31 months, 51 half marathons – and a whole lot of love

I met Jann at the expo for the Augusta University Half Marathon and 10K in 2016. She told me what she was doing, and I immediately decided I wanted to write her story and share it on here. I hope you enjoy getting to know Jann as much as I have!

Heat and humidity and a hurting hip hit Jann Carlson hard at at mile five of the St. Louis Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in 2016.

“I felt like such a failure,” Jann recalled.

Jann, 63, didn’t want her husband, Mike, 65, to run with her, because she feared she would slow him down. But he could see how frustrated and in pain she felt. That’s why he decided to balance her wishes and his desire to support her by running ahead and then waiting for her until she caught up.

Eight miles later, despite Jann’s feeling as though she was going to pass out, Mike held her arm and told her to cross the finish line. And she did.

“I am so proud of you, LB,” Mike professed to Jann – whom he affectionately calls “LB,” which is short for “Love Bug” – in the medical tent, where she was taken after she passed out. “You did it. We did it.”

This may not have been how Jann imagined completing the 50 States/50 Half Marathons Challenge, but she did it.

Jann is many things, and a failure isn’t one of them. She’s a wife of 38 years. She’s a mom to three children and a grandmother to seven grandchildren. She’s a retiree. She’s also a runner.

Did you say ’50 states’ and ’50 half marathons’?

You betcha – except Jann and Mike completed 51 half marathons to include Washington, D.C.

Overachievers!

“We wanted to include some fitness goals in our retired life,” said Jann, who retired in December 2013. “We didn’t want to wait too long after I retired to get started. Since we had done half marathons before, Mike was playing around on his computer at home one day and came across the 50 State Half Marathon Club website.”

The Carlsons started running long distances around 15 years ago. In this time and before starting the challenge, Jann had completed 22 half marathons and one full marathon. Mike joined Jann in this activity and completed about 15 half marathons and three full marathons, one in which he qualified for the Boston Marathon, which he also completed before the challenge. In addition to the marathons, Mike completed many 70.3 Ironman races and four full Ironman races.

The club sounded interesting to Jann and Mike – shirts, race discounts, the opportunity to meet people from around the country and a trophy or plaque when goal is completed.

“We also wanted to travel the United States, and what a better reason to use to go to a state than to run and then tour it!” Jann said.

The Carlson’s 50 state-plus-D.C. and 51 half marathons challenge began March 2, 2014 with the Little Rock EPIC Half Marathon, where they managed to dodge the ice storm and finish the race before the marathon and half marathon runners were called off the course.

“We had already planned a 20-day cruise in January 2014 and then planned a family trip to Texas in late February,” Jann said. “Mike noticed there was a race in Arkansas on March 2, so we decided to start there since we were already in Texas.”

Jann3Just a few races and states into the challenge, Jann went from being motivated by a flashy medal and found her muse in the club and other runners.

“Seeing other runners push through injuries, weather and illness to finish a race was a wonderful thing to witness and be a part of,” Jann said. “Once we started, there was no way we weren’t going to finish!”

In addition to finishing the 50 state-plus-D.C. and 51 half marathons challenge, Jann and Mike kept a couple other goals top of mind.

  • Spend 7-10 days traveling each state

  • Complete the challenge within three years.

The Carlsons had traveled to many of the 50 states for sporting events, vacations, visiting family, and work but not always together. During their time traveling each state for the challenge, they wanted to visit national and state parks, state capitols, Presidential libraries and museums and see the claims to fame. Mike even found the best hamburger in each state and Washington, D.C. from various lists.

Jann and Mike were having so much fun that the two years and seven months flew by. They had finished their challenge ahead of schedule, even with a month in China, two month-long trips to Hawaii, cruises and other planned family vacations. They made it a point to be home for important family celebrations and obligations and holidays.

Needless to say, the Carlsons weren’t home very much.

“Friends asked, ‘Why do you have a house?'” Jann said with a chuckle.

Heat, hills and humidity

“I have three demons,” Jann said, “and they’re heat, hills and humidity. Believe me, I let those demons affect my performance at many races, but Mike was always there to push me through.”

In addition to the physical aches and pains involved with running, the Carlsons also faced adverse weather conditions, illness and injuries.

In December 2015, in the Delaware race, Jann, who has experienced issues with one of her knees and ankles, tripped over a rock and “did a total face plant around mile 8.”

“But even with blood gushing from my nose, I was determined to finish,” Jann said. “With the help of fellow runners who had Kleenex, baby wipes and Mike’s gloves to cover my nose, we continued to run/walk the remainder of the race.”

Following that difficult experience, Jann and Mike had 20 races scheduled between February and October 2016. But, after finishing the Georgia event, she experienced a bad case of plantar fasciitis.

“The doctor said no more running,” Jann said. “I followed the exercises and persevered through the next several scheduled races while the plantar fasciitis continued to get worse.”

Jann’s physician gave her three choices:

  1. Stop running

  2. Get a shot

  3. Continue with exercises and wear a boot, except when running.

Jann chose option No. 3. However, by wearing the boot on her right foot, she experienced pain in her left hip.

