It’s been real, it’s been fun. Bloggers, its been REAL FUN.

Uncategorized

Wrapping up my second semester teaching JMU’s oldest + only advocacy blog, ShoutOut! JMU. If you’re interested in reading about some of the highlights this semester from a student perspective, check out our Social Media Manager’s year-end re-cap:

ShoutOut! James Madison University

@wokewarrior here giving you this semester’s final act. This semester in ShoutOut has been monumental. We’ve accomplished so much this semester. From day one we have championed an unstopped force on this campus. Even from the first day of class we shook shit up. From walk outs on the first day to haters in our comments. We brought our energy to D.C. at the Women’s March and shared our support against sexual assault at this year’s V-Day. We have been on this campus for almost ten whole years- and we have done great work in the classroom, on our campus, and ultimately on the world wide web. It is our hope that the work that we have done this semester and every other semester, has found itself in your hearts and minds.

Here’s a !ShoutOut of the great work that we did this semester and promise to keep it going…

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Where I’m From

home, marriage, personal, Uncategorized

I wrote this poem in the summer of 2018 during my 3rd summer teaching with the Valley Scholars Program at JMU. We began our summer program with a prompt encouraging students to think about where they are from – the home space that defines them – as a framework before visiting Montpelier (James Madison’s house). What I wrote that day felt familiar, which is I suppose, exactly how it should be.

Today, in the Shenandoah Valley, I am missing my home place in Wisconsin a bit extra, and felt like sharing the poem I wrote that day:

I Am From:

I am from sandlots and money trees

From Shake n’ Bake and Pabst Blue Ribbon

I am from the tree house with the broken ladder

Cozy, colorful, busting at the seems.

I am from lavender,

Soft and sleepy, like my mothers hands after a bath.

I’m from shop picnics and full belly laughs,

From Bob and Sandi.

I’m from the “Can I get an extra hand?” and “You’ll learn as you go.”

From “Cast your line out” and “Just be patient.”

I’m from the town of Jenny,

Kielbasa, cabbage, and white potatoes.

From the game of squirt gun tag ending with cracked skull and butterfly bandage.

From the dad who offers you food no fewer than 3 times.

From the treasure chest basements spread across four moves,

Dusty and resilient,

Persistent to a fault.

 

Unqualified

Uncategorized

I was finally feeling myself hit a stride with Wahls. Over a half year into a way of eating that revalued the way I relate to food, confident in my meal prep and strategies to reach toward my 9 whole & and holy cups of deeply colored, leafy green, and sulfur-rich veggies and fruits each day. The euphoria of being able to get through a day without entire body exhaustion, of not being defeated by the common cold, of being able to breath through both nostrils – may have gone to my head.

As I approached my one-year MS-anniversary,

I started to think about my progress with Wahls in relation to the number of followers it generated, compliments it garnered, or relative praise about my constructive response to being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I preached the Wahls gospel to anyone willing to listen, and began to see the American Standard Diet with general disdain and eventually, disgust. I projected onto food outside of my Wahls-window in the same way that I used to do to my body after a hearty and ravenous food binge – I looked at it as unworthy, disgraceful, and embarrassing.

This cognitive shift in how I appropriated the Wahls Protocol did not happen quickly. It was pretty insidious, convincing me I was ahead of the game, reveling in the “healing” way of eating I’d finally unlocked. Before I get too far into this confessional, an atonement for my silence and dwindling highlight reel of foodstagram glory—let me situate one thing first. I haven’t given up on Wahls. I haven’t given up on the Autoimmune Protocol. Both ways of knowing and eating and moving through the world are meaningful, radical, and entirely worthwhile.

But, today, on World MS Day, I am reconciling to one big truth: I am unqualified.

I don’t know how to run an Instagram account worthy of garnering Teri Turner levels of followers. I am sick of eating my dinner cold so I can orchestrate the perfect photo. The moment I find out what hashtags are trending and build them into my posts to elicit more traffic, they are irrelevant. I am embarrassed of the amount of times I ask my husband to repeat something because I was transfixed on Paleo Bailey’s insta-stories more than the sound of his voice. Most of all, I’m not a subject matter expert on Wahls or AIP, and most days, even when I feed myself and check ALL the boxes, I still feel like a fraud.

Recently, I received a Facebook message from a mutual friend thanking me for my commitment to Wahls and for making my food journey public. I was so encouraged by this message – it reminded me of why I was sharing my autoimmune journey at all to begin with. At the same time, I felt like such a massive phony. The arrival of this message coincided with my visit home to Wisconsin – and I didn’t abstain from any of my favorite Milk Mecca summer treats. I ate ice cream (with abandon), I had cheese, I ate bread, I drank beer! (GASP). Now, I know that every right-minded follower of my personal journey with food and MS and healing would not look at these detours as absolute, deafening failure. Unfortunately, this is where my longstanding relationship with food and my propensity toward emotional eating rears its ugly head. Each transgression – cheesecurds at Culver’s, the S’Mores blizzard at Dairy Queen, these are not just worth-it “Food Freedom” splurges for me. With each treat, I had to reconcile how far I had diverged from the Wahls Protocol, from anything remotely paleo, and toward the foods that could hurt me, put weight back on me, and send me spiraling into an MS relapse.

