carbohydrates), so the next step in my mind was to be even more strict with my sugar intake. I had a couple theories around this, one being that I may have an excess of fructose in the gut. It was just one more thing to rule out (in my mind).

      Words of caution: Playing doctor on yourself is risky business.

      webmd.jpeg

      So, two years after the onset of my symptoms, in September (2012), I decided to take up the challenge of the 21-Day Sugar Detox. I had high hopes that this would provide some answers. When people hear 'sugar detox,' they tend to think refined sugars, candy, soda etc. Well, I had already cut all of that out long ago. Since I had also already removed grains, legumes, dairy, and unnatural sugars from my diet, the next step and guidelines for the 21-Day Sugar Detox was to remove other sources of carbohydrates (all carbohydrates break down to sugar) so this meant all fruit (fresh, dried or juices) with the exception of one green-tipped banana a day or one green apple. In addition, starchy vegetables were to be removed (so winter squash, sweet potatoes, white potatoes) and alcohol. That my friends, is low-carb.

      How low-carb is too low-carb?

      Do some people need more carbs than others? Is it safe to take up a low-carb diet? And what can going low-carb do to your body?

      Fist and foremost, each meal, snack and trip to the grocery store took that much more planning, that much more research and that much more thought. I recall going out to eat one night while doing the detox. I felt so incredibly hungry before-hand that I ordered a huge burger (sans bun) some mushrooms and vegetables on the side - mind you it originally came with much more including a bun, fries and a chutney. In communicating with my server, I said something along the lines of "Ok, so as long as there are no grains (so, no gluten), dairy, soy, yeast or any sugar then that will be good..."

      What?!? Not only did saying that cause me feel like I belonged in the looney bin, I didn't feel like I was being true to myself. We need to eat what makes our bodies feel good (I'll reiterate here, our bodies, not necessarily what our brain or taste buds are telling us makes us feel good ;)), not what a template, website, book or guide says will make us feel good. I was shocked by the words that were coming out of my mouth. And I had gone completely against my own advice that I would coach others.

      do not eat.jpeg

      At day 13 of the 21-Day Sugar Detox, I made a critical decision to stop. In short, I simply couldn't function. My bouts of hypoglyecemia became extreme despite the amount of food that I was eating to compensate for what wasn't (mainly protein and vegetables), my energy level was non-existent, my weight was dropping too an unhealthy low and I ultimately decided that to continue the duration of the detox could be very dangerous.

      So what was next? I was concerned about eating too much sugar too soon so I started rather slowly, adding in fruit little by little. Then starchy vegetables/squashes, then I added in oats and brown rice in very small amounts (this was the first time I had any grains for about 6 months) and then finally limited amounts alcohol (wine or Ciroc vodka) here and there.

      I continued to add everything back into my daily diet, with the main reason for the starchy vegetables, oats and brown rice, aside from energy was so that I would stop losing weight and in addition, try to gain some. I had hit the lowest weight in my adult life and not only did I feel uncomfortably thin, friends, co-workers and family expressed concern. Note, I am writing that in past tense though I am still very much in the middle of this path in which you will learn more about shortly.

      scale.jpeg

      And then... things got weird...The 'brain-fog' that I once experienced when I ate gluten, came back with vengeance though I was not consuming any gluten. I became dizzy at unexplainable times and would 'get the shakes,' similar to when I'm hungry except it would occur shortly after eating or when I was not hungry. And my body seemed unable to process alcohol.

      I nearly passed out at my sisters after dinner and two glasses of wine (in the span of about 2 hours). I wasn't hungry at all but I was shaking, hot, dizzy etc. and had to eat a bowl of sweet potatoes to recover. That convinced me my body was just not processing alcohol (i.e. sugar) or carbohydrates (also broken down as sugar) properly.

      After banning myself from the infamous search engine, I was yet again sucked into the Google. Because what makes any all symptoms worse? Stress. Worry. Anxiety. And with that carries a heavy weight of desperation.

      My Keto theory...

      My theory is that I unintentionally put myself in a ketosis state. Ketosis is a metabolic state that occurs when your body is not getting enough carbohydrates and sugar and thus your body instead of burning carbohydrates for fuel starts to burn fat and produces a large amount of ketones. Ketones are present in the blood and in the urine. When there are a large amount or too many ketones for your body, a slew of unpleasant and troubling symptoms can occur.

      When the ketones are elevated or you are in a ketosis state (a.k.a non-diabetic ketoacidosis), your body can experience (list not exhaustive): 

      • Excessive thirst (check)
      • Increased urination (check)
      • Fruity or metallic taste in mouth (check)
      • General weakness (check)
      • Loss of appetite (check)
      • Abdominal pain (check)
      • Confusion/brain fog (check)
      • Low blood pressure (check)

      Because I was exhibiting many of the those symptoms, they tested me for diabetes which was negative.

      So, am I 100% certain that this is what happened? No. Am I by definition, a hypochondriac? Perhaps. Though, I'm of the opinion that when someone is in chronic pain without answers, they will go to dire means to seek answers. Is my theory on ketosis just a 'hypochondriatic' conjecture? I don't think so ;) 

      But I do know, that while some people can safely go 'low-carb,' for a time most people cannot or should not for a long period of time. 

      One thing I know for certain, always consult with a physician before making any significant dietary changes. 

      Meanwhile, I had gone back to a trusted doctor, and opted to have an exploratory laparoscopic surgery. He had actually been one of the doctors that was open to the thought that a hernia may be a viable explanation. I knew in my gut, pun intended, that a hernia had been causing my agony for the past two years.

      This surgery was performed last month (November 2012). Some endometriosis adhesions were removed, so that theory wasn't invalidated but it wasn't the cause of my pain. During the surgery, two inguinal hernias were discovered. One on the left and one on the right. The one on the left was quite large and likely what has been causing the majority of my pain.

      Small inguinal hernia on right side of abdomen

      Small inguinal hernia on right side of abdomen

      Large inguinal hernia on left pelvis (AKA, The Big Bastard)

      Large inguinal hernia on left pelvis (AKA, The Big Bastard)

      (Sorry, hope you weren't eating ;)) 

      One month later, yesterday (yes, yesterday December 11, 2012),  I had the hernias repaired. They repair the hernias by using what is called mesh and are also performed via a laparoscopic surgery; which is the least invasive option.

      Was repairing these hernias the answer I have been searching for? There is no way of knowing that just yet but I will say, that although I am in a significant amount of pain from the surgery itself, I feel I have crossed a momentous chasm. And I am on the road to a beautiful recovery.

      I am so very grateful for the unwavering support that I have received from my family and close friends. Truly amazing people in my life. Love to you all.  

      My point? ALWAYS listen to your gut, your  mind and your soul. NEVER give up. NEVER accept what you know to be untrue. Trust yourself...

      Stay tuned dear friends ;) xo

      -AEB