“Don’t race with a chronic injury,” Jann advised. “Heal first, train, and return strong. Plus, it’s OK to walk.”

The couple’s schedule didn’t let up. Between June and October, they had 12 races left. They completed their last 10 races/states in 13 weeks!

Jann said that the traveling in itself posed a challenge, citing eating out at restaurants and being out of her normal routine.

“I gained weight and got slower, because I wasn’t eating and training like I do when I am home,” Jann said. “Even though we hiked a lot, it’s not running.”

The Carlsons finished the challenge October 16, 2016 at the St Louis Rock ‘n’ Roll, in time for the 50 State Half Marathon Club’s annual meet up in 2016 and to go on a 42-day cruise, during which they had no plans to train.

Now that Jann and Mike have completed the challenge, Mike is looking at doing another 70.3 this year. As for Jann, she signed up for a race in Kansas in May to meet up with 50 State Half Marathon Club members and hopes to run some local 5k’s, 10k’s, too, for training purposes. Having completed 76 half marathons to date, she also looks forward to running her one hundredth half marathon.

“Accepting half marathon times of two hours and 35 minutes has been hard,” said Jann, whose fastest half marathon time is 1:53:33 at the age 49, almost 50. “I want the joy back in doing half marathons again, and that is why I am taking time to heal, get strong and lose weight and lose my expectations for my time and just enjoy the race!”

A new experience, a new perspective and person

“This experience showed us that our country is so amazing and beautiful,” Jann said. “We learned so much history visiting all the states, and we met so many amazing people. We found that no matter where we were, people love and are proud of where they are from.”

The impact of this experience on Jann also runs deeper.

“It changed the way I looked at the racing,” Jann said. “When I first started running half marathons, I never walked. I thought I was weak or not prepared if I had to do walk, but after my knee injury, I realized if I wanted to continue to participate in races, I needed to do intervals. Mike showed me I could do intervals and still have good times and feel good too.”

Jann also learned something about herself while on this journey and is using this to grow.

“I learned that I am hard on myself when it comes to the actual race,” Jann said. “I am trying to work on forgiving myself if I have a bad race. I am learning to accept not running a complete race anymore.”

JannJann’s favorite thing about the 50 States Half Marathon Challenge is having experienced it with her husband.

“I had the best running partner in the world to be by my side through the best of races and the worse of races,” she said. “This was our journey. Mike is a great runner, but he decided that he would do this journey by my side, at my pace, and cross all the finish lines together holding my hand – and he did.

“He was by my side, carried my GU and water bottle, whatever I needed. He pushed me when I needed it and always complimented me after the race. I would not have been able to finish some of those races without him by my side. He was really supportive and encouraged me during each and every race. Mike was always proud of me.”

For more information about the 50 State Half Marathon Club, visit www.50statehalfmarathonclub.com.

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While the 50 State Half Marathon Club is comprised of many ages and ability levels, all members have one thing in common: they support each other. “That’s what I miss the most about my break from attending races,” Jann said. “They are definitely part of the motivation to heal, get strong again and continue reach my goal of completing 100 half marathons!”

Tips By Jann

  • When traveling via airplane to a race, always plan to arrive at least two days before a race and pack a carry-on bag with all of your running gear. “We would wash everything when we got home and then repack that same bag for our next race. We had other clothes and shoes to use at home for training runs. When we were on the road for multiple races, depending on the weather we sometimes had to wash at the hotels we stayed in. Only one time did our bags not arrive with our flight and that was because of weather, change of planes and delays. They actually took our carry-on bags, because there wasn’t room on the plane we were transferred to. Luckily it arrived the next day.”

  • Always check your race time and place. “I placed a number of times in my age group. Some of the hardest races for me I received either first or second place in my age group. We actually left a few races without checking our times and age group place and I missed out on extra awards because of that.”

Jann’s Highlights

  • Favorite race was Missoula Half Marathon, Montana

  • Most memorable race: Kona Half Marathon

  • Other favorites: Boston RUN to REMEMBER, Marshall University Half Marathon, Run the Bluegrass, Tulsa Route 66, Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans, Rock ‘n’ Roll Nashville, Bryce Canyon, Myrtle Beach, Ohio Hall of Fame

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All it takes is one: My eulogy for Grandma

I’m convinced that all it takes is one person.

One person to see your true potential… One person to believe in you… One person to pick you up, brush you off and tell you it’s going to be ok when it feels like the rest of the world is trying to knock you down… One person to think that you could do no wrong… One person to love you unconditionally…

That person for me – and for many of us in this room – was my grandma, Nancy Cason Goth.

Grandma – I invite you to call her that, as well – and I had a special relationship. Grandma and I were bonded by so many things: our favorite color … our first name … our perfectionist tendencies and desire for perfect order …

But when she peacefully entered eternal rest on Monday, we were bonded by something even greater:

She chose to take her final breath in the same hospital where I took my first exactly 30 years prior.