That restrictive, shame-laden, and obsessive mindset I’ve always wrestled with has grown and evolved and is barking at me again. This time, the intrusive thoughts sound like, “How come you’re not posting pictures of the ice cream you’re eating? Don’t want people to know you’ve bailed on Wahls?” and “Maybe you gave away your old clothes a little too soon, hey?” and “When was the last time you ate a vegetable?” and “How many more treats til you have a relapse that lands you in the hospital?” among many other, destructive, self-loathing lies. During the last few days, a few critical things have landed on my heart to give way to this post.

When I get obsessive about food, whether it be the “good” food I am supposed to be eating, or the “bad” food that may interrupt my healing process – I start to believe the lie and forget who I am and how I should see myself. I will be the first person to tell you not to shame yourself for the food you eat, to guilt yourself over that extra cookie, and to celebrate EVERY body, regardless of size or our perception of “health.”

But, unfortunately, my body positive posturing doesn’t always transfer through to the body behind it.

I am beginning to realize that my battles with food are far from over, and an inherent part of the struggle is me elevating food to a God position. No, I do not have a shrine in my house dedicated to the worship of food. (Or do I? What is a refrigerator, anyway?) But, I do mean to suggest that my daily life slowly starts to become solely about what I do or do not eat.

The-Sarah-of-diets-past-thinks: How can that be when I’m not counting calories or points or packing my food into specific color-coded containers?

With a whole new genre of red flags, I have managed to once again make food an idol in my life. A litmus test by which I succeed or fail. Certainly, the number of followers I have on Instagram, the number of vegetables I eat in a day, and the indulgences I allow myself have absolutely no bearing on how God sees me, but that doesn’t stop the broken bells inside of me from ringing out:

You’ve messed up again.

You’re too far gone.

You’re a fake.

On Sunday morning, I was walking out of my parent’s apartment toward my car and I looked down at my feet. They looked swollen and round (no doubt to the credit of increased inflammation from refined sugar and dairy and gluten), but in my sandals with my chipped toenail polish, they looked like the feet of a little child. I remember thinking, “kid feet” and finding the view really endearing – in the same ways I admire my nephew Myles when he proudly counts to “Surteen” instead of 13. At church that morning the message centered around being willing to approach God as we are, without posturing or posing, as little children do. Little children are confident, in their stained onesies and soaked diapers, simply because they know there is nothing they can do to separate them from or make them undeserving of, the love of their parents.

Kids are bold. My nephew James illustrates this beautifully – as a waterfall of yogurt careens down the side of his chunky thigh and into his diaper, he stares at his mom with a wide, gap-toothed grin and sparkling eyes, knowing with impossible certainty that she loves him just the same now as she did a moment ago when the table (and his body, and his diaper, and the kitchen, and his chair) were clean and pristine.

Hey, God: message received. You saw your daughter with her puffy feet from one too many sweets and gave her eyes to see what you see: kid feet.

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God”

Romans 8:39.

The built-for-Sarah version of this verse might read,

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor the vegetables you do or do not eat, nor the dairy you shame yourself for eating, nor the Instagram posts you fail to make, nor the opinions of other Wahls Protocol bloggers, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God”

The standards of success and failure I have put around my food journey are not from God. They have nothing to do with how God sees me and the worth I have in his eyes. I am chosen. I am loved beyond measure. I am worthy. I am a child of God. The best part: I can’t screw it up. LOUDER NOW: I CAN’T SCREW THIS UP. WHETHER I EAT MY 3 CUPS OF LEAFY GREENS A DAY OR NOT.

Finally, the big revelation I’ve been forming on the tip of my tongue:

I am totally unqualified.

I’m unqualified to be a “food blogger.” I’m unqualified to heal myself with food. I’m not willing to puff out my chest and pretend I’ve got this figured out. I am that little child in my stained ass onesie and I AM UNQUALIFIED. – But it is okay. All the best people are. (I mean I’m not equating my food journey to the crucifixion but like even Jesus was like, can this cup pass? Er no?)

I was given the language to talk through this whole mess a while back, but only just found the words today on our long drive back to Virginia. A friend felt compelled to send a book my way about the relationship between Faith and Creativity — and I believe I cracked it open at just the right moment. The author is familiar, having written one of my favorite books as a kid, A Wrinkle in Time. As she talks about how we convince ourselves out of creativity and into restrictive ways of knowing, Madeleine L’Engle writes,

“We all have glimpses of glory as children, and as we grow up we forget them or are taught to think we made them up; they couldn’t possibly have been real because to most of us who are grown up, reality is like radium and can be borne only in very small quantities. But we are meant to be real and to see and recognize the real. We are all more than we know, and that wondrous reality, that wholeness, that holiness, is there for all of us, not the qualified only.”

So the ephemeral dream of being a full-time Wahls Protocol Food Blogger may shape-shift as God peels back the plans he has for me with food and healing and MS. In the time and space between whatever becomes of this writing and cooking and healing endeavor, this creative pursuit– my wholeness, my status, my healing does not ride on my “success” or “failure” with food. I am more than the pictures that I post. The cups of leafy greens I do or do not manage to consume. I am more than I know, simply because I am the kid of the God that loves me immeasurably more than I could ever ask or imagine.

We are all more than we know.

