Mostly clean. It was June 2012 and I was on the way in to work for another 24-hour shift. When you work a shift that long you need to bring along some necessities – an overnight bag, a large “lunch” box, and a water bottle. I loaded up my stuff and began my two-block walk to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Halfway up the parking garage ramp I began to breathe harder, sweat and had to slow my pace. Seriously? Who was I? What had happened that I couldn’t walk less than a block uphill? I knew that I had gained weight but this was the first time I noticed that it was affecting me. I had started lifting my leg, crossing it over my knee to tie my shoe instead of bending down because my gut was getting in the way but that wasn’t my wake up call. Huffing up a short, steady incline? That did it. I used to dance, cheer, play volleyball, and be a part of the track and field team. I’d done Zumba and worked out on occasion. I was as healthy as a horse. They’re big and still healthy. Big. I was now big.
I made it through the shift then got home, pulled out the dusty scale and hesitantly stepped on. I held my breath. Maybe I should have exhaled that extra air. I looked down, 200.2. Two hundred pounds. I don’t remember if I gasped or cried. I should have fainted. I never expected to see that number. I had gained 60 lbs in six years. I was devastated. I had heard some other nurse practitioners talk about a film called Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead (see the link under Eat Clean resources) and seen some of them bring in green smoothies. Um, gross. Does anyone really think that’s appetizing? Drinking something green is just not natural. I was intrigued about the film so I planned a day to watch it and to think about how to start getting the weight off. It’s humorous but honest. One thing that especially resonated with me was his recognition that health was on the bottom of his priority list. I hadn’t really thought about health. Insert the ironic question – aren’t you a nurse practitioner? Yep. I’m a baby nurse practitioner. I know a lot about helping preterm and sick babies be healthy but had done little introspection. I’d thought about weight loss on and off but not usually in a healthy way.
I grew up in a family that focused on weight, not necessarily health. I’m learning there is a difference. We were occasionally active. My brother and I played sports in school, I enjoyed piano for a few years and had roles in a few plays. Mom took up tennis and dad worked out. In the summers we had fresh vegetables most nights with dinner. But we never talked about “health”. My ability to go on trips, including mission trips, was dependent on how much weight I could lose. One year our family got together for a reunion around Christmas time and watched the movie Elf. It’s hilarious. You know that scene when Buddy the Elf is making breakfast in the city? He loves sugar and loads up a huge bowl of spaghetti noodles with maple and chocolate syrups, pop tarts, mints, M&M’s, and sprinkles. All of us were making grossed-out faces, saying “ewww” and a certain immediate family member pointed to the TV and shouted, “Hey, there’s Carlye.” Talk about mortified. I exiting the room, tried to hide my tears, and vowed I would do whatever it took to “get skinny” – starve myself, throw up, hit myself when I messed up. I had induced vomiting with swigs of ipecac syrup when I was younger. I HATE throwing up. I can’t breathe and it scares me. So thankfully that option was out. That left negative self-talk and being incredibly restrictive about when and what I ate. I stopped eating lunch at school and spent that time in my chemistry teacher’s room talking and working on equations. Yep, I was a nerd. But my teacher was kind and didn’t seem to notice I wasn’t eating. Looking back I don’t know how I made it through cheer practice in the afternoons without falling over. When I’d get home I’d sneak an unhealthy snack up to my room but dinnertime was unavoidable as most of them involved the family around the table. Later in the year things began to turn around. I don’t remember exactly what led to me getting better but God rescued me from that dark time. He used the song, “If You Want Me To” by Ginny Owens to give me hope. A couple of years later when I was a senior in college I tried a liquid, extremely low cal diet for six months. Where was my head? Talk about a metabolism killer. I lost a great amount of weight and thought that made me beautiful but I became obsessed with the scale. No matter how many times I got dizzy and almost passed out in the shower I was losing weight! Then I moved to a new state and started my first full-time job. I gained the weight back within a year and moved on to a prepackaged diet in 2006 – 2007. It was working. That’s when I started training for that sprint triathlon. But when it came time to start cooking on my own I failed. Within five years I had gained all the weight back, plus another 25 pounds. I looked for what was easy and what was comforting. That pretty much catches you up to June 2012 when I had no energy and could hardly walk up a small hill without panting.
Back to the film. In Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, Joe looks at processed foods vs. micronutrients and their effect on the body. He talks about how food is a large part of life. In the South it seems where two or more are gathered you’ll find food. He chronicles his 60-day juice fast, under the supervision of a physician, as well as stories of others who join him on a shortened juice fast. They tell it like it is – how it tastes, how it makes them feel, the frequent trips to the bathroom, and their initial cravings. He talks about having a surprising amount of energy from eating fruits and veggies. Joe’s personal journey including losing weight and being able to come off steroids for Urticaria. Simply amazing. It did wonders for his physical and mental health. I wanted that – the energy, the weight loss, the health! Eating non packaged, fresh, organic food made sense. No one has taken the nutrients out or added anything to it. I googled “how to eat clean” and came across Tiffany McCauley’s website, The Gracious Pantry. Check it out under Eat Clean resources in the menu above.
I learned that eating clean means different things for different people. I started by limiting processed foods and drastically increasing my water intake. I made a grocery list and headed to the store. I shopped the perimeter, loading up on fruits and veggies. Of course this meant two to three trips to the grocery store each week. I cut out meat for the first week then added back chicken. It wasn’t a perfect six months but I felt better and had a lot more energy, and I lost weight. My goal is to eat ~85% clean. There’s not a Whole Foods or other “organic store” near me, not to mention it’s expensive, so I bought organic when my grocery store had it available. Some things I just couldn’t get rid of. I love cheese, ranch dressing and biscuits, none of which are clean, so I took a moderation approach. I had beat myself up long enough. This journey needed focus and grace if I was going to stick with it. I logged what I ate and averaged 1200 calories/day. You can eat a lot of veggies for very few calories. (I’ll share with you how I learned that was NOT enough calories in another entry). I had wonderful support from my boyfriend. We started cooking together and when we ate out we looked for places with clean options. When I shared with my family what I was doing I was met with questions but general support. I had more to learn, and still do, about portions, moderation, nutrient goals, etc. but it was the start of something good, something healthy.