April 3 will forever be our special day. While it felt sick and ironic at first to lose the most important person in my life on my birthday, it suddenly dawned on me that she knew exactly what she was doing.

I’d like everyone to take a moment and think about a time when Grandma made a difference in your life – or was the difference … when she came through for you or made you feel special.

For me, it was all of the weekends I spent with her as a young child when my family was living in Mt. Lebanon. I’d hop out of bed at around 6 a.m., awoken by the scent of burnt Eggo Waffles, which I ate by the box across from her at her two-person kitchen table. When I finished my plate, she offered me more, and I always nodded “yes.”

We’d start our day with a 7 a.m. trip to Foodland (do those even exist anymore?!), where she let me push a child-sized shopping cart and in it would go more Eggo Waffles, Rice Krispies Treats, JELL-O chocolate and swirl pudding, and peach rings. We’d then go to Ames for senior citizen discount Tuesdays. After all of that, it was time for pampering at Gary Coslow’s: Grandma would get her hair frosted and permed, and she’d even schedule in time for Martha to French braid my hair – and the appointment always ended with a big grape Tootsie Pop.

We’d come back to her house and eat bologna and cheese sandwiches with crushed sour cream and onion potato chips and put together movie poster-sized Disney puzzles.  By 4 p.m., it was time for dinner. We went to McDonald’s for chicken nuggets, French fries, an ice cream cone and playing on the playground.

Calories didn’t count with Grandma.

She even curled my hair before taking me to school Monday morning. And the timid, sensitive kid who was me suddenly had a spring in her step like the curls in her hair – and a sense of confidence that only Grandma could restore.

It was her month-long visits she’d spend with my family after we moved to Harrisburg when I was 8. As soon as she arrived, I’d carry her small bags upstairs, and, when most grandparents would want to unpack in peace and quiet after being bombarded with excited grandchildren, she’d let me sit on her bed as she unpacked – carefully placing out each item. She used to say, “There’s a place for everything, and everything in its place.” I get my obsessive compulsive tendencies from her. She even made it a point to schedule with each sibling and me a day to eat lunch with us at school and an evening activity after school.

It was the times when I needed to get away from college and just seek refuge at grandma’s. I went to college just about an hour away from Pittsburgh, and my friends were always lining up to squeeze into my car and make the trip to visit Grandma.

IMG_1943And it was the way she bid me farewell at the end of each visit, which never seemed long enough, telling me her door was always open, with a sincere sparkle in her eye as if she meant it.

Because she did.

She’d hold both of my hands and squeeze them repeatedly, just like she did when our entire family was with her just a week ago.

Grandma made my day every day. She made my life.

Long before Grandma’s passing, when I thought back on her 91 years of life, I’d feel extremely emotional, because I felt it was unfair that the woman who made so many others’ lives easier didn’t have an easy one, herself… But Grandma wouldn’t want us to grieve that, because she never did. What’s worth celebrating is how she always picked up and came back stronger. From her husband abandoning her and two adolescent boys to taking her first fall in October 2005, she always came back stronger – even during her most recent one for which she eventually traded in her earth angel wings for heavenly angel wings as her reward.

Grandma had this sign on the desk in her house on Pickwick Drive, right behind her stationary bike that she rode at 4 a.m. every day. It said, “Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.” When I read that as a little girl, I thought hard about the meaning, and Grandma explained it to me. This past week has been the tomorrow I’ve worried about for a long time – losing her. I’ve been saying for years that the day I lose my grandma will be the worst day of my life, but the 30 years of love and memories I have with Grandma fill my heart with joy, peace and a celebratory spirit.

We have the blessing of remembering Grandma by so many things and knowing she’s always with us:

When you hear beautiful piano music or George Gershwin and Andrew Lloyd Weber show tunes, know that Grandma is putting on a hell of a show for her friends up in Heaven and giving us a sneak peek for the fun times that are ahead for us to have with her again.

When you see an old fashioned on a restaurant menu, know that Grandma is enjoying one, as she tells me that it’s always happy hour in Heaven – and that she won’t even have to tell the bartender how to make it…or remind the server to bring it with two black straws.

I hope and pray for a number of things as I stand here today.

First and foremost, I pray that as grandma peacefully passed and even as she lies here today, she knows how incredibly admired and adored she was and always will be.

I pray that everyone can allow the feeling of love to overcome the feeling of loss.

I pray that, even in this time of incredible sorrow, we can take all of the things that we learned from this resilient, loving woman and apply them to our own lives… Like when the going gets tough, the tough gets going… To “just whistle a happy tune”… And to be that one person to someone – that one person to not only make someone’s day but make their life.

Sweet Grandma, you are why I am strong.

You are why I am here today.

You are why my life is so good.

I learned from and was loved by the best.

I love you to Heaven and back.

 

I read this eulogy at Grandma’s funeral Saturday, April 8, 2017. I’m sharing this with you to give you a glimpse into who she was. I wish you all could’ve met her! You would’ve loved her. Thank you for reading.