So where does being unqualified leave my “brand” – my Wahls Newbian efforts, still only in their infancy? To be honest, I’m not totally sure. I am starting to acknowledge, once again, painfully so, that true healing is much more expansive than the food I eat (or don’t eat). And if I continue to punish myself with food — I am doing myself an incredible disservice. I want this writing to reflect the God that loves me – not smoke and mirrors to distract you from the truth about my battles with food.

So, one kid foot in front of the other,

I am freeing myself of expectation, knowing that whether I post or don’t post — whether I prep that perfect Wahls approved meal or not — I am worthy and deserving, more than I know.

 

 

 

 

Wahls Holiday in the Milk Mecca

lifestyle, personal

A 17 hour drive is all that separates me from holidays spent in the company of my family and friends in America’s Dairyland. The warmth of being with family, and in the place I still call home, will feel familiar this year, but the menu will undoubtedly look different.

Last March I was diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis. After a disorienting bout with optic neuritis, three days on IV steroids, and an epic panic attack / steroid crash in front of a room full of my first year college students, extensive blood-work, and a few MRI’s, I arrived at MS central, feeling pretty shook.

For a while, I marinated in the grief of it all, and got really bogged down with the decidedly risky treatment options I would need to sustain FOR.EV.ER. My neurologist and I decided to take the summer to closely monitor the progression of the disease before settling on a treatment option. In that time, I did my second round of Whole 30, and started reading about Terry Wahls. Summer came to a close, and new lesions had developed in my brain — so foregoing a medical intervention wasn’t a smart option.

Fast forward to the present, where I’ve begun the arduous process of implementing both a medical + dietary intervention to my MS. Because it is my hope that someday I can manage my MS solely with dietary intervention, I’ve been in a serious relationship with the Wahls Protocol since July. My consistent daily eats are Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Egg-Free, Refined Sugar-Free, Legume-Free, and Soy-Free.

Q: Without all those things, what’s even left?

A: A shitload.

I strive to eat 9, niner, NINE, cups of deeply-colored, sulfur-rich, and nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables EVERY day + plus good quality protein, and occasionally, when I muster up the gullivers to do so: organ meat.

The bottom line for me with Wahls is this: it’s the only dietary (meaning I don’t have to pop pills to wake up in the mornin) intervention clinically demonstrated to fight MS fatigue. For that reason alone (not including all the other dope benefits, like being able to poop regularly) I will fight to keep this way of feeding myself and my body up.

Last year the holiday season in Wisconsin meant turkey slathered in butter, gravy made with white flour and cornstarch, potatoes mashed with butter, heavy cream, sour cream, and buttermilk ranch, pies upon pies made with white granulated sugar, Philadelphia-filled cheesecakes, homemade whipped cream, and beyond fluffy, buttery dinner rolls, sliced and filled with (you guessed it) more butter. I’m not saying my family could kill Paula Deane with our cooking, but maybe a strong and enduring coma.

I don’t disclose the contents of our (and most Midwestern) ((and most American)) family’s turkey day buffet to evoke shame or make you feel bashful about butter. (Girl don’t be bashful, girl back it up.) I salivate fondly over these days and foodspired memories, but recognize in a deep + profound way that I cannot afford to eat this way anymore. With MS doing its best to ravage my body + brain, I’ve gotta fill up my life bank with as much good food monies as I can. Jah feel?

So this holiday season, you’re welcome to join me as I bake my way through my old holiday haunts in a GFDFEF (errything free) kinda way, stumbling and spilling, but hopefully bringing smiles and fulfilled tummies to my family.

TBH I believe everyBODY can benefit from learning to eat this way, but I won’t force it on you. Unless you’re my family– in which case– welcome to dinner, the butter is dead. Well, to clarify, the butter has been clarified… it’s called Ghee now and is free of the dairy things that made my sinuses (see also: my whole body) inflamed for decades and led me to antibiotics every.single.winter.

Thanks for being a Wahls Newb with me. Stay tuned for recipes, insights on my love affair with probiotics + good poops, how I borrow from AIP principles, and MORE.

No matter how you eat your turkey, lets all give MS the bird this year. | Sarah Jean

I Was a Teenage Mouth Breather: my life with chronic sinusitis

food, lifestyle, personal, sinusitis, Uncategorized, weight loss

In the moments when I have Facebook activated, (namely during politically neutral times, roughly 2-5 days a month), Facebook likes to remind me (only me, I assume) of my “memories.” On this day last year, I decided to embark on my first round of Whole 30. In the fall of 2016 I had suffered with chronic sinusitis and had completed 5 rounds of different, powerful, and increasingly gross, antibiotics. I mean it wasn’t all bad, it’s not everyday you get prescribed Anthrax-killing-strength Cipro and live to tell the tale. To be sure, I have had increasingly difficult sinus health since college, and every year it seemed to be more pronounced and unmanageable than the last.

I rationalized different causes for my mucus-defined life for a long time. I was a smoker from my junior year of high school til I turned 25, so that could’ve been the culprit. I have allergies to pet dander, and I was a cat owner for the better part of my early 20’s, so that could’ve been the culprit. I lived in Iowa, with excruciating cold and wind and a team of speech students who took turns getting sick, so that could’ve been the culprit. If you keep up with Greek mythos, Hippocrates would say I was of a phlegmatic temperament, and my body just produces an excess of (you guessed it) phlegm, so that could’ve been the culprit.