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Goodbye to pushing, proving and pleasing, hello 30s + big news!

I’M 30 YEARS OLD, Y’ALL!

Am I supposed to dread turning 30?

Because I don’t.

While the idea of time passing can feel sad and scary, because it makes me think about my mortality, with time comes experience, knowledge and wisdom. As my older sister said earlier this morning, “30 is wiser yet still no wrinkles.”

And I’m at peace with this decade of my life coming to a close, because I feel so incredibly proud of what I’ve accomplished and, most importantly, who I’ve become within just 10 years.

At 21, I graduated from college a semester early, in December 2008. Not many people understood why I was so excited to get my career – heck, my life – started. I put myself through college and, during those years, worked three part-time jobs to pay my bills and feed myself all while doing “normal college student things,” like building my resume – serving as president of two organizations, a leader within a third and writing for the campus newspaper – and maintaining a vibrant social life.

Saying I was exhausted is an understatement. I didn’t have the privilege of ever being on the payroll of Mom & Dad Inc., and I wouldn’t have it any other way because of the important lessons and character this instilled in me. But I was ready for a real paycheck and a life that I designed.

Naturally, my packed college years, which followed a childhood centered around trying to create peace in a negative home environment and raising my baby sister, brought on the same people-pleasing, balls-to-the-wall behavior through my 20s.

In early 2009, I landed an amazing job and moved to Washington, D.C., on my own in the middle of the night. By “on my own,” I’m talking a loaded-down Honda Accord filled with everything I owned and very little money in my bank account. Since the amazing job didn’t pay amazingly well, I waited tables after my 9 to 5, from 5:30 p.m. until after midnight. Riding the Metro home with $200 of cash in my pocket to an apartment where cars were often found on cinderblocks in the parking lot wasn’t ideal (and where deranged people would bang on my door in the wee hours of the morning), but I didn’t know “ideal” at the time and have never been a stranger to hustling.

And I knew that this was just the beginning of an excellent adventure…

I was dating a great guy at the time, who was about six years older than I. Six years doesn’t seem like much now, at 30 years old, but it did at 21. I fell in love with D.C. while I was with him. He introduced me to a few of my favorite parts of the DMV (stands for D.C./Maryland/Virginia), including sights, restaurants, bars, etc. And our breakup, before summer 2009 started, introduced me to some of my favorite spots to go and think and pray that there were wonderful things out there for me.

And there were.

I spent that summer and fall looking ahead a bit, thinking about my professional development and even dabbling in dating. After I kept getting involved with guys from my past who weren’t ready for the relationship I was ready for, I joined match.com. Everyone knows that I have the.best.dating.stories from my few months spent online dating before finally meeting my husband, Nate – like meeting the following characters:

  • A 30-something attorney who referred to Morton’s Steakhouse as his law firm’s cafeteria (pretentious much?)
  • A tennis player (that’s not the weird part – that’s actually really attractive) who fed me leftovers for dinner (that’s the weird part – a chicken breast and egg salad to be precise on our second meeting/first date)
  • And the Award for Most Horrifically Awkward Date Goes to: A guy who showed up wearing a backpack (I immediately felt so turned off and weirded out by this) … He drank way too much, professed his love for me then insisted on walking me home, forcing me to lie about where I lived so he wouldn’t know where I actually lived … And when he got radio silence from me, he decided to try to break it with texting a photo of some very personal information he received from his doctor. (You can tell there’s more to this story.)

Very shortly after cancelling my Match account (I was still getting messages, because I had paid through that month), I decided to take a chance on a 22-year-old nuclear engineer wearing a white oxford, red tie and fleece who said he had a college degree, wanted to get married and have kids. In his first message to me, he asked me out on a date.

“I really have nothing to lose,” I said to my roommate, cautiously optimistically.

(I really didn’t.)

I used to think that Tuesdays were the most useless day of the entire week until I met him – my husband, Nate. We met, enjoyed our first date and, without realizing it at the time (at least I didn’t), became a couple on that random Tuesday night and the second day of winter. Despite the fact that I ate a chopped chicken salad on our first date and not pizza, I could tell pretty quickly that our relationship was the most special one I’ve ever had and ever would have.

For this very reason, about three months into our relationship, I decided to start seeking therapy to overcome childhood trauma so I could bring the healthiest me into the relationship. I found myself challenged by the drama in my family and keeping it from Nate out of shame; I clearly struggled with finding my own identity outside the family I was born into. Through therapy, I learned that “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”

This investment in myself started to play out in my life. I found out that spring, right after turning 23, that I had been accepted to Johns Hopkins University to pursue my master’s degree in communication. I got the initial acceptance email while I was at a boutique hotel in D.C., right near my office, booking space for a team meeting. I immediately texted Nate from the hotel before heading back to my office. We celebrated when he came back to town the following weekend. (He was living in Pittsburgh during this time for a five-month training, followed by Bremerton, Washington for a month.)

Life was coming together, and I finally started to feel as though I deserved it.

I spent the next few years working on my degree, one class at a time while I worked full-time, building my relationship with Nate and working on myself – one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. In addition to continuing therapy, I started my weight loss journey in February 2012 and lost 50 pounds within eight months through heathy eating and continued exercise. Practically as soon as the final pounds came off, I moved on to a new job, in November 2012.

Six months later, in May 2013, we got engaged. Seven months after that, in December 2013, I finally ate the last piece of the huge elephant I had been choking down for three and a half years and earned a master’s degree. I was 26 and less than five years into my career and in a healthy relationship and body and single-handedly planning our wonderful wedding, lived in a beautiful condo that my fiancé owned and had a great job and a shiny degree that I never thought I’d measure up to or afford.

My life was everything I dreamed for it to be, and perhaps I romanticize about this time in my life a little too much…

Nate completed his five-year commitment to the U.S. Navy and went on terminal leave just two weeks before our mid-April 2014 wedding. Two weeks later, we were headed south on I-81 bound for Augusta, Georgia. Everything about my life changed suddenly, except I was telecommuting for my job in D.C. and had Nate. I felt so incredibly thrown off and attribute this to keeping myself so busy leading up to the move that not only did I not have time to visit Augusta before deciding to move there and look at the house we would rent for our first year there, but I didn’t have time to process. I dealt with this in the same way I have through other big changes like going away to college, graduating from college and moving to a big city – I kept busy.

I continued working full-time; launched this blog right away; started teaching group fitness classes; made friends; and even found a good gym, nail salon, you name it. I reconstructed the life I had in Arlington, Virginia. Within six months, I found a job in my field, a perfect outlet for my health communication experience. A month later, I ran my first half marathon, and a little more than a year after that, Nate and I bought our first home together.

There you have it – a recap on my 20’s. I’ve been holding pretty steady at 28 and 29, avoiding any big life changes but gearing up for new adventures.

Speaking of which…

I’M WRITING A BOOK!

I’m working with a major health website on a book about a certain healthy eating practice. That’s all I can say for now, so stay tuned!

Goodbye to pushing, proving and pleasing

While I look back on my 20s with great pride, I realize that they were about pushing, proving and pleasing – and I refuse to bring this unsustainable lifestyle into my 30s.

Instead of concerning myself with pleasing people, I’m going to bring a stronger sense of self and confidence into my 30s.

And instead of becoming more serious, I’m going to continue to focus on nurturing my inner child, something that therapy has helped me to do. For this very reason, I did a smash cake photo shoot with the super sweet and talented Jessica Miller of J. Miller Fine Art Photography – keep scrolling, and enjoy!

Now that my crazy, over-stuffed 20s are over, I’m ready for a nap.

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So long, pushing, proving and pleasing. Hello, contentment, confidence and being unapologetically myself.

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Credits:

‘Hi, my name is Anna, and I’m an emotional eater.’

I haven’t written in a journal since Princess Jasmine from Aladdin was on the cover and it had a lock and key.

This is my first day of journaling as part of a 21-day program for recovery from emotional eating. The program is in the form of a book called Stop Eating Your Heart Out: The 21-Day Program to Free Yourself from Emotional Eating by Meryl Hershey Beck.

As many of you know, I love self-help books. I’m constantly reading one, and I always have about 10 others queued up on my iPad to read next. Well, I just put one down that’s helping me to harness my skills as an empath so I could pick up another that addresses what I feel is an urgent issue of mine. 

I know – a health blogger who has experienced profound success with weight loss and maintenance through healthy eating but who realizes that she isn’t totally “cured” of her issues with food.

*strokes imaginary beard*

It’s that irony and my fear of irrelevance and judgment that has kept me from sharing about this for a while.

In keeping with my theme word for 2017, ACCEPTANCE – just like I’ve had to ACCEPT my tibial stress injury and need to press “pause” on my current half marathon training schedule for the past three weeks – I’m choosing to ACCEPT where I am with my relationship with food so I can make it better. And, with age 30 on the horizon, I’m finding myself growing more and more sick and tired of being wrapped up in what others think about me.

Back to acceptance… Here’s where I am: I’ve continued to maintain my 50-pound weight loss from 2012. I realize that, while I developed a lot of healthy attitudes, beliefs and behaviors about food and tools to navigate it, some counterproductive ones remain that are only making the day-to-day harder than it needs to be. And I’m ready to rid my life of them.

These counterproductive attitudes, beliefs and behaviors, the primary one being that I’m scared to death of getting heavy again, are all based in fear – a common thread in the areas of my life that I’m working to improve or change. Fear only holds us back, so I’m working on silencing it by realizing what it is I want and just going for it. So I impulse purchased a book, and here I am.

Why I’m an emotional eater

I believe that my issues with food stem from three eating practices/food situations that were present during my childhood.