Needless to say, there were a lot of potential culprits for my constant congestion. By November of 2016, I was seeing an ENT on a bi-weekly basis, and he had scheduled a CT scan to investigate. The results of the CT scan showed my severely deviated (and yet, still charming) septum, and a few marked blockages in my left sinuses, but nothing my ENT deemed surgery worthy if I could live with the discomfort and semi-constant sinus flare.

In late December of that year, while home in Wisconsin, we visited our former co-workers and I ran into my training spirit animal Barb. She looked radiant, and I was all, WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU DOING TO MAKE YOU LOOK LIKE AN ANGEL BABY. She and I both have had our unique and similar journeys with weight-loss, but have always seemed to err on the side of loving our bodies and owning our shapes. Beyonce wasn’t built in a day, and all that. But the weight-loss she had experienced was really secondary to me — she just looked so radiant and so strong– and I had to ask her. She told me about Whole 30, and basically gave me everything I needed to get started.

A few weeks later, with my hubby on board, we started our first round of Whole 30. Convincing 2 Wisconsinites that giving up dairy in all its forms for 30 days is a “good” idea is peppered, nay, DRENCHED with skepticism. In our daily lives we didn’t really drink a lot of cow’s milk, but I cooked and baked with butter constantly, cheese was a grocery staple, I ate yogurt every morning, we bought cream cheese by the Costco brick (yes, they make this, and it could kill a man if thrown), and pizza, stuffed cheesy bread, quesadillas, GRILLED CHEESE — these were our junk food soul food splurges of choice.

I mean I won Gideon’s heart with a homemade German Chocolate Cheesecake, a banana cream toffee pie, buttercream frosted cupcakes, my luscious (toot, toot) grilled pear & cheddar cheeses, and so. many. servings. of Culver’s custard. Our love language centered on dairy (and probably some mutual understanding of the toots associated with such a love). Now, the conversation about how radically changing the way you eat effects a relationship is another post for another week (and a time when I’m not on a Whole 30 and can have a glass of wine) — cause y’all — that transition is a still-in-progress PROCESS. Suffice to say, 30 days without our creature comfort foods would be a challenge.

In the first few weeks of our first Whole 30, I felt such a dip in energy. I was hacking up all this mucus crap constantly and I felt like my body was trying to kill me. I looked forward to when the 30 days were up and I could return to my morning routine of over-night oats made with Greek yogurt, and evenings with a glass of wine and a thick slice of cheese. Oh, and ice cream. On our honeymoon we toured the Ben and Jerry’s factory in Vermont. To say we MISSED ice cream is an understatement. Toward the end of our Whole 30, I had to admit I was feeling better. I was having oddly regular poops, sleeping better, and breathing better (like through my nostrils even– who knew a nose wasn’t just a decoration??).

Even so, when the 30 days were up, we crash landed. My first post Whole 30 meal had cheese all over it, and while I was eating it I felt like someone was shoving pipe cleaners in my nose. After the meal, my nose was stuffed and I returned to being, as Eleven would say, a mouth breather. I held onto many of the meals I learned to prepare during that first round, but didn’t really think to permanently avoid the foods the program had eliminated. I mean, its normal for humans to eat dairy on a daily, right? Its in the food pyramid for gosh darn sakes! They wouldn’t put it there if it wasn’t good for EVERY BODY. Period. Full stop.

Hi denial, it’s me, Sarah. You have a dairy allergy. You’ve probably always had it, and your body is getting progressively less awesome at fighting it, and that’s why your sinuses keep starting on fire and spewing dragon sauce everywhere. Maybe stop eating a cheese and see what happens. Just an idea.

Fast forward to some number of months later and I’m navigating an MS diagnosis, and I’ve decided on the fly to implement another round of Whole 30. This round felt familiar and empowering, and seemed to cut through my ever-looming fatigue shadow. After this round, I knew pretty definitively that dairy was a problem for me. A constant cause of inflammation, the cheesy kryptonite to my Super Sarah. Around the completion of this Whole 30, I was researching the Wahls Protocol and figuring out how I might go about eating this way (which is to say, dairy free, gluten free, refined sugar free) forevsies.

I’m currently embarking on my 3rd round of Whole 30 as a kind-of reset to the loss of routine that comes with the holiday season. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t binge on pizza and port wine cheese spread in the great state of Wisconsin, but I definitely didn’t eat my 9 cups of fruits & veg errrryday, and I definitely ate upwards of 2 of my mom’s butter-lovin’ famous Christmas cookies, and I definitely ate a whole darn donut during our family’s weekly Sunday fried chicken n’ donuts breakfast.

Now, I’m not divulging my indiscretions to get them off my chest like this is an old-school confessional booth, friends. I don’t feel ashamed of these indulgences like I might have during the diets of my yesteryear. Instead, what I felt was more like trepidation. I knew that my body would react, respond, revolt– in some way, shape, or mucus form. And boy did she. My immune system was already on the fritz after catching the Norovirus from my deeply generous nephews, and the introduction of these inflammatory foes during my recovery was ill-advised, to say the least.

In came the whopper of sinus infections like an unwanted Owen Wilson, You, Me, and Dupree style. After blissful months and months and (what?) months of sinus-infection free living (UNHEARD OF), my face felt like it had been beaten with tiny, heavy, sledgehammers from the inside out. And the mucus. Laawwwwwd the mucus was like a Culver’s concrete mixer without any of the Wisconsin-fresh farm charm. My words to my husband the morning after Christmas were as follows: “Everything hurts and I’m dying.”