  1. When I was a kid, we ate three square meals and two small snacks, and there was no eating in between allowed – the kitchen was closed. My biological parents were simply instilling structure and ensuring that we didn’t overeat; I’d never blame them for that. Intuitive eating – being aware of one’s hunger signals and eating based on them in order to maintain a healthy weight – just wasn’t a thing when I was a kid. I believe that this nutrition philosophy fosters a healthy relationship with food, so I’m trying to train this 29-year-old mind and body to do what it should’ve been doing all along.
  2. Meal times felt very uncomfortable, likely due to my biological parents’ strained marriage, which ultimately (and thankfully) ended. In my household, they weren’t a time for pleasant conversation. Instead, we were told, “Less talk, more eat.” That eating pattern has certainly stuck with me, as I don’t really savor my food. I eat it, put my fork down and that’s it.
  3. During my biological parents’ separation (I lived with my mother), food was a little scarce, so I learned to eat when there was some. “Like a kid in a candy store,” I binged.

In sum…

Food was restricted…

Food was unhappy…

Food was security…

A trifecta for an unhealthy relationship with food.

Addressing my feelings

This week, I started keeping a food mood journal, where, each time I put something in my mouth, I log the time, what I ate, how I felt and the precipitating event (what elicited those feelings). It reminded me of the early stages of therapy in my adult life.

I started seeing a therapist routinely in March 2010. My husband didn’t know it at the time, but he was the main motivator for me to face the childhood trauma I had experienced so I could bring the healthiest me to our relationship. Just a few months before, we met and started dating, and I knew relatively quickly that he and our relationship were special.

During an appointment, my therapist asked me how something I told her made me feel, and I responded with something to the effect of, “It makes me feel like it’s just not right.” She gently informed me that’s not a feeling and presented me with a feelings chart. Since then, I’ve become very astute with recognizing and acknowledging my feelings.

This has come in handy as I’ve set out to make a truce with food, as identifying the feelings I’m experiencing that trigger emotional eating is critical to recovery.

The power of a support system

One can seek support in a number of ways. For me, in addition to the therapy I mentioned, I’ve also worked to build a life that supports what I want it to be like – from the people I hang out with, to activities in which I engage, all the way to my line of work.

When I think about why I started this blog, in addition to helping others, it comes down to accountability. It actually starts there, because, when I’m accountable to all of you wonderful readers who support me, then I’m probably living out the “helping others” part of my mission.

Last night’s reading included information about various support systems, one of which was 12-step meetings that incorporate the original 12 steps set by Alcoholics Anonymous.

“Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”

These words hit me hard.

I immediately thought of an estranged family member of mine who has struggled with alcoholism for more than 10 years. I remember when he was working on this step and watching him go through the incredibly painful process of seeing himself for who he was and acknowledging the pain his behavior caused our family, all in hope of healing. But I never saw him make a full recovery.

Is this what he was trying to do when he sent an apology letter to me more than a year ago? By choosing not to respond to protect myself, did I impede his recovery?

The answer is “no,” and that’s where step 9 comes in:

“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so could injure them or others.”

You see, responding to this letter would’ve opened the door to unwanted communication and compromised what I’m always working toward – a happy, healthy life. That’s called “boundaries,” and they’re healthy.

While facing the words on the page and applying them to myself this time, I couldn’t help but wonder how my emotional eating has harmed others.

“Harmed.”

Isn’t that word a little strong?

Even though I can’t say that emotional eating has caused turmoil in my relationships or other issues in my life, I realize that it ultimately hurts me – plus, addiction is addiction. Food addiction is tricky to me, because we need food to survive. Not to reduce an alcoholic’s or nicotine or drug addict’s struggle, but we don’t need those things the way we need food. In fact, they kill us.

As I go through this program, I’m hoping to find answers to two questions that have been on my mind for a long time:

  1. What’s the difference between finding enjoyment in food as we do in our culture and being addicted? Is food meant to be enjoyed, or is it solely fuel?
  2. Am I being too hard on myself, and am just a runner who has to eat accordingly?

But I know the struggle…the internal dialogue playing in my head…the constant nagging – when I’m at my desk at work, at a restaurant or just sitting on my couch at home.

It’s everywhere.

All the time.

And I’m sick, tired and over it.

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3 comfort foods – and 3 healthier swaps that actually help your mental health

Click here to watch our January 13 segment on WJBF News Channel 6!

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DISCLAIMER: This is a real holiday prep list and internal dialogue from this past holiday season that may or may not come from yours truly…

  • Shop for Christmas gifts
  • Buy a Christmas tree and pray that my husband and I don’t kill it or die from allergies
  • Decorate said tree
  • Pick the most perfect poinsettias
  • Start a Christmas grocery shopping list
  • Bake cookies

Holy crap, there are so many cookies – how am I going to deal?

  • Decorate interior of house
  • Hang stockings – but don’t fill them, because the weight of the goodies might stretch the knit stockings … plus, Santa doesn’t come until Christmas morning!
  • Wrap Christmas gifts – but don’t place them under the tree yet, because the tree will drop needles and I don’t want to vacuum around them

Why did I get glittery wrapping paper?

  • Decorate exterior of house

Wait, before we hang the lights, let’s power wash the exterior of the house.

Wait, before we power wash the exterior of the house, let’s blow the remaining leaves that have fallen off the trees since my husband blew them a few weeks ago.

  • Mow the lawn
  • Trim the bushes
  • Clean the house

Isn’t this supposed to be a list of things to do for Christmas?

Why am I still finding glitter everywhere?!


I’ve struggled with high-functioning anxiety all my life. I’ve always opted to manage my anxiety with a combination of exercise and therapy – but what about food? I’m not talking about eating our feelings; I’m talking about using food as medicine.

I hadn’t put much thought to this until recently, when I asked one of my health care providers how else I can manage my anxiety – aside from medications – and she recommended vitamins B complex and C.

In addition to taking a supplement, eating foods that are rich in B vitamins can be beneficial. B vitamins are necessary for healthy nerves and brain cells. For some, not having enough B vitamins can lead to anxiety and depression.

As for vitamin C, its role as it relates to mental health is two-fold. It reduces anxiety but also boosts our immune system, which is compromised when we’re under stress. Healthy eating becomes even more important when our bodies are under stress, making it even more critical to eat foods that contribute to our mental health.

Yet, somehow our bodies confuse what we need for what would taste and feel good in that moment. When we’re feeling anxious, especially those who struggle with emotional eating, we reach for certain comfort foods. A few common ones are ice cream, cereal and salty snack foods. So I’m sharing some healthy swaps that actually help your mental health and correspond to those common comfort foods.

Sweet swaps

Swap ice cream for Greek yogurt blueberry parfait

Greek yogurt is a great source of protein, in addition to the usual suspects like meat and fish. Others are beans, cheese, eggs, lentils, nuts and soy. Protein helps to increase the production of brain chemicals norepinephrine and dopamine, which regulate mood.

Blueberries are a great source of antioxidants and vitamin C.

Healthier swap: Greek yogurt blueberry parfait

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 graham cracker, crushed

Instructions:

  1. Place yogurt into a small bowl.
  2. Top with blueberries and graham cracker.

Swap cereal for overnight oats

Oats are a carbohydrate, which increase production of serotonin, which regulates appetite, sleep and aggression and enhances memory and learning abilities. Carbohydrates are the body’s primary fuel source. I opt for old fashioned-oats instead of instant oatmeal, because old-fashioned oats are higher in fiber. I add blueberries for vitamin C.

Healthier swap: Blueberry overnight oats

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup old fashioned oats
  • Splash of vanilla or original unsweetened almond milk or nonfat milk, enough to cover the oats
  • 1 cup of blueberries
  • 1 packet stevia

Instructions:

  1. Place oats into a two-cup container or slightly larger. (I use a round two-cup Pyrex container. Others use mason jars.)
  2. Cover oats with milk.
  3. Place blueberries on top.
  4. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  5. The next morning, take them out of the fridge and microwaved slightly covered for 1½ minutes.
  6. Mix up milk-soaked oats and blueberries.
  7. Mix in stevia.

Savory swaps

Swap potato chips for kale chips

Leafy greens are rich in magnesium, the mineral that helps to regulate cortisol levels and promote feelings of wellbeing.

Healthier swap: Oven-baked kale chips

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch kale
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Seasoning optional and to taste:
    • Sea salt
    • Black ground pepper, to taste
    • Chili powder
    • Garlic powder
    • Onion powder
    • Paprika
  • Cooking spray

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and lightly coat two large baking sheets with cooking spray.
  2. Wash and thoroughly dry kale. Remove stems with knife or kitchen scissors, and cut into 1½-inch or so pieces.
  3. Mix olive oil and seasonings in large bowl. Add kale pieces, and combine so each kale piece is coated with olive oil and seasoning mixture.
  4. Arrange kale pieces on baking sheets, and bake for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, check on the kale chips. Edges should be brown but not charred. If the edges aren’t brown yet, bake for 5 more minutes.

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Guest blog post: 4 areas in your home that could be making you sick

We think of our homes as comforting environments that shelter us from the cold and keep us safe. But do they? Charlotte Meier of Home Safety Hub, which connects people to resources and educational materials in order to prevent injuries and loss of property and save lives, is here to share about four areas in our home that we might not consider as being harmful to our health – and what you can do to reduce the negative impact.

When most people think of allergies, they think of pollen and animal dander. Assuming you don’t have pets or pollen-rich houseplants, your home seems like it should be a safe, allergen-free place – in theory. However, there are a number of areas and seemingly harmless objects in your home that could be causing you symptoms of allergies or something worse.

If you are experiencing headaches, coughing, sneezing, or other seemingly unexplained symptoms, or you’ve developed a chronic health condition, here are a few areas in your home that could be harboring some hidden dangers.

Bathmat

Interestingly enough, your bathmat may be one of the worst places in your home for bacteria growth and allergens. They exist in a moist environment, are often wet, and rarely experience air flow. When combined, these conditions are ideal for bacteria and mold growth which can cause a number of unpleasant symptoms.