Thankfully, I am more adept at healing myself in ways that do not include taking 2-4 Mucinex a day (which I obviously never did, of course not, especially not even after my ENT informed me that unless I was making Meth I should probably stop buying them). So with some combination of manuka honey, gallons of hot tea, hot baths with essential oils, sleep, bone broth, 3 boxes of kleenex and fairy dust, I am finally on the mend (just in time to meet my new students who are probably all raging with post-holiday illnesses – you know I love y’all deeply but come on, wash yo hands n bring you a kleenex).

All this to say, happy, sappy 1 year Whole 30 Anniversary to me. If not for this program, I wouldn’t have been able to isolate Dairy as one of the most prominent causes of my chronic sinusitis, and I’d probably be knee deep in a cheese/booger mash right at this moment, breathing through my mouth, as it were. Cheers to the New Year, may all your resolutions be revolutions (even if they are only just about the size of a nostril).

— Sarah

 

 

All’s Wahl that Ends Wahl: Wahls & Weightloss

food, lifestyle, personal, Uncategorized, weight loss

In the frenzy of promotional e-mails that made up post-Turkey Day shopping, I opened a screaming good deal for Gap.com. Gap Denim, pretty much always excluded from any promotion, was not only included, it was 50% off. Holy shnikes. A shit-storm of emotions swirled around me while my fingers hovered above my home row keys (#showingmyage). I wasn’t just going to buy a pair of jeans from The Gap, I was going to buy a size 14, which I likely haven’t worn since age 14. To understand the weight of this moment, I probably need to brief you on a few earlier chapters.

I’ve alluded to my battles with the emotional abuse of food in my previous post, and that will help to provide context for the feelings of value and self-worth I was taught to associate with a body image I never seemed to possess. You’ll also note from that post, some 28 years later, I’ve come to a process place of acceptance and self-love with my bedraggled bod– loving her in all her forms for all she does and can do– like keep me alive.

Having said this, I won’t pretend that weight loss hasn’t always been in the foreground of my life, even in the many.moments when I did not want it it to be. From third grade forward, the message of my body as a danger to my health, a slippery slope toward chronic illness, was made visible to me by doctors, nutritionists, immediate and extended (oh bother) family members, peers, bullies, and my closest friends. I don’t remember a day that Gym Class didn’t feel like an act of betrayal, a year when Physical Fitness Testing wasn’t demoralizing, or an impending Fall when I thought of all the sports I couldn’t try out for, lest I have to expose my body in a locker room more than required.

In my pursuit of weightloss, tangible results didn’t always evade me. In high school I lost nearly 60 pounds doing The Fat Flush, which I quickly rectified my freshman year of college through a combination of home sickness, drinking for sport, and day-old Toppers Stix. Later, I would rekindle a relationship with Weight Watchers, with a friend holding me accountable, and lose about 35 pounds. With a thousand other stories from then to now, I will simply say: I am a human being who has come to know the ebb and flow of her body weight and the seasonal wardrobes reserved for loss & gain.

With this embodied knowledge comes a keen ability to weather the words of well-intentioned observers who take to noticing your loss and gain. As a very little girl, I remember my (now deceased) great-aunt loudly confiding to my mother that I really needed to lose some weight. Right now, it was cute, but it wouldn’t be when I grew up, and I really could be very pretty if I just shed some of those pounds. In another moment I remember standing in line at Subway with my (now deceased) grandmother as she commented on what I needed to eat to become thin. As a young woman, any momentary weight loss was peppered with phraseology about how “good” I looked “now” and how they “could really tell in my ________ (insert part of my body that does not need your observation or commentary to be worthy, valid, and beautiful).”

Just as I craved food to fill my empty, hurting spaces carved by bullies and the enemy and self-doubt, I also desperately desired to be something so much less, to take up less space, to have a body less like a backpack and more like a kite. I felt the whiplash contradiction in the way I loved and hated food, the Stockholm I came home to in the body I was forced to find harbor. I want you to know that it is hard for me to write about these memories. I want you to know that I don’t have to dig too far to remember exactly how those days felt in my skin, to embody self-loathing in such a visceral way.

I write about this now not to evoke your sympathies, or to reprimand you, or to make you feel badly about your own history with weight loss, but to suggest that perhaps the ways we have been taught to conceive of one another’s bodies are not straightforward or obvious. Losing weight while battling chronic illness (whether it be neurological, mental, digestive, etc) is not the victory road experience we see depicted on The Biggest Loser. Instead, it is wrought with both-ands. Confusion, joy and grief, and an uninvited invitation to fully revisit how you see your own body. I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot of work for a Monday morning when I’m just tryna put on my work clothes that don’t.fit.me.any.more.

Right now, my body is shedding excess weight, just as Terry Wahls said it would, as a result of a loss of inflammation, and as a result of eliminating gluten, dairy, and most grains from my diet. And hey, this hasn’t been easy. I am working really, really hard to implement the Wahls Protocol — but I am not doing it to lose weight. I am doing it to fight my Multiple Sclerosis, give me an edge over MS Fatigue, and God-willing, put this disease in check while I am physically capable of doing so. For the first time in my life, I am pursuing relationship with food that has jack to do with the self-loathing I associate with weightloss, and everything to do with a feeling of empowerment and self-love.

To bring all of this back into conversation with these damned blue jeans, let me just say I spent 5 years slinging Gap Inc denim to lean and sensibly curvy and average-sized female bodies to put myself through college. I salivated over the knee caps that could fit into non-stretch denim without grunting and pulling. I winced with envy at how easily their waistbands demanded a belt, for fashion and function both. And I spent plus-sized chunks of my paychecks on the sizes not sold in stores, that never looked quite like the silhouettes I unpacked, folded, stacked, and faced just so.

So this year, noting that my formerly size 18 jeans no longer fit, and my size 16 jeans gap in the back and sag in the crotch, I thought, what the heck– why not– let’s order a pair of the highly exalted Gap jeans of our youth. This past week, the laughable size 14 jeans arrived on our doorstep. I unboxed them in the bedroom and giggled to my husband, “there’s no way that these are going to fit.” I shook them out, and decided to humor myself. I wriggled the jeans on, and in a near-sisterhood-of-the-traveling-pants moment, zipped them without even pulling a muscle. I looked at my thighs and hips in the full-length mirror and felt a sense of satisfaction coupled with a dizzying sense of dislocation. Why now?

Let me take this moment to apologize in advance for my body and brain’s knee-jerk response to compliments regarding my physical appearance. In fact, you may have already heard my snappy comeback to the tune of “Thanks, MS is doing wonders for me.” or “Yeah, multiple sclerosis is really paying off.” And if I have offered you these platitudes, please, oh please, consider it in the framework of the girl, the young woman, the me, outlined above. Know that she fought for weightloss for the greater part of her life, and having been freed from the chains of that prison, isn’t seeking after losing these days.

Wearing the new jeans out and about, I have cautioned myself to weather my confidence with a healthy sense of remembering the reckless ways I have fallen into bed with weightloss before. How I hurt myself and commanded my body to shrink in order to be valuable or worthy of praise. I hug my thighs (perhaps a little smaller now) and remind them that at any size, they are beautiful. They have been beautiful. Not just now, but always, and frankly, forever.

Forever yours in blue jeans,

Sarah Jean

 

 

Letting Down My Wahls: Autoimmune Eating Insights from an Emotional Eater

food, lifestyle, personal

As I alluded to in an earlier post, I am pretty sure I felt my insides get tugged on by an invisible thread that connects my person to the candid author and foodie extraordinaire, Andie Mitchell. After reading her book, It Was Me All Along, I honestly felt like I had just read a page out of one of the many journals I kept as a kid, teen, young adult, young woman, and hey, maybe last week. Without going into too many of the personal parallels we share (family problems with alcohol abuse, depression, anxiety, over-worked mama, falling in love with gay men) I want to wax poetic for a moment about my abusive, lifelong, relationship with food.

As a kid, I remember grabbing at my sweet cherub love handles and pressing curse words into them with every ounce of self-hatred I could muster. I remember writing diary entries about the horrors of back-to-school shopping because none of the clothes I wanted to wear (like the iconic Old Navy Polar Tech Vest or the sensible velveteen jumper) fit me. I remember hating my body for the things it wasn’t and wouldn’t be for me– for the ways it made itself visible without my permission and made me invisible at the same time. Like Andie Mitchell says — a part of me is grateful for my Rubenesque kid body. She forced me to develop a personality and to learn to take the hits life presents with a grain of salt.

All at once, I rejected my body, sought after diets from 3rd grade forward — but found solace in food. If my brother hurt my feelings, my mom could comfort me with a spin through the drive-thru for a double cheeseburger and fries. If that asshole Tim Swan was mean to me in Catechism class (which he was), I could walk a block to the laundry mat behind our house and fill up on vending machine candy bars to take back to the safety of my bedroom. In high school, my friend and I would circle the grocery store after particularly bad days and buy whatever looked like a hug, bring it back to her room, and fill up. On those days, I went home to torment myself in my ashamed fullness, and she disappeared to her bathroom for similar reasons. I spent time attempting to purge after the binges, but I could never bring myself to see it to fruition. I am wildly grateful for that, now.

Somewhere in my early-mid 20’s, I stopped hating the body that carried me through life. I started to be more tender with her. I held her, even in the places we both know caused us hurt. And just as I surrendered to the body I have, I started to give her permission to do the things she wanted to do but never felt allowed to try. We did yoga together, in public. We learned to devour food we cooked ourselves and truly savor every bite. We lavished other people with our cooking, unashamed to let another person see us eat.

Somewhere concurrent with this timeline, we gave ourselves permission to stop trying to lose weight. The great majority of my life was spent implementing crash diets and failing, and failing, and failing. And just as I surrendered to the weight of my body, I started to find that I was developing a shape in my midsection, definition between my ankles and calves, and something of a feminine jawline. At every turn, I remind myself that I made a decision to love my body in its entirety, how it moves, its hows and whys — and that this change did not negate or amplify that love.

Skip ahead a couple chapters to when this recovering emotional abuser of all things food and body shaming is newly married to the kindest human being, and learning to feed herself along with another human. In my first year of marriage, I believe my husband started to witness my patterns with emotional eating. It was easy to hide my occasional reactionary food ways in the year we spent long-distance. But when I ordered pizza on a whim after a particularly horrific speech team meeting without telling him, as he sat next to me on the couch, it wasn’t so discreet any longer.