The best way to prevent your bathmat from impacting your health is to wash it regularly, dry it after use, and dry yourself in the shower before stepping onto the mat.

Air ducts

Few people realize how problematic a dirty air duct can be. The process of keeping a home cool leaves residual moisture in your ducts, creating the perfect home for mold. As the air continues to flow through these ducts, mold spores are pushed into your home for you and your family to breathe. Since your air ducts aren’t exactly visible to you as you walk around your home, it can be easy to forget that they’re even there.

To keep your home mold-free, you should be hiring a professional to come in and clean your air ducts annually. Additionally, some companies can perform energy audits throughout your entire home to identify problematic concerns such as moisture (contributing to mold and mildew), air leaks (which could be driving up your heating and cooling costs), and contamination or leaks in your air duct system, among others. The cost of an energy audit is often less than you’ll save by rectifying any troublesome findings.

Bed

Dust mites are likely the most common indoor allergy. It may be impossible to rid your home of dust mites entirely, but an excess of these little freeloaders can wreak havoc on your respiratory tract. Dust mites prefer to live in warm, humid environments, meaning your bed and pillow are perfect places for mites to take up residence. Of course, they can also be found in upholstery, carpet, towels, blankets, and other such places.

To keep the dust mite levels in your home low, you should be vacuuming regularly, keeping your towels and blankets clean, and properly covering your pillow and mattress. If you have a particularly old mattress or pillow, now may be the time to invest in new bedding.

Leaky pipes

If you haven’t inspected the plumbing in your home recently, it might be a good time to do so. A leaky pipe can easily cause mold to grow within your home. Some varieties of mold can be a serious health concern. Black mold is one of the most common toxic molds found in homes and can cause sneezing, coughing, persistent headaches, and chronic fatigue.

Hiring a professional plumber can be the best way to guarantee your home is mold-free. Always consult a professional to inspect your home if you suspect mold could be causing health concerns for your family.

Keeping your home allergen-free is not hard when you know what to do. Be sure to focus on your problem areas including the bathroom, plumbing, bed, and air ducts. If necessary, do not be afraid to hire a professional. Your family’s health and well-being are far more important than a little extra money spent hiring an expert.

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3 Thanksgiving pies your family will thank you for making

Click here to watch our November 13 segment on WJBF News Channel 6!

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First things first:

I LOVE THANKSGIVING FOOD, AND I DON’T CARE WHO KNOWS IT!

Incorporating my own recipes for healthier Thanksgiving sides into my menu last year was a huge step for this stuffing-obsessed, mashed potato-mad, green bean casserole-gaga and creamed corn-crazed girl.

(To be clear, that’s me.)

And we haven’t even discussed dessert! The classics have always made my short list of favorites: pumpkin, pecan and apple pies. However, all of these are packed with sugar, among other unhealthy ingredients. In my versions of these recipes, I swap out the sugar for stevia, a calorie- and carbohydrate-free sweetener that has no artificial ingredients. Another calorie saver is that the recipes are also crustless, which cuts more than 100 calories from each slice. These recipes include additional healthy swaps, as well, which are listed within each recipe below.

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I use this name versus “pumpkin pie yogurt,” because it actually tastes like pumpkin pie – while not having to consume the flour, salt, granulated sugar, butter, cream and eggs found in the traditional recipes.

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz. nonfat vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 2-15 oz. cans pumpkin puree
  • 2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • ¼ cup stevia
  • 1 tsp. molasses
  • 6 graham crackers, crumbled

Instructions:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine 12 oz. of the yogurt and all remaining ingredients, except for graham crackers. Whip with a spoon.
  2. Divide graham crackers into small dessert bowls, and cover with pumpkin pie mixture. Finish with a dollop of nonfat vanilla Greek yogurt.

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This recipe swaps the following:

  • Granulated sugar for stevia
  • Eggs for egg whites
  • Regular flour for whole wheat flour
  • Butter for coconut oil

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • Cooking spray
  • ¼ cup stevia
  • 1 cup natural honey
  • 1 cup egg whites
  • 1 Tbsp. whole wheat flour
  • 1 Tbsp. almondmilk
  • ¼ cup coconut oil, melted
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 8 oz. bag or cups chopped pecans

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and coat pie dish with cooking spray.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, and transfer to greased pie plate.
  3. Bake for 35-40 minutes.

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This recipe swaps the following:

  • Regular flour for whole wheat flour
  • Granulated sugar for stevia
  • Eggs for egg whites
  • Coconut oil for butter

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • Cooking spray
  • 4 large apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced (about 12 slices per apple)
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • ¼ cup stevia
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 3 Tbsp. egg whites
  • ½ cup coconut oil, melted

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and coat 9×9 baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Place apples in dish.
  3. Combine flour, stevia, cinnamon and egg whites, mix until it becomes a crumble and pour over the apples.
  4. Pour coconut oil over the apples and flour mixture.
  5. Bake for 30-45 minutes.

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