Seeing the way I treated myself after moments like this, my sweet husband was fully on board for our first round of Whole 30 in January of 2017. In doing this elimination style way of eating, I looked at whole foods in a way I had not before. I thought about vegetables and proteins as puzzle pieces I could fit together to create something balanced, nourishing, vibrant, and delicious — revaluing the way I derived the “comfort” in “comfort food”.

In the Choose Your Own Adventure version of the diary of my life, I probably wouldn’t turn the page to an MS diagnosis. But in the real diary of my life, not too long after that first round of Whole 30, that’s exactly where the story led. By now, you likely know that I have implemented (with stumbles and shortcomings) The Wahls Protocol as a means of fighting my MS fatigue — and ideally– healing some of the damage this pesky autoimmune disease has wrought on my brain.

Even as I choose to embark on this way of eating as a means of healing and loving my body, I still carry with me that girl told to hate her body, while splitting open Double Stuffed Oreos to ease the sting. All that to say, what does it look like to continue to recover from emotional overeating and binging while you’re knee deep in a program like Wahls? I will tell you, first, it’s not as sexy. If that pizza binge comes knocking, the pizza at the door has a gluten-free crust and no cheese on it, and just doesn’t have the same grease-sparkle it once did. Second, ever the crafty emotional eater, you learn how to abuse the healthy choices you’ve introduced into your daily life. Did you know that sweet potatoes are particularly high in sugar and carbohydrates and taste exceptional with melted coconut butter and cinnamon on top? Did you know that unrefined, virgin coconut oil, when melted with cocoa powder and maple syrup makes an incredible, insatiable, chocolate ganache? Or, did.you.know. that there are myriad gluten-free, dairy-free sweet and savory treats gracing our grocery store shelves, at this VERY moment, WITHOUT SUPERVISION?! Did you know?!

Certainly, the moment exists for all of these delicious foods. But as a human being with a tendency toward excess, my body is learning a new vocabulary for what the emotional abuse of my food looks like. To be honest, in an elimination program like Wahls, there are sincere moments of feeling like the toddler screaming at the grocery store because Mom won’t buy (or let you eat) the cookies you want. In some moments, I do miss the me that ate Chinese buffet with abandon, ate stuffed crust pizza backwards, and skipped the bowl when Ben & Jerry’s was in play. The emotional labor required to do the work of meal planning & prepping is (dare I say) HARDER than the alternative.

But, as I continue to find, day in and day out of implementing Wahls — my body — that same body I decided to love in her every capacity, can do so much more if I feed her this way. She finds that her nasal passages are clear, not puffy and constantly in need of Flonase & antibiotics & Mucinex to facilitate breathing. She finds that her body hurts less, and feels lighter with each step. She finds that in the morning, she can lift herself out of bed, and find joy in the opportunity to strive toward 9 cups of fruits & veggies (even when she falls short of the goal) that day. Some days are harder than others to keep tumbling forward, but the vitality I am only beginning to feel is pretty unparalleled to any other moment in my adult life. (And that’s WITH the MS diagnosis, y’all.)

Lest you thought this #wahlsnewb had it all figured out,

I will forever miss pizza.

Love & light to you on your own healing journey,

-Sarah Jean

 

 

Turkey Day 2017: Balls to the Wahls

food, lifestyle, personal, Uncategorized

My first Wahls Protocol Thanksgiving has officially come to pass. And it did not pass modestly, y’all. It passed like the giant turkey float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. That is, if the float got a hole in the side and took off air-screaming down the parade route. What I mean to say is, this holiday was a true whirlwind from the 17 hour drive that started at dawn til the last bites of my inaugural Wahls feast were consumed at dusk.

The fear: My goal in implementing Wahls for my family was to make it taste and feel like Thanksgiving. Could a dairy diehard family like ours feel satisfied with an entirely dairy-free meal? Wouldn’t we feel deprived? Would my family smile and offer me their support while quietly feeling a little cheated? For this reason, I did not go gently into that good night. I prepared and planned to produce an entirely Wahls compliant rendition of our family’s turkey day faves.

The fatigue: When I arrived in Wisconsin 4 days before T-day, I took care to plan out my menu and grocery shop in advance to avoid overwhelming crowds and allow ample time for being choosy about my ingredients. After a trip to Costco, the local natural food store, good ol’ County Market, and (oye vay) the neighborhood Wal-Mart, I had acquired the produce + high quality cooking oils + gluten free flours necessary to get down to bidness. What I perhaps neglected to consider (or give weight to) was the way my body would feel about taking on this uncharted turkey day challenge. MS fatigue for me is not like, I feel groggy and could use a nap. It’s like, if I didn’t set an alarm in the morning, I might actually sleep for days.

When I am being diligent about Wahls and fighting to get my 9 cups in, I can actually slice through this fatigue pretty swiftly and with pep in my step to boot. But, a 17 hour cross-country drive with stops at chain restaurants and the Ohio Turnpike’s finest rest plazas doesn’t necessarily yield ample opportunities to find + fill myself with 9 cups of deeply colored, sulfur-rich, nutrient dense fruits and vegetables. I’m not saying my hands were tied and I was forced to eat a Whopper, friends. But even while being mindful about the choices I did make on the trip, my body was beat up, achy, and that glorious devil MS fatigue reared its ugly head. One morning home, I woke up feeling like my arms and legs were made of lead and wondered how I’d convince myself to get out of bed. Update: I’m still in bed and this post is just a fanfic about what I wish I’d done on turkey day.

KIDDING. I kid. I know that (unfortunately, EFF YOU, MS) many folks in the MS community with disease far more progressive than mine legit have days like that. I’m not trying to make light or be irreverent. All that to say, (whines) I was tired & achy & experiencing these super painful cluster headaches behind my right eye for about 3 hours a day for about 3 days solid. When T-Day arrived, I was assisted by my incredible mom (talk about role reversal), and my loving hubby, there to give backrubs + hugs whenever needed (which was often).

The food: My menu was not unlike what probably graced the table at many (those fortunate & privileged enough to celebrate) American homes this past Thursday. The golden gobbler. The sweet & savory sweet potato casserole. The citrus driven cranberry sauce. The predictable (but oh so necessary) pumpkin pie. And a slew of decadent side dishes harnessing the flavors of the season. I wouldn’t dare claim credit for the recipes that enabled me to make my first Wahls Thanksgiving possible. Pinterest + The Complete AIP Resource Library saved my toosh and gave me so many accessible options to choose from. So, without further ado, here’s the finished product, with links to follow of the humans who helped to harness such magic:

Implementing the Wahls Protocol on a daily basis is challenging & requires persistence. Implementing the Wahls Protocol during holiday time when the expectations of a classic, comforting, + indulgent meal are present is even more challenging, IMHO. To that end, I was lucky to have an internet flock of paleo & AIP foodies helping me to bring this meal to fruition. The turkey was loved up with ghee (I added cheesecloth around the outside to really hold the herbs and ghee close to the skin) courtesy Jay’s Baking Me Crazy. The meat was falling off the bone & so, so, so juicy. The sweet potato casserole came courtesy Cupcakes OMG, and it did not disappoint. Not hyper-sweet like the sweet potato casserole of my childhood, but decadent and warm and so rewarding. The green bean casserole courtesy Cassy Joy was honestly an upgrade from the casseroles of my youth. Not simply the suggestion of mushrooms, but forkfuls of baby portobellos in each bite. Rather than cooking up the traditional mashed potatoes, I took a detour and made one of my favorite potato recipes evaaar. Umami Girl, this recipe is from savory heaven, to be sure.

In keeping with my ever present Wahls inspired desire to get my 3 cups of leafy greens in, I made a big ass salad for my butter loving fam. This salad was harvest-y, sweet, & savory. Curly kale + baby spinach + roasted butternut squash (repurposing Skinny Ms’ recipe for acorn squash) +pomegranates + sprouted toasted pepitas. I let the squash cool fully before adding it to the salad and dressed it with a quick whisk soy-free veganaisse + dijon mustard + maple syrup + apple cider vin + avocado oil. Even my dad took a big bowl of this salad, and he believes iceberg lettuce is the be-all, end-all of green & leafy. Cranberry sauce is typically can shaped in our household, but I took advantage of another Cassy Joy delight and cooked up a spicy & sweet take on the traditionally gelatinous canned-mass.

The sweet finish line for this gluten-free, dairy-free, refined sugar-free, soy-free feast came in the form of pumpkin pie & vegan cheesecakes. Neither disappointed, and the crust for the Primally Inspired pumpkin pie was yummy and crusty — just as you’d hope. I will say, take care to make sure you have ample arrowroot flour on hand for this endeavor ’cause ya gonna need it. The sweet little vegan cheesecakes courtesy Minimalist Baker could not fool my seasoned Dairyland taste buds, but they did satisfy my sweet tooth with their delicious creamy and bright taste.

The feelings: Nearly 28 years of being fed and feeding myself with gluten & dairy and it is hard to believe these things only find their way into my daily consumption on accident now. I have a *complicated* relationship with food that can best be explained by my ghost-writer and childhood twin Andie Mitchell in her mirror-to-my-life book It Was Me All Along. That being said, my foray into the Wahls Protocol has been the healthiest (emotionally & physically) relationship with food I’ve ever built. I love feeding myself this way, and I want the people I care about deeply to feed themselves this way too. We have grown so accustom to feeling less than in every which way possible, when our bodies are capable of vibrant, stunning energy & light if only we deposit some moolah into our life bank. With this spirit, I cooked for my family and held my breath while they took the first bites. Actually, that’s not true. I was starving from all the cooking and was mowing down on my salad and green bean casserole. I knew it tasted good. I knew even before I took a bite that it would taste good. What I didn’t know was whether it would taste like Thanksgiving — whether this meal would feel like Thanksgiving. I can’t speak on behalf of my family, but they cleaned their plates. I won’t ask you to take my word for it– so I’ll leave you with the following from my brother (ever the honest critic) who offered this ol’ sage: “I really thought this was gonna suck but it is all really, really good.”

So there you have it. Wahls Thanksgiving, Year the First — of hopefully a shit-ton more. Speaking of which, we’ve got another Wahlsiday just around the corner. Stay tuned in my #wahlsnewb adventure toward bigger health and smaller MS.

| Sarah Jean